American Dreamz: When satire doesn’t go far enough

A few months back, I picked up, on a lark, a short French novel called Allah Superstar authored by the pseudonymous Y.B. (generally known to be Yassir Benmiloud, columnist for the Algerian daily El Watan). I bought it entirely on the basis of the excerpt on the back cover:

Une fatwa, voilà ce qu’il me faut pour devenir à la mode. C’est plus rapide que Star Academy, ça dure plus longtemps, tu voyages dans le monde entier, tu donnes des conférences, tu descends dans des palaces, tu montes sur scène avec U2, tu prends le thé avec le pape, une bière ou deux voire trois avec Chirac, une vodka givrée avec Poutine, un cigare humide avec Clinton, une grosse ligne avec Bush Junior, un masque à gaz avec Saddam Hussein, à chaque fois que tu dis une connerie tout le monde entier il t’écoute vu que tu as une fatwa au cul le pauvre, alors que le monde entier il est autant dans la merde que toi vu que c’est bientôt la fin du monde pour tout le monde.

A fatwa, that what I need to get famous! It’s faster than Star Academy [a French American Idol-type show], it lasts longer, you can travel the world, give speeches, stay in palaces, be up on stage with U2, take tea with the Pope, a beer or two or even three with Chirac, a chilled vodka with Putin, a humid cigar with Clinton, snort up a thick line with Bush Junior, share a gas mask with Saddam Hussein, and no matter what stupid thing you say everybody listens because you have a fatwa on your ass, while everybody else is just as deep in shit as you are seeing how the world’s gonna end real soon.

Allah Superstar, written as a monologue in several chapters, follows a young Frenchman of half Arab, half-European ancestry as he tries to become a famous comedian. Ultimately, he is seduced to, well, the Dark Side of Islam, gets his fatwa as part of a fundamentalist plot to make him famous, and when he is finally asked to perform at the Olympia in Paris (think: the French version of Radio City Music Hall) for a special September 11th performance, he blows himself up on stage, killing most of the audience.

This plot is similar enough to the one in the film American Dreamz (which has already been out for six weeks in the States, but only just came out here, and which I went to see this afternoon because, frankly, the World Cup is not my bag) that I wonder if “Y.B.” has considered suing the film’s producers. It’s far from identical, but weaker claims have led to studios to pay up.

But where Allah Superstar is a satire of French society that brings together the desire for fame at all costs, transgressive comedy and fears of terrorism, American Dreamz, directed by the man responsible for American Pie, is merely a little joke on shows like American Idol and President Bush. As satire, it falls far below the potential implicit in its concept.

The rest of this review contains spoilers, so you decide if you want to read it.
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The damage done to Britain

As regards his more general attitude to the war, you must not rely too much on those feelings of hatred which the humans are so fond of discussing in Christian, or anti-Christian, periodicals. In his anguish, the patient can, of course, be encouraged to revenge himself by some vindictive feelings directed towards the German leaders, and that is good so far as it goes. But it is usually a sort of melodramatic or mythical hatred directed against imaginary scapegoats. He has never met these people in real life?they are lay figures modelled on what he gets from newspapers. The results of such fanciful hatred are often most disappointing, and of all humans the English are in this respect the most deplorable milksops. They are creatures of that miserable sort who loudly proclaim that torture is too good for their enemies and then give tea and cigarettes to the first wounded German pilot who turns up at the back door.

        — C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Britain is crawling with suspected terrorists and those who give them succour. The Government must act without delay, round up this enemy in our midst and lock them in internment camps.

Our safety must not play second fiddle to their supposed ?rights.?

        — Barbarism of twisted cause, unsigned editorial, The Sun

Considering how much the resilience of Londoners during the Blitz has come up over the last week in commentary about the bombings in London, I thought a little war-time C. S. Lewis might be an appropriate contrast to the rantings of London’s fish-wrap press.

Now that there is no longer any doubt that the authors of the bombings in London were British citizens – three born and raised in Yorkshire and one Jamaican born convert – we will see how Britain faces an element of the war on terrorism that has no real parallel to WWII and that Americans, Australians and Spanish people have so far managed to avoid: the prospect that the enemy may not be someone far away. How the British people handle this will say far more about their national character than their resolve to “preserve our way of life, our values of democracy and respect for life”.
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Suicide Bombers

Well a consensus seems to have been reached that some at least of the bombers were ‘suicides’ (the probability seems to be that they all were). So what do we know about suicide bombing? Well reading around I came across this document from the Rand Corporation which contains a chapter from terrorism specialist Bruce Hoffman entitled “Defending America Against Suicide Terrorism” which seems quite to the point. This paragraph seems especially prescient about ‘Why is suicide bombing so attractive to terrorists?’.

To answer these questions, we conducted extensive research and interviews with foreign police/security forces with prior experience with suicide terrorism. The following conclusions emerged.

First, from a tactical standpoint, suicide attacks are attractive to terrorists because they are inexpensive and effective?with an extremely favorable per-casualty cost benefit for the terrorists. Moreover, they are less complicated and compromising than other lethal operations. No escape plan is needed because, if successful, there will be no assailant to capture and interrogate. Suicide attacks are perhaps the ultimate ?smart bombs.? They can cleverly
employ disguise and deception and effect last-minute changes in timing, access, and choice of target. Finally, suicide attacks guarantee media coverage. They offer the irresistible combination of savagery and bloodshed.”

And for those who are interested in points from the ‘oh why do we keep making the same mistakes department’ this (pdf) file from Hoffman on Insurgency and Counter Insurgency in Iraq (written in June 2004, but still largely valid) makes an interesting read.

Clues

This is not an analytical “perspectives” type post. Just a number of bitty threads that seem in one way or another worth noting (small pieces loosely joined). They could basically be grouped together under the following headings: photos, suicides, explosives and origins.

Maybe I should also point out the obvious: that living in Spain while coming from the UK gives me a rather unusual perspective on what is happening. I lived the days surrounding the Madrid bombings intensely, now I am doing the same with London (where I had my home for many years). In some ways I can’t help but see this in terms of similarities and differences.

The big difference is of course in the government reaction, and the way that this is transmitted to a wider public. The British official reaction is one of ‘containment’ in every sense of the word. I think this is a good approach, since I think that excessive shock and panic only serves the purposes of the terrorists. The overall sensation was that London was as prepared for this as it could have been, and that many of those working in the crisis management and emergency services areas were following through on already well rehearsed roles.

Things in Spain couldn’t have been more different.
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16 Al Qaeda Arrests in Spain

This news needs careful watching:

Spanish police arrested 16 suspected Islamist militants on Wednesday, including followers of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and men preparing to become suicide bombers in Iraq, the Interior Ministry said. t was the second European swoop in two days against suspected backers of the Iraqi insurgency, following Germany’s arrest of three Iraqis on Tuesday.

Eleven of the suspects in Spain were followers of Zarqawi, al Qaeda’s leader in Iraq, the Interior Ministry said.

“Many of them expressed their will to become martyrs for Islam, demonstrating they are extremely radical and dangerous,” the ministry said in a statement.

Assuming that this information is well founded (that they are followers of Zarqawi , and they are potential suicide terrorists – we do in the end need a judge to confirm this) the situation is preoccupying. This article doesn’t have the story entirely straight, according to the TV news the people arrested are mainly logistical in the sense that they are fund-raisers and recruiters who send potential suicide bombers to Zarqawi in Iraq. In addition some of the people seem to have been part of the 11 March network.

This news will suit the propaganda angle of neither of the main political parties here in Spain (PP and PSOE). PP are still in denial over the importance of 11 March, and principally occupy themselves with trying to find an Eta connection, whilst the PSOE had placed some hope on the idea that a withdrawal of the troops from Iraq would get Spain out of the middle of something. For geographical and historic reasons this is likely to prove impossible.

Human Capital And Trade Deficits

Michael Mandel had an interesting take on the US trade deficit in Business Week earlier this month (btw: he also has a weblog).

His opinion is that the US trade deficit isn’t as big a deal as people often think. One of the reasons: that the ongoing import of human capital into the US (which of course isn’t measured in the trading accounts ledger) more than compensates for the deficit:

But get with the 21st century, folks. The trade in goods and services represents only one part of America’s connection with the rest of the world. What’s equally important — and what the trade numbers miss completely — is the incredible flow of people into the country. Each year, the U.S. receives about 700,000 legal immigrants, as well as a host of temporary skilled workers and undocumented immigrants.

Now I wouldn’t go down the same road as Mandel with the deficit question per se, but he obviously raises an interesting point here – and one, of course, that immediately strikes a chord with me.
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