Humanizing terrorism

Would a film from the perspective of the 9/11 killers ever see the light of day?

paradise abu assad298 88 (photo credit: AP)
paradise abu assad298 88
(photo credit: AP)
The Golden Globe award for best foreign film went Monday to Paradise Now, an entry from "Palestine" about two suicide bombers. Though no independent entity called Palestine yet exists, Nazareth-born, Dutch-resident director Hany Abu-Assad's French-German-Dutch-Israeli co-production has already garnered a plethora of awards, including the Audience Prize and Best Film Award at the Berlin Film Festival, as well as the European Oscar last December. The latter prize was conferred on the day a Palestinian suicide bomber detonated himself at a Netanya mall, taking six innocent lives and maiming numerous others. The film details the painstaking preparations of two attractive young friends with whom it is not difficult to sympathize. They feel suffocated in Nablus: Sa'id, the younger, prefers "death to inferiority," while his love-interest Suha - the foreign-born daughter of "an assassinated Palestinian hero" - tries relentlessly but ultimately fails to dissuade Sa'id from showing the "courage of his convictions." The friends set out with explosive charges around their midriffs, are separated at the security barrier when surprised by an IDF patrol, and later reunite. The tearjerker moments revolve not around the presumed fate of the passengers - mostly young soldiers - on the Israeli civilian bus ultimately boarded by Sa'id, but around his friend's failure, following a last-minute change of heart, to dissuade him from going ahead with the bombing. We don't believe that those who decided to honor Paradise Now necessarily wished to glorify suicide bombers or justify those who target Israeli civilians. Yet we find it unlikely a film delving into the inner struggles of the terrorists who brought down the World Trade Center or who murdered in London, Madrid, Baghdad or Bali will be produced, let alone showered with the same accolades. The reception accorded Paradise Now reinforces the impression that, in the current global struggle against Islamist terrorism, our blood is somehow not as red as everyone else's. In the film, the bombers' handlers are portrayed as cynical and manipulative. But even if there is no explicit vindication of attacks against Israelis, what else is one to make of a film that treats suicide bombers as sympathetic victims, with no attention paid to their actual victims? Paradise Now is hardly the first movie to make heroes of villains. The gangster movie genre, culminating in the Godfather saga, is a case in point. But esteem for the real-life mobsters didn't spiral because the fictional Corleones were popularized. Nor were mobsters portrayed as having a noble cause. It is scant comfort that Paradise Now isn't the only film to attempt making the worst monsters look human. Last year's German film Downfall, about Hitler's last days, offered a humane depiction of a flawed, repugnant and ranting but also sometimes kindly and generous old vegetarian. Yet Downfall was produced more than half a century after the Third Reich's demise, and it did not ignore the Holocaust horrors unleashed by Hitler and his regime. Paradise Now deals with a very real present. The theaters in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem that showed the film, like almost every public place, routinely employ guards to prevent attacks of precisely the sort that the film portrayed - from the bombers' perspective - on the screen. Hence the concern is not over historical accuracy and perspective, but propagandizing for terrorism in the present and future. Two years ago, Israeli Ambassador Zvi Mazel purposely damaged an art installation in Sweden that depicted a Palestinian suicide bomber as Snow White floating on a sea of blood - an undiplomatic act that was met with near universal cheers in Israel. Paradise Now humanizes mass murderers even more forthrightly, and to a much wider audience. Those who would heap awards on such a film should, even if they are unconcerned by the sensibilities of Israelis, consider whether they would make the same choice if they - their nation or their families - were the victims.