The Australian reports,
One of the greatest living US writers has praised terrorists as “very brave people” and used drug culture slang to describe the “amazing high” suicide bombers must feel before blowing themselves up.
Kurt Vonnegut, author of the 1969 anti-war classic Slaughterhouse Five, made the provocative remarks during an interview in New York for his new book, Man Without a Country, a collection of writings critical of US President George W. Bush.
Vonnegut, 83, has been a strong opponent of Mr Bush and the US-led war in Iraq, but until now has stopped short of defending terrorism.
But in discussing his views with The Weekend Australian, Vonnegut said it was “sweet and honourable” to die for what you believe in, and rejected the idea that terrorists were motivated by twisted religious beliefs.
“They are dying for their own self-respect,” he said. “It’s a terrible thing to deprive someone of their self-respect. It’s like your culture is nothing, your race is nothing, you’re nothing.”
Before you race to condemn Vonnegut, I invite you to see Paradise Now, a new film by Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad, which “follows two Palestinian childhood friends who have been recruited for a strike on Tel Aviv and focuses on their last days together. When they are intercepted at the Israeli border and separated from their handlers, a young woman who discovers their plan causes them to reconsider their actions.”
I had the unique pleasure of seeing the film on Saturday night at the Cinematheque in Tel Aviv with Israeli artists Jack Faber and Ronen Eidelman as well as North American interloper Danielle Frank whose work is presently being exhibited in Tel Aviv as part of Three Cities Against The Wall exhibition at Beit Haomanim. (The exhibit is also appearing at ABC No Rio in NYC through December 8, and was supposed to show in Ramallah as well, but certain complications have impeded the opening.) The conversation which ensued afterwards was as intense as the film itself, to be sure.
Beautifuly shot, and revealing of a Palestine yet unknown to outsiders, Paradise Now raised a number of issues for me in its attempt to identify the source of Palestinian violence, placing its origins first and foremost in the humiliation and degradation faced daily under occupation, but in the case of the main protagonist, Said (Kais Nashef), it also emphasized his unceasing humiliation as the son of a collaborator. As a result of this portrayal, I could understand (if even still ultimately disagree that it is in entirety) that such individuals are, as Vonnegut says, “dying for their own self-respect.”
In that, this film attempts to convey the Palestinian narrative, albeit one which has, as I understand it, been unpopular with audiences in the territories. According to one Israeli Arab friend of mine involved in anti-occupation activism, Palestinian audiences allegedly find the film too sympathetic to the Israeli perspective. They are expecting a propaganda film glorifying martyrdom, he told me. Rather, it presents a very negative critique of Palestinian militancy. Audiences have not responded all too positively, and have shouted with contempt throughout screenings.
Abu-Assad remains positive, however. He told Ramallah Online, “As you know the Palestinian society is not a homogenous one, it is a very diverse. But generally, they found it to be a very honest movie. Even if Palestinians live in that context, the film is also an opportunity to raise some important questions. Some critics like Tahar Bin Jallon called the film ‘a masterpiece’ but others like Subhi Subidy called it ‘an apology for the west.'”
Frankly, I think Abu-Assad does an incredible job of building sympathy for the protagonists. In one scene, Said and his friend Khaled (Ali Suliman), both strapped with explosives, jump through a freshly cut hole in a security fence only to be ambushed by an Israeli soldier on the other side. As the soldier’s jeep pulled up, I caught myself saying, “Oh f*ck!” out of concern for the very men who would indiscriminately kill me. Ronen compared it to
Berlin Express Zentropa, in which U.S. occupying forces in Germany take on the aura of cruelty and viewers come to identify with German resisters. It was an utter mindf*ck.
The suspense was also masterful. With Said’s “finger on the trigger” for the vast majority of the film, I was on the edge of my seat throughout the screening, waiting for the final moment.
Ultimately, I don’t think the film is entirely accurate in its depiction, nor entirely fair to history: There was violence against Jews in Israel & British Mandate Palestine long before the occupation, let alone mass immigration, so you can’t, as this film does, place everything squarely on ’67 moving forward. Also, the total lack of antisemitism in the film seemed unrealistic considering the all too-familiar rhetoric seeping out of the Arab world. However I do think it’s a fantastic picture which can help those most detached from human recognition of Palestinians to gain some degree of understanding of their narrative and how they perceive of their present situation. In that, we can begin to relate, as Vonnegut does, to their suffering, and perhaps take more strident steps towards finding an amicable resolution to the conflict.