When Prejudice Prevails
By Javed Ahmad
Film, a popular art form, can be misleading if the contents are taken seriously without any verification of the facts (or fiction) presented. Truth is established only when a so-called fact is verified or is verifiable. If not, it would remain as a hypothesis. And any conclusion drawn on the basis of hypothesis would remain incomplete.
The films I’ve chosen for my essay are, “Snow Falling On Cedars”, and “East is East”. Some common themes such as, childhood, rites of passage into adulthood, marriage, rituals and prejudice, tradition vs. change, etc. was noticed. Although both the films have some common themes, the underlying facts and messages vary widely. Yet, for the sake of the essay’s requirement, I’ll attempt to compare some themes. And as I go on, the following questions will also be dealt with, “What is your understanding of the complex issues involved in these themes? How do conflicts arise in the perception of what is ‘right’ and ‘morally and ethically’ acceptable? How do the films compare in interpreting these sensitive issues?”
To begin with, let’s review the film “Snow Falling On Cedars” first. The story is basically an inter-racial love story, love that developed during childhood at a time when prejudice used to prevail openly in a society.
Love between Ishmael and Hatsue developed during their innocent childhood friendship. A secret feeling that grew in time as they moved through the passage of time into adulthood; from puppy love to serious relationship.
Before WWII, prejudice in American society was still pretty strong. Japanese residents were not treated equally as the whites. Ishmael being white and Hatsue being a Japanese, they had to keep their affair a secret. However, their affection and feelings for one another didn’t go unnoticed by some.
When the war broke out, the Japanese residents were moved to concentration camps in different parts of the country, while the young Americans were drafted to face the war. For Ishmael and Hatsue, this was a separating point.
It is assumed that Hatsue had a change of her feelings for Ishmael while living in the concentration camp due to the war. But it is hard to assume accurately what really made her to change her mind. I could think of the followings: imprisoned life in the concentration camp, separation of her father from the family, war between her new home United States and her land of forefathers Japan; and finally, her boyfriend’s involvement in the war.
Apparently, that was not all. Her mother (perhaps her other family members as well) was also against the white people in general. She didn’t think of white people highly. Comparatively, she considered the Japanese men to be ‘better and strong’, and tried to relay the impression to her daughters. Her prejudice may also have contributed to Hatsue’s change of feelings. Considering all of the above, I think it is sufficient for anyone to react negatively and to get confused.
Ishmael on the other hand, was far more serious about her than Hatsue was for Ismael. He felt her with all his emotions, but Hatsue saw him with reasons and within the frames of hard realities. Ishmael’s obsession for Hatsue was so strong that he felt betrayed when he received her letter while at the war front. Her reasons didn’t seem fair and he could not justify her decision. But, heart broken Ishmael showed courage, patience and steadfastness in his dealings with his own emotions and with Hatsue after his return from war. Ishmael was truly a man with a “temple heart”, which he proved at the end. His love for Hatsue was always true that never died. Perhaps, he finally realized, “If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it is yours. If not, it never was.”
On the contrary, East is East is an exaggerated comedy. A Pakistani immigrant in the United Kingdom fell in love with a local English woman. Their 25 years of married life resulted in a family of six boys and a daughter.
Sayeed, although a Muslim, is not really a practicing one. Even after living with a white woman of different culture for 25 years, his strong conviction toward his own culture and religion remained strong. He himself was torn between the two cultures. Perhaps, a sense of guilt was haunting him, which he didn’t want to see repeating in his children’s lives. And as such, at times, even with all his sincerity, he appeared to be hypocritical.
He expected certain things in his children that he didn’t care for himself. Even after being married to a white woman for 25 years, his prejudice against white people are quite strong. As a Muslim, he himself never cared to practice the religion, but he expected his children to follow it. He thought, sending the kinds to schools would be sufficient for the kids to learn Urdu language and the religious practices. And in thinking so, he failed as a parent.
Comparatively, his wife was a noble woman, who truly loved her husband. As a wife, she was faithful, and as a mother she was caring. She seems to have out grown all the prejudices that her husband failed to do.
Their children on the other hand, seem to be struggling between the two cultures, trying to find an identity. Things would have been quite different if Sayeed was a true practicing Muslim and if he taught his wife the fundaments of the Islamic faith, who seem to have some liking and tolerance toward it. It is a common mistake that most Muslim men do after marrying a woman of another faith.
Islam allows Muslim men to marry women from the “People of the Book”. And it is commonly assumed that the People of the Book are the present day Jews and Christians. Which is actually an error.
By “People of the Book”, the Qur’an is actually referring to the Unitarian Jews and Christians, the followers of Prophet Moses and Prophet Isa (Peace be upon them both). But today, we have different denominations of Judaism and Christianity. There is a group of Jews that follow the Torah, and then there are Jews that follows the Talmud (the Zionists). Again, there are some Christians that believe in One God and accept Jesus Christ as a Prophet (Jehovah’s witnesses for instance), while there are others those who believe in Trinity (Catholics). And they are not all the same.
Muslim men are allowed to take as wives from among the Unitarian Christians, but not from the Trinitarians. Unitarian Christians are close in belief with the Muslims in matter of theology, where as, the Trinitarians are quite opposite. And there are explicit warnings in the Qur’an regarding the belief in Trinity.
“They do blaspheme who say: God is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One God. If they desist not from their word (of blasphemy), verily a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them.” (The Holy Qur’an, chapter 5, verse 76).
Apparently, as a Muslim, Sayeed didn’t know this. Religiously speaking, his marriage was invalid, as Islam requires an idolater woman to revert to Islam before getting into any matrimonial relationship. Consequently, because of this mistake, he had to go through all those trouble with his kids. Had he taught Islam to his wife and kids from the very beginning, chances of facing these problems would have been greatly reduced.
He didn’t even explain to his kids the need and the background story of circumcision of Muslim males. Not just Muslims, practicing Jews and Christians also follow this religious ritual. The origin of circumcision can be found in the Gospel of Barnabas (the Gospel of Jesus according to Barnabas),
“Chapter 23 Origin of Circumcision, and covenant of God with Abraham, and damnation of the uncircumcised.
And having said this, Jesus sat nigh unto the mountain, which they looked upon. And his disciples came to his side to listen to his words. Then said Jesus: 'Adam the first man having eaten, by fraud of Satan, the food forbidden of God in paradise, his flesh rebelled against the spirit; whereupon he swore, saying: "By God, I will cut thee!"
And having broken a piece of rock, he seized his flesh to cut it with the sharp edge of the stone: whereupon he was rebuked by the angel Gabriel. And he answered: "I have sworn by God to cut it; I will never be a liar!"
'Then the angel showed him the superfluity of his flesh, and that he cut off. And hence, just as every man taketh flesh from the flesh of Adam, so is he bound to observe all that Adam promised with an oath. This did Adam observe in his sons, and from generation to generation came down the obligation of circumcision. But in the time of Abraham there were but few circumcised upon the earth, because that idolatry was multiplied upon the earth. Whereupon God told to Abraham the fact concerning circumcision, and made this covenant, saying: "The soul that shall not have his flesh circumcised, I will scatter him from among my people for ever."”
In conclusion, to summarize all of the above, we could clearly see that most of the sufferings on both the movies are self-inflicted. May it be unlearned prejudices, sheer ignorance, or just mere arrogance, the result is pain and unnecessary suffering. Looking at us on this 21st century, it is a shame to note that mankind has not yet evolved. Even on this age of international spirit, we still differentiate ourselves as “Whites”, “Japanese”, and “Pakis”. We all live and share our lives together, but still we are isolated in ignorance. Even after 1400 years of human evolution, we still do not understand or acknowledge the meaning of the following,
“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).” (The Holy Qur’an, chapter 49, verse 13).