Smoking The Bible
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Smoking The Bible

Warfare has a cost, and we have a responsibility.

Smoking The Bible
Steve McQueen

I watched a movie called “Hunger” sometime last year, and in it, there are characters smoking pages of the Bible. Not using the Bible pages as rolling paper for tobacco or weed, but just smoking the pages. Since I saw this, I have tried to figure out why. When I research it online, I find that prisoners alive for the 1981 Hunger Strike in Ireland did indeed smoke pages of their prison-given Bibles, but whether or not the Bible pages contained tobacco or some other substance inside is unsure. In the book “Ten Men Dead: The Story of the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike” by David Beresford, a story inside states “Have you read the Bible? No, but I smoked the Ten Commandments”.

The Hunger Strike of 1981 in Ireland is one of those moments in history that begs for attention and acknowledgment. Had it not been for Steve McQueen’s film made in 2008, I would still not be aware of this event. Something about it is so horrifying and saddening, but another is purely human. Ten men died in 1981 due to intentional starvation in an attempt to bring attention to their status as criminal offender instead of political prisoner. This was during ‘The Troubles’ in Ireland, a period of unrest between Nationalists and Unionists. The hunger strikers were nationalist prisoners, who started various protests when the British government stripped the paramilitary prisoners of their status of Special Category (political prisoner). These protests culminated in the 1981 hunger strike.

In “Hunger”, the audience is introduced to Bobby Sands, the de facto leader of the hunger strikers, who is the first man to begin. During his 66 days of strike, he was elected as a member of the British parliament. In the film, he has a lengthy conversation with a priest regarding his decision for the hunger strike. “Bit of a break from smoking the bible, hey?” the priest says, “Have you worked out which book is the best smoke?” Bobby responds by saying “We only go for ‘Lamentations.’”


The Book of Lamentations is a series of poems lamenting the destruction of the city of Jerusalem. A lament is a cry of grief or sorrow, expressed in an artistic form. The symbolism for the exclusive smoking of Lamentations should be clear.

Hunger is one of those films I find unforgettable. From the iconic performance by Michael Fassbender as Bobby Sands, to the intricately crafted framing and carefully planned shots, the audience is left with a feeling of remorse and sorrow when the film ends with Bobby’s corpse simply being put into the back of an ambulance. When the door closes, the screen cuts to black, and the credits roll.

Like I said, I had absolutely no idea what the hunger strike in 1981 even was before seeing this film. But what shocks me today is how little America was involved in this event, or involved in the Troubles as a whole. Before the 1990s, almost no action was taken on America’s part to resolve the bloody conflict. A similar story revolves around America’s involvement in the Rwandan genocide, or today, with America’s response to the slaughter in Aleppo. Part of the reason I did not know about the hunger strike was because of the lack of communication, acknowledgment, or attention brought to it. Similar to today, with how little anybody seems to care about the growing body count in Aleppo, a city that has been under constant attack during the ongoing Syrian Civil War.

See, watching a film made 27 years after a major event is not enough. Films are simply not enough. Discussion about past events is not enough. Smoking the Book of Lamentations is not enough. The only thing that counts is now. People are dying now, today, and they will tomorrow too. For as much as a film can make someone feel something, the film is not real. I did not really watch Bobby Sands die, I did not really see his parents grieving for him, and I did not really see men being beaten half to death during prison shakedowns. All of that was staged. The real tragedy was 27 years earlier, where ten people really did die for their political status.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, in Syria today, 450,000 people have died as a result of the Syrian Civil War. 50,000 of them are children.

Since 2015, Russian forces have assisted the Syrian government in bombarding Aleppo, stating that they are fighting to overthrow the rebels, some of whom are ISIL and ISIS forces. However, their continuous attack and berating have killed more civilians than terrorists (3,804 citizens and 2,746 Islamic State members, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights). Sources have indicated that there may be a method to the madness, however, it does not change the fact that civilians are dying at a higher rate than opposing forces. This massacre is unjustifiable; it is a war crime, and moreover, a crime against humanity. There can be no justification or reasons to continue when innocent people are continuously at risk and targeting and bombing population areas where civilians are going to be. The United States has condemned Russia for their actions, stating that the country will suspend discussion with them regarding a ceasefire if their attacks continue. Russia, in contrast, has warned the United States not to take action against the Syrian regime. Yet across the world, nobody takes notice. Not until an image here or there manages to permeate the borders of European and Western countries. But even then, the thought passes with time. The people of Syria are crying to be seen, crying to be noticed and acknowledged. Much like how the world stopped for the horrible terror attacks in Paris last year, yet fail to notice the countless other terror attacks that plague the Middle East like a disease. So what can we do? How can we change the world?

I am writing this from my dorm room in Wisconsin. I am safe. I am not concerned for my safety. But somewhere in Syria, a child is sitting and does not know whether or not they will live through the week. It can be easy to see why Bobby Sands and his fellow prisoners would smoke the Book of Lamentations. Really, there was nothing else to do.

It’s time to talk about Syria.

It’s time to let this tragedy be known, today, and not 27 years into the future because of a film.

So let’s get talking.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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