early April, a group of students at the college
where I teach held a weeklong seminar on the plight
of Palestinians in the occupied territories. One
of the most moving events was a documentary film,
"Ana's Children," about a woman who had
fought to create the state of Israel and, later
in life, established a theater where Palestinian
children could learn techniques of acting. These
children lived in a refugee camp, and while the
film was being made Israeli bulldozers demolished
one of their houses.
The camera zooms in on a small boy, obviously in
shock, sitting on a heap of rubble. What will he
and his family do now? Where will they go? How will
they live? And why did the Israeli military destroy
Ana and her son devote their lives to children living
in a war zone. It is clear that they love these
children, and the children love them. But it is
also clear that love does not conquer the fear,
anxiety, frustration, and rage these kids feel.
We watch them grow into adolescence, then into adulthood,
and it becomes increasingly clear that they are
trapped inside of, and without hope of ever escaping
from, a miserable refugee camp. Finally, we learn
that Ana's children fought and most of them died
in the second Intifada.
Watching this documentary, I thought about the many
ways in which the American and British media sought
to demonize Irish Republicans. I remembered stupid
Hollywood films like "The Boxer" and "The
Crying Game" in which members of the IRA were
portrayed as mafia-type thugs who enjoyed torturing
and killing other human beings. I recalled conversations
with people after I returned from N. Ireland where
I'd served as an international observer. "But
what about the IRA?" they asked. "What
about them?" I replied? Apparently, I was obligated
to reinforce the propaganda, the misinformation,
and the ridiculous stereotypes that our media fed
us about those who dared to resist British imperialism.
In short, I was supposed to say that members of
the IRA were demons.
In our post 9/11 world it is even more convenient
to turn human beings into demons. In the context
of the so-called "war on terror," anyone
who dares to take up arms against their oppressors
is a demon. Palestinians who resist the Israeli
army when its soldiers enter their towns and refugee
camps, firing randomly, destroying houses, killing
women and children, are terrorists. Young Irish
men and women who resisted Britain's right to arrest,
torture, and assassinate Irish people were, according
to those who wish to revise history, terrorists.
Politicians in South America who resist the Bush
Administration's efforts to colonize the world must
be turned into demons in order to build support
for right-wing coups in those countries. In recent
weeks, Iran has risen to the top of the empire's
demon list. And, of course, the "insurgents"
in Iraq are portrayed as demons who must be tortured
and killed in order to create a "genuine democracy".
The beauty of films like "Ana's Children,"
is that we get to see what happens to children who
watch an occupying army bulldoze their houses, beat
and torment their friends and family, torture and
kill innocent people. In the United States, we have
the ironic luxury of imagining that we would never
resort to violence, no matter how much violence
might be inflicted upon us. Our own government might
invade Afghanistan and Iraq, it might keep hundreds
of people in prison camps without charging them
with a crime, it might torture suspected insurgents,
and it might support governments that terrorize
people in the name of peace, but we the people do
not pick up the gun ourselves and, therefore, we
are innocent bystanders.
After the last heart breaking scene in "Ana's
Children," a faculty member led a discussion
during which students said that Palestinian mothers
should stop teaching their children to hate, that
Palestinians need bowling alleys and supermarkets,
and that people living in the occupied territories
must learn how to express their anger without resorting
to violence. My own response to this great film
is that we Americans ought to stop demonizing those
who fight against oppression, and start asking ourselves
what we might have done if we'd grown up in an impoverished
Catholic neighborhood in Belfast during the Troubles;
what we might do now if we lived in a squalid Palestinian
camp, if an occupying army came into our homes,
beat our parents, threatened to take our brothers
and sisters off to torture chambers.
Perhaps the real question is why it's so convenient
to blame the victims of violence, and even to turn
them into demons, rather than trying to understand
why human beings are willing to risk prison, torture,
and death in order to drive imperialists and occupiers
from their homelands.