Tuesday, November 20, 2001

All of Madison Avenue’s admen and all of Tinsel Town’s newly minted patriots cannot put a pro-American

Humpty Dumpty back together again.

Hollywood’s no-enemies-on-the-left and self-hating outpourings over the years from “Heart in Atlantis” and “Three Days of the Condor” to “JFK” and “American Beauty” played a large role in shaping anti-American perceptions around the world.

Movies that depicted the CIA, NSA and FBI as staffed with ruthless maniacs who were out to “terminate with maximum prejudice (TWMP),” or at the very least teach local sadists how to slowly torture, anyone who dared speak the truth about America’s fascist leaders. were widely believed to be an accurate portrayal of how America came to be the world’s only superpower (e.g., “Enemy of the State”).

Average American families, as seen by Tinsel Town, ranged from a psychotic caricature of the late Herman Kahn, later replaced in popular mythology, by Henry Kissinger, as Dr. Strangelove, to a retired Marine colonel as a closet gay who collects Nazi memorabilia, and whose drug-peddling son spends his time peering through a telescope at a neighbor’s daughter who likes to be watched shedding her clothes.

Professor Jack Shaheen, in his book “Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People,” documents how the stereotype image of bad Arabs (“Rules of Engagement,” “The Siege,” and “True Lies”) has produced a mirror image of despicable characters on both sides of the cultural divide. These productions seemed designed to widen, rather than narrow, the gap between two civilizations. Attempts to sell America to the Arab world have been dismal flops with good reason.

Mr. Shaheen demonstrates how Hollywood has shown its greatest contempt for Arab culture, and how the majority of some 900 films researched degrades and dehumanizes the average Arab, robed and turbaned, sinister and dangerous, engaged mainly in blowing up buildings and hijacking planes.

Two weeks before September 11, Egypt’s Al Akhbar newspaper wrote that the Statue of Liberty in New York “must be destroyed.” The degree of hatred for what is seen as America’s anti-Muslim, pro-Israeli cultural values cannot be overestimated. And since September 11, Hollywood’s only sensible move was to yank “Black Hawk Down” on the incident that led to 18 American KIA in Somalia and to Bill Clinton’s decision to fold America’s tent in the Horn of Africa and sneak home.

World War II’s pro-war effort movies were a piece of cake compared to what the White House is now asking Hollywood to project. Adolf Hitler and Hideki Tojo were the archvillains. Not so Osama bin Laden, a hero to countless millions of Arabs and Muslims. These are the people who see bin Laden as Che Guevara-cum-Robin Hood-cum-the Avenger-type character who is trying to bring an uncaring superpower to heel, and correct perceived injustices and inequities between rich and poor nations. The America others love to hate or despise was a creation of Hollywood’s liberal screenwriters and superstars. But the mere suggestion they were in any way responsible for how foreign Muslims look at the U.S. is dismissed as unreconstructed McCarthyism.

Hollywood moguls rejected the script of a movie based on a best-selling novel co-authored in 1980 by Robert Moss and this writer as anti-communist propaganda. Directors who wished to take on the assignment of turning a novel that sold 3 million copies in 19 languages into a movie received blunt warnings from the powers that be: You will be blackballed and your career ruined. Since the end of the Cold War, KGB and Stasi files proved conclusively that the novel “The Spike” had understated the problem of Soviet disinformation themes eagerly embraced in the Western media.

Whether Motion Picture Association czar Jack Valenti can get the silver screen’s honchos to sample the patriotic crow on the White House chef’s menu remains to be seen. Karl Rove, senior adviser to President Bush, says he heard some 20 specific ideas at last week’s meeting of about 50 top executives from Hollywood’s movie studios, television networks, cinema operators and labor unions. No one was willing to accept the blame for grotesquely distorted impressions of America abroad. Yet Hollywood comes up in almost every conversation with a Muslim, from intellectuals to small businessmen. In Pakistan, Muslim clerics and army generals says the American values conveyed by Hollywood have contributed mightily to the rise of Islamist extremism.

Both sides in Mr. Rove’s White House meeting carefully sidestepped content issues. In fact, Jack Valenti declared, “Content was off the table.” Mr. Rove said the people who compare his efforts at cooperation between Hollywood and Washington to what occurred during World War II, don’t know what they’re talking about. “Contrary to the expectations that most people have, the government did not direct the movie industry during World War II,” Mr. Rove added. “The industry sort of set its own course, and that is certainly what we would encourage at this point.”

Again, the core issue was avoided. In World War II, the U.S. was allied with the Soviet Union against the fascist coalition and Hollywood adopted patriotic themes with enthusiasm and alacrity. U.S. B-52s carpet bombing a backward Muslim country, albeit ruled by Islamist crazies and al Qaeda terrorists, does not tug at the same, seldom-used patriotic strings.

It’s hard to picture movie stars taking a stand against anti-bombing demonstrators. That’s more their kind of rumble. It’s even harder to see them disagreeing with Bill Clinton who said last week that September 11 was, in effect, the sequel to America’s history of genocide against native Americans and black slavery. Mr. Clinton sounded like an echo of Islamist extremists who would have added to his list “America’s atomic terrorism against Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

NPR’s Foreign Editor Loren Jenkins, reflecting the anti-military mindset of liberal media and liberal film-making, said he would out a team of reporters into South Asia with instructions to “smoke out” not Osama bin Laden but American troops to reveal their locations. In Mr. Jenkins’ judgment, bin Laden deserves to be heard just as much as Pentagon briefers. Borderless media for this new school of journalism plays a similar role to “Medecins Sans Frontieres,” or borderless doctors. Patriotism has no place in their ranks.

Mr. Rove did feel, however, that Hollywood could help make clear that the war is against terrorism, not Islam. But how does Hollywood explain that militant Islam is at war with the U.S.? And why do Muslim radicals have such a perverted view of the world’s freest nation?

Mr. Valenti said the meeting produced “a seamless web of unity. It was really quite affectionate to behold.” That’s what usually happens when real issues are swept under the proverbial Oriental rug.

The most effective way to tackle misperceptions about America is to lean on friendly Arab and Muslim leaders to correct the lies that are published or broadcast by their media with tedious regularity. It’s high time these leaders speak out loud and clear in America’s defense and remind their people that Washington’s last three military interventions were on behalf of Muslim people.

Instead of apologizing to the Saudis for what U.S. media have been writing and saying about Saudi funding of Wahhabi Koranic schools that teach kids to hate America all over the Muslim world, the Bush administration should take the House of Saud to the diplomatic woodshed. The friendly neighborhood gas station has been using a large part of its income from the Western world to appease its anti-American Islamist clergy. If Pakistan falls to Islamist forces, the well-funded, anti-American Wahhabi religious machine will be largely to blame.

In its November issue, London’s prestigious Foreign Report documents how Saudi “religious brainwashing” has led to terrorist attacks against the U.S. “The House of Saud,” it said, “should have understood a long time ago that its policy of encouraging anti-Western religious sentiments in an effort to preserve the monarchy was bound to turn against the country’s own rulers.”

The House of Saud should also be told what prominent non-royal Saudis have been saying privately on recent visits to Washington. One Saudi graduate of the Harvard Business School, who manages one of the royal prince’s businesses, confided, “Outside of the 30,000-strong royal family, Osama bin Laden is the most popular figure in the kingdom.” Then he added ominously, “America should get ready for 20 years of Saudi hostility.” For that, too, the royals can thank their extremist Wahhabi clergy.

A geopolitical train wreck is in the making. American apologies and Saudi denials can no longer conceal the truth.

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