Monday, January 26, 2009

Worth Watching

Last night Martha and I watched "The Kingdom."

It is about an FBI investigation team that travels to Saudi Arabia to investigate an incident where the employee compound of a multi-national (but I suspect primarily American) oil company is attacked by terrorists during a softball game. The housing area is shot up by two of the attackers, and a third blows himself up in the middle of the softball field, killing a number of people. During the initial response, an FBI special agent who is on the ground calls the main character of the story (played by Jamie Foxx who, in my opinion, is excellent in this role) and is relaying what has happened when a second blast, more powerful than the first, goes off and destroys much of what is in the immediate area and kills him, as well as many other people on scene.

The very beginning of the movie is attention getting just by itself. It starts with a narrative and timeline of how the Saudi nation was established, a brief history of the fighting that went on immediately afterward between the Wahabi (a strict fundamentalist "denomination" of Islam that wants to see their culture and society return to its foundations - a step nearly 500 years into the past) and the ruling Saudi state, how the United States and Great Britain got involved in Saudi affairs, and events all the way up to the present day with al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. During the story, there are scenes where the main character and his counterpart, a Saudi Colonel who is assigned to ensure the team's safety, spends time with his family while the main character is communicating via the Web with his young son. There are also some extremely bloody close combat scenes that are reminiscient of "Black Hawk Down" in the level of violence portrayed.

Although not a true story, it was inspired by a couple of events: the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996 and the Riyadh Compound bombing in 2003. When those incidents occurred the FBI ran into much the same sort of issues that were portrayed in the screenplay: political unwillingness to offend Saudi sensibilities (such as they are) and lack of cooperation by the Saudis for the FBI team to participate in the investigation - in the screenplay initially they were only allowed to "observe" the collecting and processing of evidence at the bombing scene.

Regardless of one's feelings about whether or not Saudi Arabia should be considered an American "ally" in the war on terror, I believe this movie is worth watching. First, it is a really powerful story, and technically I think it's pretty accurate in terms of how the roles of various official characters are portrayed. Second, and maybe more importantly, the message of the movie is actually pretty chilling: at the end, both the main character and the grandson of the main antagonist (a boy of maybe age 11) utter the same phrase: "we will kill them all."

As I said, I thought this was pretty unnerving in its own right.

That, by itself, says to me that this so-called war on terror we are in the midst of is not a war of nations or cultures: it is personal. Every single person who is exposed to the viciousness of this whole mess is affected in a way that is personal to them - nobody else can share their experience or the way they have to deal with it. But that could be said about any war, I suppose. Look at the example of the Nazi death camps and how both those who survived and the troops who found and liberated them dealt with their common experience. I certainly think the argument could be successfully made that this experience was personal to each of these individuals. For those that are still alive, it's a burden that they probably each still carry, and they will until they die.

I truly believe that.


Michael Morse said...

Me too. I watched The Kingdom not knowing what to expect, turned out to be as good as you describe.

I'm glad to hear the wound is getting better, keep getting well!

TOTWTYTR said...

Make no mistake, we are in the middle of a truce of convenience with the Saudis. They fund terror organizations, including Al Qaeda, while professing to be our friends.

Only recently, when they could no longer maintain the fiction that the violence inside their country was the work of non Muslim outsiders, have they taken to doing anything about the Wahabists in their midst.

At some point, one culture is going to have to give in to another. In much of the world, it's western culture that seems to be losing, but the tide may still turn.