Review/Britz, a compassionate and thoughtful film about a British suicide bomber.



It is not often these days one is moved by a TV program, but I found the two part Channel 4 DocuDrama Britz, written and directed by Peter Kosminsky an unusually perceptive piece of work, especially the second part. The program centered on two young Bradford born Muslim siblings as they make their way in the wider world. Like many from the Indian sub continent who came to the UK, their parents came from Pakistan to work in the Textile Mills and Factories of the north of England, settling in Bradford. They worked all hours building what they came to regard as a reasonably successful life in their new homeland, hoping their children would do even better by studying hard.

The first part of Britz followed the brother Sohail, [Riz Ahmed] a clever, articulate young man who sees little point in pushing against the UK’s established norms, he is British to the core, prejudices and all. When after 9/11 the British Security Services come calling at his university to recruit bright young British muslim, he accepts their offer enthusiastically. Despite the incompetence and prejudice he comes up against within the security services and police he is not the type to have self doubt, he had made his bed and he intended it to become as comfortable as he could make it.

The UK security services, Special Branch and the police, perhaps a little unfairly are portrayed in the film as the incompetents we have come to accept after the WMD fiasco and the killing of Electrician Jean Charles de Menezes. What is new in this film is the portrayal of the way the police and security services have manipulated the new laws that have been placed on the statute book post 9/11. Control orders, curfews, tagging and anti social behavior legislation are all used by the State in a detrimental manner to intimidate Britain’s working class muslim communities and to control and defeat those who protest against the New Labour governments foreign policy. [Ah! the fools the fools the fools, have these people learnt nothing from recent Irish history]

Part Two moved from the big picture to focus on the momentous impact this reactionary and oppressive legislation has on a single young British Muslim woman, Nasima. I found the actor Manjinder Virk’s portrayal of Nasima both inspiring and heartbreaking; and so recognizable as once the scales were removed from her eyes she came to political activism in much the same way as previous generations of working class young people, although Nasima’s politics were not socialist and secular but based on religion.

We are first introduced to Nasima as a first year medical student, having done well at school she had the world at her feet, outside of the home she is almost unrecognizable from her fellow students no matter what their faith, inquisitive, funny, angry, combative and secretive as many young women tend to be, especially with their parents.

But every single day she is being politicized in a thousand small ways by the actions of her government and its agencies, true islamic groups are about her with there leaflets and meetings, but this is not what motivates her to become increasingly political. The key to understanding her radicalization is the way governmental policies impact’s directly and indirectly upon her life. Like countless people before her when combating an oppressive government, which has a foreign policy that can only be described as wicked, she slowly comes to believe that only violence will awaken the British people from their thoughtless stupor as far as the suffering of muslims is concerned.

The way Nasima manipulates the racial prejudices that exist within the British Muslim communities is extremely clever and heartless; and when this occurs we understand that before our eyes and without noticing it Nasima has become a committed and able soldier of extreme political islamism. From that moment she is doomed on this earth as to are those she will take with her on her final journey, for nothing is going to stop her mission, not even the death of her beloved brother. Such commitment is both admirable and terrifying and also such a heartbreaking waste of young lives. For this type of outrage amongst others we must thank Bush and Blair and all those parliamentarians who voted for the invasion of Iraq.

At the end of the film Nasima having carried out her bloody task, comes back from the dead as we watch a clip of her last will and testament. It is obviously based on the video the leader of the 7/7 bombing Muhammad Sidique Khan willed to the Al Jazeera TV station and which was broadcast around the world. Whilst many of the critics disagree I found the ending of Britz very powerful. Not least because as with the Muhammad Sidique Khan video, it portrayed the suicide bomber at the end of their short life not as a young British muslim, but an international soldier engaged in what they perceive to be a war against muslim oppression and as we are reminded time and again when yet another suicide blast occurs, this is not a profession which allows for even a smidgin of sentiment.

Some may not like me saying this but it was the type of statement that Irish Republican Maireed Farrell* might have left behind had she had the opportunity and there is a lesson here for us all, but especially those who govern the UK State. People like Maireed Farrell and the actual Nasima’s will never by brutalized into oblivion, for the reason they had/have taken up arms is because they have real grievances against the UK State and believe there is no democratic avenue available to address these injustices. What fair minded person can doubt that these anti-terror laws etc are targeted against all British muslims, just as their forerunners were directed against all Irish people. The invasion of Iraq and the continuos oppression of the Palestinians is wickedness incarnate which must be addressed. For if you couple these oppressive laws with the UK governments disastrous foreign policy you have a recipe for the making of hundreds of Muhammad Sidique Khan’s and that is in none of our interest, what ever our religious beliefs.**

* PIRA volunteer shot dead by SAS in Gibraltar.
**http://www.channel4.com/culture/microsites/B/britz/

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10 Comments

Filed under EU, internationalism, Iraq, muslim, Pakistan, political Islam, politics, suicide bomber, UK

10 responses to “Review/Britz, a compassionate and thoughtful film about a British suicide bomber.

  1. MichaelR

    I got a link to here from Politics.ie. Copying what I wrote there. (By the way, I would start a blog like that but I don’t know how to promote one).

    There is one good answer to “suffering of Muslims” in the country where they chose to seek a better life.

    WELCOME TO THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND. (The article is about England not Ireland; but RCs are good enough too.) If you encounter any racists, complain to the nearest Bishop; converts of all races and backgrounds are to be accepted freely and lovingly.

    Alternatively, keep your religion private (it’s a free country) and shut yer gobs!

    The comparison to the situation in Ireland of any time is not fair. The Irish are native here; even in the North the battle was at best between two kinds of natives. (Moreover, comparing a suicide bomber, intentionally killing civilians, to Mairéad Farrell, who was attacking military personnel, seems like an insult to Mairéad’s memory.)

    But the Muslims have come to England because they perceived life there better than in their native Islamist society. They have no business remodelling their new country into an image of what they had to escape from.

    For comparison, imagine the Soviet refugees of the 40-80s trying to support communist parties in the West. Only they didn’t; in fact they tended to be somewhere in the Thatcher/Reagan line of politics. (A number escaped through Shannon at the stopover between flights, but I think they tended to end up in Britain rather than Ireland).

    That’s who the Muslims should learn from. If you had to escape a system, there’s a reason why it became like that. And you should learn that reason and expose it, rather than bring the evil you escape with you.

  2. DAVE BONES

    A very interesting review. I wasn’t very convinced by her radicalisation, but like you I thought the last five minutes was good. If it is having this sort of effect on you maybe the director is achieving in his intentions.

  3. Mick Hall

    Dave,

    Thanks for your comments and also the link, as you are aware in it the films maker Peter Kosminsky explains what he was trying to say and imo he managed to do what he set out to achieve. No small feat for a film maker these days.

    Take care.

  4. Jenny

    A fantastic project and I have been surprised by the lack of reviews. I found Nasima’s transition from having suffered from an oppressive aspects of her religion/ culture to supporting it in the most extreme way against Western liberalism very unconvincing, but if you went back to her friend’s suicide it started to make more sense. The brother’s story was far more convincing. And of course, michaelr, neither of them had any more choice over being born in England than I did.

  5. WorldbyStom

    Great review Mick. There are problems though. Are the actions of the US/UK the direct result of “western liberalism”. If anything the latter has led to the aversion of numerous European countries to support or engage in just those actions. So therefore for someone – say Nasima in this fiction – to attack the ‘western liberalism’ is to misunderstand the nature of the problem, indeed to turn to radical Islam is to actually enter a philosophical and ideological cul-de-sac if only because unlike in the North there is no prospect of it ever being a significant political base within UK society. Then we have to look at the response proposed in such attacks. In any political endeavour the effectivity of a tactic used has to be paramount. Do suicide bombings improve or disimprove the situation. 7/7 had sfa effect upon British involvement in Iraq.

    I wonder if the contemporary situation in the UK is as abysmal as is portrayed here or analagous to the situation of the Irish in the 1970s. Unlike then there are Muslim MPs in Parliament and scores of councillors. They (and not Islamists – its important to note lest I be accused of contradiction in my first point) are embedded within UK society probably in a stronger way than the Irish were in terms of clearer political representation.

    Finally, all this is going to be moot in five years. The UK will be out of Iraq in any meaningful sense, although whether the US will is quite a different matter. Does the ‘struggle’ you propose Nasima is representative of then continue against ‘western liberalism’ in the UK, or is it specific to Iraq and other political issues. I guess what I’m getting at is that the solution Nasima finds in this fiction and others have found in reality strikes me as profoundly reactionary, self defeating and futile. And the idea that she is an ‘international soldier’ seems wide of the mark.

  6. Mick Hall

    WBS/Jenny

    It seems to me the importance of this film is that Peter C has raised this issue in a non hysterical way. As to what motivate Nasima, one should never underestimate revenge as a motivating factor, after all in the UK during WW2 the most civilized of people never turned a hair about the bombing of German civilians in places like Hamburg and Dresden.

    It also has to be said much the same thing occurred within working class nationalist communities in the north of Ireland when IRA bombs went of in England. People are very complex on this issue.

    Surly the whole point about suicide bombing is that 99% of them are not intended to improve the immediate political situation, for what they are about is the militarily and politically weak striking out in the hope of catching the powerful in the back-blast. Suicide bombs are designed to raise moral. In doing this both 9/11 and 7/7 could be regarded as an outstanding success [if one were an advocate of extreme political islam]

    As to being an international soldier of islam, I feel that people like Muhammad Sidique Khan are just that, but more important than what I think is the fact that this is how they see themselves, which of course is what makes them so dangerous.

    The problem those of us have who see value in western democracies is that both bin Laden and the neo-cons have the measure of each other and in the process they may well engulf us all in their dirty deeds.

    What I find so bloody awful about their behavior is that neither give a twig about the human casualties of their actions, who ever they may be.

  7. WorldbyStom

    Let me put it another way. Who are the powerful caught in the backblast of 7/11 or any UK based suicide bombing? None. It’s London commuters and bus users – mostly working or middle class. In other words precisely the same as the victims of attacks elsewhere. But the problem is the imbalance in forces. Islamists can inflict awful, but limited, damage and hurt. So the fear may be great, but the actual impacts are lesser. And if they succeed then the society becomes more repressive and the voice of the people is muted in security measures. As a tactic it cannot work.

    Regarding morale, that’s a fair point, but the awful hames that was the subsequent weeks bombing arguably destroyed any achieved on the former. And even then. Consider it in the round. The level of Islamist activity has actually been minimal. One might argue that was because of a cowed and repressed minority, or one might argue that more likely it is because that anger doesn’t translate into gestural violence but into more considered political responses such as pressurising the Labour Party, organising the community, etc, etc.

    Re Dresden etc, of course you’re right. But that’s the point. They were in the middle of a war, one that at certain times appeared existential. That’s not about civilisation or not, that’s about a human response – not an attractive one, but understandable.

    Your last point is bang on. It’s the willingness to ignore life and to ignore casualties that does at least start us on a path of at least some moral equivalence as regards the proponents…

  8. WorldbyStom

    I should add that while I can understand how someone could get caught up in that I think it’s the wrong response, and thankfully so do almost young British Muslims. Still from reading the transcripts of those picked up for similar events they seem like the most misogynistic bunch one could imagine and I genuinely wonder how a woman who had previously been ‘radical’ in a broader sense would fit in.

  9. DAVE BONES

    to turn to radical Islam is to actually enter a philosophical and ideological cul-de-sac if only because unlike in the North there is no prospect of it ever being a significant political base within UK society.

    I don’t think these people are thinking of a significant political base somehow. This cul de sac ends with a suicide belt.

    Those who would try and convince them of another direction are also in a cul de sac as the film crystalised in the last scene.

  10. WorldbyStom

    Not sure I’d entirely agree with your last point. There are those who have toyed with Islamist organisations and drawn back. Surely the effort is worthwhile to engage in a serious fashion?

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