Shortly before War World II in 1938 a small band of Trappist monks started a monastery in the Algerian desert near Tibhirine. The next five, almost six, decades were fairly uneventful for these monks despite being located in the middle of an Islamic country.
Then the unthinkable happened.
Armed men entered the monastery during the night of March 26-27, 1996 and kidnapped seven of the nine monks currently stationed there. Over the next two months these men were made a pawn in the Algerian Civil War till finally they were killed and decapitated.
The 2010 French independent film “Of Gods and Men” seeks to tell the story of why these monks stayed at the monastery even when they had multiple chances to flee.
And to that end, the film does it a good job.
Moving at a slow pace (almost too slow in places) the director shows the simple life lived by these monks. They were the confidants of the villages – providing medical help to poor, sharing in the heartache of farming the desert land, celebrating the coming of age of the children, mentoring both young and old – in short they were part of the community despite the religious difference between them and their fellow villagers.
As the movie progressed, we see the confused villagers wrestling with their peaceful view of Islam and the radical extremists who killed anyone who did not follow their interpretation. This I believe is one of the most powerful parts of the film as it shows that not every Muslim is an extremist – in fact, as the movie shows, the extremists are killing their own people in an effort to cause fear and to force people to obey their view of Islam.
Christians and Muslims can and do live peacefully side by side. People are people no matter where they live or what their religion may be. We, the followers of Jesus, have been called to love and bless everyone – our neighbors and our enemies.
In a world of fear and propaganda, I would suggest prayerfully watching this film as it shows another side to the news – the real, on the ground, everyday side of life.