The real terror in the West

By CLIFFORD D. MAY

How curious that at the Academy Awards ceremony last weekend, not a word was said about the terrorist movements dedicated to the destruction of the West.

Hollywood stars and moguls don’t appear to fully grasp that such groups as al Qaeda and such regimes as that ruling Iran not only hate Republicans, but also evangelicals and Richard Perle. They also hope to suppress artistic freedom, impose second-class status on women and stone to death those with unconventional sexual orientations.

Should that really be of less concern to Hollywood than global warming?

Movies are made to entertain and turn a profit, but they can shape public opinion as well. Some filmmakers aim to advance an ideology. Think what Sergei Eisenstein did for Soviet communism, or what Leni Riefenstahl did for the Nazis. (Michael Moore is not in their league, though he may aspire to be.)

At the Oscar presentations 40 years ago, “The Battle of Algiers” was nominated for Best Foreign-Language Film. It already had won several prestigious awards in Europe. In recent years, its relevance to the conflicts being fought in Iraq and Afghanistan has brought about something of a revival. It has even been screened at the Pentagon.

If you watched this year’s Oscars, you saw, in a montage of recently departed cinema greats, a photo of Gillo Pontecorvo, the director of “The Battle of Algiers,” who died last year at 87. An Italian-born former communist, Pontecorvo was commissioned to make the movie by veterans of Algeria’s struggle for independence from France. To tell their story, Pontecorvo focused on a battle the French won in 1957, in a war the French would lose in 1962.

The film makes a strong case that terrorism is a legitimate weapon when wielded in pursuit of a just cause. The film leaves no doubt regarding who has a just cause: The Algerians want their freedom. The French want to occupy Algeria, to rule and exploit its Muslim population.

At one point in the film, a French journalist asks the revolutionary leader, Ben M’Hidi, about his terrorist tactics: “Don’t you think it’s a bit cowardly to use women’s baskets and handbags to carry explosive devices that kill so many innocent people?”

Ben M’Hidi replies: “And doesn’t it seem to you even more cowardly to drop napalm bombs on defenseless villages, so that there are a thousand times more innocent victims? Of course, if we had your airplanes it would be a lot easier for us. Give us your bombers, and you can have our baskets.”

“The Battle of Algiers” was to inspire such disparate revolutionaries of the ’60s and ’70s as the Irish Republican Army, the Black Panthers and the Palestine Liberation Organization (founded by the Arab League in 1964). In the years since, the logic of Pontecorvo/Ben M’Hidi has been appropriated by almost every self-styled revolutionary terrorist, from Ayatollah Khomeini to Osama bin Laden. It echoes in the West as well, not least on campuses and in the media — for example, in Reuters’ facile formulation that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”

Or, as a former U.S. ambassador and member of the “expert advisory group” to the Baker-Hamilton commission recently phrased it: “People are just as dead when bombed from the air, shot with a tank round, culled with a sniper shot or stabbed in a bayonet charge as they are when killed by a suicide bomber or a roadside bomb.”

If that is the standard, one might as well also say that people are just as dead when killed on a battlefield or poisoned in a gas chamber, so what’s the difference and who are we to judge?

Nor, to some sophisticates, does it matter whether the cause is to maintain a colony, as it was for the French in Algeria, or to help stand up a decent government and get out — the mission of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the revolutionaries against whom America fights openly seek to establish totalitarian rule.

So whose cause is just and who — if anyone — should be given more latitude when it comes to weapons and tactics? What sense does it make to argue that we are bound by the strictest interpretation of the rules of warfare, but that we should not demand even minimal restraints from our enemies?

These are not easy questions to answer. Maybe that’s why Hollywood would rather worry about carbon emissions and whether the glaciers of Greenland are melting.

(Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is the president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.)

Comments

  1. Thomas

    Okay, on the subject of films, terrorism, America, nation building, etc., has anyone heard about this upcoming PBS series “America at a Crossroads”? From what I’ve read, it’s 11 independent films that explore the role of America post-9/11. Looks really interesting and well-done. Found the more info on the PBS website: http://www.pbs.org/weta/crossroads/

  2. RLewis

    Clifford – the real terror in the West appears to be the propaganda spilling out of our own White House. Oscar night, on the other hand, was a breath of fresh air from all the Iraq, war, terrorist news.

    .

    Regarding your position on C. Rice’s committee for Democracy, could you advise her that the American Constitution and the Bill of Rights support democracy?

    .

    “Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) President Clifford D. May has been named by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to serve on her Advisory Committee on Democracy Promotion. The committee held its inaugural meeting Monday, November 6, 2006, in Washington, D.C.”

    http://www.defenddemocracy.org/programs/programs_show.htm?doc_id=421572

  3. I’m stunned, I thought, and still think, that the “terrorists” are trying to drive the West out of the Middle East, to protect the Middle East From the West. Never did think they were trying to destroy me, just protect themselves from me.

    If the Western Foothold in Trans Jordan is the issue, WELL, IT IS STILL THE MIDDLE EASTERNER TRYING TO DRIVE THE EUROPEAN OUT OF THE MIDDLE EAST.

  4. David Rosenberg

    If you look back over the years, Oscar night usually turned out to be a forum, with each winner stating their cause and wanting everybody to join. After years of this, people started to complain how each winner took more time to spaek of their fight instead of thanking the people that helped win the Oscar for them. In the last few years, less and less of these speeches were present. However, for some strange reason, even without the political spew, the night still ran, over Four hours Yawn.

  5. BB

    Clifford (any relation to the Big Red Dog?) May also forgot to point that they failed to mention anything Anna Nicole Smith at the Oscars! Won’t someone please think about Anna Nicole Smith?!

    (P.S. Is communist still a naughty word? Seems about like being called a former Tory or Whig…I was hoping that my buttons were no longer supposed to be pushed by that word.)

  6. ray

    The whole concept of terrorism works when a population becomes so terrorized that it disrupts normal life. Guess it’s working for you Cliff. Excuse the rest of us who are not listening to the “Air Raid Sirens” that are the current administration.

  7. Dean

    Oh yes, “Clifford D. May, president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism” and neopolitic propaganda.

    “Hollywood stars and moguls don’t appear to fully grasp that such groups as al Qaeda and such regimes as that ruling Iran not only hate Republicans, but also evangelicals and Richard Perle. They also hope to suppress artistic freedom, impose second-class status on women and stone to death those with unconventional sexual orientations.”

    Jeez-us-keerist….”Don’t fully grasp”. Hey you sicko propagandist, your just a f-king mouth for the thugs in Washington. Your job, of course, is to diss Hollywierd and make certain your readers understand that anyone who might enjoy the Oscars is by association a “terrorist” sympathizer.

    And of course you’ve got to condemn the college kids and the media… “In the years since, the logic of Pontecorvo/Ben M’Hidi has been appropriated by almost every self-styled revolutionary terrorist, from Ayatollah Khomeini to Osama bin Laden. It echoes in the West as well, not least on campuses and in the media — for example, in Reuters’ facile formulation that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”

    Hey big mouther, why don’t you pick up your check from ol’ Shotgun Dick and then crawl back into that Neocon fart-hole you came from…”The Foundation for Defense of Democracies”. LOL!

  8. The South Point

    What a maroo-oo-oon…

    (I have no idea why the color of reddish-purple is used to describe someone who is dumber than dirt, but Bugs Bunny was always using it and that’s good enough for me…)

  9. Joe Lawrence

    Hey, Clifford May, at your family birthday parties, do you speechify about “the terrorists?” And, how about at your church’s awards dinners? If you do, how do you avoid ‘ploiticizing’ your remarks? Mayhaps by avoiding any mention of the criminality and mendacity of the Bush administration? Don’t be offended, because I am just, you know, wondering. *sniff*

  10. Cliiford May is correct in much of his analysis. It is all the more confounding, then, that he chooses to jump to the faulty conclusions he does.

    There are enormous differences between revolutionary wars of liberation and neo-colonial nation building. One arises from within and swells to a point where it captures the imagination and heart of the people, or it dies; the other is imposed from without, is never accepted, at best tolerated briefly, and — almost always — ultimately rejected, usually violently.

    Calling an invasion and occupation “spreading democracy” doesn’t make it so. Accepting such a label is dangerously naive.