Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Inhuman Enemy

Yesterday I read Ian Buruma's excellent review of Clint Eastwood's new film "Letters from Iwo Jima" in the New York Review of Books. This film, in the Japanese language, has been widely praised by critics, winning the Golden Globe for "Best Foreign Language Film". The passage below in Buruma's review really caught my eye:
"Most war movies have been about heroes, our heroes, and individual differences among the enemies were irrelevant, since their villainy could be taken for granted. In fact, showing individual character, or indeed any recognizable human qualities, would be a hindrance, since it would inject the murderousness of our heroes with a moral ambiguity that we would not wish to see. The whole point of feel-good propaganda is that the enemy has no personality; he is monolithic and thus inhuman."

This reminded me of a recent e-mail I had received with a link to an old song by Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam nowadays) called "Peacetrain". The song is in the background as images of modern day Tehran flash on the screen. These images of everyday life paint a portrait of a people not unlike 'us' as opposed to pictures of an implacably ugly and hostile enemy conjured up by political propaganda. How many people visualize Tehran and its people in this way when they speak of bombings and military action? The message is powerful and surprisingly effective in its simplicity because it subverts the very essence of propaganda, the inhumanity of the 'other'.

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