Idol Chatter

I’ve decided that Wednesday is ABC’s “Must-See-TV” night, with “Alias,” “Lost,” and “Invasion” taking up a mystery/sci-fi three-hour block, and it’s difficult to pick which show to write about. “Invasion” was all about fate, and “Lost” was all about betrayal (in a major way), but I’ll go with “Alias” this week. The show has finally, fully brought its storyline back to where it all began, Rimbaldi, the fictional apocalyptic philosopher who’s been dead for five centuries who is the focus of Arvin Sloane’s bad-guy obsession.

Now that Sidney is doubled (and who can wait for that meet & greet?), the show has returned its focus to “The Prophecy,” and P. 47, the mysterious page of a Rimbaldi manuscript that contains a drawing with a stikingly similar depiction of Sydney Bristow. The page itself predicts that “The Chosen One”–after a great struggle between her and a nemesis (who we’ve all thought until now was Nadia, Sydney’s sister)–the woman portrayed will fulfill the following prophecy:

“This woman here depicted will possess unseen marks. Signs that she will be the one to bring forth my works. Bind them with fury. A burning anger, unless prevented. At vulgar cost, this woman will render the greatest power unto utter desolation.”

There’s little question that Sydney is somehow linked with this power to bring about utter desolation, but after last night’s episdoe, I wonder if it is Sloane who is to help her fulfill this destiny?

In a particularly torn and tragic moment after Sloane has spent an entire year trying to cure his beloved, long lost daughter from a disease of his own Rimbaldi-related making, the culmination of last night’s episode was a reunion and forgiveness secene between Nadia and her father. Yet after years of Sloane’s bad-boy ambiguity–has he turned good? is he still bad?–he simply had to return to his true, ruthless, Rimbaldi-obsessed ways. Nadia, dismayed to find P. 47 hidden in Sloane’s desk, confronts her father, saying that he must choose between her and Rimbaldi. She holds P. 47 precariously over the flames in the fireplace. Sloane, desperate to salvage both P. 47 and his father-daughter relationship, begs Nadia not to ask him to choose “between family and his faith.”

Rimbaldi, apparently, is Sloane’s religion. And last night, Nadia played the role of sacrificial lamb. Sloane’s “faith” not only costs Nadia her life, but her death becomes the catalyst that fully resurrects Sloane’s utter devotion to his god, Rimbaldi.

Just the other night my husband and I were discussing some world event in which Muslims came out looking bad, and we agreed on the totally obvious fact that the worldview about Islam had profoundly and irrevocably changed since 9/11. But, my husband said, “In the eight years that I’ve been in this country, I’ve never felt singled out or have been harassed.”

I echoed that sentiment. I was born here, and raised in the Midwest, where for the longest time we were the only Muslim family around. Then my life took a 180-degree turn, when I married and moved to New York, which is where we were on 9/11. Still, in the midst of all that awfulness, I felt that Islam had been hijacked, but all Muslims hadn’t.

Even when I started wearing the hijaab (headscarf) last year, I felt okay. Heck, it takes a lot to make New Yorkers turn their heads and look at you. And now, living in Virginia, on the footsteps of Bible country, being an obvious Muslim is quite all right.

But as I sat in a movie theater on a Tuesday afternoon and endured “United 93,” for the first time I wanted to hide my Muslim-ness. I went to see how director Paul Greengrass portrayed the characters of the terrorists. Of course there’s nothing remotely decent that can be said about the cowards. But I wanted to see how their faith was shown in the movie.

Based on more than two dozen phone calls from passengers on the doomed flight, about 30 minutes of flight recorder data, and meticulous research into what passed between the FAA and the military on that fateful day, Greengrass paints as accurate a portrait as one can without knowing for sure what happened on United 93. And that’s probably what freaked me out.

Who knows for sure what those terrorists said or did on that flight, or how they wrongly invoked their faith to fire themselves up for their suicide mission? Greengrass has them saying “Allah Akbar” (God is great) and the Shahada (the statement of faith recited by converts, and which we are taught to say when facing death). Though it burned me to hear them say that–to hear these terrorists invoke those holy words as they went about their sacrilegious task–I agree that that was probably what they were saying.

What hurt me most was the opening scene of the film, which showed the leader of the United 93 cell reading the Qur’an, and showed the other terrorists praying. Maybe they indeed did this. They looked devout, so certain that God wanted them to do this, that being Muslim meant embarking on this horrific jihad. But that is so not the case. In the five years past, this point has been hammered home: Islam is not a religion of terror, jihad is not about suicide missions and targeting innocents, and a small group of unhinged terrorists do not represent the world’s Muslim community.

But the film’s representation of the terrorists, especially that first scene, just opened up all those old wounds. Greengrass said he specifically included that scene to show how Islam was hijacked by the terrorists. But for that to work, the movie-going public must differentiate between extremists who grossly misuse the religion and the rest of the Muslim community, who read the same Qur’an and pray the same prayers, and yet live a peaceful life.

I’m not saying that Greengrass shouldn’t have shown the terrorists doing their religious activities. And I realize that depicting more of the terrorists’ background–say, drinking and visiting strip-club, which we know they did–would take away from the movie’s focus on the United 93 passengers. I guess I’m just really scared that viewers won’t realize that in acting religious, the terrorists had indeed hijacked Islam.

After watching a National Geographic program about the terrorists last summer, which explored their un-Islamic behavior prior to Sept. 11, I said to my husband, “What kind of Muslims are these?” He replied to me, “That’s the thing—they aren’t Muslim. No matter what they say, they aren’t Muslim.”

And that’s what I want to remind all those who see this film. Maybe these guys did read the Qur’an. Maybe they did act “holier than thou” in the last moments. But they were bad–the faith is not. See the film and remember the sacrifices of the day. But don’t forget what post-9/11 has taught us about faith, the faith of Muslims, the faith of Americans, the faith we all share.

Picture yourself in one of the trendiest Manhattan restaurants. Fruity cocktails in deep martini glasses rest in many a manicured hand. Fashion is top-notch; this is New York after all. It’s dark, very dark. The lights are so dim that you can barely make eyes at that person across the room. Yet, many rise to the challenge (why else would you spend $12 for a drink?). You’re mid-flirt, cocktail in hand, you look up and what do you see? A giant Buddha statue–reaching from floor-to-ceiling–set back deep in the dining room, to watch over all the young socialites.

Such is the scene at Tao, a famed Manhattan restaurant (which some of you may know from its cameo as the location of the speed-dating scene in the movie “Hitch“).

On my first excursion there last night, I sat, like many others, sipping my Tao-tini and observing the action. It occurred to me that this kind of scene is exactly what the Buddha teaches his followers to stay away from; according to Buddhism, desire must be controlled. One of the mindfulness teachings for lay people is to give up alcohol. Monks and nuns take it further abstaining from alcohol and sex. I have some questions on this matter.

So what is the Buddha doing at Tao, watching people get drunk and meet each other? Was the restaurant sensitive to religion when creating its theme and designing the meditating, full-bellied Buddha? How would Americans respond to a Jesus-themed restaurant where all sorts of un-Christian activities took place? Americans, and particularly New Yorkers, fetishize the East so much that we don’t even notice the religious symbol just past the tip of our martini, and don’t care that we’re disrespecting it continuously there.

But instead of ranting on the subject last night (I saved that for today), I took the Buddha’s advice–paused, breathed, and briefly locked eyes with a suit across the room…

I’m a Bruce Springsteen fan who’s had some fine spiritual reflections—and many moments of enjoyment—courtesy of Bruce’s music and writing. Usually it happens when the E-Street band is behind him, so I wasn’t necessarily excited about his new CD, “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions,” a solo covering of old folk tunes with some friends and musicians gathered in a living room as background.

But this CD surprises me in its aesthetics as well as its content. This is music from a time when songs were about the music rather than the music business. Over the next week or so, you’ll see Bruce doing several TV appearances to promote the homespun flavor of the Pete Seeger folk-song-inspired project, but it’s not just branding or hype. The disc cover reminds me of the faded varnish of a country barn, but the songs are a famous rocker’s fresh tinkering and fresh spin on everything from campfire tale to gospel standard, from mythic yarn to minstrel song.

My favorite is the deep sound and anti-war lyrics of “Mrs. McGrath,” which includes a gentle nudge for Pres. Bush about our current war. (Though in reported comments the past few days, Springsteen has gone far beyond a gentle nudge, sharply criticizing the president for the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina.) I also liked “Pay Me My Money Down,” which is about the haves and have-nots, but updated to include Mr. Gates, the current “captain.” Least impressive is the title track, a cover of “We Shall Overcome,” which, unlike the rest, is more pretty than gritty.

This is music written during a time when everyone was invited to sing, play, dance, and hum along. When I was a kid, even the guy with the juice-harp could be a star. It was about the meaning and the message more than the look or whether it would sell. In that way, this is honest music that should inspire good listening and meaningful reflection, and which also can spur more of us on to make songs of our own.

The intent of “The Seeger Sessions” is reminiscent of the “Nebraska” album, or Springsteen’s tribute to Harry Chapin, when he sang “Remember When The Music.” Bruce says he made this record in just three days. I think that even he still longs for the day when it’s just a bunch of friends with a pick or a washboard making music that sends a message while creating some enjoyment—and perhaps a moment’s respite—in the process.

Previous Posts