What is it like to be a Muslim possessed by a jinn spirit? How do you find refuge
from madness and evil spirits in a place like Denmark? As elsewhere in
Europe and North America, Danish Muslims have become hypervisible through
intensive state monitoring, surveillance, and media coverage. Yet their religion
remains poorly understood and is frequently identified by politicians,
commentators, and even healthcare specialists as the underlying invisible cause
of ‘integration problems’. Over several years Christian Suhr followed
Muslim patients being treated in a Danish mosque and in a psychiatric hospital.
With this book and award-winning film he provides a unique account of the
invisible dynamics of possession and psychosis, and an analysis of how the
bodies and souls of Muslim patients are shaped by the conflicting demands of
Islam and the psychiatric institutions of European nation-states. The book
reveals how both psychiatric and Islamic healing work not only to produce relief
from pain, but also entail an ethical transformation of the patient and the
cultivation of religious and secular values through the experience of pain.
Creatively exploring the analytic possibilities provided by the use of a camera,
both text and film show how disruptive ritual techniques are used in healing to
destabilise individual perceptions and experiences of agency, so as to allow
patients to submit to the invisible powers of psychotropic medicine or God.
As Pandolfo ( 1997 : 241) points out, the work of a healer involves standing on the edge between the visible and the invisible. Tapping into the invisible and using the ‘cinema fist’ of the Creator carries the risk of venturing astray into the idolatrous thought that by one's own power, one could be ‘self-creative’ (Sedgwick 2006 : 56; Steinbock 2007 : 212). While developed in a Catholic context, Marion's ( 2002 ) theory that the experience of God is always and necessarily predicated on absence and distance seems to hold true here. The more Abu Bilal comes to
healing as related to the function of human agency and self-creativity, as in Whyte and Callan's analyses, as well as Taussig's emphasis on the constructed nature of the social fact. If we take the principal object of anthropology to be essentially human in nature, this attention to the creative powers of humans should not come as a surprise. However, as Mattingly ( 2010 ) asserts, this has not always been the case.
In rejecting the grand schemes of previously dominant schools such as structuralism and Marxism, anthropologists have for some
replied, is not a term of abuse, emphasising how a selection is always made, regardless of whether the camera is placed on a tripod or is in the hands of a filmmaker. According to him, nothing objective of pro-filmic reality could be extracted in any direct, unpolluted way with a camera or any other mechanical recording device. For Bateson, the difference between a handheld camera and tripod shooting was merely the degree of freedom and creative expression.
When I set out to shoot the exorcism of Abu Omar I entirely agreed with Bateson. Cameras
vision through disruptive and what she calls ‘haptic’ techniques that blur the possibility of full identification and leave the viewer in the realm of the inexpressible.
One such filmmaker is Trinh T. Minh-ha. In criticising the aesthetics of much realist ethnographic filmmaking devoted to long observational takes, wide-angle shots, and maximal depth of field, Trinh ( 1991 : 53) explores the ambiguous and creative potential of the intervals occurring in rapid transitions and juxtapositions between images, words, and sounds. Her controversial
trying to alleviate suffering rather than as spectators applying cultural, ritual, or religious truths’.
Whyte's emphasis on the agency of people chimes with a wide range of medical anthropological studies that have aimed to destabilise all-encompassing structuralist models of healing in diverse ways (see e.g. Kleinman 1980, 1988 ; Mattingly 1998 : 46). The same push towards recognising the agency and creative powers of humans, rather than seeing them merely as passive recipients, is expressed in Alyson Callan's ( 2012 ) study of mental