One grey October morning, a man walked up to me as I was leaving my apartment building in Manhattan’s Upper West Side to go to work.
“Are you Ami Horowitz?” he asked.
I’m not much for chit-chat with strangers on my morning commute, but something about this man asking me if I was myself set off alarm bells. Was he a journalist? I glanced around. There was no camera crew. The man had no voice recorder, no notepad in his hand. In fact, he didn’t look like a journalist at all. Wearing a dark suit and a trench coat, he had a strangely neutral expression on his face. Not friendly, not threatening, not even curious. More likely than not, he already knew the answer to his question.
I nodded yes, and tried to catch his fleeting eyes. Did I detect an accent in his voice? Where was it from? I wasn’t quite sure. But the meaning of his next question was inescapable.
“Do you care more about your movie than about your wife and children?”
I would spend much time thereafter wishing I had reacted with Jason Bourne-like reflexes, taking him down with a blow to the larynx, putting him in a painful and debilitating choke hold and yelling questions at him:
“Who the hell are you? Who do you work for?”
But in the confusion of the moment, I simply shouted my questions at the man’s back. No sooner than he had uttered his threat, he stepped into a cab, which I then realized had been waiting for him at the curb, engine running the whole time. By the time it dawned on me to check the license plate, the cab was screeching around the corner. Who the hell was this guy? And how was I supposed to react to his threat?
This was one of the scarier reactions I received to the making my first film, U.N. Me, a comical yet always outrageous exposé of the United Nations, that took me on a journey from the darkness of peacekeeping in Africa to the bizarre protocols of the Human Rights Council in Geneva and many strange places in between.
10 years after 911 and the U.N. has failed to define terrorism, never mind fight it, and when I farcically shoved a Webster dictionary in the face of a U.N. diplomat, his reaction was “well that’s Webster view”.
Or Iranian president Ahmadinijad, who was the key note speaker at the U.N.’s human rights conference, that created such a sense of outrage in me that I did something which got me arrested on camera.
How can we allow this to continue? I don’t know what is more outrageous, the fact that they are behaving like this or the fact that we are enabling this behavior. We are enabling them with our mind numbingly stupid decision to participate in the openly anti -Israel Human Rights Council, we are enabling them by looking to elevate the U.N. ambassador to a cabinet level position and we are certainly enabling them by funding their escapades to the tune of $8 billion in 2010 and which will probably hit $10 billion in 2011. All the while they scoff at our meek requests for reform as we continue to hand over check after check.
As I plunged into that bizarro world that exists behind the curtains of the United Nations, I came into contact with a fascinating cast of characters, world leaders, spies, terrorists and people who had heeded the call of service in the name of world peace to work at the United Nations only to escape the seductive grip of this island of political sirens. The place was driving them to the edge of madness, a place I myself would inhabit as I pursued my investigation into some of the UN’s darkest corners.
It became clear to me early in the process that this journey would involve some risk. Driving through rebel territory in a country split by civil war has never been known as a safe activity. And yet I had never expected that a man would come up to me in the middle of New York City and attempt to blackmail me into abandoning my project with a threat against my family.
The whole reason I had embarked on this film project to begin with was precisely that I cared about my family, and the kind of world we would be living in.
Somehow, I had rattled my stick at the right beast, the same beast that continues, to this day, to keep our world organization confined by the forces of fear. In the end, either the UN is on the side of freedom, or it is on the side of tyranny. This is not a right or left issue, it is right or wrong.
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