The war on terror has not been the subject of a single American feature film nor, so far as I know, is there one in the works. But television is proving a bit braver and things should get interesting on Sunday, Jan. 9, when Fox begins a new season of its action show, called 24.
Why the absence of movies on the current war? Jack Valenti, then-head of the Motion Picture Association of America, once replied with questions of his own:
Who would you have as the enemy if you made a picture about terrorism? You'd probably have Muslims, would you not? If you did, I think there would be backlash from the decent, hard-working, law-abiding Muslim community in this country.
That's what some call a pre-emptive cringe. Others call it dhimmitude.
In any case, the most recent big-budget movie to deal with terrorism was 2002's Sum of All Fears ("27,000 Nuclear Weapons. One Is Missing"), based on a Tom Clancy novel of the same name. The novel had Arab terrorists setting off a nuclear device at football's Super Bowl but the movie, under pressure from Islamist organizations, features neo-Nazi terrorists. ("I hope you will be reassured," Director Phil Alden Robinson wrote in early 2001 to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, "that I have no intention of promoting negative images of Muslims or Arabs, and I wish you the best in your continuing efforts to combat discrimination.")
In an review of recent movies, Jonathan V. Last finds that, "If anything, the PC pressure has been upped since the war on terror began." The first break in the silence came in mid-2004, when The Grid, a TNT mini-series, took on radical Islam. Last termed it "the bravest, most-daring piece of entertainment in years," precisely because Tracey Alexander and Brian Eastman, its executive producers, did not whitewash all forms of Islam.
An excerpt from The Grid's second episode, concerning a Lebanese national named Fuqara, arrested as he tries to flee the United States after trying to murder an FBI agent, gives its flavor. Fuqara is interrogated by Agent Canary while his attorney tries to stop the proceedings:
Agent Canary: Mr. Fuqara, who ordered you to commit the assassination?
Fuqara: (Mutters in Arabic.)
Fuqara's Attorney (to Agent Canary): Can we have a moment outside? (The two exit the room.) Don't you dare threaten him with a rend writ.
Agent Canary: He has information about planned attacks here that could threaten thousands of American lives.
Fuqara's Attorney: And that gives you the right to summarily dismiss Mr. Fuqara's rights? Hey, why stop there? Deport all the Muslims in America to win your war!
Agent Canary: I might suggest some rights stop at mass murder.
Fuqara's Attorney: They don't. And until there is an amendment to the constitution to that effect, I will protect Mr. Fuqara's rights.
A second break will come in a few days, when the Fox Channel's 24 shows four episodes depicting a Muslim family as coming to the United States solely to implement attacks against Americans. To do so, they masquerade as just folk. Here is how Jim Finkle of Broadcasting & Cable describes them: "One of the villains is a Walkman-toting, bubble-gum-chewing teenager who fights with his conservative Dad about dating an American girl and talking on the phone."
But this is a disguise.
The young man also helps his parents mastermind a plot to kill large numbers of Americans that begins with an attack on a train. Over the breakfast table, the father tells his son: "What we will accomplish today will change the world. We are fortunate that that our family has been chosen to do this." "Yes, father," his son replies.
The terrorists manage to take the secretary of defense as a hostage; and the movie climaxes with the secretary shown on a gruesome Internet video like those coming out of Iraq, then tried for "war crimes against humanity."
Predictably, 24 has the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the country's lead Islamist outfit, in a tizzy. CAIR spokeswoman Rabiah Ahmed complains that "They are taking everyday American Muslim families and making them suspects. They're making it seem like families are co-conspirators in this terrorist plot."
Melanie McFarland, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's television critic, has no patience for such whining: "this is 24, OK? Anyone who watches it knows the show borrows aspects of real nightmares to drive its plots, paying little attention to political correctness."
But there is another reason to stick with the plot as it is. Nearly every terrorist suspect in the West is said to be a regular guy or a wonderful gal, as I have previously shown. The adjectives applied to Sajid Mohammed Badat, a Briton, are typical: "a walking angel," "the bright star of our mosque," "a friendly, warm, fun-loving character," "a friendly, sociable, normal young lad, who had lots of friends and did not hold extreme views in any way." Despite those raves, he has been indicted for helping shoe-bomber Richard C Reid attempt to blow up an airliner and will face trial on conspiracy charges (he was found with parts for more shoe bombs like those Reid used).
Just last week, the Seattle Times reported on a Saudi now being deported from the United States:
To his co-workers at the University of Washington School of Nursing, Majid al-Massari was a happy guy who bounced down the halls and seemed like a "big teddy bear." What his friends didn't know about the burly, bearded 34-year-old computer-security specialist was that he had helped set up a Web site for a group linked to al-Qaida, quoted Osama bin Laden in his own Internet postings, lashed out against American policies on his father's London-based radio show and had landed in the sights of U.S. terrorism investigators.
This sort of surprise happens with such consistency that I am tempted to generalize: On arrest, every single Islamist in the West is initially hailed as a delightful person, and never as a hate-filled brooding loner.
So, hooray for Fox for portraying reality; and may it not cave to the Islamists.
Jan. 14, 2005 update: My hope about not caving is not being fulfilled, as I explain at "Fox Broadcasting Semi-Caves to CAIR."