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ARBC2031 Georgia Institute Attributes of Arabia Civilization and Islam

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Review Reviewed Work(s): Layla M. by Mijke de Jong, Frans van Gestel, Arnold Heslenfeld and Laurette Schillings Review by: Mervat Youssef Source: Journal of Islamic and Muslim Studies , Vol. 3, No. 1 (May 2018), pp. 99-104 Published by: Indiana University Press Stable URL: JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at Indiana University Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Journal of Islamic and Muslim Studies This content downloaded from on Wed, 03 Oct 2018 19:34:54 UTC All use subject to Youssef / Film Reviews   99 Diab’s tack is different. He involves us in the lives of the ensnared Egyptians, twenty-two in the back of his van, but also secondary characters on the outside, all of whom we come to know, and empathize with to one degree or another. Then, in a furious finale of jolting, blurred, upended images, he strips away their faces, calling only a few faintly by name, leaving us to wonder if any will survive. Joel Gordon Professor of history at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR. He is the author of Revolutionary Melodrama, (The University of Chicago MEDOC, 2002), and writes on Egyptian and Middle East film and pop-culture. The following are among his recent publications: “Three Tales of Obsession: Crosscutting Boundaries in Middle Eastern Film,” in History Compass, 2016; “Hasan and Marika: Screen Shots of a Vanishing Egypt,” in Journal of Levantine Studies, 2017; and “Viewing Backwards: Egyptian Historical Television Dramas in the 1990s,” in Review of Middle East Studies, 2018. doi:10.2979/jims.3.1.08 Endnotes 1. The most famous serious treatment is Atif al-Tayeb’s Sawaq al-autobis (The Bus Driver 1982). The classic eccentric is the elderly commuter encountered daily by Adil Imam in Sharif Arafa’s comic classic al-Irhab wa al-kabab (Terrorism and Kebab 1992). 2. For example, Jehane Noujaim in her otherwise powerful documentary, The Square (2013). 3. I recommend Ibrahim El Batout’s al-Shita’ illi fat (Winter of Discontent 2012) and Yousry Nasrallah’s Ba`d al-mawqi`a (After the Battle 2013). 4. Chaos (al-Fawda) was the name of Youssef Chahine’s last film, one that presaged the Arab Spring and depicted the uprising as a righteous movement. See my “Chahine, Chaos, Cinema: A Revolutionary Coda,” in Bustan 4.2 (2013): 99–112. Layla M. Feature, Starring Nora El-Koussour, 2016, 98 Minutes, Directed by Mijke de Jong, and Produced by Frans van Gestel, Arnold Heslenfeld and Laurette Schillings At the backdrop of rising anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric, Layla Murabit (starring Nora El-Koussour), a smart high school student of Moroccan descent grows alienated in her own city, Amsterdam. Layla could be any teenager: bikes everywhere, enjoys soccer, talks back whenever she can and is indeed in your This content downloaded from on Wed, 03 Oct 2018 19:34:54 UTC All use subject to 100  Journal of Islamic and Muslim Studies, Vol. 3.1 face. It is because the protagonist is easy to like and identify with, that Layla M. offers viewers a thoughtful insight into how radicalization might happen without justifying it, or demonizing those who slip down that rabbit-hole. It allows us to understand and critique without condemning the protagonist or falling into the trap of Islamophobia. Central to the movie are questions about identity, national belonging and the prevailing patriarchy. The opening scene of Layla M. very much mirrors who she is. Unlike her mother, who does not wear a hijab, Layla wears one, on her own terms. During the soccer game, she tied it to the back of her head leaving her neck bare. She has an earnest look on her face as she diligently monitors the players in the field; she is sometimes the assistant referee. When the referee fails to call on a white player who violated the rules to the disadvantage of another of immigrant descent, Layla yells at the referee deeming his call a misjudgment. In response, the referee tells her father that she should either control her temper, or he should not bring her to the game. The father orders her to be silent. It is there and then, at the soccer field, that women in full body cover (abaya), reach out to Layla and invite her over to their group. In what seems like a scouting mission, the women chose outspoken, angry Layla to model for an image of a woman in a burqa to be used in media materials for protesting the burqa ban. Layla puts on the burqa for the shoot and expresses her eagerness to get out of it; “it is too hot,” she thought. Director de Jong makes it clear from the get-go that Layla’s choices put her in direct confrontation with figures of authority, be it at home or in public. Layla’s involvement with the Islamist group, protesting and posting her image online, infuriates her father. Defying him further, she wears the burqa to the dinner table and cites Qur’anic text to argue back. When a police officer asks a fellow female protester to remove her face cover, to confirm her identity, Layla defies him: “we do not ask you to remove your pants.” Layla reaches the flipping point when she and her brother are arrested during a protest. Feeling that Amsterdam and her family house are no longer her home, she marries Abdel (starring Ilias Addab), a young man she met through her activism, and the two head off to Amman, Jordan. There, they aspire to live a pious life in an Islamic utopia free of racism and discrimination. Arriving in Amman immediately proves this to be an illusion. She is faced with a patriarchal structure that keeps women sidelined and in the kitchen. Not before long, she realizes that her own beloved Abdel had trained to be a suicide bomber. One of the strengths of this movie is that it smoothly unpacks the layered challenges that a young Muslim faces on a daily basis in a Western society, while acknowledging the context for these challenges. We watch Layla struggling to belong as a Dutch at a time when her own existence as a citizen seems to be contested and even rejected. Actor Ilias Addab (Abdel), recalls that while shooting the movie, he wore his beard long and felt the toll of This content downloaded from on Wed, 03 Oct 2018 19:34:54 UTC All use subject to Youssef / Film Reviews   101 being a non-white young male with facial hair. People were suspicious of him. To dismiss suspicions that he is a jihadi, he started wearing a cap.1 With the rise of far-right politicians like Geert Wilders, racist anti-Muslim rhetoric (including Moroccan immigrants) came to the fore and was received with increasing support. Layla feels that her sense of belonging to where she was born and raised is being challenged and contested. 
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