Hollywood and Holy War

Mark Tapson

3/14/2011 2:21:52 PM - Mark Tapson

We should never lose sight of the fact that, no matter how entertaining a picture may be or how much money it may make, it can do our country a great deal of harm if it plays into the hands of our enemies.” – Samuel Goldwyn, Hollywood producer

In 2006, five American soldiers raped and murdered a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and murdered other members of her family. The participants were convicted by U.S. civilian or military courts and sentenced to up to 110 years each; the ringleader, Steven Dale Green, is serving life without possibility of parole.

This horrific crime, rather than any of the countless selfless and heroic incidents performed by the U.S. military in our current wars, served as inspiration for filmmaker Brian De Palma’s 2007 barely-fictionalized movie version called Redacted. De Palma may have been the director of such popular fare as Scarface and Mission:Impossible, but American audiences showed exactly how they felt about this vile denigration of our warriors: Redacted scraped in a career-killing box office pittance of $25,000 on opening weekend.

But don’t underestimate the film’s impact abroad. John Rosenthal at Pajamas Media reports confirmation that the Muslim shooter who killed two American soldiers and wounded a third at the Frankfurt Airport earlier this month in an act of terrorism was inspired by YouTube clips from Redacted. They were presented as actual footage – along with Arabic music, text, and voiceover – in a propaganda video posted under the title “American Soldiers Rape our Sisters! Awake Oh Ummah.” (The ummah is the worldwide Muslim community.)

For better or worse, Hollywood has been called the greatest propaganda machine in human history. But what propaganda is it sending out about America and fundamentalist Islam? About terrorism? About our military and the war effort? Are Hollywood’s messages promoting our values, cultural vigor and national unity? Or are they playing into the hands of our enemy, as Samuel Goldwyn warned against?

While writing the screenplay for the movie Superman Returns several years ago, the screenwriters and director deliberately changed Superman’s classic credo – “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” – to “truth, justice, and all that stuff,” because they felt the phrase “American Way” has become loaded and outdated. The film grossed $391 million worldwide, spreading the message that Hollywood filmmakers, and presumably Americans in general, can’t even bring themselves to say “the American Way” with an unconflicted sense of pride that would have been taken for granted decades ago.

Every time Hollywood sends out such weak, apologetic cultural signals or makes such anti-American propaganda as George Clooney’s Syriana, which has been used as a recruitment tool to radicalize young Muslims; or Leonardo DiCaprio’s spy thriller Body of Lies, which puts our CIA on the same low moral footing as terrorists; or Matt Damon’s political action thriller The Green Zone, which revisits the tired leftist fantasy that America went to war in Iraq on the basis of a Bush lie; every time Hollywood produces such ideologically subversive fare, the message is reinforced here and abroad that we are the bad guys, and that our geopolitical meddling, not global jihad, is the genesis of Islamic terrorism.

Every time Hollywood rewrites history to suit its narrative of moral equivalence – as with the Crusades epic Kingdom of Heaven, which suggests that Christians are ruthless hypocrites, Muslims are religiously tolerant, and no one has a legitimate claim to Jerusalem – then Hollywood betrays historical truth, undercuts our moral standing and empowers our enemy.

Every time Hollywood dismisses the war on terror as “the politics of fear” and portrays Muslims as victims of our Islamophobia – as in an episode of The Simpsons, in which Midwestern oaf Homer falsely suspects a local Muslim couple of plotting to blow up a mall, or in the movie Flightplan, in which star Jodie Foster falsely accuses Arab airline passengers of kidnapping her daughter – the world takes note and Islamism advances.

And every time Hollywood churns out another anti-war movie that depicts our soldiers and their families struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, like Tobey McGuire’s Brothers, it confirms for the world what Usama bin Laden always says: The American soldier is a paper tiger. He is weak and fears death. We, on the other hand, love death more than life. We brought down one superpower – Russia – and we can bring down America.

Meanwhile the Islamists are feeding each other a steady diet of fist-pumping propaganda videos of infidels being beheaded, sniper attacks on soldiers in Iraq, paramilitary training, religious exhortations to kill Jews and Americans – and Hollywood depictions of American soldiers as raping, murdering occupiers.

Our conflict with fundamentalist Islam is the epic, defining challenge of our time. We’re at war with an enemy that, unlike us, has absolutely no crisis of confidence, no capacity for apology, and no anguished need to be liked by the rest of the world. Hollywood, post-9/11, too often undermines America in that fight at home and abroad, in ways both subtle and sweeping. It is broadcasting signals to a receptive world that we lack the cultural confidence, the moral authority, and the will to oppose evil – and that, like a dying animal, we are now easy prey for the jackals.