Cliff May

How curious that at the Academy Awards ceremony last weekend not a word was said about the terrorist movements dedicated to the destruction of the West.

Hollywood stars and moguls don’t appear to fully grasp that such groups as al-Qaeda and such regimes as that ruling Iran not only hate Republicans, evangelicals and Richard Perle. They also hope to suppress artistic freedom, impose second-class status on women, and stone to death those with unconventional sexual orientations.

Should that really be of less of concern to Hollywood than global warming?

Movies are made to entertain and turn a profit, but they can shape public opinion as well. Some film-makers aim to advance an ideology. Think what Sergei Eisenstein did for Soviet communism, or what Leni Riefenstahl did for the Nazis. (Michael Moore is not in their league, though he may aspire to be.)

At the Academy Awards presentation 40 years ago, The Battle of Algiers was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. It already had won several prestigious awards in Europe. In recent years, its relevance to the conflicts being fought in Iraq and Afghanistan has brought about something of a revival. It has even been screened at the Pentagon.

If you watched this year’s Oscars, you saw, in a montage of recently departed cinema greats, a photo of Gillo Pontecorvo, the director of The Battle of Algiers, who died last year at 87. An Italian-born former Communist, Pontecorvo was commissioned to make the movie by veterans of Algeria’s struggle for independence from France. To tell their story, Pontecorvo focused on a battle the French won in 1957, in a war the French would lose in 1962.

The film makes a strong case that terrorism is a legitimate weapon when wielded in pursuit of a just cause. The film leaves no doubt regarding who has a just cause: The Algerians want their freedom. The French want to occupy Algeria, to rule and exploit its Muslim population.

At one point in the film, a French journalist asks the revolutionary leader, Ben M’Hidi, about his terrorist tactics: “Don't you think it's a bit cowardly to use women's baskets and handbags to carry explosive devices that kill so many innocent people?”

Ben M'Hidi replies: “And doesn't it seem to you even more cowardly to drop napalm bombs on defenseless villages, so that there are a thousand times more innocent victims? Of course, if we had your airplanes it would be a lot easier for us. Give us your bombers, and you can have our baskets.”


Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.