Over the weekend I had the chance to view two films that both addressed important topics.
Syriana deals with oil politics and the middle-eat while following three characters; George Clooney who plays a CIA agent who ran undercover operations in Lebanon in the 1980’s and is currently doing operations in Iran before he is asked to go back to Lebanon, Matt Damon who plays a financially analyst whose child dies in a Gulf Arab state where he is working for a Swiss firm and becomes involved in royal family politics, and Jeffery Wright who plays the part of an investigator working for a big oil company in order to who is helping to try and ease problems with a Senate investigation over the issue of bribing the government of Kazakhstan.
There are some interesting issues at play; there is a radical young Muslim sheikh who preaches against the West, and the film shows two of his young and unemployed followers (falsely giving the impression that the majority of people join such movements out of poverty), there are meetings with Hezbollah leaders in Beirut (the Hezbollah leader says “I Like America; there are ten-million Muslims in America”) and there are the politics within the Gulf riyal family (which I guess is supposed to be Saudi Arabia).
Matt Damon challenges the elder prince who is more statesmanlike as to why the Arabs are wasting their money. He tells the prince that the West thinks that one-hundred years from now the Arabs will live just like they did one-hundred years prior; scraping by and living a harsh desert life. The prince agrees, but reminds Damon that it is America who has encouraged the insane financial polices of the Arab States because their mass-consumption of their products. Because this prince supports a greater-relationship with China the US opposes him and supports the corrupt younger prince who is completely in the hands of America. Does this sound familiar anyone? Can anyone say King Faisal or Mohammad Mossadegh? The US today pompously criticizes the finical-policies of the rich oil thiefdoms while they have been the ones who have encouraged and facilitate such habits and this has been done, as the film highlights, in particular by big oil; the home of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.
The film is worthwhile and it connects the dots pretty well. It has its shortcomings and feeds in to a number of stereotypes at times; but it does a good job in giving the viewer some facts and letting us think them through ourselves and come to our won conclusions.
Protocols of Zion
Marc Levin, along with his father, does a good job in exploring anti-Semitism in America in this film which starts at ground-zero and takes us all over the US and the world. For those of you unfamiliar; the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion is a famous forgery against Jews that was more than likely produced by the secrets service of the Russian Tsar in the late nineteenth-century. The protocols tell of a diabolical plot for Jewish world-domination using a variety of means and this forgery has been accepted as fact by many in the West and in the Muslim World. In the US it was first published by Henry Ford (of automobile and the Ford Motor company fame) in Dearborn, MI. The protocols were made into a TV mini-series in Lebanon as well and have been printed prominently in the Egyptian press.
Levin states that he was inspired to make this film by hearing constantly about the 4,000 Jews who did not show up for work on 9-11 and about other stories of that nature that has become increasingly popular all over the world. He particularly was inspired by a conversation with a young and articulate Egyptian cabbie in New York who told him: don’t you know its all in the book (referring to the protocols)”.
Levin interviews the National Alliance leader Sean Walker from the neo-Nazi groups headquarters in West Virginia. Walker, a fairly intelligent young man, gives the moderate face of the version of violent version of anti-Semitism that is preached (and sometimes practiced) by the National Alliance and Levin fails to call him on this; but of course he was at their compound. The leader proudly shows off the Nazi flags, boots with swastikas on the back of them, Mein Kampf copies, and the Protocols of Zion which was sold out.
Traveling to St. Louis, where I currently live, Levin interviewed Frank Weltner aka/ the Couch Potato who hosted a radio show for years on WGBU radio were he promoted anti-immigrant views, anti-black views, and anti-Jewish views. Weltner operates the Jew Watch website that promotes a variety of conspiracy theories and has been linked to the National Alliance, the Council of Conservative Citizens and other white-radical groups in the past. His show is no longer on WGNU, but he continues to be prominent in white-right circles.
Young Muslims are interviewed in Paterson, NJ (where I used to work) and in Sunset Park Brooklyn, NY (a few blocks from my old home). It is here where Levin manages to find a group of hyper young men who are full of rage and more than willing to act stupid in front of the camera. Can I blame these young men? No, not really, since I know that they are full of rage and at that age I couldn’t have articulated myself that well either. In Brooklyn Levin is attending a rally called in order to address the Israeli assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yasin (the former spiritual leader of Hamas). Several hundred people attended the rally at a catering hall in Brooklyn and emotions were high and Levin was able to capture that spirit. A newspaper publisher in New Jersey is also interviewed who published the protocols in Arabic in his publication and an interfaith Muslim leader is interviewed. The interfaith guy spoke very well of himself and addressed the issues of a double-standard when it comes to anti-Semitic and Islamophobic speech; the newspaper publisher made an ass of himself.
In the film Levin frequently shows footage of the Lebanese mini-series on the protocols and footage of Islamic rallies in places like Baghdad calling for the death of Jews. Mixed in with this are the stories of Daniel Pearl and his beheading and other stories of the like. Here I believe there are some shortcomings as Levin fails to put much of this into context. There is no doubt, the Arab media is irresponsible in its promotion of anti-Jewish conspiracy theories and this should be addressed, but the rallies in Baghdad and other places should be seen in more of a political context that does not accept the spirit of what was aid but puts it into context. The footage of the famous speech of former Malaysian Prime Minster Mahatir Muhammad is also shown in which he alleges that Jews run the world.
All of this is shown to take us back to New York. In New York Levin interview people on the street, and this is so New York. The people he interviews are real New Yorkers, which remind me of New York, and are not some latte drinking and tofu eating Woody Allen groupies in Manhattan or Williamsburg. An African-American group is interviewed who claims that Jews run America, oppress the black man and run New York and one of them asks who is the mayor, who is Michael Bloomberg of course who is a Jew, and when Levin asks about Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who was mayor for eight-years, the guy responds “ listen to his name Jew-liani”. Anti-war protesters are interviewed, most of them Jewish, and Levin shows scuffles and arguments at ground zero between various groups. He also talks to the man in charge of the recovery of bodies from Ground Zero, who happens to be a cantor at a local synagogue, and they give the names of a number of Jews who were killed on 9-11 and talks to the widow of one of them.
A group of Evangelical Christians are interviewed at the end of the film and historical Christian anti-Semitism is addressed. We also hear the words of Mel Gibson, and his father (who said all the Jews in Poland didn’t die because they were in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Sydney) and the discussions of a group of Evangelicals, who have just watched The Passion of the Christ, who tell Levin that he is doomed to hell if he doesn’t accept Evangelical Protestantism, but they love him.
The film is emotionally concluded at a Brooklyn cemetery where Levin, along with his father, stand at the family tomb where his grandparents are buried.