“The Infidel” a film starring Omid Djalilli which is centred on a Muslim family man Mahmud Nasir from the
East End of London. An avid Tottenham supporter, Mahmud finds out that he is adopted and subsequently Jewish. The film observes Mahmud’s identity crisis, raises issues about and questions identity through an array of personal discoveries. It does this by exploring the absurdities of both Islam and Judaism, such as religious fundamentalism and stereotypes, as religions and cultures in today’s world in conjunction with the historical tension between followers of both religions. This paper will explore and critically assess this film The Infidel using Freudian theories of identity. Mahmud Nasir is a “modern Muslim”. A term that is used to label those who believe in the Islamic faith but may not strictly adhere to the lifestyle rules such as avoiding alcohol, not swearing or praying five times a day. The modern aspect is usually a result of living in the Western side of the world. Mahmud is also an avid Tottenham Football Club supporter which ironically are called “Yids” as the club and local area has large Jewish ties. “Yid” or “Yiddos” is a play on the language Yiddish, spoken mostly by Jews. Now at first glance, the fact that Mahmud is a “modern Muslim” and a Tottenham supporter portrays an ironic joke of which leads to the Freudian view of the Ego. In Civilisation and It’s Discontents, Freud explains that we, as humans, have a need for religion. Religion fulfils our need for protection and this stems from our childish helplessness. Mahmud’s choice for following Islam may not be directly linked to it as in most cases, choice of religion is usually by accident of birth into an already religious family. Although his choice to remain a Muslim does reflect his need for religion. The derivation of a need for religion from the child’s feeling of helplessness and the longing it evokes for a father seems to me incontrovertible, especially since this feeling is not simply carried on from childhood days but is kept alive perpetually by the fear of what the superior power of fate will bring1. This religion gives Mahmud a level of security. Even when Mahmud finds out that he is adopted and subsequently Jewish by kinship, he attempts to convert to Judaism. Despite being a Muslim for his whole life, once he is aware of being Jewish, he decides to replace Islam for Judaism. This highlights the importance of the need for religion rather than the religion itself. The whole film follows Mahmud’s self-discovery and whilst Mahmud is trying find out who he is, Mahmud clinches at religion as a form of both identity and security. His ego is dependent on both. Prior to his realisation, he was a Muslim which defined him and acted as a form of security. Once Mahmud’s identity as a Muslim and his security from religion collapses, he clinches to his new identity as a Jew. Rather than question his past as a Muslim and his beliefs, Mahmud seeks salvation as a Jew even though he displays aggression towards Jews prior to finding out about his new found identity. Freud states that at the progression from babyhood, we, our egos, think we are the world. As babies, we believe that we are the centre of all existence and everything revolves around us. As we develop, our super-ego is a result of our ego being given boundaries. This psychological development allows us to recognise a reality separate from us from what we previously believed. The eventual distinction between our “inside” and the “outside” is crucial to our process of psychological development. In this way the ego detaches itself from the external world. It is more correct to say: Originally the ego includes everything, later it detaches from itself the external world. The ego-feeling we are aware of now is thus only a shrunken vestige of a far more extensive feeling - feeling which embraced the universe and expressed an inseparable connection of the ego with the external world2.
1 Freud, S., 2004. Civilization and Its Discontents. Translated from German by D.McLintock. pp.11 2 Freud, S., 2004. Civilization and Its Discontents. Translated from German by D.McLintock. pp.5-6
and is therefore anxiously avoided. a group of Jews and Muslims at his home after burning a Kippah. The dread shown by small children would seem already to be an expression of this herd instinct5.. Opposition to the herd is as good as separation from it. The Herd Instinct in this case represent the formation of a group sharing an identity.Strachey.83
. bad mouthing Muslim are all normality to Mahmud. It is always possible to bind quite large numbers of people together in love. Despite the tensions between Muslims and Christians or Jews. Mahmud is at the centre of torment from a group of Jews as they form a group outside Mahmud’s house to protest his display of aggression towards Judaism. pp. But the herd turns away from anything that is new or unusual 4. The scene where Mahmud is confronted by the police. Saudi Arabia have a ban on alcohol so now the narcissism of small differences comes into play where two followers of the same faith will have tension just because of the different customs in two different countries. It is a contradiction that defines him. Freud (2004.64 4 Freud. The tension between Arshad and Mahmud represent the diversity and subjectivity of identity in terms of labels. The key difference is that Western and Middle Eastern divide. Mahmud is a ‘modern Muslim’ and Arshad is a Muslim fundamentalist.suggests
3 Civilisation pp.. the narcissism can conversely create new identities as demonstrated by the differences between Mahmud and Arshad. Now the difference between a Muslim like Mahmud and a Muslim from Saudi Arabia are evident. it is his world. Two identities that have arose out of narcissism of small differences. we believe we are the world and so all the contradictions that come to surface in the film such as a Tottenham supporting. Mahmud does not see his actions of drinking beer. It is only a contradiction from an outside perspective. Two bordering countries or groups who slightly differentiate are prone to aggression of which binds the communities of each country together. Freud discusses the phenomenon ‘the narcissism of small differences’ in reference to examples such as the Spanish and the Portuguese. provided that others are left out as targets for aggression 3. The individual feels ‘incomplete’ if he is alone. So the beliefs he has as a result of being both Muslim and a Tottenham fan. intertwining with Western and English culture through mannerisms and supporting Tottenham Hotspurs as a contradiction to him being a Muslim. even amongst the followers of Islam. the narcissism of small differences exists. There are also a group of Muslims defending Mahmud and displaying aggression towards the group of Jews. Sub-communities exist under a form of identity such as religion. Arshad Al-Masri is a character in The Infidel who is essentially a hate cleric who disapproves of Mahmud for his lifestyle choices as a Muslim. who cling together as a form of self-preservation. It is normality. both are new extensions of identity to the label Muslim. S. North Germans and the South Germans or the English and the Scots. Whilst Freud argues that one’s identity.610033951
Mahmud’s choice of religion distinguishes him as a follower of Islam. Translated from German by J.. a Muslim.64) states that this narcissism of small differences is “a convenient and relatively innocuous way of satisfying the tendency to aggression and facilitating solidarity within the community”. causes narcissism of small differences with others. pp. are not hampered by the contradictions but believes in them wholly. The comparison between a Muslim like Mahmud and a Muslim from Saudi Arabia differentiate in many ways. The dread which is shown by small children when they are left alone. Group Psychology And The Analysis of The Ego. however complex it is and whatever it is compiled of. Freud states that at a young age. 2010. Jewish skullcap. Whilst both Arshad and Mahmud may feel aggression towards each other because of these small differences. alcohol drinking. at a protest led by Arshad Al-Masri shows the phenomenon of the Herd Instinct. Arshad and Mahmud are polar opposites as believers in Islam.
This loneliness that Mahmud encounters is like that of the lonely child. The yearn for security and protection through religion is what is important and thus he attempts to convert to Judaism. it is directed against the individual’s own ego. Civilization and Its Discontents. but for many adults too the only change is that the place once occupied by the father. In a small child it can never be anything else. S. it can best be described as a fear of loss of love11. pp. this manifests itself as a need for punishment8. disarming him and setting up an internal authority to watch over him. The fear of losing love and security from his family in conjunction to clinging to Judaism results in dread as he becomes like a lonely child.The aggression is introjected. he is ostracised from his family for concealing his newfound identity rather than for founding out the head of the Muslim family is actually Jewish. for at this stage consciousness of guilt is clearly no more than a fear of loss of love. The tension between the stern super-ego and the ego that is subject to it is what we call a ‘sense of guilt’. S.. 2004.77 12 Ibid. Finally. or by both parents.77 9 Ibid 10 Ibid 11 Freud. 2010.86 8 Freud. 2004. it is the same way civilisation deals with it. he is ostracised from the Jewish community for his actions of burning the Kippah. However it differs in that Mahmud is not a child and his mind is overcome with guilt rather than dread. Jews and Muslims. he must have a motive for submitting to this outside influence10. pp. has been taken over by the wider human community12. The outside influence being his revelation of being Jewish and collapsing what Mahmud has believed in and relied on for the entirety of his pre-Jewish life. but it really does not merit the name. It is only brought into existence by the approach of a ‘stranger’ of this sort7.. As the confrontation outside his house occurs.85 7 Ibid.more readily another interpretation6.McLintock. he expresses this unfulfilled desire through dread. his proclaim of being Jewish results in the revelation of his crime of concealment to his family. This is easily discovered in his helplessness and dependency on others. As the individual deals with what he has done as a result of guilt due to committing what one believes to be ‘evil.Strachey. something Mahmud later sees as ‘sinful’ which leads to his guilt and eventual attempts at wronging his right. S. distaste from both the Jewish and Muslim community and dismissal from the police. Mahmud loses his religion and identity when he realises he is Jewish. What happens to him to render his aggressivity harmless?.78
. a ‘social’ anxiety. in other words. At the announcement of Mahmud’s new found Jewish identity to the angry mob compiled of police. his fear of being ostracised from his family and his ‘herd’ leads him to conceal it.. The need for security is rudimentary to identity as it projects onto the formation of herds and the Herd Instinct and then onto the wider human community. Mahmud’s family is Muslim and with the tension between Jews and Muslims already being a huge concern. actually sent back to where it came from. pp. pp. As a person’s own feelings would not have led him in this direction.. Translated from German by D. by weakening him. Group Psychology And The Analysis of The Ego. Translated from German by J. The resultant actions that occur of being ostracised are a result of losing the benefits of being in a herd or in the rare example of finding out that one is Jewish after 40
5 Freud. he clings to any familiarity or security but as he is ostracised from family and religion. internalized. This state of mind we call a ‘bad conscience’. He is also ostracised from the Muslim community for being a Jew. We can study this in the development of the individual. Civilization and Its Discontents.83 6 Ibid. Translated from German by D. pp. like a garrison in a conquered town9. In this way civilisation overcomes the dangerous aggressivity of the individual.. pp.McLintock.
S. 2004. can trigger the ability to fully enforce and recognise oneself. The fears and insecurities of one’s identity is projected onto others. Mahmud regains acceptance from his peers once he avoids the “opposition” and “separation” which initially deterred him from the Herd Instinct. is as important at an individual level as it is at a collective level.610033951
years of life as a Muslim. This is the state of affairs that today’s society generally has to reckon with 13. this reversal appears to be effected under the influence of a common tender tie with a person outside the group 14. as explored through this paper. The Infidel. Group Psychology And The Analysis of The Ego.
Bibliography Freud.McLintock. Civilization and Its Discontents. pp.64
.. the fear of being ‘alone’ and the narcissism of small differences allow stronger unification but harsher tension between differing groups. Translated from German by D. only difference. This is further intensified by the encounter of the ‘stranger’ of which leads to dependence on a collective identity which could be based on the religion or another shared trait.. pp. These projections also bind the community that the individual belongs to. These projections ensure a sense of security as the insecurities are perceived to be outside of one’s responsibility. Translated from German by J. Translated from German by J. 2010.89 15 Freud. The difference of others enforces one’s identity and so the narcissism of small differences is a convenient and relatively innocuous way of satisfying the tendency to aggression and facilitating solidarity within the community 15. as proclaimed by Mahmud during his debate with Arshad in the latter half of the film. S. the person outside the groups for Islam and Judaism is a god or perhaps the same god.79 14 Freud..Strachey. pp. Translated from German by D. S. identity. Connecticut: Martino Publishing
13 Ibid. even if it is the slightest. Whilst a herd or a community is formed on the basis of selfpreservation. 2010. Thus social feeling is based upon the reversal of what was first a hostile feeling into a positively-toned tie of the nature of an identification. In the case of this film. So difference between groups that share a collective identity are bonded in aggression and each group is unified as a result of that. Oneself is normality and so whatever contradictions are a part of one’s identity. Civilization and Its Discontents. Group Psychology And The Analysis of The Ego. London: Penguin Books Freud. The paranoia and the tension towards those who have the slightest difference such as the long term feud between Muslims and Jews are also a huge part of one’s identity. This highlights that individual identity is heavily dependent on a collective identity.McLintock. Overall. The Infidel illustrates how the separation of people as a result of religious identity causes great tension through the narcissism of small differences. To conclude. So far as we have hitherto been able to follow the course of events..Strachey. S. the Ego’s need for religion is to eradicate our innate childish helplessness and aloneness. 2004.