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Journal of Religion and Violence

Volume 1, Issue 3, 2013

Suicide: Why Do People Kill Themselves In The Name Of Religion?

Christopher Hartney
Pages 276-302
DOI: 10.5840/jrv2013133

Why Muslims Kill Themselves on Film: From Girard’s Victimage Mechanism to a Radical Constructivist Explanation

In this article a methodological approach to representations of suicide on film is developed, sited between the Girardian victimage approach on one side, and a radical constructivist approach on the other. The argument does not start by considering Muslim suicide as a thing in and of itself; rather it contextualises suicide on film through examples ranging from adaptations of Romeo and Juliette by Zeffirelli and Luhrmann, to Ashby's Harold and Maude, Coppola's The Virgin Suicides, and Sono's Suicide Club. With thematics on cinema and suicide identified in this section of the article, the second half of the work demonstrates how such thematics are developed or distorted when Muslim characters are introduced to the screen. The four case studies in this section include analysis on recent film examples. These include the Hollywood produced The Kingdom (directed by Peter Berg) and Gaghan's Syriana. It is clearly established that where Hollywood pays attention to white people who may be considering suicide and dedicates significant screen time to them, Hollywood presents Muslims as inherently suicidal. This fits into Jack Shaheen's work on racist stereotypes in the presentation of Arabs by Hollywood. To confirm this, the article concludes by analyzing the place of suicide in Kiarostami's Taste of Cherry, and Abu-Assad's Paradise Now. The article concludes with an examination not of suicide per se, but of how suicide is represented generally in film, how layers of Arab and Muslim stereotypes in Hollywood have, almost criminally, distorted representations of Muslims on screen, and how serious and considered work by Muslim directors are not so much redressing this balance, but rather highlighting how impervious the Hollywood system is to redressing its long held biases.

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