Notes from a small island
A weblog by Jonathan Ali

Sunday, March 30, 2003  

This morning I watched the film Big Night for about the tenth time. Whenever it's on cable I watch it. It's a brilliant film, and never loses its savour; the more I see it, the more I get from it. It tells the story of two Italian brothers in 1950s New Jersey, trying to run a little restaurant. They serve authentic north Italian cuisine; the elder brother, Primo, who is the chef, wouldn't have it any other way and refuses to water down the menu for philistine American palates. The younger brother, Secundo, is the pragmatic businessman, and despairs that they will go under. On the verge of losing the restaurant to the bank, the brothers decide to host a lavish banquet for the jazz bandleader Louie Prima, in the hopes that it will get them notices in the press and help keep their establishment, and their American dream, going.

Watching Big Night this morning I found myself thinking about America, and the war in Iraq, the war on terrorism, and the general American outlook since 9/11. Despite GW Bush's assurances that current actions do not constitute a war on Islam, or Arabs, millions worldwide and in America itself see it otherwise. And because they do, or simply because they are Muslim, or Arab, or just differ in any way from the general American view, they're seen as the enemy. "The new Jews", as Bina put it recently.

But the vast majority aren't the enemy. They're peaceful human beings who want the same as everyone, to live peacefully and pray to their God and carry out their practices. Even as immigrants, seeking a better life, or fleeing hardship, that's all they want - most, at any rate. A lot of the people who say the US and the British are bringing democracy to Iraq - an action that I am not opposed to in theory - don't seem to understand the complexities of the situation, of the thousands of years of history and culture that are at play here. No wonder they're miffed and frustrated that the Iraqis aren't rising up and welcoming the "liberation". (Indeed, now with the suicide missions, it seems quite the opposite.) It isn't as simple as that. A proud people with a proud past, with traditions, rituals, philosophies, ways of doing and being that must be taken into account beforehand.

Just as Primo refuses to compromise his beliefs and values, declaring that he would rather die than suffer the humiliation of debasing his craft for American tastes, so to the people of Iraq, and many others who help constitute the "Them" of GW Bush's lopsided equation, will not be dictated to. A free, democratic Iraq? Yes, I'm all for that. But is this the way to go about it? No. Undoubtedly the current invasion will end with the removal of Saddam Hussein, but it may well be that the victory will prove to be a pyrrhic one.

posted by Jonathan | 3:53 PM 0 comments


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