A recent article by Patrick Cockburn in The Independent argues that the “War on Terror” has been a failure. He points out that jihadists have seized control of large areas of Iraq and Syria and that the Taliban have been making a resurgence in Afghanistan. He argues that the main reason for this is that the United States and Britain are allied with the two governments that do the most to spread jihadism: those of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. You can’t win a struggle when you’re allied with your enemies. (Those on the left who advocate the “red-brown” strategy should think about this.)

Wadjda, Haifaa al-Mansour’s 2012 film set in Saudi Arabia, gives us a rare glimpse inside a country that is often misunderstood in the West. (9/11 Truthers will be surprised to learn that people in Saudi Arabia do not live in caves.)

This film tells the story of Wadjda (Waad Mohammed), a young girl who dreams of owning a bicycle. Girls riding bicycles is frowned upon in religiously conservative Saudi Arabia. Wadjda’ mother (Reem Abdullah) works as a teacher. Because women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, she has to be driven to work by a hired driver who treats her rudely. Wadjda’s father (Sultan Al Assaf) is loving and kind, but his parents pressure him into taking a second wife, because Wadjda’s mother can no longer bear children.

At Wadjda’s school, we see the headmistress (Ahd Kamel) scold some girls for laughing in the schoolyard – apparently because men can hear them. This film portrays the bleakness of religious fundamentalism. Wadjda subtly resists, yet she herself succumbs to it at times; for example, she betrays a couple of her fellow students to the headmistress at one point. This film ends on a heart-warmingly optimistic note, however.

Wadjda features strong performances and is beautifully filmed. This is an all the more remarkable achievement considering that this film was made under less than ideal conditions. (It is the first feature film made in Saudi Arabia, as well as the first film directed by a woman there.) Wadjda is about as close to a perfect film as I have ever seen.

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