Saturday, March 20, 2010

Green Zone and the Elections: Perception Management? Just a reminder.

Just came back from watching the Green Zone: the much-awaited Paul Greengrass pseudo-sequel to the renowned Bourne trilogy starring Matt Damon. I was impatient to see it since the first time I saw the trailer in September, and as the movie came out just a week ago, I was expecting a full hall with people scuffling for the best seats, and all that... I should've known better, apparently: there were not more than 15 people in total there, on a Friday evening.

The film is made in the typical "Bourne spirit," where the bad guys fight against guys who are worse, while there is one person who just "gets it right" and is willing to uphold the morality of his mission till the very end, no matter what it takes. Typical Hollywood, which, however, already seems to have proven to be a significant blunder on behalf of the Universal Pictures. And here is why: it is about Iraq, and it has been dismissed as "slandering America." So sad...!!!

The absence of WMDs in Saddam's Iraq prior to the US invasion has been a widely-covered and well-documented story for many years now. And yet, there hasn't been a convincing argument as to why all that "evidence" was "brought up" in the first place, and sure as hell, it could never be convincing enough for the Iraqis themselves (or others in the region). This is what the movie documents, together with the absurdity of the American approach in the early post-invasion period. Of course, there's more fiction than fact in terms of the details; however, dismissing it as "appallingly anti-American" is just another way of perpetuating the very narrow approach the movie seems to be speaking out against. And the flood of so-called analyses about "Why the Green Zone flopped?" certainly illustrates that well.

What I found very interesting, though, was the timing of the release: a week before the 7th anniversary of the invasion, and just 5 days after the latest March 7 elections in Iraq, which, seems to have been covered as a major step toward ultimate success by the American media. Newsweek even went as far as pronouncing it a "Victory" and stating that "something that looks an awful lot like democracy is beginning to take hold in Iraq. It may not be 'mission accomplished' - but it's a start."

Fair enough? Not really. Firstly, I suggest watching (at least) the beginning of this week's Listening Post, where Gizbert touches upon the American coverage of the Iraqi elections, also providing another take on the issue: after all Al Jazeera's perspective should matter, if the public communication on the issue is to be managed.

Yes, Obama has promised to withdraw from Iraq by the end of next year and the Washington Post can quote Iraqis who express their gratitude for the "freedom and democracy" in their country. But the country has been ravaged by war - completely - and rebuilding it, re-establishing statehood, will certainly not be an easy task. Again, seems like the US made the faulty assumption that by simply holding elections Iraq is transformed into a democracy. Or, at least, the American public is made to believe so...

... much like the point made in the Green Zone. What really matters, after all, is not the mere occupation of Baghdad, and hunting down of the "card-deck-hostiles", but the true integration of all Iraqis in the rebuilding process. Just as the volunteer Iraqi, who was helping the Americans with information and translation outside of the Green Zone, very correctly pointed out: "You need to listen to the people in the streets. Do you have any idea about what is going on in the city?"

Ironically, just yesterday Condoleezza Rice said she would "many times over liberate Iraq", but that she regretted not working closer with the Iraqis themselves. She also said that the U.S. government failed to understand "how broken Iraq was as a society." This is, after all, also the key to the "battle" for the hearts and minds of the Iraqis, who have suffered and lived through the war, and will have to live with the consequences for the decades to come.

That is why, despite its simplifications and naïveté, I liked the Green Zone and here is why I think the Americans (especially) should watch it:

-  It brings back a taboo and forces you to think about a subject that seems to have been conveniently folded away, pushing it to the limit that passes bluntness and reaches - at times - absurdity. Since people don't like watching the news anymore, movies might need to play a much more significant role in alerting the public of certain issues.

-  Shows, yet again, the suffering of the Iraqis, and puts them there, in human flesh, over and above the simple numbers of dead reported daily in the news. More importantly, it gives them a voice, through the volunteer "assistant", to explain their situation. But he was the only one. Remember all that talk about "listening"? It should NOT be neglected... [In fact, the friend I went to see the movie with said he didn't like it precisely because he didn't see the much-needed Iraqi perspective, which, he was hoping, would be the major focus.]

- Does a good job in showing "how broken Iraq was as a society" and how "disconnected" leaders (who were parachuted in after the take of Baghdad) were, or how the American-imposed approaches to "state-rebuilding" simply wouldn't work.

Again, given all the American mainstream media coverage of Iraq, it is not surprising to see such a negative backlash against the movie. Interestingly enough, however, the reviews coming out from Britain and New Zealand seem to be relatively more friendly and encouraging.

Yes, it is a very "political" movie, and unlike the Hurt Locker - which didn't delve into politics at all - that is precisely why I'm afraid the Green Zone will be shot down and conveniently forgotten before the next Academy Awards season: much like what happened to State of Play last year. Taboos are just not supposed to be addressed in Hollywood, especially if they involve the military in any way...

And... loved the soundtrack, but of course! :)

The Green Zone is based on a non-fiction book "Imperial Life int he Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone" by Rajiv Chandrasekaran. Looking forward to reading it at some point...



  1. Wonderful posting. Good review of not only the film but the whole situation and the story! I would love to watch the 2 films: The Green Zone and the Hurt Locker... I watched the State of Play (both versions - US and UK and loved them both too)...

  2. thanks :) i'm sure you'll love the Green Zone. As for the Hurt Locker... eh. it's OK.. :)