The lack of tolerance for other people's beliefs has been the bane of mankind's existence for who knows how long. Theoretically we're a rational species and after the millions of years we've been hanging around on the planet you'd think we'd have matured sufficiently to accept not everybody looks at the world the same way. Unfortunately the reverse seems to the be the case as the longer we hang out, the more intolerant we seem to become. From east to west you'll find the world has become more and more divided into "us" and "them", with them being responsible for all of "our" problems, no matter who "they" are.
Yet wouldn't the world be a lot easier to live in if we weren't afraid of the person beside us on the plane because they're a different colour or call their god by a different name they we do? What makes it so hard for people to be tolerant of somebody else's beliefs or even worse, makes it so easy to hate and fear them for it? Are we all so desperate to find somebody we can blame for what's wrong in the world that we have to find a scapegoat? Why is it so easy for our leaders to convince us that those others over there are evil and we are good? Have you ever stopped to think what would happen if there were a place where people of all faiths could come together and appreciate what they have in common instead of fearing their differences? Where we could all celebrate the fact that we all believe in something and see that for the miracle it is?
You might think that's an impossibility in this day and age, but every year since the first Gulf War people of all faiths from all over the world have been coming together to do just that for a week in June at the Fez Festival Of World Sacred Music in Morocco. Of course Morocco is a bit of an oddity in itself, for as hard as this may be for many to believe, it's an Islamic country where Christians, Jews, and Muslims have lived together in peace for centuries. The festival brings together faith-based musical groups of all beliefs from countries all over the world to perform for international interfaith audiences.
A few years ago director Stephen Olsson traveled to Fez to record the event and find out more about the remarkable circumstances that have allowed it to happen. The resulting movie, Sound Of The Soul, is now not only available on DVD through Alive Mind Media, it's also being broadcast on the Internet by Global Spirit, one of the many programs available through Link TV. (The initial broadcast is on Sunday, May 16, 2010 at 6:00 pm EST but check the schedule as it will be re-broadcast throughout the month.) The Global Spirit broadcast will include a question and answer session with the director and a panel discussion about the film with Marla Kolman Antebi, Sarah Talcott, and Kabir Helminski, a Jewish scholar, an organizer of interfaith youth camps, and a Muslim/Sufi scholar and musician respectively.
The movie not only takes viewers to the Fez Festival to enjoy the variety of music on display — vocal groups from Ireland, England, and Russia, a French Jewish vocalist singing with a Moroccan Muslim orchestra, a gospel band from New York City, a fado singer from Portugal, and performances by groups from Afghanistan, Morocco, various African countries, and South America — but provides a look into the remarkable history of its host country. Founded by a Sufi saint, Morocco has a history of tolerance that should make it the envy of the world. When the Ottoman Empire was overthrown in Spain, Jews, Muslims, and those Christians not comfortable living under the Inquisition fled across the Mediterranean to North Africa and settled in Algeria and Morocco. It was the latter that has proven to be the haven for all, as even through the turmoil of the last century she has not been swayed from her founding creed of respect for all.
The filmmaker interviewed leaders of all three faiths who talk about the history of their people in the country and their current situation. While the founding of Israel saw the Jewish community's numbers drastically reduced as people immigrated, it didn't create the huge divisions that occurred in other countries where there had formally been tolerance between Muslims and Jews. Not once in any of the interviews do you have the feeling that any of those being interviewed were dissembling in any way. It never feels like they're glossing over any uncomfortable truths or making the situation sound any better than it is.
As we follow the cameras through the streets of Fez what strikes one is the way the modern world and the past have come together so comfortably. Narrow streets filled with people of all ages and sexes dressed in everything from t-shirts and shorts to head scarfs and robes rub shoulders naturally and seemingly without discomfort. We visit courtyards that are hundreds of years old and stare in awe at what first appears to be decorative patterns carved into the walls, only to discover it is scripture spelling out the tenets of Sufism etched by hand hundreds of years ago.
Of course it's the music that brings people to Fez each year, and the music is incredible. If you buy the DVD you'll not only find bonus features of complete concerts, there's also a CD featuring some of the performers from the film. While there is plenty of commentary provided by members of each faith on the importance of music for building bridges between peoples, watching people's reactions to the different performers tells the story of music's power far more than talking heads can hope to do. One only has to watch the young Moroccans dancing up a storm to the New York City based gospel group,The McCullough Sons of Thunder, to make that connection.
The camera also goes behind the scenes at the Festival to cover a symposium being held at the same time featuring spiritual and business people from around the world, including members of the World Bank and the head of the World Trade Organization, Michael Moore. This was the one part of the film where you could feel the tensions of the world intruding on what had been an oasis of peace until that point. It's hard to watch somebody like Moore, whose organization is one of the root causes of suffering in the developing world through policies that continue to siphon the wealth of many into the hands of few, spout words about tolerance and understanding without feeling a wee bit cynical. When the camera draws back to show his audience you can see the scepticism on the faces of many of those listening — especially those spiritual leaders from the developing countries. While the point of the symposium was the need for balance between the spiritual and the secular needs of the world, it's obvious the spiritual leaders present weren't convinced of Moore's sincerity.
Sound Of The Soul is a wonderful movie in that it gives us an example of what the world could be; of how it is possible for men and women of all faiths to appreciate and respect each other and their beliefs. However at the same time it makes perfectly clear just how unique The Fez Festival Of World Sacred Music is, and how far the world has to travel before we can live up to the example of Morocco and its remarkable people. In a world where hope for peaceful coexistence is in increasingly short supply, this movie is a godsend — no matter what your god looks like.