I was surprised by how upset I was after seeing Zero Dark Thirty, the new film about the search for and killing of Usama Bin Laden. The movie immediately reminded me of The Battle of Algiers, in that it shows glimpses of the logic and cold brutality that imperial powers employ to get their way. Throughout, I kept widening my eyes, telling myself, “Watch this, Jeremy, this is what your government does in your name.” It’s like a textbook example of how the colonial mindset and gaze distort all notions of safety, “protecting the homeland,” and self-defense.
While the movie certainly doesn’t show the full extent of the U.S.’s crushing role in the Muslim world post 9-11–where are the drone strikes leveling villages, the special forces in Afghanistan collecting human ears?–the grand sense of entitlement to violence and victory shows in the scenes of torture; in the amoral, almost non-chalant attack on Bin Laden’s compound; and the numerous rapid-fire, paranoid and Islamophobic scenes of brown Pakistani faces–which brown face in the market is the terrorist? It could be this one…it could be this one…maybe this exotic and dangerous looking woman in hijab. I still think Argo wins this year’s prize for Islamophobic rapid-fire shots of dangerous and mysterious looking Muslim crowds…but still, this movie comes close
I don’t have anything too novel to say about the movie, but I do want to talk about one more thing. Watching it, especially the numerous scenes of torture, I couldn’t help but think of Guatemala in the 1970’s and 80’s. As Greg Grandin’s The Empire’s Workshop tells us, many of the practices that the CIA still uses now were tested and evolved in their brutal counter-insurgency work in Latin America. And the policies were generated by many of the same neo-cons who got started back with Reagan and who then continued with Bush. As I watched the movies, I imagined all the people who look like Glendi and her family–the peasant leaders, indigenous guerrillas, socially conscious Catholic organizers, and brave college students–who had their hands strung up in the same way, who had their mouths filled with the same wet clothes…who were broken and humiliated by that same cold, brutal logic. It is not okay, what is done to protect us here in our privileges. It’s not okay with me at all.