Fear takes many forms, some is personal, some is rooted in society. But it often leads to pain and suffering. In Soumaya, directed by Waheed Khan and Ubaydah Abu-Usayd, we see fear that grows within a culture that tries to put others down by making them afraid.
Soumaya is awakened early one morning by police demanding to search the apartment where she lives with her seven year old daughter. A few days later, she is summoned to the HR office where she works and dismissed for “gross negligence” with no explanation. She knows that all of this is based on the fact that she is Muslim. She begins the process of seeking justice.
The film is based on real events that took place under the State of Emergency that was declared after the 13 November attack in Paris. Within a month 2700 searches were done, mostly in Muslim homes. Many people lost jobs they had held for years. Many of these people were denounced as being “radicalized”. But as we learn as we hear these stories, that radicalization could be because a woman chooses to wear a headscarf, or a Quran is found in someone’s locker, or because they go off into an isolated room to pray.
The film follows Soumaya’s case, but it is not a simple decision on her part. Her mother is very much against any legal action, because Soumaya’s daughter is already traumatized. Soumaya wavers back and forth, wanting to have some sense of justice, but also wanting things to settle down in her life. Her vacillation is representative of the broad range of responses within the Muslim community. Some (like Soumaya’s ex-husband in the film) choose to leave the country, others work within the courts to try to fight the unprecedented assault on people based on religion, some find it difficult to understand how the ideals of the Republic can allow such things.
At the root of all this is Islamophobia. It clearly was prevalent in France at the time, just as it was in the US following 9/11. It continues to be an issue in our societies. It would be naïve to think that there are not radical elements in Islam. But that does not mean that we should think that such is normative. One of the more interesting scenes, for me, was when Soumaya is talking to a baggage handler who was fired from his job. He points out the colonialist history of France, and how that could create great anger. He believes that “if not for our Prophet’s teachings, peace be upon him, France would be in disarray.” He goes on to speak of how Islam affects him personally, “You know, I only recently entered religion…. And I’ve been praying for about two years. And it was Islam that allowed me to soothe my heart and not embrace violence. And to be honest, it was an honor to be fired because I was praying.”
Fear is the undercurrent that drives this film. The fear of Soumaya’s daughter after the search. The fear of the society that was embodied in the State of Emergency. The fear of neighbors who would call authorities for things like headscarves or praying. Trying to instill fear in a section of the populace. The fear of losing basic rights. The fear of losing our souls for the sake of feeling safe. While this film is about fears in France, it is also very applicable to American society.
Soumaya is available via virtual cinema.
Photos courtesy of IndiePix films.