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The Infidel

September 8, 2015

T InfContemporary comic treatment of the ancient enmity between Jew and Muslim, and how two men overcome it…almost.

Personal identity: who do you think you are? Religious division: who do you think you’re fighting? Community life: who do you think your neighbours are? Defective leaders: who do you think you’re following?

diaspora makes all the difference. Lenny the taxi driver says in London alone there are different types of Jews – the Hampstead liberal intellectual Jew, the Hendon orthodox lawyer Jew, and what he bluntly describes as ‘scum of kosher scum’, the Essex Jews. The world’s boundaries and borders are broken down in The Infidel. On their journey together, Mahmud and Lenny show how this sense of identity – both cultural and spiritual – remains powerful among faith communities, wherever they are located in the world.

Religious division: who do you think you’re fighting?

With this strong feeling of identity comes the potential for aggression. The Infidel presents us with an entertaining and enlightening version of the age-old enmity between Jew and Muslim. A microcosmic display of the Middle East conflict takes place on Lenny’s own doorstep as Mahmud battles it out with him over parking issues. ‘I like that spot,’ says Lenny, ‘I always park there.’ To which Mahmud replies, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, I see it now. A bit like the occupied territories, isn’t it?’ Even their names have an epic quality – Mahmud shares the same root as Muhammad and Lenny means ‘lion’ or ‘brave’. So with much humour, the movie shows us not only the reality but also the futility of this ancient battle – outplayed on a doorstep, in a London street.

Community life: who do you think your neighbours are?

Hostility turns into hospitality, as Mahmud and Lenny experience the possibility of friendship across their religious and racial boundaries. Both men get a taste of a completely different community – Mahmud attends a Jewish bar mitzvah and Lenny attends a Muslim wedding. Although the languages and styles of dress are alien, the key activity is not – both communities like to dance. This is a core message, which can be easily overlooked in the comedy of the moment. Why not dance our way to unity? Some comments also reveal what it is like to be a Muslim in 21st century Britain. ‘Isn’t it enough that you and I put on a rucksack,’ Mahmud tells his son, ‘and we get a whole (expletive) tube carriage to ourselves?’

Defective leaders: who do you think you’re following? Another common experience for Mahmud and Lenny is disappointment with fellow believers – particularly trusted leaders offering points of engagement with the divine. For Mahmud, it is the fiery Islamic preacher whom he exposes as a fraud. For Lenny, it is the stubborn rabbi who refuses to do the decent human thing of allowing Mahmud to meet his birth father before he dies. The Infidel hints at the need for families and individuals to question their leaders, not just blindly accept whatever they say.

In one of the key pivotal moments of the film, Mahmud tries literally to wrestle the truth of his origins from an official. Rather than go through another lengthy process to find out the details, he grabs the documents himself and discovers his Jewish roots. The scene draws to a close as he is dragged off by a security guard – and he hears a gospel choir outside singing, ‘he came from the glorious kingdom’. It is both comical and confusing. To which kingdom does Mahmud belong?

Mahmud tells the truth about his origins, and Lenny reveals the possible identity of his birth father, who used to live in the neighbourhood. ‘What happened to that famed Islamic politeness?’ asks Lenny, when Mahmud orders him to move his car. Lenny moves it when he finds out

Mahmud is really a Jew. ‘Welcome to the worldwide conspiracy,’ he adds.

all goes well until a couple of women try to persuade Mahmud to sign a petition against the British media’s treatment of Israel. He clearly doesn’t agree, but has to maintain his act.

Mahmud finally sets the record straight with a showdown at a Muslim rally. He stands up against a bogus cleric and shows how he has read the Qu’ran and the Jewish Old Testament for himself – and found out a few truths. Mahmud says both traditions have their own version of the Lord’s Prayer, and that Moses’ name for God was Ehyeh, which he feels is similar enough to Allah. ‘It’s the same God,’ he claims.

Mahmud and Lenny have their differences, but they try to understand and find common ground. Mahmud even gets to the point where he is no longer ashamed of his Jewish roots.

T Inf 2Mahmud Nasir: Anti-Semite!
Lenny Goldberg: Islamophobe!
[Mahmud tells Lenny his real name]
Lenny Goldberg: Solly Shimshillewitz? Why didn’t they just call you “Jewe-jew-jew-jew-jew” and be done with it?
Lenny Goldberg: Listen, Rabbi. My friend has drunk my chicken soup. He’s danced like a Cossack in my living room, he told a funny story at a Bar Mitzvah and got a good laugh. I’m a Jew, and my friend is Jewish enough for me.
Rabbi: [to Mahmud] Come back when you’ve found a better teacher.
Mahmud Nasir: And where do I find one of those, eh? Craig’s list? Look, Rabbi, I haven’t even told my wife and family about this!
Rabbi: Well perhaps that’s where you should start! Now if you don’t mind, I’ve got a dying man’s soul to take care of!
Mahmud Nasir: [to Rashid] Give me one reason that can calm me down about inviting Arshad Al-fucking Stalin into my family!
Mahmud Nasir: Americans shouldn’t bloody be driving a black cab anyway!
Lenny Goldberg: Asshole.
Mahmud Nasir: I’m going to tell my family! I am!
Lenny Goldberg: You know what? I don’t give a fuck.
Mahmud Nasir: Anti-Semite!
Lenny Goldberg: Islamophobe!
Mahmud Nasir: That, uh, David Schwimmer. He’s, uh, Jewish, isn’t he?
Wasif: He’s got enough money to be, boss.
Mahmud Nasir: Yeah, that’s it, Wasif. Yeah, you’re right. Rich Jewish wankers.
Wasif: They’re all Jews on American TV. The whole country’s run by Jews. It’s basically the United States of Israel.
Mahmud Nasir: Exactly. Yeah. Yeah, bloody Jews.
Sharif: And what about all that? People off the book, aren’t they?
Wasif: People off the chequebook more like.
Mahmud Nasir: [In Yiddish] When the penis stands in the Barbara Streisand film, then you have a made-up word, and chicken soup dumplings in the penis!
[Long pause. Mahmud closes his eyes. Jews begin roaring with laughter]
[Lenny has parked his cab in Mahmud’s reserved space]
Mahmud Nasir: You’ve got a real fucking nerve…
Lenny Goldberg: I know I should never have rubbed that fuckin’ lamp.
Mahmud Nasir: [Surprised] You American?
Lenny Goldberg: [In Cockney accent] Nah, I’m a… I’m a Cockney sparrow.
Mahmud Nasir: Come on, move your cab.
Lenny Goldberg: Beg your pardon? What happened to that famed Islamic politeness?
Mahmud Nasir: You saw the space was marked! Move your fucking cab!
Lenny Goldberg: Look, pal, I’ve lived here for fifteen years. I’ll park wherever I wanna park!
Mahmud Nasir: Just move it up a bit further up the road, alright!
Lenny Goldberg: I like that spot. I always park there.
Mahmud Nasir: Oh, yeah, I get it now. It’s a bit like the occupied territories, isn’t it?
Lenny Goldberg: Ah, here it is! Here it comes, the Anti-Semitic stuff, you heard it here first!
Mahmud Nasir: I’m not being Anti-Semitic.
Lenny Goldberg: Oh no? What else ya wanna call me, eh? Kyke? Beagle breath? Floor by two? Neo con?
Mahmud Nasir: Bollocks. I’m not being Anti-Semitic. Yeah? I can’t be.
Lenny Goldberg: Yeah? Why not?
Mahmud Nasir: Because I’m a fucking Jew!
[pauses and looks around for listeners]
Mahmud Nasir: [Whispering] I’m a Jew… shit! Don’t you dare tell anyone.
Lenny Goldberg: I’m the shoebomber. Pleasure to meet you.
Mahmud Nasir: No, listen to me. I’ve just found out I was adopted by Muslims. My real parents were Jews.
Lenny Goldberg: [laughing] Why should I believe you?
Mahmud Nasir: Why the fuck should I make it up?
Lenny Goldberg: Yeah, good point.
Lenny Goldberg: I know. Word association.
Mahmud Nasir: Dah, what are you talking about?
Lenny Goldberg: Come on, a word association.
Mahmud Nasir: What for?
Lenny Goldberg: Car?
Mahmud Nasir: Volvo.
Lenny Goldberg: Right on. Happy?
Mahmud Nasir: Ish.
Lenny Goldberg: Two outta three. Crystal?
Mahmud Nasir: Nakht.
Lenny Goldberg: Hm, even I would have said “palace”. Still, I don’t believe…
Mahmud Nasir: No, wait, listen, listen… no listen to me. I real name, or rather my birth name…
[Does inverted commas]
Lenny Goldberg: Please don’t do that.
Mahmud Nasir: …is Solly Shimshillewitz.
Lenny Goldberg: Solly Shimshillewitz?
Mahmud Nasir: Now do you believe me?
Lenny Goldberg: Why didn’t they just call you “Jewe-jew-jew-jew-jew” and be done with it?
Mahmud Nasir: [Irritated] It was nice talking to you.
[Walks off]
Lenny Goldberg: That’s almost as Jewy a name as “Izzy Shimshillewitz”.
Mahmud Nasir: What was that?
Lenny Goldberg: Izzy Shimshillewitz. Used to live around here years ago.
Mahmud Nasir: There’s an Izzy Shimshillewitz? Where is he? Is he still alive? Where is he?
Lenny Goldberg: Fuck knows.
[Mahumd notices someone leave his real father’s room, unaware that it is a Rabbi]
Mahmud Nasir: Dad?
[Tries to hug him]
Rabbi: Ugh! I don’t think so. Firstly, you appear to be Muslim.
Mahmud Nasir: Yes, I’m sorry.
Rabbi: And secondly, I’m perhaps five years younger than you.
Mahmud Nasir: Yes, you’re right. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Is Izzy Shimshillewitz in there?
Rabbi: Yes.
Mahmud Nasir: Can I go in, please?
Rabbi: Uh, I’m afraid not.
Mahmud Nasir: No, you don’t understand. I’m his son, I think.
Rabbi: Do you have some sort of syndrome?
Mahmud Nasir: No, no, my real parents were Jews. I was adopted. I’ve just found out my birth name is Shimshillewitz.
Rabbi: Really? And you’re definitely Isaac’s son, are you?
Mahmud Nasir: Yes, yes… well, I must be.
Rabbi: Look, I’m sorry, but as Mr. Shimshillewitz is Rabbi, I have to think of his welfare first. He’s a very sick man, now.
Mahmud Nasir: Then you have to let me in.
Rabbi: Look at you! A Muslim son? He’s an observant Jew. It’d kill him stone dead.
Mahmud Nasir: What must I do?
Rabbi: What do you know about Jews?
Mahmud Nasir: They’ve got big noses? They like money… oh, they do. Uh, sportsmen?
Rabbi: OK, so the answer is nothing. Look, what you have to do, and quickly, is think about what it means to be a Jew, OK? And then we’ll think about letting you in. Oh, and by the way, when you thought I was your Dad, sort of a shrivelled old man… was it because of the hairless thing? Because that is genetic. OK?
[Mahmud nods]

Mahmud Nasir: Oh, gimme a break. You find out you’re Jewish and then suddenly some bloke in a uniform is leading you away? That’s ridiculous.
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From → Film, Inter Faith

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