Last night, I happened to catch the beginning of a Law & Order episode [don’t ask me which variety but it starred Pvt. Pyle] which was set in the ‘tech’ world. The story, though, quickly moved beyond the use of a pringles can for wireless into torture at Gitmo and an army psychologist who decided to use the interrogation techniques on a psychotic kid in NYC. Here it was, on primetime tv, a discussion of reasons and after-effects of using torture with a doctor trying to reconcile some good out of what she practiced at Gitmo; a turbulent personality pushed over the edge by those same into murder; and a police department trying to figure out who to blame for all this.
Fast forward that same night, battling insomnia, I put in the recent movie release, The War Within. Torture again was the lynchpin that turned an ordinary Pakistani Hassan, depicted by Ayad Akhtar, into a suicide bomber. The movie opens with Hassan kidnapped off the streets of Paris by the Americans and renditioned over to the Pakistanis for years(?) of abuse and torture. His brother was killed in a riot against the Afghanistan war and the Pakistanis seem to think he had terror plans. They intend to burn those plans out of Hassan. It is in the cell that he discovers Islam … which is about all the exposition we have to this war within. Hassan becomes a suicide bomber because he is tortured. And off he goes to NYC and the Grand Central to take his revenge on the Americans. Why Hassan is not out to blow himself up inside Islamabad’s secretariat building is not addressed. It is the Pakistanis who kill his brother and Pakistanis who torture him. Why the USA? Hassan doesn’t say – neither does the film.
Perhaps the writers thought that the USA is a given as a target. Ok, fine. But, what about Islam? Is Islam just as given as a faith of vengeance? In the only direct instance of justification, Hassan lays out a verse from Surah alBaqarah [2:216]:
I am not really out to make any bigger points about jihad, just saying that the Islam in the movie is as simplistic as the devout kamikazee, Hassan, who appears to be alone in his convictions and his scars. There is no complimentary to Hassan’s faith among his friends, his local mosque preacher or even his fellow jihadists. Hassan prays. Hassan frowns on wine. Hassan frowns on his fellow jihadist’s quick decline into the corrupt morals of the American back-alleys. Where is the source of his righteousness? What motivates him.
Since Islam failed to be a sufficient motivator for the other jihadist, as far as I read the movie, Torture becomes the primary designated engine of hatred. Vengeance for what was done to him. Whatever else drives the jihadists, I think vengeance for personal affliction is the least of it. Read the profile of Shehzad Tanweer and tell me what you see. The War Within misreads what L&O makes abundantly clear: Torture does change … but it is the torturer that is made into a monster.
related: That Torture Thing.