Four Lions tells the farcical tale of a group of suicide bombers in Britain. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it wasn’t an easy film to have made. Both Channel 4 and the BBC refused to touch it.
Four Muslim men are preparing to take up arms to resist injustices against Muslims around the world. Omar (Riz Ahmed) is the brains behind the outfit, with the rest of his cell consisting of his impressionable friend Waj (Kayvan Novak), sheepish bomb maker Faisal (Adeel Akhtar) and white Islamic convert Barry (Nigel Lindsay). Barry is a nihilist figure who just seems to want extreme violence. He spends much of the time trying to convince the others that they should bomb a mosque to make Muslims rise up and join the jihad. Faisal meanwhile spends his time trying to teach birds to fly bombs through windows.
The myth of the sinister, highly organised terror cell is blown apart by Four Lions from the opening scene, where one of the gang, filming his martyrdom video, is told to lose the toy gun he is holding because it is obviously too small to be real.
Morris interviewed hundreds of Muslims as he wrote the script, including ex Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg, imams and some who had fought jihad themselves. The character of Barry is based on an ex-BNP member interviewed by Morris who got tired of beating up Asian kids and decided to read the Koran so he could mess with their heads. He ended up accidentally converting himself and working for a radical group wanting an international Islamic caliphate.
But the farce is not restricted to the wannabe bombers. The desperate attempts by the state to catch terrorists at any cost, while refusing to address the wars and discrimination that lead to terrorism, are illustrated mercilessly. The police anti-terror squads are dim-witted and trigger-happy enough to occasionally shoot the wrong person without much concern, and there is a grim ridicule of extraordinary rendition.
Four Lions is not so much about why a young Muslim might decide to blow himself up, or indeed Islamophobia – although these issues are addressed. Instead it focuses on terrorism’s blundering “human side”. In being able to laugh at terrorism, Morris argues, we challenge the climate of fear stoked so well by government and media. “Terrorist cells have the same group dynamics as stag parties and five a side football teams,” says Morris. “There is conflict, friendship, misunderstanding and rivalry. Terrorism is about ideology, but it’s also about berks.”
The film is very funny in places and I didn’t find it unnecessarily shocking. The characters are warm and likeable, as well as disorganised and ridiculous, despite their destructive intentions.
Some people have praised Four Lions for being an attack on Islamic extremists, but they miss the point. This is, as Morris puts it, “the Dad’s Army side to terrorism” – shocking and sad, but also human.
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