Bill Murray’s ‘Rock the Kasbah’: Islamic Apologetics at the Movies

Open Road Films

Rock the Kasbah Is Flat and Off the Beat,” gripes Vulture magazine about the new “weirdly dreadful” Bill Murray movie.

Why is it “flat and off the beat”? Because it is not kissing the feet of jihadis? Even if it isn’t, it identifies numerous problems that stem straight from Islamic law, without ever identifying their source – much as Cosmopolitan did in a recent interview with its Middle East edition’s editor.

First off, Bill Murray is never dreadful. Ever. Vulture reviewer David Edelstein tells us that his character travels into Pashtun country in Afghanistan because “he hears that he can make a boatload of money providing entertainment for the troops, so he drags his whiny new protégé, Ronnie (Zooey Deschanel in tight leopard-skin pants), onto a plane and enters a roiling society, split down the middle between gung-ho hedonism and murderous fundamentalism.”

“Gung-ho hedonism and murderous fundamentalism.” Notice how the writer equates the two, as if they were morally equivalent and of a piece. Freedom and rational self-interest are hardly “gung-ho hedonism.” The pursuit of happiness is not “gung-ho hedonism.” Democratic government allowing for the protection of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is the best of all human systems of self-governance. Murderous fundamentalism, on the other hand, is pure Islam, authentic Islam – but notice that Edelstein never mentions by name the guiding ideology that has created the barbaric society into which Murray’s character enters.

The review goes on to mention the “collective Afghan rage” at the sight of Salima, an Afghan woman, “daring to sing on TV.” What is that collective rage? What does it stem from, and what keeps it red hot? Sharia. But neither Rock the Kasbah nor the Vulture review mention that.

Rock the Kasbah,” Edelstein adds, “carries a dedication to Setara Hussainzada, who did come out from under her hijab in her final performance on Afghan Star, but the Pashtun contestant that year was another female, Lema Sahar. The excellent 2009 documentary Afghan Star chronicles the show’s tumultuous existence — and suggests that Rock the Kasbah exaggerates the paucity of women on the show. After the U.S. drove the Taliban out of Kabul, Afghan Star became a symbol of the return of secular culture.”

Except secular culture did not return. Look at photos of Afghan women in the 1960s: they are free and dressed like women in the West. By contrast, Afghan women today don’t dare venture out unless they’re covered head to toe in burqas. Secular culture has returned? Where? Who is this reviewer trying to kid?

Director Barry Levinson, says Edelstein, “saturates the movie in hopelessness, lingering on landscapes that look as hospitable as concrete. He goes halfway towards evoking The Verdict — a heavy redemption melodrama in which a lost loser recovers his integrity in the name of social justice.”

Hopelessness is apt for contemporary Afghanistan – but social justice? Where is social justice in today’s Afghanistan? The central government in Kabul is desperately corrupt, propped up only by American arms and CIA cash; the brutal and bloody Taliban controls much of the country, as if we had never been there at all, and systematically denies rights to women, non-Muslims, gays and others – in accord with what Rock the Kasbah and David Edelstein don’t dare mention: Sharia.

Rock the Kasbah, Edelstein tells us, “ends up being an unintentional elegy for a time when American pop culture and its hipster icons looked powerful enough to conquer religious and/or ideological fanaticism and transform nations.

“That illusion doesn’t play the way it did back in the Reagan era, when many of us thought rock songs and materialist TV shows helped raise the Iron Curtain, lower the Berlin Wall, and liberate women from enslavement by the church and the mosque. We thought the shareef wouldn’t like it, but that mostly he’d just froth like Dean Wormer instead of cutting off heads.”

But it doesn’t play now the way it did back then precisely because of the refusal of films like Rock the Kasbah and reviewers like David Edelstein to address the motive behind this maniacal savagery. “I guess it’s a gesture towards conciliation between lifestyles,” says Edelstein, “that instead of singing sizzling pop songs, Salima performs two gentle numbers (‘Wild World’ and ‘Peace Train’) by the famous convert Yusuf Islam, once known as Cat Stevens. As if Peace Train could rock the Casbah! You leave thinking, The sharif isn’t the only one who won’t like it.”

There it is: the point. The point of this apologist film (and this equally apologist review) is that we are all the same. But we aren’t. The difference between the free world and Afghanistan isn’t between Bill Murray’s hedonism and the Taliban’s Sharia stringency. The difference is between light and darkness, freedom and submission, good and evil. Don’t expect this spineless film to elucidate that.

Pamela Geller is the President of the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), publisher of and author of The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration’s War on America and Stop the Islamization of America: A Practical Guide to the Resistance. Follow her on Twitter here. Like her on Facebook here.


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