Hollywood Jahilliya

Democracy, whiskey, sexy.

Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

I'm an old-school liberal, like FDR or, heck, even Trotsky if I'm feeling generous. That is, I recognize a fascist enemy when I see one, and I treat it like an enemy. It's my mission (self-appointed, of course) to convince other Hollywood liberals to do the same.

25 March 2006

When Is A Connection Not A Connection?

It's a question worth pondering as the Iraq war (and the debate about it) moves into its fourth year (or its 15th, if you take the view that the Gulf War never ended as a matter of law). New internal Iraqi documents, captured by coalition forces and now being released by the Defense Department, stand to make fools of those who yell that Saddam and Bin Laden couldn't possibly have been in cahoots.

Of course, the information is still tenative, but the DoD is doing this the smart way for once: posting the documents in their original Arabic, so that independent viewers can consult their own experts for translation and not have to rely on the "official" word from the government. It's a clever way of defusing charges of censorship or manipulative quotation, and the ODNI is to be commended for it.

ABC News has translated some of the documents, and their assessment is, to say the least, bound to be pretty surprising to Bush's critics (boldface added by me).

A newly released prewar Iraqi document indicates that an official representative of Saddam Hussein's government met with Osama bin Laden in Sudan on February 19, 1995, after receiving approval from Saddam Hussein. Bin Laden asked that Iraq broadcast the lectures of Suleiman al Ouda, a radical Saudi preacher, and suggested "carrying out joint operations against foreign forces" in Saudi Arabia. According to the document, Saddam's presidency was informed of the details of the meeting on March 4, 1995, and Saddam agreed to dedicate a program for them on the radio. The document states that further "development of the relationship and cooperation between the two parties to be left according to what's open [in the future] based on dialogue and agreement on other ways of cooperation." The Sudanese were informed about the agreement to dedicate the program on the radio.

The report then states that "Saudi opposition figure" bin Laden had to leave Sudan in July 1996 after it was accused of harboring terrorists. It says information indicated he was in Afghanistan. "The relationship with him is still through the Sudanese. We're currently working on activating this relationship through a new channel in light of his current location," it states.

(Editor's Note: This document is handwritten and has no official seal. Although contacts between bin Laden and the Iraqis have been reported in the 9/11 Commission report and elsewhere (e.g., the 9/11 report states "Bin Ladn himself met with a senior Iraqi intelligence officer in Khartoum in late 1994 or early 1995) this document indicates the contacts were approved personally by Saddam Hussein.

It also indicates the discussions were substantive, in particular that bin Laden was proposing an operational relationship, and that the Iraqis were, at a minimum, interested in exploring a potential relationship and prepared to show good faith by broadcasting the speeches of al Ouda, the radical cleric who was also a bin Laden mentor.

The document does not establish that the two parties did in fact enter into an operational relationship. Given that the document claims bin Laden was proposing to the Iraqis that they conduct "joint operations against foreign forces" in Saudi Arabia, it is worth noting that eight months after the meeting — on November 13, 1995 — terrorists attacked Saudi National Guard Headquarters in Riyadh, killing 5 U.S. military advisers. The militants later confessed on Saudi TV to having been trained by Osama bin Laden.)

And then there's this:

Document dated Sept. 15, 2001

An Iraqi intelligence service document saying that their Afghan informant, who's only identified by a number, told them that the Afghan consul Ahmed Dahastani claimed the following in front of him:

That OBL and the Taliban are in contact with Iraq and that a group of Taliban and bin Laden group members visited Iraq
That the U.S. has proof the Iraqi government and "bin Laden's group" agreed to cooperate to attack targets inside America.
That in case the Taliban and bin Laden's group turn out to be involved in "these destructive operations," the U.S. may strike Iraq and Afghanistan.
That the Afghan consul heard about the issue of Iraq's relationship with "bin Laden's group" while he was in Iran.

At the end, the writer recommends informing "the committee of intentions" about the above-mentioned items. The signature on the document is unclear.

(Editor's Note: The controversial claim that Osama bin Laden was cooperating with Saddam Hussein is an ongoing matter of intense debate. While the assertions contained in this document clearly support the claim, the sourcing is questionable — i.e., an unnamed Afghan "informant" reporting on a conversation with another Afghan "consul." The date of the document — four days after 9/11 — is worth noting but without further corroboration, this document is of limited evidentiary value.)

Limited value? That, of course, remains to be seen. But it comes on the heels of several other intriguing tidbits alluded to in the 9/11 Commission Report. It's known that Al-Qaeda and Iraq were negotiating a non-aggression pact in 1998. The Clinton Administration still maintains that the Al-Shifa pharmecutical plant in Sudan was a joint Iraqi/Al-Qaeda operation. It's known that Saddam offered Bin Laden sanctuary in 1999, and there is still the unresolved mystery of Ahmad Hikmat Shakir Azzawi, the Iraqi national who facilitated a meeting between the mastermind of the USS Cole attack and two of the 9/11 hijackers in Kuala Lumpur in 2000, and may have been an active Iraqi intelligence agent at the time.

These new documents only strengthen the Bush Administration's case. When is a connection not a connection?

Hollywood Jahilliya takes no position on the question of whether Saddam and Osama had an "operational" link. That question is largely a red herring to begin with. At this point, I agree with skeptics that the case is not proven beyond doubt. But I'm not blind or stupid, either, and I'm willing to take the evidence at face value until given good reason to do otherwise. I wish other folks on the left would do the same.

False Consciousness Watch: Thankless Pacifists

The Times (UK) reported yesterday that,
(t)he Christian group whose activists were freed in a British-led raid in Baghdad yesterday did not thank their rescuers but instead called on them to withdraw from Iraq.
I'm happy they were rescued, and saddened that one of them was murdered. But I can't help thinking that, like much of the left, they are missing the point. Modern pacifism -- at least, political pacifism -- depends on a moral equivalency between liberal democracies and totalitarian states, between armies who try to avoid civilian casualties and death squads who prefer them. It should be more than intuitively obvious that any such equivalency is hogwash.

I used to think this way. I'm embarrassed by it. I woke up, which is why I have faith that the rest of the left can, too.

20 March 2006

A Vital Piece

Hitchens at his best. Follow all of the links. They're worth the time.

V For Vendetta = D For Doublespeak

All my suspicions about the movie have been confirmed. From the first frame to the last, it is an endorsement of fascism and terrorism dressed up as a triumph of the nonconformist will. A more stylish-yet-vapid bit of propaganda could not have been composed by Riefenstahl herself.

The title character -- Code Name: V -- is of course sympathetic, and any human lacking in apathy feels for him. But his formula for change is brutally simplistic and downright evil, not to mention elitist and totalitarian. He hopes to inspire not reform, but complete destruction.

The climactic set-piece of the film, when London's oppressed citizens, inspired by V's heroic terrorism, trade in fearful obedience for blind conformity by dressing up like him and blowing up Parliament, is portrayed as a victory for freedom. The audience isn't even offered the choice between red or blue pills, as it was in The Matrix. Instead, we're asked to choose between two blue pills.

The confusing thing is whether the filmmakers want us to take this seriously. In all the interviews I've watched or read, they sure seem like they do. Until, that is, they encounter a serious (read: critical) question; then, suddenly, well, it's just a movie.

Nothing in the film leads me to amend my original remarks about its political content and implications. Though I have to wonder: have the Wachowskis or McTeigue or anyone else connected to the production ever paid attention to how masked political mobs actually behave in the real world? Have they never heard of the Ku Klux Klan? Baader-Meihoff? Al-Qaeda? Have they ever watched newsreels from Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia or any other totalitarian society? Haven't they noticed that such types are the only ones in the real world who deliver V's message and live by his example? Haven't they noticed that the only result of actions like those V endorses have been the rise of totalitarian states?

Further, are they conscious at all of the power of propaganda? You'd think so, they way they show Sutler's government using it in the movie. But do they get it that their movie is a piece of propaganda in its own right? That it will have real consequences in the real world? This isn't just a movie about the world inside the movie. It's a movie about the world outside it, too; and in that world, the only side effect messages like this have ever had is to bolster the rise of government's like Sutler's.

And are they really banking on the gamble that the rest of us won't notice this? How dumb do they think we are?

Aestehically, there's a lot to like about the movie. But politically, it is reactionary trash, as right-wing and pro-fascist as V's enemies. If this is any indication of how the Holywood political mind sees the world, then we're in big trouble. It means that Tinseltown has joined Big Brother's side, and done so in the name of freedom.

Doublespeak, indeed.

11 March 2006

False Consciousness Watch: "Sorry, Haters"

I may have spoken too soon in my last post. There's a positive buzz going around town about Sorry, Haters, the indie film starring Robin Wright Penn. Word has it that it's shades of Taxi Driver for the post-9/11 world. I haven't seen the flick yet -- it's over in Pasadena, and I'm not free for a couple of days, so I might actually miss it -- but writer-director Jeff Stanzler had some very interesting remarks about it in the Global Mail review posted on the film's website (here and here). On the second page, he's quoted as follows:
I do think part of what was disappointing about Sept. 11 was, directly afterwards, very very little of the discussion was about, What’s wrong with us, to bring it upon us?”
This is called blaming the victim. And the subtext of Stanzler's further remarks are basically a broken record we've heard before: we brought this on ourselves somehow; it was the result of our sins, be they moral (as they often are to voices from the extreme right), political (from the extreme "left"), or both.

Far too much of the artistic response to 9/11 has been to look at ourselves, to call America the Great Satan (or, in secular leftist terms, an empire). To a degree, that's only natural; humans always wonder, when attacked, what we did to deserve it. But there comes a point when introspection turns to masochism. Those who continue to insist we blame ourselves passed that point long ago.

Al-Qaeda has made it perfectly clear what we did to make them mad:
America is the head of heresy in our modern world, and it leads an infidel democratic regime that is based upon separation of religion and state and on ruling the people by the people via legislating laws that contradict the way of Allah and permit what Allah has prohibited. This compels the other countries to act in accordance with the same laws in the same ways… and punishes any country [that rebels against these laws] by besieging it, and then by boycotting it. By so doing, [America] seeks to impose on the world a religion that is not Allah's.
That's the first greivance listed in Why We Fight America, an Al-Qaeda manifesto circulated on the Internet a few months after 9/11. It also contained a pre-amble stating that Islam was intended by God to be "the center of leadership, the center of hegemony and rule" and that "the entire earth must be subject to the religion of Allah."

Greivance number two was this zinger:
America, with the collaboration of the Jews, is the leader of corruption and the breakdown [of values], whether moral, ideological, political, or economic corruption. It disseminates abomination and licentiousness among the people via the cheap media and the vile curricula.
In other words, we promote secular democracy around the world as part of a morally wicked Jewish conspiracy. It was our moral – not to mention our political – liberalism that brought punishment down upon us.

According to Al-Qaeda, the U.S. is a hotbed of hebes, homos, harridans and heretics, a modern Babylon where people are free to disobey, to make their own rules, and to live undisciplined lives. It fields a “Jewish” media and military corps that stands in the way of the Master Faith.

Radical Islam -- the new fascism, the Muslim Religious Right -- sees us as a cauldron of decadent liberals and loose women, that dares to tell others that such a life is worth living. 9/11 was an assault on secular liberalism (“Jewish,” of course) by a right-wing death squad under the influence of a supremacist ideology.

There's an icon over here on the left by the name of Chomsky, who's only sensible statement after 9/11 was that if you want to understand why it happened, you should take the terrorists at their word. For once, I agree with him.

What about these words do Hollywood liberals not understand? What about events since then -- the murder of Theo Van Gogh, the targeting of intellectuals and liberals by the "resistance" in Iraq and Afghanistan, the cartoon riots -- aren't we getting? Is there anything we're actually willing to fight for?

:Hollywood and Terror: Looking Ahead

Hollywood is notorious, among war supporters, for its alleged "dhimmitude" and appeasement. Films like Kingdom Of Heaven and Syriana turn tables on reality, reversing real-world politics to apparently make "statements" about what's going on today. And many of our celebrities are equally infamous for their displays of false consciousness, apparently having seen no problem with jihadist terrorism or Iraq until Dubya came along.

But as usual, things aren't so simple. The same year Syriana was garnering attention from the Academy, Showtime's excellent miniseries Sleeper Cell drew exactly the right lessons from 9/11, and defined the struggle in almost exactly the right terms. And later this year, we'll see Flight 93 from Universal, and World Trade Center from Paramount (directed by Oliver Stone!). About the latter film, Stone has disavowed political agendas and sworn to focus on the human drama of the events. So, some kind of message seems to have gotten through even to Hollywood's king of conspiracy thinking. That's a plus, in my book.

And then there's V For Vendetta, about which I am already dubious. That won't stop me from seeing it as soon as possible, though. I'll post my review soon afterwards.

False Consciousness Watch: The Price Of Pacifism

Last year, four members of the anti-war pacifist organization Christian Peacemakers were taken hostage in Iraq. Their kidnappers were unknown Iraqi insurgents. Today, it's been verified that one of them was found dead in Baghdad, with signs he'd been tortured.

I have a lot of respect for honest pacifists. They're decent people, and don't want to see anyone hurt. But too often, their beliefs lead them into a crippling moral equivalency that has little connection to the real world. The U.S., even under neo-conservative rule, is not a terrorist nation, or even a rogue state. It would never do to an innocent peace activist what this man's kidnappers did to him.

Mr. Fox and his fellow Peacemakers went to Iraq in 2002 to oppose the invasion, and seemed, right from the start, to be far more concerned with stopping America's use of force in all circumstances than in opposing Saddam Hussein's far worse fascist regime or in securing justice for its victims. They're also noticeably silent about the vicious brutality of the post-war "resistance" and its death-squads, even as four of their members were kidnapped, tortured and exploited on video by agents of that movement. Now, sadly, one of them has paid the ultimate price for his peace efforts.

This is a direct result of false consciousness. That Mr. Fox was kidnapped and murdered by agents of the "insurgency" and not the big, bad U.S. ought to tell the false Left all it needs to know about the nature of the enemy we face, and the nature of the conflict in which we're engaged. But you wouldn't know it from reading this "petition", which can't even bring itself to acknowledge who the real villains are.

The message is simple: being on the "right" side against American imperialism will not save you. Indeed, it's more, rather than less, likely to make you a target. That's because the real imperialists are on the other side, and they demand nothing less than the subjugation of all infidels. It was enough for them that Mr. Fox was a Christian and a Westerner. That alone was enough to condemn him to a horrid fate of torture and murder; that he was trying to "protect" the Iraqi people from the insurgency's enemies meant nothing to them. Other anti-war activists, put in the same setting, can expect identical treatment.

The more liberal we are, they more they want us dead. The great right-wing threat of our time comes from jihadist fascism, not neo-conservatism; and in opposing it, the United States is on the right side of history, fighting a war for progressive values and liberal civilization. Any liberal or "leftist" who thinks otherwise is kidding themselves.

09 March 2006

...And One For The Ladies

Iranian feminists marched yesterday for International Women's Day. The response from Ahmadnejad's regime is about what you'd expect:
Thousands of women gathered... in Student Park in central Tehran to celebrate Women's Day. They carried placards with slogans calling for equality, peace, resistance, and freedom.

As was predicted, the police and a militia group called Hezbollah attacked and beat them, using electric batons.

Hat tip: Norm Geras, who also links to this report from the National Council of Resistance of Iran. Opposing and changing this kind of regime requires international solidarity. Even if that means standing next to George Bush from time to time.

Workers Of The World... Wait 'Til Later?

Roya Hakakian wonders why the Iranian mullahcracy's brutal crackdown of a Tehran bus worker's strike has gotten so little attention from the international Left. Choice cut (emphasis added):

What did enlightened people do to support the strikers? Very little. Most Iranian intellectuals, former Marxist activists included, were consumed by polite electronic debates over the Dutch cartoons. Hundreds of striking drivers were arrested, as the cameras of the world's biggest news agencies shot images of the couple of dozen government-paid hoodlums throwing rocks at the Danish embassy in Tehran. Wives and children, even distant relatives of the activists, were hauled off into detention to force the union leaders to turn themselves in, as India's Communist Party threatened to leave the ruling coalition in New Delhi if India voted to refer Iran to the Security Council. Clearly, workers of the world ought to postpone uniting until other scores are settled.

The war against terror is, above all, a war of ideas. But if the terrorists' ideas, be they in the form of the 1979 hostage crisis, the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, the nuclear issue or the fury over the depiction of Muhammad, so intensely occupy us -- our headlines and our airwaves -- doesn't geographical territory become irrelevant? Can we still say that the terrorists have not conquered us? Historians agree that the most significant blow to Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was delivered by the 1978 strike of the oil workers, which sparked other unions to join, and ultimately brought Iran's economy to a halt. But when the current regime systematically suppresses information, and the free press of the free world cannot be cured of its chronic fetish for uranium, will Iran's movement for democracy have any hope of gathering momentum?

Might it also be that much of the alleged "left" here in the West is so paralyzed by false consciousness that it can't see past Bush and Blair? You be the judge.

Hat tip: Harry's Place.

The Thesis of Hollywood Jahilliya

It's simple, really, and ought to be able to be intuitively understood by folks on the "left." The movement now called, variously, "radical Islam," "Islamism," "jihadism" or "Islamofascism," is the greatest right-wing threat to freedom and democracy in the modern world. Its ideology is radically and lethally opposed to women's equality, free speech, religious tolerance, secular government, rule of law, and everything else in the grab-bag of liberal civlization.

In other words, it despises the West for its good ideas, not its bad policies. And this movement is the cause of oppression and poverty in the Muslim world, not the result of it.

It is the duty of the international "left," including Hollywood liberals, to form and maintain a united front against this rising fascist tide. Debate over tactics, strategy, logisitics, rhetoric and so on is perfectly legitimate, and even necessary. But debate over fundamentals is pointless. This fascist movement will continue seeking our destruction no matter who our president is. In the end, it doesn't matter whether we back Israel or not, invaded Iraq or not, elected George W. Bush or not. It is our existence, not our policies, to which jihadism objects.

Also, it's important to understand that the current struggle is both part of a decades-long civil war over the future of Islamic society, in which the Muslim Religious Right has been savaging liberal and secular reformers; and the latest phase in a centuries old imperialist struggle between Islam and the West, in which the Muslim Religious Right seeks to conquer, not liberate, the Muslim world and everywhere else, too.

"Leftist" factions who are not part of a united front against this movement are not really on the left anymore. Groups like International ANSWER, Not In Our Names, the Respect Coaltion in Britain, to name just a few, are traitors to the left. Their parent organizations -- the Socialist Worker Party (ANSWER and Respect), the Revolutionary Communist Party (Not In Our Names) -- and allied individuals have struck a Hitler-Stalin pact with the forces of jihadist fascism. They are reactionaries.

It is the goal of this blog to reach rational leftists and liberals and wake them up from the false consciousness which tells them that neo-conservatism is the biggest threat to world peace. It's not. Jihadism and its right-wing agenda was around and growing long before the Project for a New American Century got together, and it will continue to vex us long after the neo-con project is consigned to the ashes of history. In some ways, neo-conservatism is a response to jihadist facsism; it is certainly not a cause of it. Al-Qaeda and its ilk would want us dead or enslaved even if our president was Noam Chomsky. Indeed, the more liberal we become, the more they will want us dead.

08 March 2006

Kisses All Around: The Stone Solution

Sharon Stone's offer for MidEast peace: kisses for just about anyone. Up next: the Hamas-sanctioned version of Basic Instinct, in which she flashes them a shot of her ankles.

07 March 2006

Can It Be? Good News From Iraq!

Ralph Peters on the performance of Iraq's new army. What's most inspiring is their unity in the face of fascist determination to shred their society.

Choice cut:
"Not one unit had sectarian difficulties," he stressed. "Not one. And when we canceled all leaves after the mosque bombing - we expected trouble, of course - our soldiers returned promptly to their units. Now it is as you see for yourself: Iraqis are proud of their own soldiers."
Tip o'the hat to the Infidel Blogger's Alliance.

The Bloody Borders Project

Gates of Vienna: The Bloody Borders Project provides an animation, updated monthly, on the scope and scale of terrorist attacks since 9/11. It's a disurbing reminder of what liberal civilization is up against today, and will be for the foreseeable future.

It's the 1930s on those colored parts of the map, and the death squads of jihadist fascism are on the march all across them. That was true before Dubya became president, and will continue to be long after he's gone. Neo-conservativism may or may not be part of the solution, but it is definitely not part of the problem. When will we get this?

"Without Offence, There Is Only Silence..."

"...and therefore group-think." -- Irshad Manji, on the recent Danish cartoon fiasco, and the "Manifesto of 12." Check her site before she updates again, if only to read the supplemental demand for human rights she received from an Iranian woman. This is what real liberalism looks like in the Muslim world.

DhimmiWatch & JihadWatch

I just added links to Robert Spencer's two websites, and felt a disclaimer is necessary, due to their controversial nature. It should go without saying in the blogosphere that posting a link does not necessarily reflect an endorsement of all that blogger's views. Spencer's commentary, though erudite and learned, is often harsher than my own would be, enough to make me squirm at times.

Nonetheless, his are the best round-ups I've ever found of jihad-related news links, and are an excellent resource regardless of what you think of Spencer's opinions.

The Madness of King George

"And finally, I would say that you know we are a little bit out of touch every now and then here in Hollywood - every once in a while - and I think that's probably a good thing. We're the ones to talk about AIDS when it was just being whispered. And we talked about civil rights when it wasn't really popular. You know we bring up subjects. We're the ones, you know, this Academy gave Hattie McDaniel an Oscar in 1939 when blacks were still sitting in the backs of theaters.

I'm proud to be part of this Academy, proud to be part of this community and proud to be 'out of touch' - and I thank you so much for this." -- George Clooney, accepting the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
First off, he deserved it, though probably not for Syriana. Clooney's one of the finest actors of his generation, and on the merits of talent alone, it's about time he got some recognition.

But, here's how out of touch he really is, not just from "middle America" (whatever the hell that is), but from political reality in general. And specifically, from bona fide liberalism:

-- Only four black actors have ever won Oscars for Best Actor or Actress... and three of them were in the 21st Century. Only six have ever won for supporting roles. Only one black director has been nominated for the top slot, and it's not even Spike Lee. This is to say nothing of hiring practices behind-the-scenes, where Hollywood remains one of the whitest industries around.

As for the Hattie McDaniel case, let's not forget what role she won for: a "mammy" in the racist whitewash of slavery called Gone With The Wind. The NAACP raised a furor at the time of the film's production, and when it premiered in Atlanta, no black member of the cast was invited to the three days of festivities.

The fact is, Hollywood trails far behind almost all other institutions of American society when it comes to racial integration. Not incidentally, the leader on this issue wasn't Hollywood, but the U.S. military, desegregated in 1948, well ahead of all other sectors of American society.

-- I don't know much about Hollywood's track record on AIDS awareness, but I'll look into it. Though I'm hardly the first person to note that mainstream Hollywood's typical treatment of gay characters rarely strays from stereotype (even in Brokeback Mountain; I mean, gay cowboys? Where haven't we seen that before?)

-- It's also worth noting Good Night And Good Luck, a fine if somewhat misleading film, and well worth seeing. Edward R. Murrow was not, as George portrayed him, a lone hero standing against Senator McCarthy. Murrow was actually late in jumping on the bandwagon; his famous anti-McCarthy broadcast came a month after President Eisenhower personally took charge of the campaign to stop the man. Needless to say, you're not risking much in attacking a right-wing demagogue senator if the Republican president got there before you.

More significantly, however, George's movie makes no distinction between McCarthyism and anti-communism, which was often generated from the Left (I doubt anyone, then or now, would classify Norman Thomas, Harry S Truman or Sidney Hook as McCarthyists); it also includes no relevant context that has come to light since the 1950s, such as the now-established fact that Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs really were Soviet spies. Good Night, And Good Luck plays to the notion that communist infiltration was nothing but a shibboleth, rather than a real threat that McCarthy simply exagerrated.

It is, by proxy, a way of commenting on current political pronouncements about Islamic terrorism. It seems to say that all anti-fascism today is neo-conservatism, as all anti-communism then was McCarthyism. It wasn't true then, and it's not true now.

Acknowledging the Muslim Religious Right as a real and existential threat -- even if sometimes an exagerrated one -- is not the same thing as endorsing the neo-conservative ideology. It's rarely even close, and if George and the rest of "liberal" Hollywood doesn't get that, then it ain't the sort of "out of touch" to be proud of.

05 March 2006

More about the name

"Hollywood Jahilliya" should replace "Hollywood Babylon" as the city's pejorative for the 21st Century. As I noted, the Muslim Religious Right has become a bigger threat to liberal culture than its Christian counterpart can ever again be. A change in rhetoric is therefore necessary, and the new name is meant to be a pre-emptive (oops!) ironic embrace of the slur.

The war on "terror" (I prefer "war on fascism") is fundamentally a war about protecting free speech, women's rights, religious tolerance, secular government, gay rights and everything else on the list of Liberal Values. The current U.S. administration may not be entirely qualified to pull this off, but at least they've got their eye on the right ball, and understand that a confrontation with jihadist fascism is inevitable. And therefore, best engaged at the time and place of our choosing, not theirs.

That's why I've linked to The Truman Project. The Democratic Party needs to nominate candidates with its philosophy, because only liberals can understand, let alone have a chance of winning, a war for liberalism at home and abroad.

Oscar Watch: Munich

This one's got some factual problems, but as a cinematic endeavor, it's masterful. I won't be surprised if it wins Best Picture.

Oscar Watch: Paradise Now

Seems to me the petition to remove Paradise Now from consideration as Best Foreign Language Film is a little too late in coming. Especially since I never got a chance to read it or decide if it was worth signing.

But anybody who follows Palestinian politics intimately should already know this: suicide bombers aren't born of general despair, but deliberate indoctrination. The Palestinian secular left has been struggling against right-wing jihadism and Israeli occupation alike for decades now, and films like this don't help their cause one bit.

However, it is a damned well-made film, so it may deserve the honor on artistic merit alone. Which is, supposedly, what the Academy Awards are all about.

04 March 2006

Syriana: say what?

I haven't yet seen Syriana, one of the movies up for this year's Best Screenplay Oscar, but I have read the script for it. And I just read Charles Krauthammer's complaints about it. I don't agree with the first sentence of his last paragraph, but I think everything else he says is spot-on... despite the fact that he's a conservative.

A choice sampling from the article (emphasis added by me):

The political hero is the Arab prince who wants to end corruption, inequality and oppression in his country. As he tells his tribal elders, he intends to modernize his country by bringing the rule of law, market efficiency, women's rights and democracy.

What do you think happens to him? He, his beautiful wife and beautiful children are murdered, incinerated, by a remote-controlled missile, fired from CIA headquarters in Langley, no less -- at the very moment that (this passes for subtle cross-cutting film editing) his evil younger brother, the corrupt rival to the throne and puppet of the oil company, is being hailed at a suitably garish "oilman of the year" celebration populated by fat and ugly Americans.

What is grotesque about this moment of plot clarity is that the overwhelmingly obvious critique of actual U.S. policy in the real Middle East today concerns America's excess of Wilsonian idealism in trying to find and promote -- against a tide of tyranny, intolerance and fanaticism -- local leaders like the Good Prince. Who in the greater Middle East is closest to the modernizing, democratizing paragon of "Syriana"? Without a doubt, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, a man of exemplary -- and quite nonfictional -- personal integrity, physical courage and democratic temperament. Hundreds of brave American (and allied NATO) soldiers have died protecting him and the democratic system they established to allow him to govern. On the very night the Oscars will be honoring "Syriana," American soldiers will be fighting, some perhaps dying, in defense of precisely the kind of tolerant, modernizing Muslim leader that "Syriana" shows America slaughtering.

To Krauthammer's list of MidEast good guys who are now, at long last, getting America's support, I'd add Jalal Talabani, head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and currently the president of Iraq: a man who fits Krauthammer's description of Karzai to a tee, and is a good ole-fashioned socialist to boot.

Stephen Gaghan, the film's writer-director, has bragged about the "massive research" he did while working on the script. I don't think it shows: the movie is a live-action cartoon, populated by caricatures from a fantasy world, and premised on "realities" that are the reverse of what's actually going on. And with a CIA agent as the hero, no less (!!!). Since when is that liberal?

Of course, fictional movies aren't journalism, and a lot more goes into a film's being Oscar-worthy than merely its politics (or so I'd like to think); and a good thing, too, since this one doesn't seem to be paying attention to what's going on these days. Maybe if it had been made and released when we were backing Saddam Hussein (albeit half-heartedly) or arming mujahedin rather than fighting them, Syriana would be relevant. It sure reads like it was written back then. But we've moved on, and are moving towards -- not away from -- backing the kind of guys that Dr. Bashir plays in this movie. You'd think a "liberal" movie about oil politics would argue for more and better of this trend, rather than engaging in doublespeak, implying that our new, armed support of the Left in Iraq and Afghanistan is really its own opposite.

Makes me wish we had another installment of Lord of the Rings. At least it was honest about being a total fantasy.

Doublespeak, indeed

A couple posts ago, I took a swipe at the new Wachowski Bros. movie, V For Vendetta. Based on the trailers I've seen, it looks like the movie is an outright endorsement of terrorism. At first, I chalked this as a clever marketing ploy. But it looks to be shaping up a whole lot worse.

The movie's nominal director, James McTeigue, has said that the film is "morally ambiguous" because he doesn't want to tell audiences what to believe (even though he is telling them what to believe, just by saying that). And the movie's reported final sequence, in which thousands of oppressed Londoners erase their individuality and don Guy Fawkes masks to collectively bomb Parliament in lockstep, doesn't inspire much confidence in me, either. Nor does the fact that Alan Moore, on whose early 80s graphic novel the flick is based, has disowned the project.

Of course, like most of the world, I haven't seen this movie yet. But I can glean enough from what advance buzz and promotion have told me to make the following preliminary assessment: V For Vendetta look to be not just pro-terrorist, but outright fascist, too. Without admitting it's either; maybe even without knowing it's either.

Naturally, they've tried to fool you (and maybe themselves) by making the villain a fascist state, and the hero a sleek, ass-whuppin' Neo-come-lately with a flair for both the historical and the dramatic. We're meant to think of it, I guess, as something like Batman vs. Big Brother.

But at the same time, they're blurring the line between Batman and Big Brother, and hoping we don't notice (indeed, they're telling us not to notice, repeatedly, and will keep doing so in every promotion and interview). The notion that a fascist government's enemies can themselves be fascists -- with their only real distinction being that they're not the ones in charge today -- apparently never occurred to the Wachowskis or McTeigue.

The obscuring of ethical standards, the erasure of individuality in service to "the Cause," and the insistence that there is no objective truth are all tactics of totalitarianism, not liberalism. Yet, they're all being used either in the movie itself or in its promotion campaign, to imply the film's actually against those things.

So, as a bit of pre-emptive pop-politics prophylactic, here's an elementary lesson in political theory for those in Hollywood who missed out on Orwell's point.

The difference between a fascist and a revolutionary has absolutely nothing to do with which one of them holds political power, or which one of them is on the offensive. It has everything to do with the standards by which they conduct themselves in the use of that power.

Fascists are terrorists, whether they're in power or not. The reverse also holds true: all terrorists are fascists. And neither of them are freedom fighters, ever... no matter what their cause and no matter which of them holds political power.

The way to tell the difference between a fascist-terrorist and a freedom fighter is to look at their use of language, tactics and philosophy. Fascist-terrorists always claim special insight and special prerogative in the use of lethal force against civilians (as Morpheus said in The Matrix: "most of these people are dependent on the system and will fight to protect it; that makes them your enemy").

When fascists are in power, this special claim will be applied as a police state violence against civilians; when they're out of power, it will be applied as terrorist violence against civilians. Batman makes a distinction between murder and justice; Big Brother doesn't, even when he's still just The Joker.

One of the chief ways fascists bolster their special claim is by insisting that truth is relative; their preferred method is deliberately taking words and images from their original context and mis-using them until all vestige of their original meaning has been erased. Hence, the word "fascist" gets divorced from it original political meaning as an ideology of slaughter and now means "something unpleasant"; and the word "terrorist," which once meant pretty much the same thing as "fascist," now gets watered down to mean nothing at all, really, except an empty label applied by "fascist" governments to those who oppose them. Or so we're told.

Freedom fighters, on the other hand -- even the ones who have political power -- try to hold to the standards of just war theory and the rule of law. They don't target civilians, they don't say all truth is relative, and they don't claim special insight into the minds of "the people," or special dispensation from God (or the Dialectic, or Anything Else) to ignore the rules of civilized warfare. For them, there is a difference between murdering noncombatants and killing enemy combatants in war, even if both are held to be wrong in the ultimate sense.

To put it bluntly, there's a moral difference between premeditated murder and justifiable homicide, between first-degree murder and manslaughter, and so on. Fascist-terrorists seek to erase this difference so they can kill however, whenever, and whoever they please; while freedom fighters seek to protect it and live by it.

Freedom fighters care what's true, and they care how their actions affect society at large; at the very least, they care about their public image, and try to behave in ways that endear them to, rather than frighten, the people. Fascist-terrorists don't.

Freedom fighters hold themselves to some set of objective ethical standards; fascist-terrorists reject all such standards in the service of their Holy Mission or Great Leader (or, as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi said in a letter to Bin Laden: "[some Sunnis object that] we are being hasty and rash and leading the [Islamic] nation into a battle for which it is not ready, [a battle] that will be revolting and in which blood will be spilled. This is exactly what we want, since right and wrong no longer have any place in our current situation.").

Freedom fighters place the rights of the individual over those of the collective in most cases; fascist-terrorists do the opposite.

If truth is relative, then might makes right, and the rule of law is replaced by the will to power. Those with the most toys get to make the rules, and there's no way to prove them wrong. Democracy and human rights become meaningless in a world without standards and clear language.

Under the philosophy apparently being hawked by V For Vendetta's production and promotion team, there is no way citizens can evaluate the behavior of their government or its enemies, let alone hold either of them accountable, or choose (as we all sometimes must) between the lesser of two evils. If there's no way to prove evil exists, let alone prove it wrong, what then is the point of activism or revolution? Simply to achieve power for its own sake? How is that different from what Big Brother already does? And anyway, what does the word "terrorist" really mean?

McTeigue and the Wachowskis ask us to question the meaning of words like "terrorist," calling them, by implication if not exposition, mere arbitrary labels. And yet, they also market their movie as a bold exercise in truth-telling that asks the audience to "make up their own minds." But how can we, if the auteurs have deliberately made things less rather than more clear?

How can a movie have an agenda and not have an agenda at the same time?

Can it "make a statement" while denying that it's making one? And how are we supposed to evaluate that statement in the first place, if words and images don't really mean what they say?

As I said in that previous post, it's adapting Orwell's imagery while neatly reversing his message. Orwell held steadfast to the notion that ensuring liberty meant adhering to objective standards of evidence and the scrupulous use of clear language. Political factions who do otherwise, especially in an attempt to justify or excuse the use of terror against the general public, are on Big Brother's side. As are those who muddy the objectively real difference between terrorism and revolution.

Even if they think they aren't.

"Since nothing is either true or false, good or bad, our guiding principle will be to demonstrate that we are the most efficient -- in other words, the strongest. Then the world will no longer be divided into the just and the unjust, but into masters and slaves." -- Albert Camus, The Rebel

This lady's got balls!

It's hard to find real courage in pop culture. You'll see lots of political rock groups railing against the Iraq war and Bush in general, striking a brave pose while doing it, but a pose is all it is. And I suspect that most Systems Of A Down and Green Days and Bad Religions out there know this full well. There are no neo-conservative death squads. Opposing Bush puts you in absolutely no danger. Cheney will not seek to have you killed for speaking out about Halliburton. For all its ominous image, American "imperialism" is an easy target... which is exactly why so many "conscious" celebrities attack it by rote.

And that makes Deeyah, a pop singer from Europe, all the more remarkable. Of mixed Iranian-Pakistani descent, she's been dubbed in European media as the "Muslim Madonna" and/or the "Asian J-Lo." Her stuff isn't the kind I normally listen to, but when I caught a glimpse of her latest video (posted below), I gave her a standing ovation. Here she is, just starting out on her career, and taking a stand that has gotten other people killed... in Europe, of all places, where the days of death squads are supposed to be over. Of course, she's received death threats, and been censored (again, in Europe, supposedly more committed to liberalism than us American imperialists). And that was all before she decided to stand up for women's lib. And she did this song after the murder of Theo Van Gogh and the burning of embassies over forged blasphemous cartoons.

Nor is it a shallow or superficial statement. The song's lyrics have substance, and most of the gagged people seen in the video are real Muslim dissidents, liberals and feminists who've been subjected to oppression in their home countries (meaning beatings, jail sentences, forced exile, execution, murder of family members and so on... all for daring to speak their minds or defend women's equality; real oppression, in other words). Deeyah here has chosen to launch an international singing career by taking a bold and genuinely dangerous stand against real fascism.

This lady has more moral courage in her belly button than every sneering punk band and glossy Hollywood star on the planet. None of them are putting their lives on the line for either their beliefs or their art. Deeyah is doing both at the same time. She deserves your support, even if you don't like her music.

What's In A Name?

They used to call this place Babylon. And yeah, it’s a town full of plastic people with superficial smiles, with a reputation for decadence and hedonism, where “alternative lifestyles” of every stripe flout their wares before the easily-tempted eyes of visiting naifs. But it’s also my new home, and gosh-darn it, I love the place.

I moved to Los Angeles from a deeply conservative part of the U.S., because it’s where my heart called me to go. I’m a liberal – pro-gay rights, pro-feminist, proudly godless, a borderline socialist – and a creative writer by aspiration if not yet by trade; these are my people. I belong in Hollywood Babylon.

But now that I'm here, I find myself in a curious conundrum. I’m a misfit because I'm pro-war. As in “war on terror”… and that includes the Iraq war in my book. I didn’t start that way; once I was a loyal Chomskian evangelical. But my physical journey out of the Bible Belt became a mental journey, too, and I realized that my left-wing heart knew a real fascist when it saw one, and it’s name wasn’t George W. Bush.

For one thing, he’s too lazy. Practically every monstrosity of his reign – including the torture scandal – can be boiled down to that. He and his buddies only wanted the White House so they could pad their resumes, it seems, and they resent having to actually be responsible for a nation’s security.

For another thing, Bush is part of the Christian Right, which for all its ugliness and arrogance, has been pretty much tamed by liberal democracy. Only the most extreme minority of them question the fundamentals of liberal society, and even they have begun adopting many of its rhetorical tropes (they seem suddenly quite keen on women’s rights, sans abortion that is, across the globe). And at any rate, few if any of them are calling for, let alone practicing, mass murder of unbelievers.

The same can’t be said, unfortunately, for the Muslim Right. Its death-squads are out there untamed, stalking every corner of the Old World – from Nigeria to Denmark to Indonesia and all points in between – using classically fascist tactics (like, for real) to intimidate its enemies and hoping to putsch its way into real power somewhere (preferably Iraq with its vast oil and water resources, or Pakistan with its nukes; a few are already in power in Iran, and working to get nukes). This new fascism brought its violence to our shores on 9/11, and will continue trying to do so in the future. And for the most part, it’s been met by appeasement and denial all around, just as its Nazi forebears were. Well, fellow liberals, we know where that path leads, don’t we? Don’t we?

In short, the Muslim Religious Right is a bigger threat to liberal culture and values than the Christian Religious Right can ever again be. And how does Hollywood – my adopted home, the Mecca of my artsy-liberal soul – respond to this new wave of political darkness? With movies like Kingdom of Heaven and Syriana, premised on “truths” that are the reverse of what’s actually going on. And even with fare like the upcoming V For Vendetta, which appears, from its trailers, to be openly pro-terrorist while exploiting Orwellian imagery in a way that completely reverses Orwell’s meaning.

This grand old town seems to be going out of its way to avoid offending the Muslim Religious Right. And I can sort of understand why. They’re scary folks, these clerical fascists. They’ve proven that they will, in fact, kill anyone who makes art that offends them, and most filmmakers don’t want to risk their lives.

But the thing about fascism is that it can’t be appeased, and it will seek to kill you no matter what you do if it deems you deserving of death. In the end, we have no choice but to stand up to it. Hollywood used to understand that, back when the Third Reich ruled the Continent, National Shinto stalked the Pacific, and Tinseltown made proudly anti-fascist flicks. And I, for one, have faith that it can and will understand it again. The only worry I have is whether it will come too late to make a difference against the armies of the Master Faith.

So, that’s why I chose the name. Jahilliya, in Islamic thought, is the state of pagan godlessness that ruled the Arabian peninsula before the deliverance of the Qur’an. Because I am proudly godless and live in Tinseltown – and as a nod to the power of the Muslim Religious Right, which has surpassed the threat its Christian counterpart can ever be to us – I propose that Hollywood Babylon wear the jahil label with pride.

With all these movies coming out and more on the way, it seems a perfect time to start a blog that keeps eyes on the intersection of pop culture and politics in the age of Islamofascism, and does it from a pro-war liberal perspective. I don’t think I’m alone in this point of view, but even if I am, it won’t stop me.

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