‘Fight the power’

‘Fight the power’ b y Tariq Ali for The Guardian, April 23, 2005

It is as difficult to define or classify Islamic cinema as it would be a Christian, Jewish or Buddhist one. The language of cinema has always been universal. Interpretations vary. Censors had different priorities: in 1950s Hollywood a married couple could not share a double bed and had to be clothed. In South Asia, the censor’s scissors clipped out kisses from western films. The birth of commercial and art movies did not remain confined in the west for too long.

The Lumière brothers first exhibited moving pictures in Paris in 1896. A year later there was a private showing at the Yildiz palace in Istanbul. The viewers consisted of the Ottoman Sultan/Caliph – the temporal and spiritual leader of Sunni Islam – and a few selected courtiers. In 1898 the Ottoman public was let in on the secret and there was a screening in the beer hall in Galatasaray Square. During the next decade cinema halls sprouted like wild mushrooms, and audiences in Istanbul and Smyrna flocked to see everything. Cultural repression began soon after the first world war in 1919: Ahmet Fehim’s films were considered politically provocative and censored by the British occupying authorities. read more