Farenheit 9/11

Robert Jensen’s review of F9/11 irritated me. It seems to have missed the wood from the trees. There is the phenomenon of F9/11 which deserves comment — those who see the movie are not only seeing what Moore has edited for us, but many have been going for an experience, as an act of rebellion against the warfare culture, as a way to have conversations with relatives and friends whom one might take along, etc. (this, as far as press reports are concerned, and many are on michael moore’s own website). The movie enables and provokes a wider set of discussions and debates. What is in the movie, then, should not be judged only for what it is, but for what it enables. Jensen does not get this.

Jensen makes much of the racism in the movie: that South Asians and Arabs are not part of the frame when Moore discusses the Patriot Act. This is so. But the lack of discussion on South Asians and Arabs by Moore should not take away from the fact that the heart of the movie is in three places, all of them with much to say about race and racism:

(1) The opening, when the Black Congressional Caucus and one Asian representative rebuke the all-white Senate for failing to challenge the SC’s delivery of the presidency to GWB. This is a powerful scene, and it will make everyone recognize the strength of the Black-Asian voice in the House, and the racist cowardice of the Senate (which is basically an old-boys club). If Barack Obama wins, I wonder if he will be able to do anything there.

(2) The strong presence of Iraqis in the movie, notably the grandmother who grieves powerfully for the loss of a part of her family. She is the one who cries out for revenge as the last act of those who have been rendered helpless in the face of such state terror. This woman is the Iraqi version of Lila Lipscomb, of whom more below.

(3) Lila Lipscomb anchors this movie. She is a polycultural woman, of the working-class, with all the powerful contradictions of life in that sphere of America. Her honesty and forthrightness not only silence Moore (a fact that has been much related in the media coverage), but it also shows us the complexities of belief among people whose name the left often speaks.

Rather than take out Moore’s movie, it might be more useful to add to his framework. Here are two supplements to the opening section that might have enriched the film, and that do extend Moore’s rather limited analysis of capitalism:

(1) The political economy of the Ibn Saud-Multinational Oil Firm-Pentagon-Wall Street relationship. Moore relies upon the familial relationship between the Bushes and the Al-Saud clan to personalize or to dramatize the nexus between the monarchs of the peninsula, the multinational oil firms (mainly of US origin), the US military (and its contractors, such as United Defense — the Carlyle Group), and Wall Street (or global finance). For a documentary, the personal story makes certain abstract connections very compelling — it brings the abstractions to life with a concrete, made for television example. The documentaries from Media Education Foundation on sexism and on media criticism are able to be very didactic and successful — but they were geared to the classroom and not a mass audience. Documentaries that tend to go for a mass audience use the personal story to illustrate or illuminate the broader connections. One way to have intimated the broader contradictions would have been to have mentioned the report that Saddam Hussein had been trying to get his OPEC partners to shift their oil profits from Dollars to Euros. Such a move would have threatened the financial stability of the Dollar, hence the Dollar-Wall Street Complex (so well analyzed by Peter Gowan in Global Gamble). Moore could have even talked to a mainstream analyst at the Cambridge Energy Associates who, if they hewed close to the facts, would have told him that yes, there has been informal discussion in OPEC to consider such a move; and he could have spoken to a mainstream currency broker who would have said that such a move would have had grave effects for the US economy. That might have shown how integral the Saudi holdings of T-Bills is to the “stability” of the financial architecture.

(2) The destruction of the Saudi Left. Since Moore continued to talk of the Al-Saud clan as the “Saudis” he gave the very mistaken impression that all Saudis benefit from the actions of this undemocratic regime. He could have had a very short quote from someone like Fred Halliday, or any number of Saudi intellectuals who would have told him that the oil lands were once home to a vibrant left, that state repression by the monarchy destroyed enlightened groups such as the Arabian Peninsula People’s Union and Voice of the Vanguard, and that one of the instruments for the counter-revolution via a very intolerant brand of “Islam” was the creation, with CIA support, of the Rabitat al-Alam al-Islami, the World Muslim Congress. He treated “Saudis” as a monolith, had one too many images of the grotesque Al-Saud family fawning on Bush Senior, and an image of men at prayer — all without any other Saudi voice, so as to show that it is a society in ferment, with disagreement, and that state repression by the US (and ARAMCO, the oil monopoly) contributed to the barrenness of the left in the region. The details for this will be in my next book, The Rise and Fall of the Third World (New Press, forthcoming in the Spring of 2005).

I enjoyed Fahrenheit 9/11, and found it to be a very valuable op-ed in these times of corporate media strangulation of many of the basic ‘facts’ of our contemporary history. Moore has done us a good service. There is much more to do be done. So let’s do it.

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