Thursday, May 3, 2007

Iraq in Fragments and Orientalism

Independent films can be racist without realizing it, much like racism in a place like Seattle in general. The film Iraq in Fragments, made by Seattle filmmaker James Langley presents a classic liberal view of a racialized, impoverished, fanatic, backward, “other.” The focus on impoverished “primitive” families reinforces prejudice about life outside the United States and the need to “save” people with “democracy,” a thinly disguised translation of the manifest destiny of the nineteenth century. It is discouraging that this film has been so widely celebrated. Its nomination for best documentary demonstrates that the entire film industry is oblivious to its own Orientalism, and ignorant of the realities of the fact that Iraq was a modern country before we got there.

The fact that the well meaning and courageous Langley uses the voices of young boys and old men almost exclusively, underscores his paternalism toward the poor communities to which he turned his lens. An outtake from the film, a section that focused on a young mother and her sick child, equally emphasized impoverished living. The setting of impoverishment against stunningly photographed landscapes is a tourist perspective, much like the imagery that comes with requests for funding from many well meaning agencies.

What a film like this doesn't tell us is that many Iraqis are well educated and accomplished professionals, with one of the best medical and educational systems in the Middle East. Legally, women had more rights than in most countries in the Middle East. It was a secular country.

We have destroyed that. Most of the middle class, artists, writers, poets, playwrights, dancers, singers, doctors, teachers, lawyers, dentists, have been forced to leave ( mostly since 2006, when Langley made his film, they were still there). Women have been prevented from working and forced to cover themselves and leave the house only with men, while living in fear of being killed (for that transformation see Baghdad Burning blog, the author of which has just announced that she must also leave ( April 26). The clerics are controlling women's morality and legal decisions after decades of secular law. Now the only people left fan the flames . The isolated puppet government has no support to resist signing the oil law that gives away all the resources to multinationals. Then Bush can declare a victory and leave.

The "fragments" of Iraq, the three part approach presented in the film, also is a hallucination of American foreign policy. We have created the Civil War through our selective backing and training and arming of various fundamentalist militias. Before us there was one country of Iraqis, who were a peaceful people.

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