Two True Pictures of the Terror War

Max Boot is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

During World War II, Frank Capra made a series of films called “Why We Fight” to rally Americans behind the war effort. Imagine a filmmaker doing that today. Actually, it’s impossible to imagine. Hollywood either prefers to stay away from the war on terrorism altogether (the film version of Tom Clancy’s “The Sum of All Fears” changed the villains from Islamist extremists to neo-Nazis) or to use it, even in its pre-9/11 form, as a morality play to warn against lost civil liberties (see “The Siege,” starring Denzel Washington).

The film community -- whose exquisite sensibilities are routinely outraged by the treatment of snail darters or swamps (a.k.a. wetlands) -- can’t even work up much excitement about a Dutch filmmaker getting slaughtered, allegedly by a Muslim fanatic. Where were the rallies and memorials to protest Theo van Gogh’s murder?

The lack of outrage should be no surprise because the most successful movie made about the war on terrorism might as well have been titled “Why We Shouldn’t Fight.” I refer, of course, to “Fahrenheit 9/11,” which smarmily insinuated that the Bush administration posed a bigger threat to the world than Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein ever did.


Some conservatives have produced their own documentaries in reply to Michael Moore’s grotesque mendacity, but the best answer comes from two honest, nonpartisan films that depict different aspects of the current struggle. If you want to know why we fight, check out the movie “Osama” and the documentary “Voices of Iraq.”

“Osama,” the first film made in liberated Afghanistan, opens with a scene of Taliban enforcers breaking up a demonstration by burka-clad women upset about their inability to work. The action then shifts to a hospital that is being closed, throwing a female doctor out of work. Without a male wage earner in the family -- both her husband and brother have been killed -- starvation looms. So she cuts her 12-year-old daughter’s hair and sends her out to work disguised as a boy called Osama.

Director and writer Siddiq Barmak’s understated style convincingly conveys the horror of daily life under the Taliban. Marina Golbahari, a street urchin whose father was arrested by the Taliban in real life, invests the title role with an authenticity that no mere actress could hope to match.

Ultimately, Osama’s masquerade unravels, and she faces a gruesome punishment from an Islamic court. The ending, which I won’t give away, is enough to make anyone shudder -- and give thanks that U.S. troops have toppled the Taliban. Yet I don’t recall a single Hollywood feminist expressing gratitude to the U.S. military or its commander in chief for the liberation of Afghan women. No doubt Streisand, Sarandon & Co. were too busy inveighing against the horrors perpetrated by John Ashcroft.

“Voices of Iraq” is one of the most gripping documentaries I have ever seen. Most of the footage was created by distributing 150 digital camcorders to let ordinary Iraqis record their own lives and thoughts from April to September 2004.

Early in the film, an American newspaper headline -- “Fear of Militias Forces Ordinary Iraqis to Stay Home” -- is ironically juxtaposed over a bustling street scene. As the movie moves along, we see proud university graduates in mortarboards, boys swimming in the river and clowning around, and everyone riveted by the exploits of the Iraqi soccer team at the Olympics. In other words, we see that the terrorists are failing to disrupt Iraq’s slow, painful progression toward normality.


While “Fahrenheit 9/11” presents antebellum Iraq as an idyllic place where children cavorted with kites, “Voices of Iraq” shows the grim reality: Hussein’s henchmen throwing bound prisoners off buildings, raping girls, massacring Kurds. One horrifying video clip (shot by Hussein’s own people) shows a man’s hand being cut off for the crime of being caught with an American $5 bill. A survivor of Hussein’s torture chambers makes light of the U.S. abuses at Abu Ghraib: The Americans, he says, “do the nice kind of torture.”

A few Iraqis say that, given the current violence, they’d prefer to go back to the old days of Saddamite stability, but most are enthralled by their newfound freedom. “Now,” one woman says, “there is opportunity for hope.”

Producers Eric Mannes, Archie Drury and Martin Kunert deserve an Oscar for this eye-opening documentary. But they’re not likely to get it because that would require Hollywood to acknowledge there’s more to the occupation of Iraq than the evil designs of Halliburton and the neocons.