Boonaa Mohammed, spoken word poet and up-and-coming screenwriter, came to Brock University on October 27 to screen his first film, Tug of War.
The event was organized by Amro Abdubaqi together with the Muslim Student Association (MSA). A crowd of over 200 people came to see to the film and listen to Mohammed present a brief talk afterwards.
“I’ve been following Boonaa Mohammed on social media and I saw that he was screening nearby in the States,” said Abdubaqi, a third year Media and Communication Studies student at Brock. “I’m passionate about the Muslim community and I feel like our voice is not heard enough.”
The MSA also helped out with the event; some members manned the ticket booth at the Sean O’Sullivan Theatre (pictured below) and others managed the line of people waiting to go inside the theatre.
“When we first heard about the film, we were really excited,” said Yageen Elhaj, MSA president and third year Psychology/Child and Youth Studies major. “[Many in] the Muslim community loves Boonaa Mohammed. Everyone can relate to this film. We thought it would be a good idea [to show it] to educate Brock students and the community at large.”
Tug of War is a short film that talks about the factors which push young Muslims to join extremist groups from a holistic approach. The film is based on real stories and conversations that Mohammed had with a variety of people when researching for the film.
The plot of the movie follows two young men, Khalil and Anas, who live in Toronto. Khalil has just been released from a four-year stint in jail on gang-related charges and is given a place to stay by Anas after being rejected by his parents, his former girlfriend and the imam at the local mosque. Anas on the other hand, an isolated and vulnerable youth, had been an easy target for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and was blackmailed into spying against his Muslim community.
Khalil had turned his life around in jail, having learned the true meaning of Islam, and is ready to find a job and get his life back on track. After everyone but Anas rejects him, however, he is easily convinced by Anas to take a plane and join an extremist group in the Middle East. Ultimately, Anas backs out at the last minute and then becomes an active member of the Muslim community and learns the truth about Islam, whereas Khalil, very unhappy and lonely among the extremists, is killed in action.
“Extremism is a very cliché topic. You’re going to turn on the TV and it’s always negative. But never is it shown from the side of the Muslim community,” said Mohammed. “Good art is supposed to make you think. It’s supposed to create a dialogue even if it makes you uncomfortable. It’s an uncomfortable conversation but a necessary one.”
After the film, Mohammed stepped on stage to briefly discuss the issue of extremism in the Muslim community and to answer some questions.
“Muslims need to be educated about their religion and they need to reflect on the roles they play in society,” said Mohammed. “They look at what’s happening in Palestine and Iraq with Western foreign policy and it makes their blood boil. But there are ways to combat that follow the law – the Muslim participation in the last federal election is a great example.”
Mohammed spoke about the problems in the Muslim community itself, as well as the issues propagated by the West.
“Being a Muslim born and raised in Canada, I think that Muslims don’t feel like they’re a part of the fabric of this country,” said Mohammed. “For me, it’s about accountability. Holding the media accountable for what they publish or don’t publish, holding the local and federal law enforcements accountable. If you’re interested in helping solve these issues, work with the Muslim community, not against it.”
“I hope that people give Muslims a chance, give Islam a chance,” said Abdubaqi. “And I hope they learn more for themselves, not just taking everything from the media.”
Tug of War was well received by those in attendance last Tuesday.
“Honestly, I had a lot of emotions because it is a very sensitive issue,” said Elhaj. “I like how it gives a very unbiased view of the issue. As Muslims, it’s interesting to see what pushes youth to the edge.”
When Mohammed first released the trailer, he received a lot of both positive and negative reactions, but he pushed on with the project and is now busy screening the film all over.
“Reception has been really good,” said Mohammed. “It’s been successful all across Canada and the U.S. and I’ve got tours lined up in the U.K. and Australia.”
Mohammed is also currently working on his next film, which should start shooting in the spring of next year. Besides writing the script for Tug of War, he also produced the film and played the main character, Khalil. In 2007, he won the CBC Poetry Face-Off Best New Artist award and uses his passion for art to get out his message.
“We denounce anybody using violence and using Islam to disguise politics as a religious holy war,” said Mohammed. “What [extremists] are doing is a sin.”
Internal News Editor