The Search For Osama (No, Not That One)
Film duo come to Toronto on peaceable quest for 500 innocent bearers of soiled Osama name
The search for Osama has come to Toronto.
Nor is it an operation tied to the manhunt for Osama bin Laden, notorious founder of the Al Qaeda terror movement who has eluded capture since the 9/11 attacks occurred almost seven years ago.
This mission is meant to restore lustre to a name that, because of him, has become synonymous with radical Islamists.
British-based Farrah Jarral, a doctor, and filmmaker Masood Khan have been flying from continent to continent, searching in local bazaars and in schools, to find "lovely Osamas" for their documentary Osama Loves.
"The project is not seeking to solve any major, burning, complex socio-political or theological question. It is simply about showing a sunny, positive face of Muslims, which people don't tend to see," said Jarral, speaking by phone from Jakarta, the third leg of their five-part journey.
They arrive in Toronto today — their only North American stop because the two British Muslims had difficulty obtaining U.S. visas.
"We initially hoped to go to New York City, for obvious symbolic reasons. Ironically, we couldn't get in," Jarral said.
Toronto was a natural second choice, with its sizable Muslim population and "high number of Osamas on Facebook," she said.
Jarral hopes that during her three days here, a great number of Toronto Osamas will come out of the woodwork.
In fact, she's counting on it. After 31 days of scouring Nigeria, Egypt and Indonesia, the partners are still more than 400 Osamas short of their goal.
"We're getting a little bit desperate," she said, so much so that they've opened up their quest to include Muslims using derivatives of the name such as Usama, Usamah, Oussama, Usamatu and even the diminutive Sam.
For Jarral, joining the project was a way to address her internal conflict after the 7/7 subway bombings (July 7, 2005) that took 56 lives and injured 700 commuters in London.
Then a medical student, Jarral was heavily involved in the aftermath, and as a Muslim, she struggled to understand how "people like me could do such an act."
"I wanted to do something that said: `These people don't represent me, they don't represent my community,'" Jarral said.
While the underlying idea of the documentary is politically charged, its focus is anything but. The Osamas appearing on camera are urged to talk about their lives, interests and passions.
The project's website, osamaloves.channel4.com has brief clips of nearly 80 Osamas of all ages from around the world telling of their varied "loves," from mangoes and fishing to English football.
But they also tell how, in a span of weeks after the World Trade Center attacks, a name that means "lion" and represents bravery with deep roots in Islamic history became a burden and liability for all who carry it.
Like little Osama bin Mirza, 6, born on Sept. 11, 2001 — his given name already in place because his parents made the decision at conception.
While he's still too young to understand his name's significance, Jarral said his parents can foresee the troubles their son will have, especially when he travels outside Indonesia and the Muslim world.
That's a challenge Osama Hussain, 21, knows too well.
Hussain, a Ryerson student who was born in Sudan and moved to Toronto four years ago as a political refugee, says the name generates a much different response in this country.
"In the Arab world, having the name Osama is the same as having the name John in Canada," said Hussain, an independent music producer who plans to participate in the documentary project.
"But here, it is slightly different because you're not just another average Joe. It's `Osama.' There is a certain awkwardness when people hear you say it."
What surprises him is the stigma persists after so long.
"At this point in time, now that it has been a couple years, there should be no reason to be shocked," said Hussain. "I am hoping that it will reduce eventually and that people will realize there are a thousand Osamas out there ..."
The documentary is to air on British television in September.
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