It is reflective of American liberalism that Ben Affleck, who is considered to the left of the Democratic Party and who is supposed to have been critical of US foreign policies in the Middle East, is behind the movie Argo. The movie received wide publicity and acclaim and has served to energize American national pride. That is what patriotic movies are supposed to do.
But if you think about it, this movie is based on a simple premise that does not require a complicated or sophisticated plot: basically, as CIA agents were hiding in the Canadian embassy, an American traveled to Iran with fake Canadian passports, which enabled the Americans to leave the country. The rest is either manufactured or unnecessary. In fact, the entire scheme of the movie was actually comical and entirely unnecessary. Once the Americans obtained the Canadian passports, they were free to leave the country, and that is exactly what happened.
The character played by Affleck is in fact less impressive than what appears on the screen: his scheme was not the product of a sophisticated mind, and the extra length to which the CIA went to create a fake production company and even a phone number for it was entirely unnecessary, especially that the details (of the last minute phone call) were all manufactured for extra dramatic effect.
This is a typical Hollywood movie with typical Hollywood twists and turns, and with the typical formulaic ending. I mean, who is going to believe that suspenseful ending: with the plane about to leave Iranian territory, while Iranian armed men were chasing the plane on the runway because they discovered at the last minute that they were duped. But the White Man is always – in Hollywood – more than one step ahead of the native.
It should not be surprising that the movie recycled racist and stereotypical depictions from other racist movies on Iran, like Not Without My Daughter. All the Iranians in the movie were frowning or angry or yelling, and the movie never bothers to subtitle what they have to say. Only the words of submissive natives, i. e. the Iranians who cooperate with the Americans and are smiley are worth translating to the audience.
There are comical touches to the movie: there is a seconds-long history lesson at the beginning of the movie which talks about the 1953 CIA coup. But that short intro leaves out the rest of the history of US-Iranian relations: the movie mentions SAVAK [Organisation of Intelligence and National Security] in passing but does not mention that the CIA helped set up that torturing apparatus of the Shah. The movie also leaves out the various cover operations between the Shah and the US, and that the Carter administration did not rule out military intervention in Iran to keep the Shah out of respect for the people of Iran, but due to the infeasibility of that option compared with the climate of 1953.
Iran and its people and culture are all unpleasant in American popular culture and there is nothing worth admiring or liking about them. Basically, Americans can’t forgive the Iranians because they had not forgiven the Americans for their 1953 coup and for their endorsement and embrace of the rule of the Shah. Nothing about Iran is pleasant according to the stereotypical American portrayal.
But there is a funny moment at the end of Argo.
Just before the credits, you read that the movie is about a great “cooperation” between countries of the world for good purposes. So of all the examples of international cooperation, Ben Affleck and his team found the Canadian-American cooperation for the production of fake passports to be the most exemplary.
No Iranian character in the film who has a legitimate grievance against US policy is permitted to be sympathetic or to have any intimate moments that would humanize him or her.
The film tells but doesn’t show some of the US atrocities in Iran. It shows the plight of the hapless US diplomats. In making that key dramatic decision, and then in Orientalizing the Iranian protagonists as angry and irrational, the film betrays its subject matter and becomes propaganda, lacking true moral or emotional ambiguity.
So far as the United States seems to be concerned, it is only a slight overstatement to say that Muslims and Arabs are essentially seen as either oil suppliers or potential terrorists. Very little of the detail, the human density, the passion of Arab-Moslem life has entered the awareness of even those people whose profession it is to report the Arab world. What we have instead is a series of crude, essentialized caricatures of the Islamic world presented in such a way as to make that world vulnerable to military aggression.
The life of an Arab Palestinian in the West, particularly in America, is disheartening. There exists here an almost unanimous consensus that politically he does not exist, and when it is allowed that he does, it is either as a nuisance or as an Oriental. The web of racism, cultural stereotypes, political imperialism, dehumanizing ideology holding in the Arab or the Muslim is very strong indeed, and it is this web which every Palestinian has come to feel as his uniquely punishing destiny.
Edward Said (via lyddawiyya)
When Hafez died, in 2000, he bequeathed power to his son, the London-educated Bashar, age 34.
Where do I begin? This “western-educated” drug fascinates westerners. “He was educated in the West.” It is such an important and telling part of the puzzle. “But he was educated in the West, how could he commit this horror?” Had he been educated not in the West, it would have been more understandable. Nothing beats “he was educated in the West,” except that Hitler was also educated in the West. In fact, Most Western leaders, from colonial masters to former president George W. Bush, were educated in the West. It did not do them any good. The faith in the dichotomy continues to fascinate. To be fair, the reviewer is not the only one. I got this question in almost every interview about Syria at the outset of the uprising.
“But is it too much to ask of anyone concerned with our Middle Eastern policy to read Said’s trilogy—that is, before they encourage a military attack on Iran by proxies—be they French, Israeli, British, or Saudi Arabian? Wouldn’t it be truly audacious if Barack Obama, class of 1983, had done a close enough reading of the three Orientalism texts—with their subtext of humiliation endured by colonized peoples—to cite them as a reason for his praiseworthy reluctance to move from sanctions to violence? That before he wasted one more life, one more dollar in Islamic Afghanistan, Obama showed some interest in his old professor instead of reading the dubious Robert Kagan? And furthermore, that the president of the United States consider following the fine example of the president of Columbia University and be willing to meet with Iran’s, shall we say, flaky, President Ahmahdinejad? After all, Obama has already visited another religiously intolerant abettor or terrorists and officially anti-Israel head of state, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.”
— As’ad AbuKhalil commenting on Obama’s views that he’d “rather read Shakespeare’s plays than the criticism [Edward Said’s Orientalism].”
Correction: The above is AbuKhalil quoting John R. MacArthur’s keynote speech at a Columbia University. Thanks Versaria!
The danger of allowing Friedman the position of decipherer of and spokesman for Orientals is further underscored when readers of the New York Times learn that, contrary to reports in the European and Arab media, Afghan civilians obliterated by American B-52s are actually not civilians. According to Friedman, “many of those Afghan ‘civilians’ were praying for another dose of B-52’s to liberate them from the Taliban”, though he explains neither the source of his insights into Afghan prayers nor why opposition to the Taliban would eliminate one’s civilian status. Via maneuvers like these, however, the American public is spared the moral complications that might result were the U.S. media to humanize victims of U.S. violence in the Arab/Muslim world.Why Thomas Friedman is Always Wrong | P U L S E
It’s often said — by assholes — that other cultures not lucky enough to be considered a part of the enlightened “West” do not value human life as much as those of us who, through the accident of birth, ended up being raised in the land of hormone-infused milk and tainted honey. But, you know: Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq again, Yemen, Somalia…charles davis
Every single empire in its official discourse has said that it is not like all the others, that its circumstances are special, that it has a mission to enlighten, civilize, bring order and democracy, and that it uses force only as a last resort. And, sadder still, there always is a chorus of willing intellectuals to say calming words about benign or altruistic empires, as if one shouldn’t trust the evidence of one’s eyes watching the destruction and the misery and death brought by the latest mission civilizatrice.
Edward Said (via fearandwar)