Bassam Tariq frames his short film, “The Ghosts of Sugar Land” around the self-reflection he and his friends went through after the disappearance of their friend, Mark. The film provides a glimpse into life for American Muslims in post-9/11 suburban Texas,
In the film, the group of friends suspects that Mark either joined ISIS or tried to bait his friends into doing so, after Mark posted his desire to join the terrorist group on Facebook. Because they fear associating themselves with him, Tariq says, the group wears masks during the film.
“It’s not that we have to wear these masks because of something we did, we’re wearing these masks because of something he did,” says one of the friends in the film.
“This isn’t just paranoia,” another says.
As the group investigated Mark’s situation further, Tariq says they started to worry about how they had treated Mark.
“We tried our best to include him in everything,” a friend from the film says. “Mark still never really fit in. Even when he became a Muslim, he was always ‘that Black Muslim.’”
Tariq said living in Sugar Land means trying to fit in as much as possible, especially in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Most of the friends in the film were sophomores or juniors in high school when terrorist organization Al-Qaeda coordinated four attacks on U.S. landmarks – the most famous being the airplane strikes of the Twin Towers in New York City.
“The rule of thumb was keep your head down, shut up, don’t talk about things, and fit in as much as you can because we didn’t want to be seen as the other,” Tariq says.
Mark, who was more religious than his friends at the time, had a lot of questions after 9/11, Tariq says. He says that if his friends had taken Mark to the right people, Mark’s life would have taken a different path.
“I think a lot of us were just busy and being a bit dumb, and knuckleheads, and I think he wanted to understand things more,” Tariq says.
Tariq says he usually films the lives of other people, and turning the camera on himself allowed him to realize how important his story is.
“I think so much of filmmaking and so much of art is us exorcising our own demons and trying to understand what are the things that are holding us back from looking at ourselves,” Tariq says.
“The Ghosts of Sugar Land” is streaming on Netflix.
Written by Savana Dunning.