Saturday, February 9, 2008

Meeting Resistance


Something revolutionary is afoot in america.

Picture this: it's a friday night in SLC, it's bitingly cold and the frats are probably buzzing with free booze and racially charged assault cases. In other words, there are plenty of places well-connected students could possibly be.

So showing up at an anti-war film/panel sponsored by the Wasatch Coalition for Peace and Justice should be a pretty standard affair: a dozen well-meaning retirees ashenly milling over issues they've well covered with each other over the last four years of international bloodshed.

And that's how the screening of Meeting Resistance began. I Looked around the audience and was confronted by a mottled sea of wrinkly-grey sincerity. Soon, however, people started trickling in. students, families, professors, hipsters of all ages, arabs, latinos, everyone arrived. And for the first time in my life, I saw an academic theatre in SLC filled with people on a friday night. There was an edge of apprehension and activism in the air.

And what a film. What a film!

Molly Bingham and Steve Connors are two very, very smart war correspondence journalists, who found themselves in Iraq roughly before the capture of Saddam Hussein. Lacking actual media outlets for any stories of objective journalism, they did what any white english-speaking people of eur-american descent would do in their situation: They went out on their own into the heart of angry organizations out for their blood, and sought the truth. In short, they objectively explored the multifaceted and driven world of the Iraqi insurgency, from the mouths of the 'bad guys' themselves.

Somehow, amazingly, these two documentarians not only communicated with extremely angry clandestine warriors and got out alive, but they gathered a wealth of candid and shockingly revealing interviews. They take us into the streets of a specific neighborhood in Baghdad, into teal cafes and smoky shops, ever-punctuating their story with shattering events of incredible violence. It quickly becomes evident throughout their film that —ideologies aside— the Iraqi people have no choice but to fight and rebel against an occupying foreign power. With that simple truth, all the politicized scheming, all the labeling, all the irreconcilable religious truisms that we're used to hearing about Mujahidin fly out of the picture, and the situation seems somehow more solvable.

In a surprising way, Meeting Resistance is a hopeful film, under the condition that we as the occupying power recognize the impossibility of 'winning' a war in Iraq and begin plans for a long and difficult withdrawal. During the Q&A, the filmmakers mapped out several relevant and interesting points about the current Iraqi situation:

1. One aspect of our military strategy is something called 'information operations,' which is basically propaganda imposed by Coalition forces on the occupied people to control their thoughts. In this specific instance, the Iraqi people are informed that their national sentiment towards America is largely one of optimism and thankfulness, and that the people prolonging the war are bad fringe groups, foreign freedom fighters, islamic fundamentalists, people who do not represent the popular feelings. According to Mr. Connors, the idea that Iraq isn't unified against invaders is a myth. The insurgents support this claim, basically saying 'I have no need for ideology, for politics, I must simply fight these invaders in my country. If they leave my duty is fulfilled." The motivation is separate from all the reasons we were fed for going to war in the first place. The filmmakers contend that instead of this information hitting home with the Iraqi people, who know their own country better than we do, American people become the consumers of this propagandistic claim. So we, uninformed, at home, believe that all these irreconcilable sects exist that will blow each other to pieces as soon as we leave.

2. Which isn't necessarily to say there won't be violence when American troops withdraw. We attempt to live in this fantasy world where war doesn't have far-reaching effects. The world reels for decades after such catastrophes, if nothing else the art world tells us this. Look at the art of Binh Danh, who still uses the Cambodian Genocide or the Vietnam War as a touchstone in his work, or the trauma of WW1 creating the Dada movement. War does not go away easily, our generation will be living with this mark on our history for the rest of our lives. We have to own up to our mistakes and move forward. According to Ms. Bingham, Iraq is perfectly capable of governing itself, evidenced in the country's upstartishness in drafting the Code of Hammurabi way, way before we knew how to rig diebold voting machines.

3. The notion of 'winning' or 'losing' is very 19th century. The only way to 'win' this war would be to commit genocide, which fortunately isn't the only option.

Basically, I'm excited and proud to have met filmmakers like Molly Bingham and Steve Connors, who have a puritanical sense of journalism. They strive to understand conflict from all sides of the issue, regardless of where in the world it is happening. It is crucial to remember that you don't understand conflict by having someone describe their enemy. Things will always be more nuanced. But if a theatre full of people on a friday night in a sleepy little mormon town can take the time to examine that nuance, the future doesn't seem so bleak.

Check out the movie's website for more information, and here are various clips

1 comment:

heymilie said...

hey Davey, nice report. I am going to link it from my own blog as I am posting on mine about this week-end. Here is the link to SEED

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