Monday, January 09, 2006

Several recent movies set out to offer insight into the so-called War on Terror, that never-ending struggle that seems to be turning our own nation, by not-so-subtle degrees, into a rogue state. A couple big-budget terror-era thrillers have reached the Cineplex and are worth seeing. Steven Spielberg’s “Munich” has Israel’s Prime Minister, Golda Meir, telling her top-secret Committee X that sometimes it’s necessary to negotiate compromises with core values, before sending Mossad agents to revenge the deaths of the Olympic athletes slaughtered by Black September. The rest of the film deals with the fall-out. The last scene, after revenge has been wrought, frames the Twin Towers in a pre-9/11 Lower Manhattan. In “Syriana” Director Stephen Gaghan provides a serpentine descent into the dark depths of Big Oil. In both movies the protagonists end up not knowing who they’re working for, whose interests they’re serving, or exactly why they’re doing what they’re doing. Not to worry, neither film is quite seditious. “Munich” is too transparent, “Syriana” too opaque to be mistaken for agitprop.

Both deal to a disarming degree with individuals serving as cogs in a political process so vast and complicated it simply cannot be comprehended in toto. The engine of this incredible machine may be oil, Gaghan suggests, but oil stands for greed, and greed is what keeps it humming. This notion is itself seditious to some, but as various characters in “Syriana” never hesitate to tell us, the U.S., with 5% of world population, consumes roughly 50% of the world’s oil. Being reminded that our appetites have consequences, both political and personal, around the world, offends some delicate sensibilities, alas. But acknowledging this universal truth is essential in determining what our true core values are, and assessing which of them we’re willing to compromise, and to what end.

Both movies clearly warn of becoming what we profess to despise, echoing tales as ancient as civilization itself. Take, as a random example, the Hindu tale of the fearsome demon Raktabija, a tough one to vanquish, because every drop of his blood, when it hit the ground, became another demon just like him. The lesser gods, at their wit’s end, called for back-up. Kali, goddess of destruction, came galloping into the fray, and with her formidable tongue, caught every drop of the demon’s blood before it could hit the ground. Seemed like a good idea at the time. But then, drunk on the demon’s blood, Kali, not known for her restraint in the first place, went on her own blind, bloody rampage across the universe. It took the more meditative Shiva, roused from a trance, to bring her back to her senses.

What happened in Munich September 5th, 1972, and in America September 11th, 2001, is not subject to debate. But what these events set in motion must be vigorously, passionately, and publicly debated. These movies bring important issues to the fore. We mustn’t be afraid to “go there”. That’s when the terrorists—whether states or the stateless—have won.

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