Siege, The

Arab-Americans are protesting against the portrayal of Arabs in The
, the new movie by Edward Zwick, and so of course the politically
correct will argue among themselves for a while about whether or not Arabs are
being stereotyped as terrorists. The film’s apologists claim that, by including
a token Arab (played by Tony Shalhoub) who is meant to be sympathetic, it debunks the
notion of the Arab-as-terrorist and refocuses our attention instead on how
counter-terrorist measures, by impinging upon civil liberties, make the cure worse
than the disease. Meanwhile, it occurs to no one, apparently, to protest against
the fact that the movie commits to film a far more vicious stereotype than that
of the terrorist Arab: that of the crazy, ruthless, corrupt and megalomaniacal
American general.

Ever since General Jack D. Ripper in Dr Strangelove, Hollywood has
fostered this stereotype assiduously. In fact, it would be easier to count the
number of American generals in American movies who are not murderous
thugs, seeking to subvert democracy and the rule of law, than those who are.
This one, General Devereaux (Bruce Willis) cleverly gets to impose martial law
on Brooklyn by pretending he doesn’t want to. Please don’t throw me in dat briar
patch, he cries. He claims to be more opposed to sending in the Army to deal
with an outbreak of terrorism in New York than any card carrying member of the
ACLU. And the authorities fall for it! What they don’t know is that he is
operating his own foreign policy. Having snatched an Arab sheik thought to be
linked to terrorism, he has apparently gone to his civilian masters and said,
“Oops, I lost him” — although he really still has him. Meanwhile, Arab
terrorists are killing hundreds of innocent women and children in order to get
him back.

Maybe. It may also be that they are doing it just because they like to do it,
as they seem to make no demands. At any rate, Devereaux likes them to do it,
because that gives him an excuse to take the army into Brooklyn and start
harassing people at will. Of course President Bill Clinton, whom the picture
makes no attempt to disguise under a fictional name, agrees to this plan, even
though it is never made clear to the audience what could possibly be
accomplished in Brooklyn by 10,000 armed troops. There is no breakdown of public
order, no rioting in the streets. Life continues as normal, except that there
are a dozen or so undercover terrorists setting off bombs. What could soldiers
standing on street corners accomplish in such a situation?

But, as in nearly all the product of Hollywood these days, plausibility is a
very low priority. Hollywood is so awash in money, its largely teenage audience
so uncritical of the rubbish they are being shown, that self-indulgence is the
order of the day. The minor monarchs of the fantasy industry amuse themselves by
giving free reign to fantasy and rearranging reality more to their liking. Here,
they even have the FBI proclaiming Bill Clinton’s innocence of the charge of
misbehavior with Monica Lewinsky! Not that the fact that Bill the Good is head
of the government makes the slightest difference to Hollywood’s exploitation of
paranoia about government agencies. Even more absurd than sending the army into
Brooklyn is having a tender-hearted CIA agent (Annette Bening) sleeping with her
Arab undercover contact (Sami Bouajila) while the hero FBI agent (Denzel
Washington) has her followed, arrested, and incarcerated — all, apparently,
without the superiors of either of them noticing anything. And then the FBI and
the CIA agent team up together to wage war on the army! Happens all the time,
this kind of interagency rivalry.

But the only real point to the film is to associate and right-wing opinions
and hostility to Clinton with threats to democracy. General Devereaux is
advertised as villain from the start by saying about President Clinton: “He
doesn’t know f*** all about the Middle East that I don’t put on his cue cards. .
. He’s just an expert in covering his own ass.” Perish the thought! And with the
news that Miss Benning’s CIA agent is involved in the search for the terrorists,
he scornfully says, “a woman will never understand the Mideast. Between you and
me, she wouldn’t know a sheik from a prophylactic of the same name.” Boo! Hiss!
Those supposedly maligned Arabs may take hostage a room full of kindergartners
(oh please!) but none of them says anything as blatantly self-discrediting as
this! So why aren’t the generals demonstrating against this idiotic film.

By the way, Arianna Huffington appears in a cameo on a talk show, along with
some other pundits, supposedly talking about the terrorist threat, and
recommending that the army be sent in. She should be ashamed of herself for
lending her name and face and voice to such a scurrilous bit of anti-military

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