THE NEW YORK POST
January 8, 2006
By AMIR TAHERI
THE would-be ruler of an oil-rich Arab state is planning a policy reform that includes allowing girls to go to school and signing an oil contract with China. But days before he takes over, he is assassinated when a remote-controlled bomb destroys his bulletproof limousine in the middle of the desert. Who would want such an enlightened prince out of the way?
The answer given in "Syriana," the Hollywood blockbuster starring George Clooney, is simple: The murder was planned and carried out by the CIA, the dirty-tricks arm of the United States of America.
But why would the Americans want an enlightened Arab leader murdered at a time that President Bush is publicly calling for such leaders to emerge in the Arab world?
Again, the scriptwriters' answer is straightforward: the U.S. government is controlled by Texas oil interests that cannot allow any Arab state to sign an oil contract with China.
I saw the film in New York last month and did not expect a pirated videocassette version to be already available throughout the Arab world. Yet, in the past week or so, I have received more than a dozen e-mails from Arab friends throughout the Middle East citing the film as (in the words of one) another "sure proof" that the United States will never tolerate democratic leaders in that neck of the wood.
THE old saying tells us that one can never convince anyone who doesn't wish to be convinced. The makers of "Syriana" are preaching to the converted, if only because an extraordinarily large number of Arabs are comfortable in the certainty of their victimhood. Long before "Syriana" hit the screen, those Arabs were convinced that whatever misfortune has befallen them is due to some conspiracy by a perfidious Western power.
In North Africa, where France ruled for more than a century, every shortcoming, and every major crime, is blamed on the French. From Egypt to the Indian Ocean, all was the fault of the British . . . until the Americans emerged as a more convincing protagonist in the fantasyland of conspiracy theories. In Libya, where Italy ruled for a while last century, even the fact that the telephones don't work in 2006 is blamed on the Italians.
Would it change anything if one were to remind the conspiracy theorists that none of the two dozen or so high-profile political murders in the Arab world over the past century had anything to do with the United States or any other foreign power?
Start with the murder last February of Rafik Hariri, Lebanon's former prime minister. Was he killed by the CIA or — as Abdul-Halim Khaddam, Syria's former vice president, now asserts — by a criminal coterie in Damascus?
The list of Arab leaders murdered since 1900 is a long one. It includes six prime ministers, three kings, an Imam (of Yemen), seven presidents of the republic and dozens of ministers, parliamentarians and senior military officials. Every single one of them was killed either by Islamist militants (often from the Muslim Brotherhood) or by pan-Arab nationalists.
THAT many Arabs should welcome the suggestion that their tragedies are due to evil doings by foreigners may be understandable. It is less understandable when so many Americans come together to make a film to portray their nation as evil incarnate.
"Syriana" is not only about a single political murder. It also depicts the United States as the power behind much of the terrorism coming from the Middle East. The film shows U.S. oil companies as employers of Asian slave labor, while the CIA is the key source of supply for bombs used by terrorists.
Why would any self-respecting American want to write or direct or play in "Syriana"? If the United States is as evil as they suggest, should they not be ashamed of themselves? And if the oil companies control the U.S. government, presumably including Congress, should we conclude that Hollywood is the last bastion of American freedom?
One answer to why anyone might want to make such a film is, of course, the very American desire to make money. As things stand today, there is a large market for dissent in the United States. In a recent trip there, I noticed that unless you took a dig at the Americans no one would even listen to you. In one session, when I politely suggested that George W. Bush might be a better choice than either Mullah Omar or Saddam Hussein, I was nearly booed by my American interlocutors.
The truth is that there is a market for self-loathing in America today and many, including the producers of "Syriana," are determined to cash in on it.
Here is how the incomparable Evelyn Waugh described the present American situation when the makers of "Syriana" were still nothing but glimmers in their daddies' eyes: "There is no more agreeable position than that of dissident from a stable democratic society."
The reason is simple: In a stable democratic society — in which you are protected by the law — you can lie, cheat and mislead, all in the name of political dissent, and be rewarded with fame and fortune.
The fact that the CIA is little more than a costly leaking device used by rival groups within the U.S. establishment to launch accusations and counter-accusations at each other need not bother the makers of "Syriana." The CIA's masters, for their part, would be pleased with "Syriana" if only because it claims that they can do anything at all.
AS for the American self- loathing party, its members would do well to ponder the second part of that quotation from Waugh: "The more elaborate the society, the more vulnerable it is to attack, and the more complete its collapse in case of defeat."
The self-loathing party in the United States, which includes a disturbingly large part of the elite, is doing three things.
First, it says that America, being the evil power it is, is a legitimate target for revenge attacks by Arab radicals and others.
Second, it tells the American people that all this talk about democracy is nonsense, if only because major decisions are ultimately taken by a cabal of businessmen, and politicians and lawyers in their pay.
Lastly, and perhaps without realizing it, the self-loathing Americans reduce the Arabs to the level of mere objects in their history. In the "Syriana" view, it is the almighty America that decides every single detail of Arab life with the Arabs as, at best, onlookers and, at worst, victims of American violence. The Arabs are even denied the dignity of their own terrorist acts as "Syriana" shows that it is not they but the CIA that decides who kills whom and where.
Pretending to be sympathetic to the "Arab victims of American Imperialism," the film is, in fact, an example of ethno-centrism gone wild. Its message is: The Arabs are nothing, not even self-motivated terrorists, but mere puppets manipulated by us in the United States.
By suggesting that America has stolen Arabs' oil and their decision-making process, the filmmakers are, in fact, trying to rob the Arabs of something more important: their history.
The amazing thing is that so many Arabs appear to be ready to help the thief.
OR perhaps it is not so amaz ing after all.
Adversaries in history often end up resembling each other. So it need not be surprising that the Arabs are learning the art of victimhood from the Americans, while the Americans develop a taste for Arab-style conspiracy theories.