Michael Totten

Syriana

Ali Eteraz started a discussion at Dean’s World about the film Syriana, which I finally recently saw.

The “creation” of the militant suicide bombers is so on point its obscene. It captures perfectly the way alienation is manipulation by the militant overlords and their Mephistophelian recruiters. If you haven’t seen it, do. It’s not at all a ‘liberal leftist’ film. I really expected that given that Clooney was in it, the film was going to apologize for the reprehensible actions of Muslims. It doesn’t do that. As a Muslim activist I thought it was kind of a slap in the face. It said to me: what are you “activists” doing to counter these smiling recruiters? What are you “activists” doing to suggest that these tyrants should be shorn of their power? What are you “activists” worth if the most likely killer of your reformists are Muslims themselves (I just gave away the ending).

Ali is right. Syriana is not “liberal” or “leftist” as much as I thought it would be, at least not in a bad way.
Part of the story revolves around powerful oil companies that dictate American foreign policy, which is cartoonish and conspiratorial. (Oil companies, in the real world, lobbied for the lifting of sanctions against Iraq rather than for regime-change in Iraq. They did not get their way.)
This is only one part of the story, however. If you can just let it go and run with it for the sake of the movie, the rest holds up reaonably well on a thematic level. Liberal and reformist Muslims are the good guys. The Islamists are not. The point of the story, as the plot unfolds, is obvious: the United States should support liberal and reformist Muslims in the Middle East for their sake as well as for ours. You could argue, if you wanted, that Syriana is a neoconservative film. The writer and the director don’t think of it that way. But that’s partly because liberalism and neoconservatism are not as far apart as they think.
Syriana Poster.JPG
The people who should be on the defensive about Syriana’s politics are leftists like Berkeley professor Judith Butler who openly support Middle Eastern extremists, so-called “realists” like James Baker who think they are part of the solution, and the even more obnoxiously named “realists” like Henry Kissinger who think we can do business with them. Everyone else can relax. The film is not without its flaws, to be sure, but Fahrenheit 911 it ain’t.
UPDATE: As it turns out, Syriana’s writer and director Stephen Gaghan was heavily influenced by Paul Berman’s brilliant Terror and Liberalism.

SG: A couple of things happened for me. I read TERROR & LIBERALISM by Paul Berman. Well, first I read the excerpt in The New York Times, where he talked about the philosophy of [Sayyid Qutb]. Berman parsed the 26-volume book which is called IN THE SHADE OF THE QUR’AN. It was written by this guy Qutb, who spent time in America. He’s Egyptian. Academic. And [Berman] very persuasively showed me that what was going on in the world right now is, there is a war of ideas. That these clerics in the Muslim world had a very serious idea. He says that idea had been cross-pollinated with facism, totalitarian ideology from the West. He shows where it could have happened in Egypt. I don’t know if that’s true or not. I wasn’t 100% persuaded by that. But what I was persuaded by was how seductive the ideas were, and how powerful.

(Hat tip: Wagner James Au in the comments.)