Jason Bortz talks Africa in The Other Journal

Jason Bortz, whose short documentary on aid to Africa called Scratching the Surface was recently in the spotlight at Christianity Today, has written a piece for The Other Journal about his experience. Check it out here.

People have asked if it was difficult to take a film crew to Kenya to film a documentary dealing with the pandemic of AIDS and the seemingly ineffectual efforts of a handful of people to stem the tide of affliction and disease. Our documentary, Scratching the Surface; A Journey with HEART, deals primarily with the efforts of a handful of volunteers who travel to Kenya to teach the nationals about health education, the curtailing of AIDS, and how to protect them from the further destruction of a nation.

Going was surprisingly far less difficult than I thought it would be. In fact, the most difficult obstacle to deal with was the loss of my journal.

If I had it, I’d be able to simply recount some of the thoughts pouring through me as I journeyed along for the two and a half weeks of my stay. I say pouring because it’s really like that—you’re either a sieve or a sponge when faced with a reality in such stark contrast to your own. The walls go up or they come down. There’s really no middle ground.

I have one email I sent to my wife and friends back home, one email that comes close to recapturing where I was during my stay…

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  • Ellen Collison

    One last comment about possible conflation of religion and ethnicity – Abdelmoteleb is Egyptian, and Egypt is a very racially-mixed society. (Formerly a colonial society at that – they still use the British term for their currency, “pound.”) Also, if you’re brown-skinned and live in England, well… things happen.

    At any rate, I don’t find it surprising that he’d zero in on all aspects of Lewis’ descriptions of the Calormenes – and think he’s a pretty open-minded guy to let Tash-worship pass without remarking on it! (Since Muslims clearly identify idol-worship as evil and abhor it.)

  • Ellen Collison

    Considering that fact that Muslims come from all over, I’d say it’s one of the most ethnically diverse religions in the world, on a par with Christianity in that respect.

    Agreed with Peter on the positive emphases on various Middle Eastern things and names that show up in Lewis’ work, though there does seem to be a sort of “Wily Oriental Gentleman” approach to the Calormenes, right down to skin color. (Seeing as they have dark skins, as opposed to the “white Narnians” – one of Lewis’ more inconsistent observations, since lots of Narnians’ skin is covered by fur, hair or feathers!)

  • Neil E. Das

    Yes, I’m aware of the distinction between race and religion, as it pertains to Islam, it being theoretically one of the least racially discriminatory religions in the world.

    Abdelmoteleb conflates them a bit, but I did not in my intitial discussion of those who object to Lewis on racial grounds. Those were the charges, with regard to Lewis and Tolkien, which I was addressing and processing.

    I have not read all or Lewis nor remember all of what I have read, but the only thing I remember in his writing about Islam is his belief that there are only really two metaphysical choices in the world, Hinduism and Christianity, and that Buddhism is a simplification fo Hinduism and Islam a simplification of Christianity.

  • Peter T Chattaway

    To head criticism off at the pass, I do not think that Lewis was a racist, far from it.

    Of course, Islam is a religion, not a race.

    And FWIW, Lewis was a man of his times who, if I recall correctly, like many other men of his times, referred to Islam by its less-religiously-sensitive, politically-incorrect moniker “Mohammedanism”.

    FWIW, Lewis may have been opposed to Islam in general, but what I find striking is the way references to the Muslim or Middle Eastern world keep coming up in Lewis’s Narnia stories, in more positive contexts — Turkish delight, the prince who seems to have been named after the Caspian Sea, the fact that “Aslan” is Persian or Turkish for “lion”, etc.

  • Ellen Collison

    Frankly, if I were Arabic or Turkish, I’d be bothered by the depiction of the Calormenes in both Lewis’ text and in Pauline Baynes’ illustrations. Alan Jacobs discusses the imagery in his new Lewis book, The Narnian, and makes a very good point about this possibly being predicated on Western assumptions about the Ottoman Turks. (The clothing Baynes used for the Calormenes is very Turkish-looking.) For someone of Lewis’ generation, it’s very feasible. (Though I have to admit that the line about becoming “white Narnians again” after doffing Calormene disguise sets off alarm bells – and I’m white. I can only guess at how someone with carker skin would react…)

    At any rate, I think people from Muslim countries have reason to be concerned with the way they’re portrayed in Western media. The typical images are far from flattering, and are gross oversimplifications/clichés for the most part.

    As for “getting” the good vs. evil imagery, I don’t understand why that would be a surprise! (Honest.) Especially for someone with a background like Abdelmoteleb’s. (See his bio. on review page.)

  • Neil E. Das

    Ironic aside and then I will desist. From Abdelmoteleb’s review:

    “She [Tilda Swinton as Jadis] has her moments (especially the ghoulish sacrifice of Aslan), but her performance is too understated and does not come across as sufficiently menacing to represent the evil that everyone is fighting against.

    Highly esteeming Christ, Muslims nonetheless often make the claim that Christ never went to the cross, but was taken up into heaven and another person was substituted on the cross in his place. It is interesting just how much Abdelmoteleb resonates with the good versus evil imagery in LWW, though, despite its Christological overtones.

  • Neil E. Das
  • Neil E. Das

    OK, not that many are likely to remember my comments long ago on this blog on the potential reception of some of the Chronicles by Muslims or Middle Easterners, but I think that this post validates my points back then, which were more or less dismissed.

    To head criticism off at the pass, I do not think that Lewis was a racist, far from it.

  • Ellen Collison

    Thanks for posting this!


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