Tag Archives: political assassinations

Breaking Modern Essay: Sony Hackers: Hollywood Crossed the Line

Originally published at Breaking Modern:

The as yet unidentified hackers who broke into Sony Entertainment’s incompetently protected servers have provoked a lawsuit filed by former employees angered by the company’s lack of security, a cluster of gossipy news stories about the quality of the next James Bond film and Angelina Jolie’s professional relationships, and a media ethics debate over whether publishing emails, salary information, movie scripts and other leaked material is effectively aiding and abetting the cyber thieves.

Now a New York movie theater has canceled a showing of Sony’s newest movie in response to a terrorist threat issued by the hackers.

What nobody’s talking about seems like the biggest story of all: the possible motivation of the self-styled “Guardians of Peace.”

Suspicion immediately fell upon North Korea due to the hackers’ complaints about an upcoming film, “The Interview,” which stars James Franco and Seth Rogan. “How bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to,” one communiqué declared, referring to the movie’s plot, about assassinating North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un.

For what it’s worth, the government of North Korea has officially denied involvement. Seth Rogan believes them. “There’s no way it’s them’ because it seems too savvy of Hollywood politics.”

Regardless of the identity of the hackers, one question worth exploring is: has Hollywood crossed the line?

Political assassination plots are nothing new for American films. Based on the Frederick Forsyth spy novel, the 1973 thriller “The Day of the Jackal” showcased the scheming of a man who tried to kill French president Charles de Gaulle during the 1960s. But the movie came out after de Gaulle had already died of old age.

inglorious-basterdsThe Quentin Tarantino revenge fantasy “Inglorious Basterds” depicts something that plainly didn’t happen, the arson and machine-gun killing of Adolf Hitler in a French movie theater. And anyway, that was Hitler, only the worst guy ever.

“The gory killing of a sitting foreign leader is new territory for a big studio movie,” Jeanine Basinger, professor of film studies at Wesleyan University, told the New York Times.

It’s kind of fascinating that the American press hasn’t been able to put itself in the shoes of North Koreans, enough of whom obviously support their leader to the extent that he continues to enjoy the tacit consent of the governed.

Imagine, if you can, how Americans would respond – even conservative Republicans – if, say, Iran, Russia, or some other political rival of the United States were to produce a motion picture depicting the violent assassination of President Obama. Many Americans would view such a film, even if it was marketed as a comedy as “The Interview” is, as something just short of an act of war.

Here in the United States, threatening the life of the president is a serious felony punishable by up to five years in federal prison. Why wouldn’t we expect other countries to take the threat against their leaders seriously too?

Americans don’t get that the citizens of other countries are just as patriotic as we are. Just like us, people in other nations don’t like it when we disrespect their leaders.

Not long ago, everyone, including the United States government, understood that treating heads of state disrespectfully exposed everyone’s leaders to the same treatment. Under international law and tradition heads of state have been considered immune from prosecution. Even when the US deposed an unfriendly leader in a coup d’état, such as when Jean-Claude Duvalier fled Haiti in 1986, they facilitated his comfortable exile in places like the French Riviera.

It was the United States that broke this understanding between nations.

It began in 1989, with George Herbert Walker Bush’s overthrow of Panamanian President Manuel Noriega. The first Bush administration treated Noriega like a common criminal, trumping up dubious drug possession charges (a “110-pound” stash of cocaine found in his compound turned out to be tamales wrapped in banana leaves), kidnapping him to face charges in the United States on barely discernible legal grounds, and then sentencing him to two decades in a federal prison.

More recently, Bush the second boxed in former US client dictator Saddam Hussein, refusing to fly him out of Iraq, signed off on a ridiculous show trial conducted by his political enemies and then delivered him from U.S. custody to be unceremoniously hanged to death – while cell phone video cameras rolled – in 2006. Saddam went out looking classy – “Down with the invaders!” he shouted repeatedly before his death — the U.S., not so much.

Then there was the 2011 killing of Colonel Moammar Qaddafi. Again, the United States didn’t leave the Libyan dictator a way out. Instead, NATO fighter jets and an American drone bombed his convoy, causing him to fall into the hands of opposition forces, who killed him.

Given this recent history, it isn’t surprising that Americans don’t see the big deal about a silly comedy movie fantasizing about killing a man they see as a silly neo-Stalinist dictator. But isn’t this just another case of American exceptionalism?

We see the world one way.

No one else agrees with us.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Osama bin Laden’s Ultimate Victory

Culturally Clueless and Politically Tonedeaf, U.S. Gave Bin Laden the Martyrdom He Craved

The assassination of Osama bin Laden was masterfully orchestrated to appeal to American media consumers. But it will play poorly overseas.

President Obama’s Sunday evening announcement, timed to fill Monday’s papers with a sickening orgy of gleeful triumph but little information, prompted bipartisan high-fives and hoots all around. “U-S-A! U-S-A!” chanted a mob of drunken oafs in front of the White House. Blending the low satire of two Bush-era classic send-ups of a nation allergic to self-reflection, “Team America: World Police” and “Idiocracy,” they set the tone for a week or a month or whatever of troop-praising, God-blessing-America, frat-boy self-backslapping. “So that’s what success looks like,” wrote New York Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley in the paper’s special ten-page “The Death of Bin Laden” pull-out section.

Success for Obama, certainly. He’ll see a much-needed bump in the polls. But it won’t last. Eventually the unemployed will wonder why the president devotes so many resources to killing one man but so little to them.

On the geopolitical front, the CIA’s ballyhooed Bin Laden takedown operation couldn’t possibly have been handled any worse. The War on Terror, if it ever existed, is a war for the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions of Muslims.

Remember?

It’s about them. Not us.

“Bin Laden wanted to die as a martyr. In this sense, his wish was obliged,” notes Stephen Diamond in Psychology Today.

You betcha.

Nothing was more important to Osama than to be seen as a brave soldier in an epic clash of civilizations. Claims that he hardly saw combat during the anti-Soviet resistance of the 1980s hurt him. The soft son of a Saudi billionaire and a former mother’s boy, Osama wanted to prove himself.

This past weekend, thanks to Navy Seals, he did. He went out in a blaze of glory, like Scarface. His status as a martyr, as a legend of jihad, is assured.

Yet another screw-up for the U.S., which fell into Bin Laden’s trap after 9/11. To Al Qaeda and other Islamist groups, the United States and the West is enemy #2. Their biggest foe is pro-American Muslim dictators and autocrats, and the apathy and indifference among Muslims that allows them to remain in power.

As with most actions carried out by small terrorist groups against enemies with superior manpower and weaponry, the operations attributed to Bin Laden—the bombings of the U.S. embassies in east Africa in 1998 and the U.S.S. Cole in 2000, and 9/11—were intended to provoke the U.S. into overreacting, thus exposing it as the monster he said it was. The invasions of two Muslim countries, Guantánamo, torture, Abu Ghraib, the secret prisons and disappearances and all the rest neatly fit into Osama Bin Laden’s narrative, proving his point more succinctly than a zillion fatwas faxed into Al Jazeera.

Everything about Bin Laden’s killing squares with the jihadi narrative.

The operation violated the sovereignty of a Muslim country, a constant complaint of radical jihadis. Armed commandos lawlessly invaded Pakistan. Infidel soldiers shot up a house and crashed a helicopter down the street from a military academy. Pakistanis see American drone planes buzzing around overhead, invading their airspace without the thinnest veneer of legality; American missiles blow up houses indiscriminately. Taking out Bin Laden without asking Pakistan’s government for permission is an act of war to which the country’s poverty permits no response. It’s yet another humiliation, another triumph of might over right.

Much will be made of the disrespectful treatment of Bin Laden’s body.

In an echo of Bush’s selection of Guantánamo as a extraterritorial not-U.S.-not-foreign no man’s land, the Obama Administration claimed that it buried Bin Laden at sea because it couldn’t find a country to accept his body within the required 24 hours after death, and to avoid the possibility that his grave would become a shrine for Muslim extremists. However, Bin Laden’s Wahhabi sect of Islam allows neither shrines nor burial at sea.

Of course, few Americans care about respecting Muslim religious sensibilities. So this decision went over well in the States. Countless editorial cartoons depicted sharks feasting on the carcass of the Bogeyman of the Twin Towers.

But it will inflame Muslim purists. Worse than that, dumping Osama into the Indian Ocean feeds an image the United States would be smart to shake, of a superpower hell-bent on occupying Muslim lands, stealing their oil and trashing their religion.

On the hearts-and-minds front, Americans’ chest-thumping is a PR disaster.

“Rot in Hell,” blared the headline of the New York Daily News. “Justice has been done,” pundits and politicians claimed—a strange endorsement of extrajudicial assassination by a nation based on the rule of law.

“Triumphalism and unapologetic patriotism are in order,” wrote Eugene Robinson for The Washington Post. “We got the son of a bitch.”

Classy.

Islam teaches combatants to respect their enemies. The death of an opponent is tragic, sometimes a tragic necessity, but never trivial, never a subject for joking. A vanquished enemy should be dispatched quickly, presumably to be chastised by Allah for his wickedness in the afterlife, but he is never to be mocked. A Muslim should not enjoy war or combat, nor gloat when victorious. When the powerful crush the weak, as was the case with the U.S. killing of Bin Laden, dancing around like a beefy hunk of steroids spiking the football at the touchdown line makes one look small.

It also makes us look dumb. As anyone not drunk on bloodlust knows, the worst thing that could have happened to Osama Bin Laden would have been arrest followed by a fair trial.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL