Thursday, July 08, 2004

Angry review of Fahrenheit 9/11: Triumph of…Bill
In my recent trip, and whenever I was asked by people in the media or in public lectures about the American people, I would say what I have said in Middle East media for years: that the American public is not evil (and I hate the words “evil” or “good” especially in the age of “Bush” and “Bin Laden”) and that if it is afflicted with one unattractive and damaging quality, it is the affliction of ignorance of world geography and world affairs. After one lecture, a college friend I have not met in years, approached me and asked me whether by my statement I am absolving the American people of responsibility for the actions of their government. I thought that she had a good point. The perpetuation of public ignorance (there is still a plurality of Americans who think that Iraq was behind Sep. 11) is a recipe for unrestrained empire. I just saw Michael Moore’s movie, and was reminded yet again of my ideological isolation, if not alienation. I certainly am no movie expert, and will only write as a viewer; or a consumer—nay victim—of the American culture industry. (I had one tiny experience with the movie industry. When I first came to this country, a friend called me excited that a Goldie Hawn’s movie was shooting in Washington, DC and that they are looking for Arab men as extras in the movie. I had a moustache and an Afro (my hair grows down now for some reason) in those days. I went to see lines of Arabs waiting to be screened by the casting group. I got a call from a casting director the following day saying that I was selected, and that there would be several days worth of shooting (at $100.00 a day). I was pleased but said that I would not do it before reading the script. The casting director was simply astonished: “You are merely an extra,” she reminded me. But I insisted on reading the script to make sure that it does not contain anything that I would find politically or ideologically objectionable, and they would not budge. Not that they cared, of course. Fortunately, I did not play a role in that (later I discovered) anti-Arab movie (Protocol, it was called, I think).) Certainly, Moore is very talented: he is an entertaining and funny narrator and is very skilled in his editing and sound effects. He is a master of matching the picture to the sound and to the word. And he has the right tone when he reads it. So if you are looking for an effective piece of anti-Bush propaganda, there is your movie. But that is its strength (for you), and its weakness (for me). My friend with whom I watched the movie reminded me that he was making the movie for an American mass audience, and not for me. She is right, but I cannot but offer a critical evaluation of what I saw. He is way too focused on Bush, and with that he undermines the very conclusion that he reads at the end regarding the perpetuation of the social system in the US, and the role of the ruling group (I do not believe that he used the world “class”—a dirty word in American popular lexicon because the US—which has one of the worst cases of class inequality in the world—is not supposed to have classes). When you watch the movie, you would think that the US, and the world by extension, was on a great path of peace and prosperity under Clinton before Bush ruined Michael Moore’s world. But, like many on the left, Moore is way too narrowly limited by the Democratic-Republic divide that he is incapable of offering an analysis that transcends the narrow partisan lines of conflict. He had two mild criticisms of Democrats for not standing up against Bush. He also succumbed to that temptation—quite common in leftist ranks, but not only exclusively in leftist ranks—to subscribe to unproven conspiracy theories. Why this personalization of the problems of the US as if the US without Bush would be a true “beacon of freedom?” Don’t get me wrong. Bush really deserves to be mocked and ridiculed: to think that somebody with such obvious inadequacies and lack of qualifications is leading the world can drive you to frustration and despair. To watch him speak with such (im)moral certainty when he exhibits deep intellectual uncertainty, to put mildly, can make you furious. And when one focuses on Bush, one loses sight of the various institutional interests that drive the making of US foreign policy and the production of US wars, and that goes beyond the personalities, and—more importantly—beyond the Republican-Democratic “difference.” Moore would have none of that. Even in his first fine documentary (Roger and Me), he reduces the problems of vicious capitalism to the person of GM’s chairperson. But then again: that can reach the public because it does not sound threatening, and it provides him with constituents’ support, just like a regular politician. Notice how patriotic Moore is in this movie, for example. We watched admiringly—or we were supposed to--the woman caring for and respecting her American flag. He once repeated that favorite American cliché (“This is a great country”.) What does that mean? Is Finland or Iceland not a great country? Every country is great, in the eyes of its patriotic citizens. Even Lebanon: there is a patriotic kook there (poet Sa`id `Aql) who believes that Lebanon is the greatest country there is. I believe Revolutions—real revolution--(like the glorious French Revolution) or positive social and economic changes can be great, not countries in the abstract. And in the last segment in the movie he also repeats that most obnoxious patriotic cliché, to the effect that people in the US armed forces “protect our freedoms.” Why and how, I am dying for somebody to explain to me. Why and how, please? Was the invasion of Grenada, or Iraq, etc, a defense of “our freedoms.” How does that work? But Moore is increasingly a mainstream liberal, not a radical. I also did not like his silly portrayal of Iraq before the US war. Iraqis were not living in bliss, as he portrayed them. They were suffering from US-imposed sanctions, and from Saddam’s tyranny, it should be noted. Furthermore, Moore also adheres to the Bin Laden-Bush conspiracy theory, as if the House of Clinton or Kerry would have dealt differently with the House of Saud. And he is quite wrong in accepting Unger's thesis in that regard. Salim Bin Laden (who was a Texas-based businessperson), as far as we know, had nothing to do with his brother Usamah's cause, and died years before Bin Laden started his kooky movement. And there is no evidence (that I have seen) that Usamah bin Laden's brothers attended his son's wedding in Afghanistan prior to Sep. 11, as was alleged in the movie. Moore wants to implicate every person with the Bin Laden family name, which is not fair especially that there is evidence that most of his siblings have severed ties with him, and have not spoken to him in years. I, of course, was pleased with his very scathing portrayal of the Saudi government, the overthrow of which I have firmly believed in since my teens. And I was most displeased if not offended by his long and touching personalization of the life of a US soldier who was killed in Iraq, while he did not bother to personalize the life and family of ONE civilian victim of US bombing in Afghanistan or Iraq. The life of a conquering soldier (who belongs to the “civilized world”) is more valuable than the life of a civilian victim who belongs to the “uncivilized world” especially if he/she is Arab/Muslim. The natives (of Iraq and Afghanistan) were mere extras in this documentary. At least their words were translated, which is rare in Hollywood. Such are the standards of Moore, who does not deviate from the standards of colonial times, at least in that respect. In the “civilized world”, opponents of wars and colonial adventures worry about what those wars do to “our soldiers,” and not what those wars do to the people of target countries and cultures. But as an effective piece of propaganda—and we live in the age of contesting propaganda(s), Bush deserves Moore’s movie, and more of Moore.