They sit in ambush in the villages;
in hiding-places they murder the innocent.
Their eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;
they lurk in secret like a lion in its covert;
they lurk that they may seize the poor;
they seize the poor and drag them off in their net
David went out to meet them and said to them, ‘If you have come to me in friendship, to help me, then my heart will be bound to you; but if you have come to betray me to my adversaries, though my hands have done no wrong, then may the God of our ancestors see and give judgment.’ 1 Chronicles 12:17
Those who love thrillers will find much of interest in director Peter Berg’s film, though some might think that the film is exploiting the headlines about Arab terrorists. The best part of the film is the four-minute opening sequence which provides a thumbnail history of the founding of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the 1920s by the war-like tribe led by King Saud and the accidental discovery of oil in 1932—they were looking for water. Although his followers were adherents of the conservative Wahhabi sect of Islam that hated all foreign encroachment, the King invited in western oil explorers, forming Aramco and allowing the foreigner workers to live by their own rules within walled compounds. When the Wahhabis rose up in rebellion, the King defeated them amidst great slaughter. Came the oil embargo of the 1970s and the realization that oil was the lifeblood of western civilization —and it is in control of those opposed to modern political views and systems. When dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait to secure for himself its vast oil reserves, the Kingdom, recognizing a threat to its existence, rejected the offer of Osama bin Laden to raise an army of believers to drive out the Iraqis, and accepted instead the offer of the United States and its allies. This, of course, aroused the ire of the conservative Muslims, who launched the bloody attack on the western compound that triggers the sequence of events in the film.
Following the attack, the Arab government rejects the offer of the US State Department to send a team of FBI investigators to assist in the investigation. FBI agent Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx), refusing to accept the decision, manages to finagle permission, and is soon on the ground with team members Grant Sykes (Chris Cooper), Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner), and Adam Leavitt (Jason Bateman). Col. Faris Al Ghazi (Ashraf Barhom) is the Saudi officer assigned supposedly as a liaison officer, but actually to keep the infidels in line and away from the actual site. Fleury keeps pushing against the restrictions imposed on his team, finally securing from the reluctant Saudi authorities permission to visit the site of the bombing and a tall building from which he thinks the attack was guided. Pumping water out of the bomb crater, bomb expert Grant Sykes discovers parts of the vehicle used to transport the bomb, and soon the team and Col. Ghazi are hot on the trail of the murderers—whom we discover are devout Muslims. Fleury is smart enough to pass on credit for their findings to his Saudi counterpart, thus increasing their friendly relations.
The cultural misunderstandings are well depicted, as also is the growing friendship between Fleury and Col. Ghazi. Divided by culture and religion which makes them suspicious of one another, they discover that nonetheless they share a desire to solve the crime and bring the killers to justice. The scenes of violence are extreme, with the fight scenes at times seeming to be taken from Blackhawk Down. A combination of thriller and character-development film, The Kingdom offers a good opportunity for a group to discuss some of the issues in what conservative scholars have called “The Clash of Civilizations.
Invite the group to Google Islam, Saudi Arabia history, and Wahhabism on the internet, or read Reza Aslan’s No god but God (New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2006.) Also, if you have not seen the film, you might want to stop before reading the last question.
1) Some have claimed that the filmmakers are merely exploiting recent headlines about extremist Muslim violence: what do you think?
2) Where would you place this film on a scale between the two views of “Clash of Civilizations” and multiculturalists calling for a greater understanding of Islam?
3) Does the opening four minute mini-history lesson help you understand the context of the story? How important has oil been in the interchange between western nations and those of the Middle East? How is the Saudi king caught between the teachings of his Wahhabi-dominated culture and the desire of those who want to modernize the kingdom? How might this contribute to the Saudis’ throwing up so many barriers during the FBI’s team’s investigation?
4) What instances can you recall in which Fleury and Ghazi make cultural gaffs?
5) When Fleury learns what the dying terrorist had said to his granddaughter and then shares what he had said before leaving the States to the widow of one of the slain agents, do you see a basic agreement underlying the Islamic extremists and the FBI agent? What do you think of their view that violence and killing are the way to respond to attacks? How is this like the view of the Israelis in Steven Spielberg’s Munich? Do you think that director Peter Berg has as deep an understanding of the issue as Spielberg showed in his film? Why or why not?
6) How are Fleury and many others of the “Christian” west in contradiction to Matthew 5:43-46 or Romans 12:14-21?