"Over There"

Had the 1972 Munich Olympics hostage crisis lasted three months, it would have been unthinkable for U.S. TV to start airing, on the seventh day, a series that mimicked the real-life drama that was taking place in the Olympic village. All the more so if the series had painted the Palestinian hostage-takers in a favorable light, while it contrasted “good Israelis” with “bad Israelis” and focused on stereotypical anti-Semitic Jewish traits.

It’s not difficult to imagine the uproar that the airing of such a series would have provoked in the U.S. and Europe. Thousands of protesters would have taken to the street to voice their condemnation of what they would have described as “a vile exploitation of a human tragedy for monetary and propagandist gains”.

That’s what I felt as I watched the first episode of the TV series “Over There”. It depicted the tribulations of a troupe of American soldiers as they went from one crisis situation to another during their stint in Iraq. Thrown-in for good measure in this episode were the travails of a mother whose husband was deployed inIraq while she had to struggle with the injustice meted upon her early-teens son by the American educational system. Another character represented a blonde, blue-eyed pretty female marine who went AWOL upon returning home from Iraq. Her first exploit was to beat the daylight out of an evil-looking, curly dark-haired Middle-Easterner who tried to accost her in the lobby of her motel, though not before telling him: “I think I killed your cousin in Iraq.” Immediately after that, she was seduced in the shower by another blonde, blue-eyed female prostitute who then robbed her of all her money before leaving her to wake up alone in bed.

Meanwhile, the Arabs of Iraq were shown in stark Hollywood black&white fashion: on the one hand, the men were depicted as gruff, socially ultra-conservative, and stubbornly regressive in their treatment of women; on the other, the episode gave us a beautiful young Iraqi woman who somehow turned out to be the wife of an old “sheikh”, the religious leader of the village. At a highly improbable village meeting where Iraqi men and women mingled freely, the sheikh was asked what he wanted the American pipeline company to build for his village in return for allowing the pipeline to go through (i.e. by promising not to blow it up occasionally). The white-bearded Sheikh insisted that it be a mosque. His young, wife, egged on by the unsympathetic company engineer, voiced her preference that the company build a school. Her husband immediately declared her to be a heathen and led the village in trying to stone her, only for her to be saved by the chivalrous American GIs.

And since this is definitely a three-handed, five-legged, bi-cephalus monster of a series, we have the sympathetic GIs cast in roles designed to project the best humane face possible: the most likable, the most sympathetic bunch of “non-killers” you could ever hope to meet. Except I suppose when they are attacked by crazed Iraqi Arab fundamentalist Muslims.

Interestingly, American TV did not exploit the Vietnam war in similar fashion. An article dedicated to Vietnam-related TV series on the site of the Museum of Broadcast Communicates states: “During the war itself (the Vietnam war) was virtually never touched in television fiction-except, of course, in disguised form on M*A*S*H.” This all changed with “Magnum, P.I.” in 1980. ” Before 1980, Vietnam vets were “often portrayed as unstable and socially marginal”. After 1980, the Vietnam “veteran emerged as a hero.” Veterans were thereafter respectable enough to become “central characters in television fiction”. And with the advent of political correctness applied unequally, it became uncouth to utilize theretofore certain stereotypical villain-types. But what’s a series or movies to do without a villain? And where to find one? Enter one hundred million Arabs and more than a billion Muslims.

A two-minute part of a single episode in a TV series, judged to be “anti-Semitic” by B’nai Brith, would have provoked a hurricane of denunciations. Why are Arab-Americans not reacting similarly to a whole TV series that depicts them in such a negative light, and exploits the tragedy of the Iraqi people while their blood is still flowing in the streets of Baghdad, Ramadi, Falluja, and Tal Afar? Where are the ADC press campaigns and protest rallies?

To whom will Arab Americans turn when large numbers of them are hounded, en masse, into the concentration camps currently being built by Halliburton’s subsidiary KBR, after the next spectacular Al-Qaeda attack against the fatherland?

Preposterous? Think again. The Bush administration’s disinformation campaign, reinforced by the corporate media machine is so powerful, that a recent Zogby poll found that 85 per cent of U.S. soldiers in Iraq believe they are there “to retaliate for Saddam’s role in the 9/11 attacks”, a result Zogby himself described as “bewildering”.

As for “Over There”, boycott it.

RACHARD ITANI can be reached at: racharitani@yahoo.com