Violence is Bad

Perhaps the best reviewed movie of the year, David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, pissed the living hell out of me. It has been proclaimed “Epic”, “Incredible”, blah and blah. I had been looking forward to this for a while. I thought – here is a good director, an interesting script and a lot of talk about how this was a meditation on “George W. Bush’s America” – this should be great.

I call bullshit on all the critics and I especially call bullshit on David Cronenberg. To find out specifically what I call bullshit on, listen to this podcast of Elvis Mitchell’s interview with Cronenberg. Go on.

Doug Liman made a movie recently in which he had these perfect-bodied specimens [Brangelina or Pijolie?] play normal, suburban couple who are in reality Assassins! The movie was a good-hearted farce and clearly intended that way until the end when suddenly the rubber bullets that had been raining all along, turned steel-tipped for no apparent reason. The fantasy [beside imagining Brangelina pleasuring itself] was that a thin veneer of normalcy hides the truth – we are all secret killers and tango dancers. The thing about Liman was that he never said that he was making some parable about America or Bush or whatever. He was just trying to wreck Jennifer Aniston’s marriage.

Here comes Mr. Cronenberg and he wants us to sit up and take notice about the ways in which violence hides itself in plain light in America. He builds up this Rockwellian simulacra [hi Daisy] of Americana with the howdy y’allz and the baseball diamonds and the offers of pies and the cheerleader uniforms and the man who cleans out the spark-plugs of his trusty pickup truck. The camera moves slowly and deliberately; the colors are bright yet dusted; the dialogue is shrugged; so perfect is this chimerical American dream. Then, he shows us violence happening. Bad people doing bad things to good people. But, guess what, the good people are even better at violence than the bad people.

Violence is easy enough to depict. Trademark Cronenberg shots linger on a face missing the lower half; on holes exploding in skulls, and chests; on noses and eyes ripped. Yeah, whatever. I have seen the best of Miike. It is the moment before and after the violence that is tricky. Cronenberg has variously led us to believe that his movie follows the results of violence – which apparently begets violence – and that this somehow explains Iraq. So, let us see what the movie shows us: That the real result of five bodies piled up on a “normal” family’s lawn by the actions of two members is a tortured conversation over meatloaf. That is the end result of all the violence. The man sits down to a plate set up by an innocent child. Oh, you say that there is all that ambiguity? You have been had, dear reader. The “normal” conclusion of homicide and fratricide should be a suicide. There is no normal in that scenario. Life does NOT continue as is. The consequences are not sleeping on the sofa.

Cronenberg has made a Mr. & Mrs. Smith except all the critics have fallen head over heels for this sorry-ass excuse of a “message” movie when they said that Smith was exploitative. Why? Why did every critic fall for it? Is it because there is a complete lack of any engagement with America as it is today? So, anything that is not released by Michael Moore gives the critics instant boners? Well, I don’t care that they have to schlep their miserable lives reviewing Transporter 2, they don’t have to con me as well.

Oh, and I do realize that those of you who have seen the movie, won’t agree with me here. Enjoy.

Nerds Rock

Saw Arcade Fire at the Riviera last night with sven and rajeev. What an amazing show – def. one for my best of list. They play like maniacs and behave like ones too – rocking out in their band gear. So darn cute.

I must admit that after keeping them in heavy rotation for most of nov thru feb period, I had stopped listening to them. Also, the orchestrations were starting to sound a tad precious [same thing happened to me w/ regards to Decemberists except it was Colin’s voice in that case]. So, while I wanted to see them, I wasn’t as excited as I could have been. Holy Smoke! they rocked my doubts away.

If the Arcade Fire come anywhere near your neck of the woods, GO SEE THEM.

updated: An actual review of the show from the Onion’s blog.

Dear Mr. Friedman

In your 9/28 column, The Endgame in Iraq [access for the academic audience, thanks to moacir], you conclude:

Maybe the cynical Europeans were right. Maybe this neighborhood is just beyond transformation. That will become clear in the next few months as we see just what kind of minority the Sunnis in Iraq intend to be. If they come around, a decent outcome in Iraq is still possible, and we should stay to help build it. If they won’t, then we are wasting our time. We should arm the Shiites and Kurds and leave the Sunnis of Iraq to reap the wind. We must not throw more good American lives after good American lives for people who hate others more than they love their own children.

You want to arm the Shiites and the Kurds to do exactly what? Oh! to let the Sunnis “reap the wind”. I am sure that the TimeSelect barrier is not nearly enough for a NYT columnist to advocate ethnic cleansing. But wait, you are way too smart for that, aren’t you, Mr. Friedman. Because, you have already accused the “minority” Sunnis of ethnic cleansing: Do the Iraqi Sunnis understand their own interests, and does the Sunni world have any moral center? Up to now the Sunni Arab world has stood mute while the Sunni Baathists and jihadists in Iraq have engaged in what can only be called “ethnic cleansing”: murdering Shiite civilians in large numbers purely because they are Shiites in hopes of restoring a Sunni-dominated order in Iraq that is un-restorable. Yes, the “jihadists” now represent the entirety of Sunnis – inside and outside of Iraq [the actual count of Shi’a insurgents remains zero, according to a leading expert in Middle East asshatry, Tom Friedman]. The 80% Shi’a majority is being ethnically cleansed by the Sunnis – they pass out sect-id cards before the car blows up, I am sure. Perhaps, only perhaps because I am not as astute as a NYT columnist, the jihadists are killing civilians to create unrest and panic regardless of sectarian affiliation? Hmm?

In any case, how should the Sunnis of Iraq feel about the bombs that kill their own – even if some of their own set them up? What should they do about the armies that enforce “evacuations”? So far, your army has decimated Fallujah, Tal Afar and Qaim among other Sunni “strongholds” – also known as cities. What is the proper response that you seek from this minority? To endorse the US designed “constitution” that remains unavailable to be read by any Iraqi citizen to this day? That gives over control of Sunni areas to the majority [who, I am sure are not at all pissed about the “brutaliz[ation] by an oil-backed Sunni minority regime”, not to mention the more recent, “ethnic cleansing”]? Yes, they should issue fatwas against the jihadists because that inscrutable Arab mind understands nothing more than a two-bit religious edict issuable by any GED-equivalency madrasa-diploma holder. And then suck it up. Right? The Sunnis that you want killed off already know that they are a target. Maybe some more Sunnis will raise arms and join the jihadists or MAYBE, just MAYBE, they will use other means. Maybe, before you have US arms merchants sell US weapons to the Kurds and the Shi’a to kill their fellow Iraqis and Muslims, you should listen to them:

Expressing a commonly held view in Baghdad, Professor Nadhmi says, “This civil war is only in the brain of the American decision-maker, and perhaps he himself is aware that there is no civil strife between Shia and Sunnis, but [attempts] to use it as a pretext.” After watching the black silhouettes of the helicopters grow smaller against the setting sun, he adds, “The Americans are actually saying, ‘Let us stay in your country, let us kill you, Iraqis, because we don’t like you to kill each other.'”

Imam Mu’ayad al-Adhami of the Abu Hanifa mosque in Baghdad also blames foreign influence for the recent talk of rising sectarian tensions. “The Americans are using divide and conquer to try to split the Muslims of Iraq,” he says softly, while gesturing with his large hands. “But Iraqi society is Muslim first and tribal second. That means Sunni and Shia are relatives, often in the same family with so many links and intermarriages. This is our society and anyone trying to divide us is blind to these facts.”

The sheik offered several examples of solidarity between the two sects. Last year, when his Shiite neighbors in the Khadamiya district just across the Tigris from Adhamiya were struck by a devastating suicide bomb attack during the Ashura holiday, his was the first mosque to ask people to donate blood.

“We didn’t feel any different from them,” emphasizes Sheik Mu’ayad. “They are Muslims and we must help them. When they analyzed the donated blood for our brothers and sisters in Khadamiya, they couldn’t tell if it was Sunni or Shia blood.”

A visit to Baghdad University reinforces the sense that Iraqi nationalism and Islamic identity are more deeply felt than sectarian allegiances. Despite the fact that the university suffered looting in the aftermath of the invasion and much of it remains in disrepair, the campus, now home to more than 100 refugee families from Falluja, remains an island of normalcy for college students of both sects of Islam. Most do not foresee sectarian differences necessitating civil war or the partition of their country.

“There is not a split between Sunni and Shia here, we are all Iraqi,” says Intisar Hammad. The 21-year-old physics student, who is a Shiite, adds, “There are enemies of Iraq who want us to be separate, but we are all Muslims and our constitution is the Koran.”

Another Baghdad University student named Saif feels the same. “There is no split. We are together. We are one.”

You, Mr. Friedman, are morally and ethically despicable.


related: Dear Mr. Brooks

related 2: Quizman, in the comments, pointed me to SP’s post [somehow i missed it]. Read the whole thing but I want to highlight this:

You, I and the whole world talks these days of Sunnis and Shia and Kurds as if they are homogeneous groups. We have lost all nuance and differentiation. As if no Sunni had a Shia neighbour ever. As if Kurds never lived in central Iraq. As if my Shia mother never got married to my Sunni father. AS IF EVERY SINGLE IRAQI TAKES HIS/HER ORDERS DIRECTLY FROM THEIR IMAMS.

My point, exactly.

An Initiative

I grouch constantly that my peers don’t take technology seriously – whether in their pedogogy, in their research or in their scholarly applications. I think that instead of grouching, I will take on an initiative. Maybe this will pan out, maybe I will just do enough for my own personal site. Let’s begin, at the very least, with a grand dream.

Think about it: A single, maintained, curated resourse site where you can find source materials for your courses on South Asia and where you can send your students to find resources. The focus of the site will be pedagogy and the collaborators will be any and all academics teaching any aspect of South Asia.

I propose a South Asia Sourcebook where we can reproduce/link to the following:

– Selection from Primary Texts for Pedagogical Usages.

– Maps

– Timelines

– Bibilographies

– Syllabi

– Course Reviews

– A pedagogy blog

– Maps/Lectures in Powerpoint etc.

– Podcasts of selected lectures [version 2.0?]

The site will be divided into temporal or geographic periods. The primary texts, I want to make accessible only in pdf format with a small blurb about the author/context etc. To go around the copyright issues [though I do think that the majority of sources will fall out of copyright law and the rest under fair use], we will make that portion of the site accessible only to registered users.

The site will be set up as a Wiki so that it is a collaboration between those of us who work in South Asia [with language localizations!]. Paul Halsall’s Internet History Sourcebook is familiar and oft used resource that will be my template. However, we can improve on that by utilizing the wiki/blog format to push the collaborative aspects to the front. I can point you to another “managed” initiative called Project South Asia that looks to have floundered. Again, it is the wiki aspect that can ensure a healthy life for such an effort.

I believe that not only the South Asia teaching community in the US can benefit but our colleagues in South Asia will welcome such a resource to assist them in their teaching. And it will provide a venue for these various groups to have a conversation about pedagogy.

What say those of ye who are in the field with me? Worth some effort? Worth some time? I will get the domain/set the site up/do whatever is possible to get this project started. Of course, I cannot do the whole thing.

I will be attending the South Asia Conference at Madison next week. We can have a meeting, there. If you are interested, please send me an email; spread the word to those who might be interested; and participate.

The internets will thank you.