February 17, 2006

From the Valley of the Wolves

It seems that for many years, a very popular television show in Turkey, whose title translates to Valley of the Wolves. The show chronicled the adventures of a team of Turkish commandoes. It was cancelled but has returned in movie form. And now, the most popular movie in Turkey is Valley of the Wolves - Iraq. It's broken every Turkish box office record in history and is preparing for global release.

In the movie, evil American soldiers led by a born-again Christian commander (played by Billy Zane) humiliate a group of their supposed allies, Turkish soldiers helping patrol northern Iraq. One of the Turks is unable to reconcile his humiliation at the hands of the Americans with his honor, and suicides. The hero of the movie then ventures to Iraq to seek revenge, but uncovers many more foul misdeeds by the Americans, culminating in the military disruption of an Arabic wedding (in which the groom is killed, thereby creating a love interest for the hero) and the survivors are captured and shipped off in trucks to be sold to a Jewish doctor who will harvest and sell their body parts to wealthy Europeans and Americans. The evil Jewish doctor is played by Gary Busey -- I wonder how the producers managed to sneak enough booze and drugs to him while in the country that inspired Midnight Express.

American soldiers selling kidnapped Iraqis to a human "chop shop" run by an evil Jewish doctor. This (not Brokeback Mountain) is the hottest movie on Earth right now. Check out what some IMDB users (mostly Turkish) are saying about the movie. You get the idea that maybe Americans are not well-liked, even by our allies.

It's not particularly bothersome to me to see a movie made in which Americans are the bad guys. American filmmakers do that often enough for movies intended for U.S. release, although the plot usually involves an American citizen who thwarts the government's evil intentions. And I will readily concede that American soldiers have from time to time committed acts of atrocity. This happened even in Iraq -- what those seven idiots in Abu Ghraib did was well beyond the limits of what civilized society can tolerate. But the level of atrocity attributed to Americans in this movie is somewhat hysterical, and it conveniently ignores that Americans who do these things -- like those seven idiots from Abu Ghraib and the perpetrators of My Lai -- are punished, harshly, by our own military justice system.

And no one in America is rioting in the streets, burning Turkish flags, or destroying Falafel Hut because of this movie. For some reason, no American thinks that this movie threatens them in the least. We will dismiss the movie as a work of fiction, and probably not a very good one at that.

The same cannot be said of Pakistanis. Or Syrians. Or Afghanistanis. A Pakistani cleric has put a million-dollar bounty on the heads of the Danish cartoonists. By the way, although the offending cartoons were published in a Danish newspaper, it was the U.S. flag, not that of Denmark, that was burned in the recent riots in Islamabad, Peshawar, and Lahore. And in Peshawar, a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant was burned out of its building.

KFC? Not exactly a bastion of Danish cultural imperialism. That restaurant was owned and operated by Pakistanis -- who were also its customers. It sold nothing that violated dietary restrictions found in the Koran. Or are these guys upset that the United States did not somehow censor a Danish newspaper? We can't. They've got their own country there in Denmark, it's got nothing to do with us. It's really quite cute and quaint.

Obviously, this is just an excuse to rally people against the United States. How we as a nation respond to this is a really good question. We're certainly not going to censor Valley of the Wolves: Iraq here, although I predict that it will not do very well and will not prove a credit to the resumes of Billy Zane or Gary Busey (in Busey's case, he probably didn't have that far to fall anyway). We would no more censor an anti-American movie than we would the cartoons that started all this in the first place. What we do need to do is figure out a way to re-assume the moral high ground, so maybe we will one day again be thought of as good guys. Whatever good works we are doing in Iraq or elsewhere are simply being ignored by the rest of the world.

(Granted, the Daily Show covered this same ground earlier this week. But it's worth commenting on nevertheless.)

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