Thanks to my husband’s parents who have come to live with us for several months (really, it is a good thing!), we were able to see a movie this weekend (which we haven’t done so in more than a year–since my third child was born last fall). He pushed for “Tropic Thunder,” but I won out with my choice: “Traitor” starring one of my favorite actors, Don Cheadle. “Traitor” intrigued me with its touted plot of a devout, “true” Muslim who by all accounts seems like a radical and a terrorist, but of course things are very different under the surface.
There are very few Muslim characters in the movies (or on television) that don’t fall into the stereotype of terrorist, radical, or extremist (insert your own adjective here). And as I search my brain through all the films and shows I’ve seen, Samir Horn (played by Cheadle) is perhaps the first character shown to be a devout, intelligent, practicing, Allah-loving, but NOT an extremist “lets wage a jihad on the infidels” kind of Muslim.
He prays five times a day, tries to live the principles of the Qur’an, quotes hadiths (verified sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) in the right context, and truly believes in the beauty of his faith–that it calls him and all Muslims to worship God and live in peace.
Horn learns his Muslim values from his dad, who died in a car bombing that he witnessed as a child. He joins his equally devout mother in the U.S. and eventually joins the CIA. But after couple of tours in Afghanistan and other Muslim countries, it looks like Horn has joined the “other side” in waging a war against the U.S.
When FBI agents place Horn at the scene of numerous terrorist attacks, they zero in on finding him. But as they draw closer to Horn, who seems to be a key member of a terrorist cell plotting to blow up 30 buses during the Thanksgiving holidays in Middle America, plot twists reveal Horn’s true mission. It’s a thrilling story, but also a double-edged sword: While using Horn to represent the millions of devout Muslims who abhor terrorism and violence as un-Islamic, the film also ratchets up Islamophobia in the U.S. by several notches.
Sitting there, watching the movie with my husband, I felt a bit uncomfortable (I wear a hijab, so it was quite obvious that I was a Muslim). Would my fellow movie watchers look at me and think, “Wow, Muslims aren’t so different than any other religious group,” or would they think, “Muslims can seem as American as anyone, but they are all out to get us.”
Who knows? I was probably being paranoid. Double-edged swords aside, go see “Traitor”–if anything, you’ll see Cheadle at his best and you’ll see probably the first devout-but-not-a-terrorist Muslim character on the silver screen.