Sunday, October 15, 2006

Remembering Gillo Pontecorvo

Gillo Pontecorvo just died. He was the filmmaker who made The Battle of Algiers. This is a good opportunity to think about the film. When I first watched the film, I didn’t really understand it. It didn’t show exactly that terrorism works (the terror cells are eventually destroyed by the French). It likewise doesn’t exactly endorse the brutal counter-terror methods of the French because in the end, they lose, too.

Now that we are living through an age of terrorism, I think I understand The Battle of Algiers better. Terrorism and torture are mirror images—acts that make monsters of their perpetrators. They are, tragically, tactics that encourage each other. We Americans—like the French in Algiers—have fallen into a moral trap by responding to terror with torture. Al Zawahiri also fell into a trap of responding to torture with terror years earlier.

I recoil from moral equivalency—it is a technique always used by the guilty to basically say “Everybody does it!” And the 9-11 terrorists were monstrous and evil, almost beyond my ability to conceive. But America’s response has been to become a torture state…

See The Battle of Algiers—it’s a powerful and timely work. Also read Lawrence Wenchler’s A Miracle, A Universe: Settling Accounts With Torturers.

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