Joel Mowbray

Throughout VOI, kids are seen being kids: laughing, playing, teasing, roughhousing.  Iraqis are seen being silly: an adolescent boy doing what could only be described as a strange solo dance, an actor who filmed himself taking a shower, and policemen making bizarre sound effects and goofy faces.  And boys being boys: young men returning to college last month hitting on pretty girls with lame come ons, such as ?The most beautiful girl, come here? and ?Come here, I just want to talk to you.?

Interspersed with that are painful reminders of Iraq?s all-too-recent savage history, including former victims of Saddam?s torture having a conversation over dinner and video of Shia in the south recovering skeletal remains from mass graves.  Though a few longed for the ?stability? and ?security? of Saddam?s regime, no one seen in VOI was under any delusions about the despot.

During Saddam?s pretrial hearing, Iraqis were shooting in celebration, and one man talked about how he danced when he heard the news of the tyrant?s capture. 

Iraqis? elation at Saddam?s demise should not come as a surprise.  The most chilling moments of the film were four brief clips from official Fedayeen (Saddam?s paramilitary) videotape footage: a blindfolded and handcuffed man thrown from the top of a building, falling to his death; a boy?s hand being chopped off; two blindfolded young men, boys really, sitting on a bomb as it detonates; and a beheading. 

Lasting no more than 15 seconds and completely silent, those images will haunt even the most jaded for days.

This side of evil, the real enemy of VOI is the mainstream media.  Armed with footage that somehow eluded the multimillion-dollar big news operations, the $500,000 film occasionally throws up newspaper headlines?only to show how woefully wrong they were.

From the movie:

  • ?We can?t work on the street anymore...? quoting the Newsweek bureau chief, 4/13/04, which is placed over images of Iraqis casually strolling down those same streets.
  • ?Fear of Militants Forces Ordinary Iraqis to Stay Home,? San Francisco Chronicle, 5/16/04?over video of Iraqis packed into an outdoor marketplace.
  • ?Iraq may survive, but the dream is dead,? New York Times, 5/7/04, which is seen over footage of wedding celebrants jumping for joy, and followed by shots of exuberant youths rejoicing their college graduation.

Iraqis are nobody?s fools.  They are far savvier and more sophisticated than most would realize, particularly the paternalistic, peacenik left, which thought Iraqis were better off under Saddam.  VOI has ordinary Iraqis talking about Saddam?s commonly-known harboring of al Qaeda operatives and how foreign governments don?t want Iraq?s democracy to succeed and are thus helping funnel terrorists into the country.

The Iraqi people understand democracy, but more important, they want democracy.  Who knows exactly what form or shape their eventual government will take, but if the ordinary folks featured in VOI have any say, it will be a free society.  Throughout, Iraqis define freedom as having a secular government, freedom of speech, or the freedom to partake in technological pleasures like the Internet and cell phones.

For those who read the above and want to label the project a partisan hack job without ever seeing it, many in VOI?s team are Democrats.  (What else would you expect from Hollywood types?)  Anyone still not convinced can go to and see most everything left on the cutting room floor. 

But there?s plenty in the film to suggest straight-ahead editing, such as several scenes where Iraqis express diametrically opposing views, including about whether or not the country is now better off.

That politics was being openly discussed?on camera, no less?is perhaps the greatest indicator of how much times have changed.

One extended scene showed nuanced political disagreements within one family, spats not that unlike what one would find inside a typical American household.  The clan?s pre-teen son, Hasooni, bright and smiling, lacked any confusion or inner conflict, though.

When asked what he ?wants to be in the future,? Hasooni exclaims, ?American.?

Joel Mowbray

Joel Mowbray, who got his start with, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.

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