Yesterday a pal and I saw George Clooney’s Syriana, newly out on DVD. I love George Clooney, and knew how committed he’d been to the making of this film, and was looking forward to seeing it…but, alas, I didn’t become as emotionally engaged in the story as I thought I would; maybe I’ve reached the point of jadedness where the premise of the movie – the mutually self-serving, cynical collusion between governments, big business and the various underworlds that operate under the radar of polite society -- no longer holds any shock or surprise value.
For me, though, the most memorable and disturbing part of Syriana was the subplot involving two young Arab men who’d become radicalized by their ill-treatment at the hands of an Arab dictatorship supported by the U.S., and wound up in a madrassa, a fundamentalist Islamic school, where they were trained to become suicide bombers. Now, if this had been a big-budget, lowbrow film, the head of the madrassa would have come right out of the Villain department of Central Casting – the Middle Eastern equivalent of a black-hatted, mustachio-twirling scofflaw. Instead he was portrayed as quiet, friendly, compelling, morally unambiguous and sincerely pious; honestly, scenes of his interaction with the two young men reminded me of Jesus as depicted in biblical epics like The Greatest Story Ever Told.
It was a sobering reminder that sincere, devout people who truly believe they’re carrying out the will of God can do very, very, very bad things to other human beings – crimes as bad as the most amoral and self-serving among us are capable of committing. So whenever we’re tempted to play the Good Us Vs. Evil Them game, we need to reality-check ourselves and our own capacity for hate and hurt.