Kashmir - Journey to Freedom
Kashmir - Journey to Freedom
Berlin International Film Festival

My memory is again
in the way of your history:
Army convoys all night
like desert caravans...
We can’t ask them:
Are you done with the world?
In the lake the arms
of temples and mosques
are locked
in each other’s

Agha Shahid Ali
Kashmiri poet


Every day Israel continues bombing Gaza. I’m on the road, so all I can do is go to demonstrations against the war andto come out against the war in my writing. I can fume and rant and burst into tears in response to all this evil.

I have a hard time looking the supporters of this war directly in the eye. I don’t want to see the smug glimmer of victory sparkling in their faces in the wake of all those mangled bodies, or worse, to see the startled expressions of the more sensitive among them: “Tsk, tsk,” they say, “how awful!” and they go on about their lives.

There will soon be a ceasefire. Soon they will count the bodies. The propaganda machine will produce sterile accounts of a fundamentalist monster that must be defeated. Today the lines are drawn in Gaza. Tomorrow they will be drawn in Kashmir, or wherever else the West decides to set its boundaries against the barbaric hordes that have swooped down to destroy its way of life. I suppose some poets will express their regret, that a few liberal artists will receive a government stipend to flagellate themselves publicly. I am sure that we’ll see public events to raise money in support of the innocent children who were this cruel enemy’s most vulnerable victims. I’m even sure that there is some Israeli soldier in Gaza planning his next film, and that it will be a sensitive film, human, all too human. After all, this sensitive soldier’s soul was shattered when he saw that young Palestinian girl clutching her doll in front of the rubble that is left of her home, which fell victim to a particularly “smart rocket.” The soldier’s pain will be reflected in the girls’ sad expression.

Then, in agonizingly slow motion—or perhaps in a gesture stripped of all emotion by the shock of battle (it all depends on the actor’s mood and the cameraman’s temperament)—the soldier hands the girl some medicine, or perhaps even a triangle of Toblerone from the stash he carries in his gear. Suddenly, we will all realize that he is the light flickering in the darkness, and that we can be redeemed. The film will condemn the warlords who started this, the brutality of occupation, and perhaps even the soldier himself (after all, aren’t we all to blame in some small way?). He may even punish himself in this film, and find himself unable to have sex with his boyfriend, his girlfriend, or maybe even with both.

The film will make the rounds of all the festivals, getting plenty of rewards, and everyone will say about the director, “How sensitive he is! How human, all too human!” And luckily, after long sessions with a therapist, the director/protagonist will admit in some exclusive interview or other that he has gotten back in touch with his feminine side, so that he can finally have an erection again.

And most of all, no one will stomp out in the middle of a screening, screaming, “I’ve seen it all before,” and leave a trail of popcorn in his wake.

The system, like some shamanistic ritual, has a place and role for everyone. For artists like us, it is preserving the comfort of our lives while caught between the fences that protect us from where the wild things are—from worlds that are feral, pitiable, and brutal. The fences that surround those worlds have become our own prison.

So here’s a thought: Maybe cinema can’t be more than what it was intended to be. But maybe, sometimes, we can come across a hole in the wall and cross over to the other side. And then, maybe, we can avoid depicting “the other” with too much pity and sympathy, from the safety of the watchtower that looms over the walls protecting our “Western democracy.” Yes, maybe we can find a hole in that wall and crawl through to the other side, where we can, for a moment reject our own otherness. Maybe that’s where the radical transformation takes place, and we become one with the other.