Someone Call the Police

A new  movie of interest to MediaShack readers:

The new Ridley Scott thriller “Body of Lies,” which opens Friday, tells the story of a fictional collaboration between the CIA and Jordan’s secret police. While Hollywood may romanticize Jordan’s intelligence service, the facts, according to numerous reports, are more brutal than shown on the big screen.

Based on the novel “Penetration” by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, “Body of Lies” tells the story of a CIA operative played by Leonardo DiCaprio who attempts to infiltrate and destroy an Al Qaeda cell with the assistance of Hani Salaam, the fictional head of the General Intelligence Department (GID), or mukhabarat in Arabic.

Mr. Ignatius describes Mr. Salaam as an Arab-world James Bond: good looking, cool, and too savvy to use “inefficient” methods like torture. But international observers say the real GID is a far cry from its depiction in art.

Early in 2008, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published the results of interviews with more than a dozen former detainees who said they were tortured in GID custody. On Wednesday, the group issued a new report, alleging widespread torture in Jordan’s regular prisons – particularly among Islamists convicted of national security crimes.

Is this glorifying torture?  I think its more complicated than this and a general distinction needs to be made between public perceptions of  “the Police” and the Intel- or State Security.  
In many Arab  countries, the Spy Agencies, which are seen as protecting the state,  are very prestigious and have wide public respect.  Some not so nice things probably happen but they happen in secrecy so they are less visible.   This is not merely semantics- people actually make a distinction.  For example,  the most popular Ramadan television show ever in the Arab world is a hard-core romanticization of  Egypt’s Spy Agencies- Rafaat_Al-Hagen.  Its supposedly a true story about a young Egyptian who went to Israel (as a spy) to set up a tourism company in the initial years after Israel’s independence.  Today,  Omar Suleiman, the head of Egyptian Intelligence,  has enormous prestige and many consider him a future Presidential candidate.  He wouldn’t be in that position if his agency was hated or disliked.

On the other hand, what would be considered “police misconduct” in the US, is mostly happening at the hands of the Police, not State Security.   So Arab police forces, in general, have a bad reputation, although this may be partially because they are more visible.  Of course, these are generalizations.  But I think we can say that the Spy Agencies are widely respected and seen as James Bond-esque, whereas the Police have major PR issues.  If Decaprio made a film glorifying Arab police forces then I would be highly suspicious.  

One last thing, the fact that this movie is based on a David Ignatious book  gives it more credibility.  He knows what he is talking about when it comes to Intelligence.  Read  Agents_of_Innocence an awesome book on Lebanon, the PLO, and the CIA.

5 Responses

  1. I do not know about you, but I am insulted by the insinuation of many article like this where we state the “other” intelligence agencies of the world torture, but we do not. I guess we merely maim. I wish people would stop being so ignorant to the world around them. I don’t know about you, but I do not consider Hollywood a good resource or account of anything, including itself. I will not be watching this movie. You?

  2. good point but I dont think its unfair to say that the US does less of the dirty stuff probably than other country in the world.

    as for the movie, I wont be planning my weekends specifically around seeing it. but there’s probably a 50% chance i’ll see it.

  3. i actually was excited to see this movie, but it sucked
    they clearly made an effort to get a lot of details right, they even got leonardo decaprio to say shaku maku and his friend to answer maku shi
    they make it seem as if jordanian intelligence is independent of the US, and that jordanian intelligence officials can say no to american CIA officials, or lie to them, or boss them around, or be rude to them, or even kick them out of jordan, when jordanian intelligence, like all of jordan, is owned by the US
    the main terrorist leader al salim is played by an israeli actor, he played an israeli intelligence guy in the movie ‘spartan.’ anyway, he’s a sunni but at the end of the movie when he has captured decaprio he suddenly appears dressed like a shiite cleric, and a seyid no less, which was hard to figure out
    decpario falls in love with an iranian nurse in jordan, which was hard to figure out and she greets him with a ‘salamu aleikum’ when she comes in to give him an injection, which seemed very formal, but the best part is she was called ‘aisha,’ which seems as unlikely as a bunch of iranians living in jordan is, except if she escaped from iran because she was called aisha, but anyway they never explain why they suddenly insert an iranian into the film
    then, in jordan of all places, he goes on a date with her and sits and has tea with her in one of those tea places where only old men sit, and the waiter is rude to him because he’s white
    decaprio is actually shown living in an apartment in samara in the beginning of the movie, and the only disguise is a beard, which makes him look like a white guy with a beard, in samara, where any stranger would be in trouble, let alone a white guy with an apartment
    i guess because they filmed in morroco they made iraq and jordan look much rockier and mountainous than they are
    there are a few of those wise lines in there about arabs and arab culture, the usual aphorisms that apply to any culture but are uttered as if they’re keys that unlock a secret
    every woman in the movie is wearing a hijab
    people are shown riding camels in syria, or jordan
    funny, they also identify qatar as being in the ‘persian gulf,’ which i bet the qataris would love
    according to bissane (el sheikh), a recurring theme in the movie is that nobody is innocent and everybody is a suspect and you cant trust anybody, but the important part is that nobody is innocent, so its ok to ruin the lives of innocent arabs
    russel crowe is a racist asshole in the movie but he comes across as the one who knows what he’s doing and is keeping the US safe while decaprio in the end is sort of made to seem naive and emotional because he likes the middle east in some way
    a girl in a cafe in jordan says ‘shukran jazilan,’ which you’d never hear there, but thats not really as big a deal
    i just dont understand why they had an iranian girl called aisha working as a nurse in jordan

  4. Nir, thanks for your comments about the movie. ill keep them in mind if i get around to wacthing it. and keep up the outstanding reporting.

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