Of Gods and Men won some prize at this year’s Cannes film festival, and this was enough for me to be sure that it must be the usual hyped-up stuff of no interest. How wrong I was. It is a moving examination of the Christian faith, and how to respond to enemies of that faith.
In 1996, seven French monks in Algeria were abducted from their monastery by members of the extremist Jama’a Islamiyya, and later their bodies were found with the heads cut off. The outrage has never been cleared up. About 200,000 people were killed in the years when the Algerian army and the Jama’a Islamiyya fought it out, and it has been suggested that the army may have killed the seven monks in an operation that went wrong. The army was certainly capable of any crime, but decapitation of the monks was superfluous and more likely to be an Islamist hallmark.
The Christian lives of the monks involves work, study, productivity, prayer and love of others whoever they are and whatever their faith. The Islamists’ lives involve intimidation and murder until everyone is compelled to adopt their faith. This is a dramatization of what is happening in today’s Europe. Nobody has any idea what is to be done about the scale of Muslim immigration all over the continent, the increasing hold that Islamism is acquiring on these new Muslim communities, and the terrorism that is an apparently inescapable consequence. The monks engage in a lengthy debate about their predicament: To stay in the monastery means they will become martyrs, but to leave is to accept that they have failed in their vocation, and there is no place for their faith. Death, they finally agree, is preferable to running away.
I could not have imagined that a French film would so unmistakably combine the Christian faith and the defense of civilization. There was not one empty seat in the movie house, the silence of the audience was total, and the people coming out afterwards looked extremely thoughtful and subdued.