Rendition humanizes Arabs

by guest contributor Manish, originally published at Ultrabrown

The new movie Rendition is more interesting for what it is than how it runs. It’s the first fictional film about the U.S. kidnapping-and-torture program, which began under Clinton but was expanded massively under Bush. It’s the first mainstream movie I’ve seen which gives Arabs and Arabic large amounts of humanizing screen time (the protagonist is an Egyptian-American who went to college in the States). And it’s the latest in this year’s wave of whistleblower movies against Dubya’s assault on American liberty.

Mired in noble savage stereotypes, the movie is more earnest than subtle. Moa Khouas, the Arab Romeo, looks like a brown James Franco, but most of the Arab characters are more archetypes than people.

The plot’s central Capulets and Montagues romantic coincidence is Rushdie-esque, a synthetic conceit for the sake of a more interesting story. It’s not a bad movie, just a slow and obvious one, never more so than in a scene where the magnetic Peter Sarsgaard needles CIA muckamuck Meryl Streep with the Constitution, and she responds with 9/11.

The movie is A Mighty Heart in reverse, where the kidnappers are the U.S. government rather than Al Qaeda terrorists. You’ve got the same pretty, pregnant wife embedded in a labyrinthine search for her handsome, intelligent husband. Reese Witherspoon isn’t given much screen direction beyond playing a grieving wife. Jake Gyllenhaal’s character may be suffering from post-traumatic stress sufferer, but the actor sleepwalks through the movie.

This movie was directed by Gavin Hood, the South African who did Tsotsi. The plotting uses the now-familiar Rashomon device of connecting subplots via a single climactic event. One of the subplots is unexpectedly time-shifted, which is great fun.

But the real-life issue is far more significant than the film: the president claims he can legally kidnap anyone around the world, jail him forever without trial, witness or evidence, and have him tortured. It shocks the conscience. Here’s an actual Dubya quote. I can’t figure out whether it’s duplicitous or just feeble-minded:

Q: What’s your definition of the word ‘torture’?

Dubya: That’s defined in U.S. law, and we don’t torture.

Q: Can you give me your version of it, sir?

Dubya: Whatever the law says. [Link]

With no sunlight and no trial, mistakes are inevitable:

  • We had Maher Arar wrongly arrested and tortured. We refuse to apologize. We refuse to take him off the no-fly list.
  • We had Khaled al-Masri wrongly arrested and tortured. We refuse to apologize. We refuse to pay him compensation.
  • We threatened to have the innocent Abdallah Higazy’s family tortured in Egypt:

… [The FBI agent] told him that he should cooperate, and explained that if Higazy did not cooperate, the FBI would make his brother “live in scrutiny” and would “make sure that Egyptian security gives [his] family hell.” … [The agent] knew how the Egyptian security forces operated: “that they had a security service, that their laws are different than ours, that they are probably allowed to do things in that country… probably about torture, sure…” [Higazy said:] “Saddam’s security force–as they later on were called his henchmen–a lot of them learned their methods and techniques in Egypt; torture, rape…” [Link]

And to think America was founded precisely because of this kind of limp-dickery.