Hey, let’s ban smoking in public places! Let’s make it illegal to curse in front of a child! Let’s arrest people who throw loud dance parities after 10pm!
No. No. No. The natural tendency of humanity is to make more and more rules. People want to prohibit every little thing that is currently unpopular.
Thank heavens for the Bill of Rights. Without it, even our most basic liberties would be taken away. Make no mistake: without the First Amendment, it would probably be illegal in Arkansas to deny that Jesus is our lord and savior. And it would probably be illegal in California to deny that climate change is real and man made.
“Timbuktu” tells the true-ish story of a society that has no Bill of Rights and is being ruined by rule makers run amok.
The movie begins with a jihadist soldier announcing with a megaphone that from now on it is illegal to play music, play soccer, or smoke.
After 1000 years as a center of learning and trade, the culture of Timbuktu is being erased in a few weeks by a band of armed fascists.
And fascists is the right word. Interestingly, writer/director Abderrahmane Sissako doesn’t present the jihadists as particularly passionate about Islam. They’re just a bunch of regular guys who are trying to do their job and enforce the letter of the law. Even when the law is plainly ridiculous.
There is a scene where a trio of jihadist soldiers are having a debate about which country is more formidable in international soccer – France or Spain. Then an actual soccer ball bounces by and they dutifully interrogate the criminal who kicked it.
There is a poignant moment when a soldier finally discovers the source of music that has been vexing the jihadists every night. The soldier stands outside the door of a mosque with his walkie talkie: “They are signing in praise of Allah and his prophet,” he sheepishly reports. “Should I arrest them?”
The point isn’t that they are hypocritical jerks. The point is that idiotic rules turn decent men into fascist monsters.
It’s no different here in the United States. The cop who arrests the junkie isn’t a jerk. The judge who sentences the junkie isn’t a jerk. The jailer who turns the junkie into a miserable sociopath isn’t a jerk.
The true villain is the politician who criminalized drugs just because it was a popular choice at the time.
“Timbuktu” is a firm reminder that rules are the enemies of human happiness and dignity.
Next time the government is looking to criminalize yet another activity, ask yourself whether the world is truly a better place with more rules.