541 Post Colonialism
“Consciousness of the body is solely a negative activity”
- Franz Fanon, The Fact of Blackness (p258)
The film Paradise Now, directed by Hany Abu-Asaad, posits fundamental
questions on identity and rebellion in the diasporic postcolonial zone of Palestine‟s West
Bank. The theatrical trailer produced by Warner Brothers Independent Pictures situates
the ideology of the film in a hegemonic landscape of fragmentation. While the film
attempts to move into the “Third Space” of enunciation (Homi Bhabha), the trailer
reduces the argument to a two dimensional discussion of alterity that one cannot walk
through (Jean Genet). The liminality of a displaced person is something that even giving
voice to that person (Gayatri C. Spivak, 91) must be careful produced. An example is the
trailer for Paradise Now:
It opens with images of Nablus until the typed text; “…From the most unexpected
place [next line] comes a bold new call for peace,” as a female civilian shows a
male military guard her papers. Voice Over: “…a land forsaken by hope…a
culture searching for its place…in two extraordinary days…two life long friends
will struggle with an impossible choice”…[singing] “I had a dream” (two males
on hillside, at ease) “stood beneath an orange sky”… [v.o.]“Warner Brothers
Independent Pictures takes you to the streets of Palestine”…[singing] “with my
brother”…[v.o.]“where one moment can change the world” [singing] “brother
you know it is…sometimes, sometimes, sometimes…my mind is (male speaks: “I
want to go back!”) v.o. “Paradise Now… sometimes the most courageous act is
what you don‟t do.”
The start of the trailer begs the question what makes the Palestine location unlikely for a
“bold new call for peace?” Is it the naming of the area as “territory” by those outside of
its boundaries? Its name is an example of Orientalistism, and therefore the logic follows
that reason and humanity are unusual elements given the alterity of the Muslim people,
and especially the Palestinians. The point that being Orientalism exists, and that Said‟s
claim that Orientalism is a functioning component of discourse theory is valid. Like his
Travel Theory, ideologies are borrowed and shared, these ideas travel among the travelers.
Here the travelers are voyeurs, thereby granted access to view those they watch. They are
spectators. And like Kurtz and Marlow in Joseph Conrad‟s “Heart of Darkness,” it is
implied through the visual semantics that the viewers can not really listen to the voices.
They can not hear. They can only witness, record the sight, interpret the images based on
the Orientalism ideology, reconstruct the memories in a Gramscian model, and perpetuate
the overt objectifying of the “others” again and again. The pedantic structure of visual
and literal interpretation in this trailer correlates directly to this discourse.
The subjugation that Spivak writes of is demonstrated in the unarmed and
therefore a female without agency inspected by the armed male, further exacerbating the
ethnic and gender tension between Israel and Palestine. Though the male attempts to
impose his might, she does not flinch. She remains strong in her calm and silent
resistance, a theme she carries throughout the film.
An another example of Orientalism is the idea that “hope” is not part of the
Palestinian people, because the land does not provide it. The land biblically granted to the
Jews, yet even the Jews struggle with the possession of hope. This land has forsaken the
Palestinians. Who decides this? Who has been privy to this insight? By the tone and
lexicon used in this trailer produced by the American media corporation Warner Brothers,
certainly the Palestinian has not been counseled to this information. We, the viewers
outside of the experience, are conscious of the event, whereas those living in the
experience are tragically unaware.
“I had a dream” in the past tense suggests that history once possess opportunity
for the Palestinian people, but contemporary society is without hope. This abyss,
straddling two eternities of hope, one in the past, the other in the afterlife, is one possible
cause of the anxiety created by the Judao-Christian-European perspective. The pastoral
image of the two males wistfully glancing over the valley beyond is reminiscence of “The
City upon a Hill” speech; first in Mathew 5:14, then John Winthrop 1630, and then
eloquently phrased by Dr. Martin Luther King. Again reinforcing the ambiguity of their
place, neither there (yesterday) nor there (future).
When the voiceover states that Warner Brother Independent Pictures will “take
you (the spectator, the voyeur, the viewer) to the streets of Palestine,” it operates as a
travel narrative. This Western media machine has agency to travel, as did Marco Polo per
Dr. Calabreses‟s1 essay. Warner can bring you to the exotic, safely, in the security of
your distant perspective.
The “with my brother…where one moment can change the world…brother you
know it is…sometimes, sometimes, sometimes my mind is…” lyrics brings to mind the
modern film with George Clooney “Brother, Where Art Thou”2 based on Homer‟s
Odyssey. The impossibility of the long hard journey home after the fall of Troy echoes
the sentiment in this film “Paradise Now!” The home is the future where hope is
abundant; the past is the occupied Palestine. When Khaled shouts out “I want to go
back!” we wonder if he means retreat? Does he mean to re-submit, or does the line
suggest that he wants to try a peaceful resistance position which Suha Azzam, daughter
Between Despair and Ecstasy:
Marco Polo's Life of the Buddha , Professor Calabrese, CSU Los Angeles
O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a 2000 adventure film directed by Joel and Ethan Coen and starring George Clooney, John Turturro,
Tim Blake Nelson, John Goodman, Holly Hunter, and Charles Durning Set in 1933 Mississippi during the Great Depression, the film's
story is a modern satire loosely based on Homer‟s Odyssey. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0190590/
of the respected martyr, wants? The trailer does its final disservice by articulating that
courage is doing nothing; “sometimes the most courageous act is what you don‟t do.”
One state that the motive for Warner Brothers to package the trailer this way was
based on a capitalistic model of success, yet Edward Said‟s Orientalism theory weakens
any argument that the underling motive was anything but an imperialistic slant on the
“Other,” whereas the trailer for “The Battle of Algiers” is remarkably different. It does
not hold back the message of resistance until the oppressor occupier leaves. Both films
desire similar results: occupiers go home. Yes, “Paradise Now!” attempts to humanize the
suicide bomber, but so does “The Battle of Algiers.” Both films received awards and
critical reviews. The geography of the debate is different, in that France had openly
colonized Algiers. Israel simply took the land they wanted, with the blessing of the U.N.
and America. The structure of “The Battle of Algiers” (trailer and film) is relentless in
setting up the conflict and the fanatic pursuit of the resistors by the French paratroopers.
It does not compromise on the message; “Paradise Now!” in contrast is seemingly
sensitive to the opposing views.
Algiers struggle lasted more than a decade, and was used a model for armed
rebellion by several groups. It occurred almost fifty years ago. In contrast, “Paradise
Now!” is a recent film (2005), and the rebellion is not against a catholic European nation,
but against the “holy land” as proposed by Judao-Christians. The struggle of the Jews is
timeless, with several well documented accounts of suffering. Algiers and France is
relatively short in comparison. In the West Bank occupation the settlers have influenced
the perspective on the issue, so that it remains Christian (“Judao”) holy war against the
infidels. “Paradise Now!” met stiff resistance to its success and distribution. Zionist
Organization of America blasted the film in its 2006 press release (ZOA: Hollywood
Disgrace - 'Paradise Now,' Which Legitimizes Palestinian Suicide Bombers, Nominated
For An Oscar)3, reducing the film and its message to a pile of misconceived generalities
“Israelis are depersonalized and utterly demonized. For most of the film we see
Israelis only as soldiers: ominous, hard-eyed, helmeted, armed or in tanks. The
film betrays no understanding that there is more than one side to this tragic story ...
the film is supremely ahistorical, anti-historical, and it is also based on a series of
lies and omissions” (Phyllis Chesler, FrontPageMag.com, November 1, 2005).
“Propagandistic ... whitewashes Palestinian suicide bombing” (Daniel Pipes, New
York Sun, November 15, 2005).
“... we find it unlikely a film delving into the inner struggles of the terrorists who
brought down the World Trade Center or who murdered in London, Madrid,
Baghdad or Bali will be produced, let alone showered with the same accolades.
The reception accorded Paradise Now reinforces the impression that, in the
current global struggle against Islamist terrorism, our blood is somehow not as red
as everyone else‟s” (Jerusalem Post, editorial, January 17, 2006)
“It is an extremely dangerous piece of work, not only for Israel and the Middle
East but the whole world. This movie delivers the message that suicide bombings
are legitimate tactics for those who feel they have exhausted all other means of
resistance ... Awarding such a movie as „Paradise Now‟ only implicates the
Hollywood Foreign Press Association in the evil chain of terror that attempts to
justify these horrific acts” (Yossi Zur, Washington Jewish Week, January 26,
Now what strikes me is the absence of dialogue on the issue of occupation itself. It
sidesteps the real discussion and slides into victimizing itself:
ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said, “It is disgraceful that a film that so
badly distorts the truth behind Palestinian suicide bombing has been honored with
awards and nominations. This film completely omits the pathological hatred of
Jews, Judaism and Israel that permeates life in the Palestinian Authority ever
since it was set up in 1994. Palestinians are fed a steady diet of incitement to
hatred and murder and glorification of suicide death in the PA media, mosques,
schools and youth camps.
ZOA: Hollywood Disgrace - 'Paradise Now,' Which Legitimizes Palestinian Suicide Bombers, Nominated For An Oscar
In contrast, the interview in Newsweek4 during the same year gave room for Hany Abu-
Asaad to further the discussion on the intent of the film, and the direction he is hoping
international dialogue may take. Abu-Asaad describes the difficulty in filming on
location near or in Israel; he details the arduous task of tackling a controversial subject
matter (as seen by the West and Israel); he chronicles the debate on tactics of resistance,
never siding with one over the other, rather focusing on solutions not bigotry:
I don't believe that the film will change the situation or that the situation will
change the film. But there is greater urgency now: the right wing in Israel is the
equivalent of Hamas. One is the occupier, the other is fighting occupation, but
they are both focused on raw power. One says: "I am powerful, you must listen to
me." The other says, "I have the power to create chaos." Most people in Palestine
and in Israel don't feel like they are a part of this game; they are being dragged
along—and they are worried. But whatever has happened, I still believe one thing:
to create peace, a comprehensive and lasting peace, involves creating a place for
both sides, as equals, and to accept the principle that Israelis and Palestinians have
an equal right to the land. The second step is to figure out who is responsible for
creating peace. Israel, with its control of the money and the land, is responsible
for that. They have the land, so they must share the land. This is the main thing,
and I think most Israelis accept it. The rest—Sharon in a coma, Hamas in
power—is peanuts in the big picture.
Why was the marketing so different? Why were the films structured thematically so
diametrically different? It may be more fundamental than theoretical. Though the issues
of postcolonialism are obviously present in both, the religious schism may account for
more. “Permission to narrate” indicates the need of the Palestinian people to voice their
position against the mythological narrative that the Zionist nation promulgates. When I
read these views by Said I questioned how deep did then still waters of Judao-Christianity
run? The position of the revolutionary leader for the people is revered long after history
has rewritten it. Patrick Henry‟s claim “Give me liberty or give me death!” is somewhat
like that of Said and Kaled, or Jamal:
“Defending Paradise, The director of the most controversial Oscar nominee examines his film's impact.”
Newsweek Web Exclusive, Mar 3, 2006 http://www.newsweek.com/id/47259
Said asks Khaled: "Are we doing the right thing?"
Khaled replies, "Of course. In one hour we will be in Paradise. Under occupation,
we are already dead."
Said asks, "Is there no other way to stop them?"
Jamail states "Death is better than inferiority,"
The use of their bodies as weapons refers back to the veil, and unveiling. The
campaign to remove the veil is well documented by Fanon in “Unveiled.” How the battle
is constructed opens up the power structure and agenda of the unveiling campaign. “If we
want to destroy the structure of Algerian society [true objective], its capacity for
resistance, we must first of all conquer the women; we must go and find them behind the
veil where they hide themselves and in the houses where the men keep them out of sight”
(Fanon 38). In “Paradise Now!” bodies are used the same.
"Our bodies are all we have left to fight with against the never-ending
occupation," Said says. The same might be said of Native Americans in the U.S. Their
land was taken from them by an invading force which possessed overwhelming power,
and successful resistance was unimaginable. They do not now engage in suicidal
resistance to retake their land, because it would cost lives and gain nothing. It is this
Christian perspective of evaluating the odds of winning and then deciding. The
Palestinians, as the Algerians, did not think that way. The unveiling, the use of the
colonized body against the colonizer was/is a legitimate tactic. The Israeli‟s use of force
against the Palestinians‟ body is documented by Kaled. “During the first intifada, Israelis
broke into the house," Kaled states. "They let him choose which leg he wanted to keep.
He chose the right. I would have chosen both, rather than be so humiliated."
The politics of the use of the body is dynamic here. There are several historic
cases of sacrifice for the glory of the team, the war battalion, and even Christ on the cross.
Why is the use of the body by the suicide bomber seen so radically different? The rules of
war are created as the violence escalates. Water boarding which was outlawed decades
ago, banished by Presidents and rulers, and was brought back at Guantanamo Bay
detention facility in Cuba. The torture of the body to gain a superior position was
photographed at Abu Ghraib in Irag. The value of the body and human life is signified by
Said: "A life without dignity is worthless, especially if it reminds you, day after day, of
humility and weakness." Contrast that with what Jesus said in Mathew 5:11, "Blessed are
you when men revile you and persecute you," certainly suggests that the art of revolt is
nuanced. I wonder why Suha offers her view on this, "Resistance can take many
forms…We must accept that we have no military power, in order to find other forms of
Just what that resistance will look like does depend on the force of the occupier,
and the intelligence of the resistance. Said implied that the occupier dictates how the
resister operates. I think that the context of the resistance has a great deal to do with the
dynamics of the revolution. The Red Coats had to sail to America; Napoleon had to sail
to Haiti; the French had to fly to Algiers, and Israel has to only build more settlements.
Colonial Discourse and Post colonial Theory: A Reader, eds. Patrick Williams and Laura
Chrisman. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.
…Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak “Can the Subaltern Speak?” 66-111
Heart of Darkness: An Authoritative Text, Background and Sources, Criticism. A Norton
Critical Edition. 4th edition (2005). Ed. Paul B. Armstrong.
Bayoumi, Moustafa, and Rubin, Ed. The Edward Said Reader. New York: Vintage, 2000.
Bhabha, Homi K. The Commitment to Theory: Cultural Diversity and Cultural
Differences. New Formations 5, 1988.
Fanon, Franz. A Dying Colonialism. Trans. Chevalier , Haakon. New York: Grove, 1963
Paradise Now (dir. Hany Abu-Asaad)
The Battle of Algiers (dir. Gillo Pontecorvo)