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The War Within (5/10)

by Tony Medley

On the way to the screening, having read the synopsis that came with my invitation, my guest, Judy, said she wasn’t looking forward to a sympathetic portrayal of a suicide bomber. While I wouldn’t call it an argument, we certainly had a disagreement. I said she didn’t know that’s what it was and suggested that she enter the movie with an open mind.

Picture this. It’s 1944. We’ve been fighting World War II for more than two years. Mark Cuban walks into the office of Louis B. Mayer at MGM or Jack Warner at Warner Bros. or Harry Cohn at Columbia and pitches a film about a sympathetic Nazi. Do you think he’d still have commissary privileges ten minutes later? Yet that’s what Magnolia Films and 2929 Entertainment (co-owned by flamboyant billionaire Cuban, who also owns the NBA Dallas Mavericks) have given us with “The War Within,” a film about a sympathetic suicide bomber.

That 2929 Entertainment would produce a manipulative film shouldn’t come as a surprise. They are responsible for such biased films as “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the room” and “good night. and good luck,” which are noteworthy more for half-truths and what they left out than for what they actually included. These are people with a left wing bias that is presented with slick, highly professional expertise. For a detailed explanation of the subliminal bias of their work, see http://www.tonymedley.com/2005/Enron_The_Smartest_Guys_in_the_Room.htm and http://www.tonymedley.com/2005/good_night,_and_good_luck..htm.

To provide further context, among their cited sources is “Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib” by the virulent New Yorker writer, Seymour Hirsch, a man who never passes up an opportunity to take a cheap shot at the United States government. Hirsch’s bias is so well-known that anything he writes is suspect.

Hassan (Ayad Akhtar, who also co-wrote the script), an engineering student, is abducted off the streets of Paris, a victim, apparently, of Extraordinary Rendition.  What’s Extraordinary Rendition? Presidential Directive #39 from the Clinton White House, stated..."If we do not receive adequate cooperation from a state that harbors a terrorist whose extradition we are seeking, we shall take appropriate measures to induce cooperation. Return of suspects by force may be effected without the cooperation of the host government, consistent with the procedures outlined in NSD-77, which shall remain in effect." It has been alleged by some that this directive has been used by the United States to abduct people off the streets in foreign countries, return them to their home country, rather than the United States, to extract information from them through torture by countries without laws against torture.

I don’t know whether that is true or not. But this film clearly and unambiguously indicts and convicts the United States of doing this to Hassan, the suicide bomber of the film. But it never explains why the United States would do this or want to do it.

Apparently Hassan is tortured for three years in Pakistan, although that’s not made clear. The next we see him, he’s being smuggled into New York City as a potential suicide bomber. In New York, Hassan is put up by his old friend Sayeed (Firdous Bamji), and his wife, sister, and family, to their everlasting regret. Sayeed is the secular Muslim leading a good, moral life and getting along with his neighbors. In arguing with Hassan, he says, “Jews, Christians, Muslims eat together, work together, go to school together here in America. What’s wrong with that?” Hassan has no answer.

Where the film fails dismally, and in the process telegraphs its anti-US bias, is in not explaining what happened to turn this guy into a zealot. First he’s a student in Paris. Next he’s a prisoner being tortured. Finally, he’s a suicide bomber. What happened? How and why did he become radicalized? Just about everyone acknowledges that Islamic terrorists claim a religious basis for their terrorism. But the only religious basis given for Hassan’s crusade is a quotation attributed in the film as being from The Koran,

“You will hate a thing that is good for you;

You will like a thing that is bad for you;

Allah knows; you do not.

The film basically ignores why Hassan becomes a suicide bomber and any connection with Islam. In fact, many of the 9/11 terrorists were Saudi Arabians, educated in the radical Islamic schools in Saudi Arabia supported by Wahaabi extremists. There is no mention of Wahaabi here, or of Saudi Arabia, or of Hassan’s upbringing. In fact, Hassan is Pakistani, but we aren’t told if he’s Shiite or Sunni. Great pains have been exerted to paint Hassan as just an ordinary guy until he’s kidnapped off the streets of Paris and tortured, all of which is blamed on the United States. Even then, he’s pictured as a sensitive, thoughtful, reasonable type of guy. No wild-eyed radical he.

Equally great pains have been taken to ignore religious connection to terrorists. And equally great pains have been taken to hide the results of what happens when a suicide bomber succeeds (many innocent people, including women and children, killed and maimed). This is a callous, manipulative, film made to create “understanding” and sympathy for brutish, medieval monsters. What appellation does one ascribe to a filmmaker who makes a film like this in the middle of a war being waged to a large extent through suicide bombers?

As a study to understand how a devout Muslim could become a suicide bomber, this film fails miserably. Except for the above referenced line, it completely ignores the religious basis of terrorists like Hassan. Instead of analyzing how a person could have a religious basis for killing innocent people, the film blames the United States for his actions.

Although claiming to be even handed, director and co-writer Joseph Costello, says, “You know I’m not ever going to sit here and just go off on the US Government; I’ll let people arrive at their own conclusion about what’s going on.” This sounds like he’s saying that he won’t go off on the U.S. government but he’ll let his film do it. The film keeps its anti-American character through to the end with how Sayeed is treated.

Based on pure entertainment value, this does hold the viewer’s interest. But because of its biased, one-sided, disgraceful point of view, I can’t recommend it. At 100 minutes, the film is at least 15 minutes too long. There is a long stretch in the middle that shows a lot of thinking. Watching thinking is not my idea of entertainment. Costello could have used this time to explore and analyze the religious basis for suicide bombers’ actions, but that would have required fairness and objectivity, which are apparently words and traits not in the playbook of Costello and Cuban. Like “Enron…” and “good night…” it is well made and interesting, despite its “let’s understand the suicide bombers and blame the United States” mentality, even if it’s totally devoid of any intelligent analysis of the suicide bomber’s reasoning, instead all the blame is on America while ignoring the religious angle.

Mark Cuban is not Louis B. Mayer or Jack Warner or Harry Cohn, and more’s the pity. Mark Cuban would probably bankroll the film about the sympathetic Nazi in 1944, especially if it blamed the United States for World War II. In Urdu with subtitles and English.

September 23, 2005