Film director’s death in Jordan terror sparks Arab outrage

A Dec. 6 commentary by Jalal Ghazi on Pacific News Service notes that last month’s Jordan suicide attack killed a film director beloved throughout the Arab world—making Arab commentators more vocal and daring than ever in condemning terrorism.

One month after the deadly suicide bombing attacks in Amman, Jordan, Arab media continue to mourn the loss of Moustapha Akkad, a beloved director in the Arab world who was killed in the blast. His death and that of his daughter may mark the first time a unanimous outpouring of grief and condemnation over a suicide bomb attack has spread across the spectrum of Arab media.

The Syrian-born Akkad is known in America for producing the first “Halloween” film, released in 1978. He also produced the eight subsequent “Halloween” films.

In the Arab and Muslim worlds, however, Akkad is known as the man who directed “Al Risalah,” or “The Message,” a film about early Islamic history that was released in both Arabic and English versions. It known as the most widely viewed films about Islam and is considered the cinematic pride of the Muslim world. “Al Risalah” has been translated to more than 12 languages.

The film is banned in Syria, Akkad’s native country, and Saudi Arabia, whose leaders declared it violated strict Islamic codes. The Pentagon reportedly has bought many copies of “Al Risalah” to show to its troops in Afghanistan to help them better understand Islam.

Akkad also directed “Lion of the Desert,” released in 1981 and an instant hit in the Arab and Muslim world. It depicted real events about the Libyan struggle for freedom against Mussolini’s army in World War II, which killed one-third of the Libyan population.

Akkad, who lived in Los Angeles, traveled in November to Jordan to meet his daughter and attend a wedding party at the Radisson hotel in Amman. On Nov. 9, an explosion in the hotel killed Akkad’s daughter Rima instantly. Akkad sustained injuries in his neck and chest and died in the hospitable two days later. A total of 63 people, including three suicide bombers, were killed in the blast.

Ghazi goes on to quote several prominent commentators in the Arab press (particularly the London-based pan-Arab newspapers like Asharq Al Awsat) who condemn the attack as “evil,” a “a manifestation of ignorance,” and contrary to true Islamic principles. This observation is particularly saddening:

Firas Al-Atraqchi, a contributor to Al Jazeera, wrote on the Al Jazeera Web site that Akkad died before being able to achieve his dream of making a film about the Muslim hero Salahdden. Akkad, Al-Atraqchi wrote, thought that the invasion of Iraq was analogous to the political climate in the 11th century before Jerusalem was sacked. Akkad, Al-Atraqchi wrote, thought that the current geopolitical chessboard reminded him of “all the Muslim city-states which colluded with Crusaders and allowed not only the fall of Jerusalem, but also led to Muslim infighting.”

Frustrated with the unwillingness of rich Arab leaders to fund his films, Akkad said that it would take only as much as the cost of a warplane to make a film, which would have much more far-reaching effects than the strongest Arab army. Akkad always used to say that the best tool that Arabs and Muslims could use to influence the West was the Western media, not weapons.

Arabs and Muslims have huge admiration for Akkad, not only because he was able to establish himself as a successful international filmmaker, but also because he was able to do that without compromising his love to Islam and pride in his Arabic heritage. As with his past works, his film on Salahdden no doubt would have been a magnificent third epic, a window into the 1,400 years of Arab and Islamic civilization and a clear contrast to today’s dark ages of extremism and suicide bombings.

WW4 REPORT, in our recent review of Ridley Scott’s Crusades epic Kingdom of Heaven, noted that it is long overdue for Saladin’s life to be brought to the silver screen. Perhaps some courageous young Arab director will pick up Moustapha Akkad’s torch.

See our last posts on the Jordan attacks and the politics of Islam.