My talk: ‘Dakwah at the Cinema: Identifying Indonesia’s ‘Islamic’ film as a genre’

On Tuesday, 19th February 2012, I will be presenting a seminar on my PhD research as part of the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies Seminar Series (abstract below). Religion in film is a relatively new and under-explored branch of (principally) film, cultural and area studies. Currently, the study of religious representations in cinema goes down two broad paths: a theology-based (and therefore mostly Christian) analysis and the other approaches national cinema as industry and cultural product and interested in how representations of religion in cinema are embedded in a country’s culture and history. With regard to scholarship in the English language, religion in non-Western films tends to be studied in the latter approach and lacking the inclination of going down the route of Grand Theory. A theological approach to religion in film not only looks at ‘obvious’ depictions of Jesus and biblical epics, but also the theological and spiritual significance in non-religious Hollywood/European films. My research is about Indonesian cinema and its religious representations as a product of an industry and specific historical and socioeconomic events. There is some theory of course, but paradoxically a broad Bordwellian meta theory that small theories can be cobbled together in a ‘piecemeal’, coherent way.

Dakwah at the Cinema: Identifying Indonesia’s ‘Islamic’ film as a genre

Alicia Izharuddin, Centre for Gender Studies, SOAS

Date: 19th February 2012, Time: 5.45-7pm

Venue: B102, Brunei Gallery

Films with Islamic themes became de rigueur in post-1998 Indonesia and particularly after the success of the pro-polygamy film Ayat-ayat Cinta (Verses of Love) in 2008. Many of such films are noted to be more than just fodder for entertainment and profit but a soapbox for film-makers. Since Ayat-ayat Cinta, films about religious pluralism, terrorism, and female emancipation have become part of the circuit of intense debates about the freedoms of artistic and religious expression in Indonesia. This talk examines the characteristics of the genre, its political and economic context and its transcoded themes. It will also discuss the role of dakwah or Islamic preaching in popular culture. Although an important concept in the making and promotion of ‘Islamic’ films in Indonesia, dakwah appears subordinate to the poetics of the local cinematic marketplace and ‘pop Islam’. On a much broader level, the talk will contribute to debates about what is considered sacred and the profane, worship and entertainment, and the meaning of ‘religion’ itself.

January home cooking with l’oeuf

Perhaps not many people know this, but I love cooking second only to my holy trinity of reading, writing, and research. This month, I attempted easy winter dishes with eggs. The first is a relatively stripped down version of the Israeli Arab (principally Tunisian) dish, shakshuka, with merguez sausages:

Shakshuka with merguez sausauges.

The other dish (I felt compelled enough to photograph) is a lunchtime potato rosti with a really good poached egg. There are a few ways to make a decent poached egg with a runny yolk, as all of you who have attempted poached eggs in your lifetime will know. To achieve the egg in the image below, dip an unbroken egg into boiling water for about 10 to 15 seconds. Just to be on the safe side, ensure that the shell is clean enough. Then, into the boiling water, pour a tablespoon of vinegar as this supposedly keeps the egg from spreading into a kind of soup. Break the briefly boiled egg and behold the wondrous half-solid shape it has already taken up as it goes into the water. Keep the egg in the boiling water for about 2 to 3 minutes before fishing it out without taking any of the boiling liquid.

Potato rosti topped with a poached egg.

2013: Let’s celebrate the banal

In the last three years, this blog served mainly as a repository of my writings. But this year, I’m going to attempt something different; I’ll begin to post photos of my cooking and the less than artful snapshots of my life on this blog. Perhaps at times, if I am feeling reckless, I may even write something more personal, reflections on my life as a person-academic-feminist. I am neurotically private about the publication of the more personal details of my life online so these may be less frequent than I will initially envision. I will still publish articles and bits of research here. But I thought posting pleasures of the banal will ‘humanise’ the tone of this blog and hopefully, the author herself.

Rape, media coverage and our bloodstained hypocrisy

First published on the 30th of December 2012 on Loyarburok

Early yesterday morning, an Indian woman died from severe internal injuries after being raped by six men in New Delhi. The global reportage of an unnamed rape victim is an unprecedented event for a crime that is depressingly commonplace and downplayed or sensationalised in the media.

For once, rape is not just a statistical data or a small news item but magnified to global proportions, thanks to the women and men who revolted in the streets of New Delhi against the complicity of their police force, government, and society in perpetuating sexual violence. Outside of India, men and women who do not normally sit up and express outrage about sexual violence suddenly are jolted into concerted protest.

A few hours after we hear the news, the details of the injuries the victim sustained begin to trickle in. Mourners worldwide absorb every detail to make sense of their anger and in some cases, to be perversely titillated. Many will wonder; first, how bad were her injuries that she died from them? Second, will the perpetrators be punished? The six men have now been charged with murder, but will they walk free later? In India, only 25% cases of sexual violence  end in conviction.

The fact that she was a middle class medical student with a bright future cut brutally short should not be a factor why we – as a world – should care and why the horrific attack became newsworthy. We should care because rape must be taken seriously as a crime used to humiliate, avenge, and degrade an individual and whole communities. Rape is not sex or something she ‘deserved’ because of the way she dressed or behaved.

We must scrutinise how exceptional the media attention on this particular case is. Every month, India is mired by a slew of brutal sexual assault and rape cases. Extreme caste and gender inequalities contribute to a culture of misogyny and violence. This year, India has even been described as one of the worst places in the world to be a woman. But all these have failed to move us until now.

Do we really think that because women are treated much worse in India, we have forgotten that rape occurs in Malaysia, too? Call me cynical if I point out that our collective attention and reaction are animated by media-assisted events. In other words, the reason behind our partiality to this one case in India lies in the high level of media coverage by major news providers. A similar argument can be made for how our attention span on an issue is significantly shaped by the speed and ephemerality of social media feeds.

We may not have cared at all, if not for the epic newsworthiness of the event. In fact, pick up any random local newspaper today and it is likely you will come across a similarly horrific case of sexual violence in the country, in your home state, or just around the corner from where you live. The media-manufactured nature of our outrage may be veiling our own hypocrisy about sexual violence against women and its roots in society: gender inequality. In 2007, Nurul Jazlin died from similar intestinal injuries  as the unnamed woman but we did not march out in protest.

Just over a month ago, young Malay women and men of a similar age to the rape victim in New Delhi posted mocking tweets about why women get raped. Below are screenshots of their tweets:

                                                “Amik kau …”

The tweets above may be even more sickening now in light of the nameless woman’s death. Our collective sin of hypocrisy is dwarfed by the banality of evil above. Can we still blame a woman for how she dressed and behaved now that a casualty of rape is mourned on a global scale? If we think media manipulations have nothing to do with our sorrow and anger, why do we mourn this one time? One woman cannot be a sacrificial lamb to stand in for all the thousands of named and unnamed women and girls who have fallen victim to sexual violence.

In the meantime, we should laud every act and gesture that underlines how unacceptable sexism and misogyny is in Malaysia. We are witnessing the germ of this change from the top with the proposed banning of sexist language in Parliament. How is this connected to rape? Rape occurs because we live in a rape culture and a continuum of violence made up of ‘small’ things like harassment, threats of rape, sexual objectification of women, and Ombak Rindu. Every small act and word that shifts the blame on a woman for the unwanted attention and abuse she attracts adds to the impunity of sex offenders. Rapists rape because they believe they can get away with it.

Rape is not more egregious in another country. Protesters in India carried a banner with a message that is both chilling but all too true anywhere in the world: ‘Today is it was her, tomorrow it could be you’.