My Camera Can Lie

film, 50', 2005

UK House of Lords (European Human Rights Commission)

E-flux travelling library

Goethe, British Council, Brac University, Academy Film Society, Russian Cultural Center, Dhaka ; Press Club, Chittagong

Muslims Or Heretics: My Camera Can Lie started in 2003 as a documentary about Ahmadiyya Muslims-- a disputed sect within Islam. Originating from India, and spreading through proselytization, it became one of the avenues for conversion of African Americans to Islam (until the rise of NOI). After years of anti-Ahmadiyya protests, the group was banned in Pakistan in 1973. In the 1990s, a movement flared up to ban them in Bangladesh. The core controversy revolves around interpretations of/from Arabic (e.g., does khatme nabuwwat mean final prophet or seal of the prophets?).

The 2004 screenings encountered an audience that was hyper-aware of other, future audiences. One viewer asked: "we all understand Bengali, so tell me, who are those subtitles for?"

The madrasa recruit supposedly cannot afford to drink Coke, download Josh ring tones, buy bar-coded fruit at Agora or wear jeans from Westecs. Frainy, out of focus footage of "militant" rallies shot filmed a great distance; supposedly clandestine work with a subject so "ferocious" they can only be viewed at a distance. But when I returned to the project in 2005, I found organizers welcoming the press. Fierce expressions, funeral white garb and angry signs all seemed an extended form of performance, designed to give the BBC-CNN-SKY camera crew exactly the right, ready for prime time visuals.

[Excerpted from "Who Are Those Subtitles For..?", Continental Drift, 16 Beaver]