Everyone should watch a movie in a cramped airline seat, with a six or four inch monitor, however big it is, and with lousy ear plugs. That way, they can really tell if a movie is any good.

I always tend to watch movies after the hype has died down somewhat.

I wasn’t very curious about Avatar. Sure wasn’t going to plunk down good money on it without seeing it. The opportunity came on the fifteen hour trip to Hong Kong that I took at the beginning of May, en route to Singapore.

I remember another guy saying that a good way to check if your writing is literary and good quality if it still sounds good when you plug your nose and read it out loud in a ‘ducky’ voice.

Same idea.

Basically what the small screen and the lousy ear plugs and ducky voice do is that they penetrate the ‘mood’, the peripheral rhythmic setting you’re establishing and in this way you can really tell if you’ve written something worthwhile.

My opinion of Avatar…it’s a rip off of Dances with Wolves. The exact same idea: white man infiltrates the natives and becomes better at being ‘savage’ than they are themselves.

Then, the white guy, armed with superior firepower ‘guns’ or whatever, helps the natives fight back.

I think I know why James Cameron set the story on a distant planet.

He wanted the natives to actually win.

The problem with James Cameron movies is that they’re two dimensional, black and white, even when they’re in vivid colour and ‘3D’.

The natives didn’t do anything to deserve being extinguished and he milked the concept of the ‘noble savage’ for all it was worth!

It worked, I guess, for most people.

But I can’t help wondering, are white people really so insecure? What is it with this obsession to ‘out native’ the native?

There are many many examples of this kind of plot curve.

I think it all started with James Fennimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans.

Isn’t the fact that Western powers dominate the globe and their foreign policies manipulate and strangle the economies of indigenous economies all over the globe, enough?

Do people in Western powers also have to obtain mastery of other people’s cultural exploits as well?

Is this the fantasy?

This little rant of mine might seem out of the blue.

About a week ago I went to an information session for the Hajj group I’m planning to go with this year.

In November the Hajj will culminate on the day of Arafat. About two and a half million people from around the world will gather on the plane of Arafat, outside Mecca, and spend the day in prayer and contemplation, as a kind of dress rehearsal for the Day of Judgment.

And in the process we will sacrifice a sheep in a  commemoration and re-enactment of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael (peace be upon them).  That’s what the Hajj is all about.

It’s following in the footsteps of Abraham, and his wife Hagar and his son Ishmael (peace be upon them).

It’s not a competition.

No one can tell who did a perfect Hajj and who did not.

It’s an individual thing between a person and God, and if done right, it means the pilgrim will emerge from the ordeal with all their sins wiped clean.

It’s a very Muslim thing.

So imagine my consternation when I was emailing a lady at my booking agency, telling her about my availability during November (I had taken the whole month off but have since re-opened a few days at the end of the month), and she informs me, in a ‘la-dee-da’ manner that, “Oh, I know all about it. A girl friend of mine went a few years ago. She’s not Muslim, but she went anyway.”


Now to be honest, she’s not the first one who’s infiltrated the Hajj. Way back in the 1800’s Richard Burton, (not the actor who was married to Liz Taylor but the explorer) the same guy responsible for bringing the erotic (in fact what Arabs considered downright pornographic) collection of stories called the 1001 Arabian Nights and likewise the Kama Sutra to England.

He was a perverted Englishman who seemed to delight in exposing the licentiousness of indigenous cultures!

Well he heard about some Arab tribes that were planning to go on the Hajj and he wondered what it was, so he went too, incognito.

Nowadays there are signs outside Mecca saying Muslims go this way, and non-Muslims don’t go further. Most of the time it’s on the honour system, but there are authorities that do check.

I wonder what Richard Burton thought of the rituals. Was he disappointed there were no natives dancing around a cauldron with the remains of human sacrifice in it? Rather just some men dressed in two pieces of white cloth, and women covered up to their faces and hands, circling around a square building, the Kaaba, crying “Labaik Allahuma Labaik”. “Here we are, our Lord, we have come” (rough translation).

When I was young and the other kids would ask me about some of the things we did in our religion, there was always a curious expression on their faces when they did so. It was hard to describe. It was like they were hesitating to ask because they were afraid of what I might tell them.

The closest I can describe it is a mix of fascination and disgust. You see, they’d seen the National Geographic issues with the topless natives and the feathers and stuff. Maybe they thought all us darkies did stuff like that.

I just kind of glossed over our practices. Frankly I was embarrassed. And yet now that I’m grown I’m wondering what on earth I was embarrassed about?

The essence of Islam is purity of belief in one God, and one God alone. Muhammad (peace be upon him) has absolutely no divinity and is a man just like ourselves, sent as a guide, a messenger and an example we must follow. Basically we’re not allowed to lie, cheat, steal, gossip, eat pork, drink alcohol, fornicate and commit adultery among other things.

What’s so weird about that?

And here I don’t mean to disrespect anyone’s beliefs, but frankly, to me, it’s not as unusual as eating a wafer and pretending that it’s a piece of Jesus (peace be upon him).

But it’s all relative.

Religions are full of things we take on faith.

There are definitely things about Islam that are abhorrent to people of other cultures.

But it’s not like some indigenous person goes and tries to be a better white than whites, is it?

All I know is that it’s 1:56 am and it’s been days since that lady told me about her friend who went for Hajj, and the thought of it still galls me.

I’ve been waiting over ten years to go!