God's Politics

God's Politics

‘We’re Going to Kill Them All’ (by Gareth Higgins)

The Kingdom opens with a striking historical montage, depicting the roots of Saudi Arabia and why this country means so much to the U.S. We’re soon plunged into a horrific attack, viewing the killing of whole American families and the Saudi police who guard them in compounds where Islamic law does not apply. It’s not long before Jamie Foxx and his intrepid FBI colleagues are secretly flying to the kingdom to show the Saudi police how to solve crimes.

The film constructs all the clichés of cops traveling to foreign lands – there’s a local officer who our own hero at first dislikes, then grows to love, then is killed in a hail of bullets; the token “good Muslim” gets to die a martyr to the cause of keeping Foxx and the rest of us safe; while Jennifer Garner seeks to undo the trauma of violence by offering a lollipop to a child who has just witnessed their rampage. The local State Department official is ineffectual, committed only to keeping the FBI from doing anything that would annoy the Saudi hierarchy.

This film wants to be a serious exploration of U.S.-Middle East relations, and in its portrayal of Saudi street life it manages to be more accurate than many. But ultimately, The Kingdom is in love with violence. The modus operandi of the FBI characters is to look for evidence and then shoot the guilty. It’s mob rule, more akin to Wild West stereotypes than even the most right-wing interpretation of due process. Near the beginning of the film, one character tells a grieving friend of one of those killed in the attack, “we’re going to kill them all.” The friend is relieved and stops crying. The film’s implication is that so should we.

Having lived through the civil conflict in northern Ireland, I know closely what it means for people to kill each other over politics, ethnicity, and religion – for nearly 40 years. We have finally brought the violent part of the conflict to an end, not because one party achieved victory over another, but because we agreed to share political power. Some of the very people who supported the killing are now holding office in a devolved local government administration. Former sworn enemies are now responsible for such things as agriculture policy, education, and property tax rates.

Our “peace” was not won through sentimentality, nor did it come by repaying violence with violence. Peace processes are not often about traditional notions of justice – indeed peace processes often necessitate that injustices be done. For example, the release of prisoners who only a few years earlier had ripped out people’s teeth or smashed open their skulls is a very painful thing for their victims to observe. But in transitional societies, it may be the only thing that allows everyone to have a new start, whether they deserve it or not.

It should go without saying that “we’re going to kill them all,” or dealing with guilty people simply by shooting them, does not make it easy for the contrition necessary for reconciliation to happen. It unequivocally does not reduce the tensions that produce only more violence.

The story we tell ourselves about justice in large part determines what we will stomach in the real world. In this regard, perhaps The Kingdom knows more than I want to give it credit for. A film that ends with both the American hero and the future leaders of Islamic militancy swearing, “We’re going to kill them all,” doesn’t just understand the human tendency to seek violent revenge, but prophesies what planet earth will look like if we don’t rethink our approaches to violence, justice, and how to have security without destroying our neighbors.

Gareth Higgins is a Christian writer and activist in Belfast, Northern Ireland. For the past decade he was the founder/director of the zero28 project, an initiative addressing questions of peace, justice, and culture. He is the author of the insightful How Movies Helped Save My Soul and blogs at

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posted October 4, 2007 at 2:30 pm

“For anyone who’s been wondering what the classy, intricate political drama Syriana would have been like with less talk and more explosions, we now have The Kingdom, a slick thriller that welds the difficult subject of Middle Eastern politics onto a slice of hard-edged action. Hollywood has made many attempts to deal with the War on Terror, but here we’re in a purely commercial frame of mind, as the story sets out to tell a fast-paced tale of good guys versus bad guys, and doesn’t really want to let deep characterisation or hazy morality get in the way.”
I think I’ll skip this one.
I gave Syriana 5 stars though.

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posted October 4, 2007 at 4:02 pm

Wow, this one sounds like a turkey, like it would just make me angry.
Hollywood’s addiction to redemptive violence rolls on…

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Susie Folks

posted October 4, 2007 at 5:04 pm

I saw the same movie that you did. I heard the sames lines at the end of the film. I did not hear them as you did. I heard the terrorist and the American saying the same thing, but not in order for us to buy it – but rather for us to recognize that we are no better than they are when we continue to respond in agressive, warlike ways. It’s certainly possible that the film’s makers intended for us to react as you did, but that doesn’t mean that that is the only response. I saw The Kingdom as anti-war.

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posted October 4, 2007 at 8:49 pm

I’m looking forward to seeing it, having heard from other ex-residents of the KSA that, though it’s mediocre as a cops-and-robbers movie, the historical background (in part provided by a real Aramco brat) and the street scenes in Arabia are worth the price of admission – and also that the Sa’udi cop “steals the show” from Jamie Foxx. (Of course, since I haven’t seen it yet, I can’t confirm any of this – but it has certainly piqued my curiosity!)
Maasalaama :)

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N.M. Rod

posted October 5, 2007 at 1:49 am

Gareth’s own Northern Ireland experience reveals to us how often western Christianity has not been a peaceful religion – right to this day – but one of terrorism and cycles of violent revenge, all couched in supposedly redemptive terms. The Northern Ireland paradigm is one that shows the western Christian to be as easily consumed with mad violence as his and her Islamic counterparts – the “Bring it on!” and “Kill them all!” lust for revenge murder.
Just what is a Christian? Is a Christian anyone who claims to be? Is anyone allowed to judge? Can we even know?
I personally am convinced that I cannot engage in certain behaviors without turning my back on God, completely rejecting him knowingly – and therefore I know those behaviors must be unchristian. When others justify them and even revel in them, am I allowed to think they’re not Christians? If not, doesn’t that make Christianity completely meaningless and up for grabs by anyone who lays claim to it?

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posted October 5, 2007 at 3:51 am

I loved this movie! Why? Because it did a great job in showing that the same people who are capable of compassion are equally capable of a “justified” killing spree of revenge, whether we have long clothes on our heads or not. Gareth, Im suprised you would come to different conclusions on the same film within the same blog. One second you say,
Near the beginning of the film, one character tells a grieving friend of one of those killed in the attack, “we’re going to kill them all.” The friend is relieved and stops crying. The film’s implication is that so should we.
Then the next,
“In this regard, perhaps The Kingdom knows more than I want to give it credit for. A film that ends with both the American hero and the future leaders of Islamic militancy swearing, “We’re going to kill them all,” doesn’t just understand the human tendency to seek violent revenge, but prophesies what planet earth will look like if we don’t rethink our approaches to violence, justice, and how to have security without destroying our neighbors”.
The latter comment applies to the WHOLE MOVIE! Plus, if you were really paying attention instead of forcing your “trigger happy” superficial conclusions of the movie you would have noticed that we never learn what was said to the grieving fbi investigator (Jennifer Garner)unitl THE END OF THE MOVIE!

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B Taylor

posted October 5, 2007 at 9:26 am

Thanks for putting into words the response I felt as I read the above review. I thought the film was a powerful depiction of how people use violence and revenge to fill the void that was created by violence in the first place. It portrays the dangerous and cyclical nature of hate from generation to generation. I really appreciated this film, and I’m glad I’m not alone.

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posted October 5, 2007 at 9:40 am

Reminds me of the U2 lyric:
“And you become the monster, so the monster will not break you.”
I think we’re like conduits for energy. When violence and hate come do we transcend and transform it into peace and love, or do we let it multiply by swallowing US?

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kevin s.

posted October 5, 2007 at 10:09 am

“kevin s
Perhaps we could all review our purpose for being at this blog.”
If the movies claimed to speak for God, I could understand his interest.

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N.M. Rod

posted October 5, 2007 at 11:00 am

The popular culture always does end up speaking as a tribal god, because people always create their own god out of what they already believe or want to.
This makes pornographies of any sin, if widespread, part of the driving mass psychology that will find a way to invoke God for what propels it.

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posted October 9, 2007 at 6:43 pm

Saw The Kingdom this past weekend.
This is what I wrote on Facebook:
The Kingdom is full of holes. Bullet holes. Bomb craters. And holes in the plot. I confess that I often complain about loose editing in movies, but The Kingdom is at the other extreme – one gets the feeling that all the expository stuff hit the editing room floor in order to put the explosions closer together. The historical montage at the beginning of the film is terrific, but it is much shorter than I had expected. The passing references to Saudi cultural sensitivities either go unexplained (Jennifer Garner and Jamie Foxx pick up some of the broken Arabic that Westerners inevitably do, but the film never explains how) or are bizarrely inconsistent (Jennifer Garner is quickly given an abaya-like garment before meeting one of the princes, yet no one objects to her visiting a salafi neighborhood outside the compound in a short-sleeved t-shirt).
As other Brats have noted, Ashraf Barhoum completely eclipses the other actors – partly because he really does do a brilliant job, but also unfortunately because the other characters simply aren’t developed enough.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing is that this film seems to want to have an anti-violence message, but it’s pretty much drowned out by the explosions and machine-gun fire. There is a brief scene where we see the al-Ghazi family praying together, but the scenes with Islamic terrorists are far more lengthy. In fact, the only time we hear the Shahada is right before one of them blows himself up. And the film seems to accept all too readily the premise that violence is a quick fix to our problems.
Bottom line – if you’re homesick for the KSA and would be willing to pay the price of admission to see some good historical footage, shots of camels in pickup trucks, or what the new abayas look like, then it might be worth it to see this movie. Or, if you like explosions and gunfire, and you don’t care about why they’re happening, you might like this movie. Otherwise, it’s just kind of sad.

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