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Sunday, February 05, 2006

America in the Valley of the Wolves

Some time ago I had in passing posted about a long-running TV series in Turkey called Kurtlar Vadisi (Valley of the Wolves). and had appeared in its finale episode.

Red Dawn reversed, American troops are demonised by Turkish blockbuster The Valley of the Wolves Iraq (photostill). Making the crossover to the cinematic screen, the main characters from the TV series are in for events that unfold against the backdrop of the American-led war.

The movie is reportedly the most expensive Turkish movie filmed to date, with roles taken on by , and Syrian actor Ghassan Massoud, who was in the film Kingdom of Heaven.

The Valley of the Wolves: Iraq premiered in Turkey on February 3; tickets were sold out everywhere.

Demonising America?
Western news agencies have accused the film of playing to anti-semitic and anti-American sentiment suggesting that it's indicative of the popular "rising trend" in Turkey to fuel ill-will against the US, quoting one best-selling book and this movie.

A rising trend? One book and one movie?

It's only a movie, and a Turkish movie at that.

It isn't going to translate to mass audiences across the whole world or win any Oscars.

At the film's Internet Movie Database page, one can read a mixture of comments ranging from angry indignation to nationalistic pride. It is heartening to read that the comments from Turkey are not all one-sided but cover the whole spectrum of the argument. While some think it is a work of art, though hardly that in my opinion, some see it as little more than a low rate 'B' movie, which could injure their country's relationship with America.

A few angry conservative voices in America suggest a boycott of their homegrown actors that appeared in the film. How do you boycott actors? I know people like to be promoted as products in the enlightened land of the bald eagle, but are human beings really just products in America nowadays?

They also see it as proof postive that Turkey is neither moderate nor secular in its beliefs.

It's only a movie.

I am sure most sane Americans who recognise simple entertainment fodder couldn't care less, while some might be mildly interested, with the more intelligent of them realising that you cannot hold a democratic country accountable for its independent film industry.

Playing to the hype of recent events, it will get drowned out in the same sea of hype. American conservatives should fear nothing but liberal voters, and in respect to this little movie they have very little to fear.

I always wonder why people start waving political banners in movie reviews about this type of action genre.

Apart from the initial opening event which is based on a true incident in northern Iraq, where troops from the U.S. Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade raided and ransacked a Turkish special forces office, threw hoods over the heads of 11 Turkish special forces officers, and held them in custody for more than two days, the movie is not pretending to be a documentary. It is fiction.

It does not resemble biblical anti-semitisim echoed figuratively in blood by Mel Gibson's the Passion of Christ, or in Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice, and the movie doesn't even come close at mentioning the true, documented events of American soldiers torturing Iraqi civillians and prisoners of war.

People will criticise this movie for its racist portrayal of a few rogue American soldiers and one Jewish-American doctor. Possibly so, however one should remember that this is an action movie made for entertainment and not to make politcal statements, the former of which follows a time honoured Hollywood format that requires two dimensional good and bad characters. It may also be criticised for its exaggeration of certain events, but once again this is a movie, hence the dramatic impact is necessary in order to carry the story.

Haven't we read this argument somewhere before?

This was the argument put forward by Hollywood when it produced Midnight Express, the exaggerated 'true' story of a man who is caught smuggling drugs out of Turkey and thrown into a barbaric prison.

But the American film industry hasn't just demonised Turks.

American films have demonised Communist Russia for years. Arab villians were depicted in much the same way during and after the cold war, too. As for American pride in its military, anyone care to re-live Rambo II?

A plethora of such movies churned out by Hollywood fed that dark part of the American psyche for decades, which sometimes asserts Americans should only be pro-life towards other Americans.

Red Dawn (1984), for example, was a movie about Russians invading America, and a band of boys take to the hills and start an insurgency against the invaders. Just put Red Dawn in Iraq and suddenly you think, "Hey, that's all backwards!" Well, Valley of the Wolves has arguably done just that.

For once, Americans might want to watch a movie from a different perspective.

As I am sure that wives of cowboys all across Wyoming will not be fretting whether their husbands are making out with their male friends on the pretence of going fishing because of Ang Lee's film, nobody is really going to believe that American soldiers could kill innocent Iraqis after seeing Valley of the Wolves Iraq.

For that, they just have to watch CNN.

Express Violence through Art Alone
I enjoy watching action movies. I enjoy watching a good movie with bombs, bullets and blood.

But I like it as far as the cinema door. I like it as entertainment, but that is where it stops.

Wouldn't it be better if we could contain violence in diminishing celluloid - that the only arena we expressed such emotions and sentiments were through art alone? We could lay out our prejudices and hates through artistic pursuits, channel our engeries to create and not destroy.

Look at Japan. It produces some of the most violent animations, but has one of the lowest crime rates in the world and is trying to come to terms with its violent past. Meanwhile the land of Disney and his Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs are accomplishing missions in the Middle East.

It is a pity that as human beings we don't re-route our emotions through creative mediums more often. How much more effective it would be if a peacful yet indignant actually protested in more creative ways against what is mistakenly seen as a clash of ideals, and not in the ugly way it surfaced during the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoon fiasco.

There is no need to come down the mountain and do a Moses all over the place. Ultimately, Moses had to rewrite what he broke in anger and was prohibited from entering the land of milk and honey.

If we understood the morals in the religious stories we read, we would follow them better.

We also have modern day examples to follow.

As the world reflects on the passing of Martin Luther King's wife, I am reminded of Dr King's mentor, Mahatma Gandhi.

Recently, when I was asked which great person I would choose to contact from our human history, I replied that I'd want to speak to the Great Soul Gandhi and thank him for showing me that humanity can solve its problems without picking up a gun or burning a flag.

I'm an Idealist, So Shoot Me
People like Gandhi set us excellent examples, but we choose not to follow them. We either assassinate them or ignore them.

After all, who should lead by example but the world's only remaining superpower? If America decides it can only resolve its issues with firepower, is it so surprising when Muslims react in the same way? Arguably, they assume if they spoke in the true language of Islam, that of peace, no one would understand them.

But little do they realise that by giving in to hate, they are actually playing into the hands of their American critics and of their own hate-preaching clerics, bent on gaining power from the pulpit. For once you give in to hate, you've lost control of your logical reasoning. You just follow the mob.

If only and could be s and vent out their anger through words alone.

If only the real war in Iraq were just a movie.

If only America had taken the difficult path of forgiveness.

If only it was realised that there are better ways to communicate. Those who would ignore a shout would strain to hear a whisper. Those who roll their eyes at threats will perk up their ears at a kind word.

If only the Iraqis that had aided the invasion of their country could have heeded Benjamin Franklin's words when he expressed that "those who give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety".

If only America could have sown the seeds of a peaceful, gradual revolution in Iraq through education and example, empowering the Iraqi people to overthrow a dictator and replace it with whatever the Iraqis wished.

But if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

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