al-Qaida bombings and the history books

By David Conard

In its recent Jordan hotel bombings, al-Qaida managed to fatally injure a movie director who made a movie glorifying a 1920s Islamic teacher and Libyan guerrilla leader.

Moustapha Akkad, a 75-year-old Syrian-born filmmaker, is better known for producing the “Halloween” horror films. But in 1981 Akkad produced and directed “Lion of the Desert,” starring Anthony Quinn and Oliver Reed. Quinn plays Sidi Omar al-Mukhtar, a 1920s Libyan resistance leader who fights against Italian occupation forces. He is led by Gen. Rodolfo Graziani, played by Reed.

What a frightful and idiotic thing for al-Qaida to do. They blow up a guy who made a film glorifying a Muslim leader resisting Western occupation.

Just a few quotes from the movie should give all of us, especially al-Qaida, something to think about. Maybe they’ll stop to consider who they might kill next time.

In “Lion of the Desert,” after wiping out an Italian army convoy in the desert, several of Quinn’s fighters aim their rifles to kill some Italian prisoners, including a young lieutenant.

“We do not kill prisoners!” Quinn shouts.

“They do it to us!” A guerilla responds.

“They are not our teachers,” Quinn replies, and noticing the officer’s age, says “He’s a boy.”

As I recall, al-Qaida has killed many prisoners. That’s one reason why no heroic movie should ever be made about them.

Later, when Reed’s character decides to put Quinn’s people in concentration camps, Quinn wonders, “Who can fight such a war? Not against armies, but against innocent people.”

Apparently, al-Qaida never got that message either. The group continues to massacre civilians in Iraq, often more than 100 in one week. Even Akkad’s portrayal of Al-Mukhtar as a hero didn’t give him reprieve from al-Qaida’s merciless depravity. Nor did it give his daughter reprieve. She was killed in the blast, too.

I think the scariest quote in the movie belongs to Reed’s character. An Italian royal family member visits his headquarters and asks Reed if he’s bothered by how history may portray him.

“Oh, don’t worry your royal head about that,” Reed replies, “We’ll write the history.”

In the end, who writes history?

Oxford professor E.E. Evans-Pritchard, who wrote about the Italian occupation in his book “Vsanusi of Cyrenaica,” shows another side to the guerillas.

He states in the book, “…if they [compliant Libyans] did not supply the Patriots with victuals or if they refused to pay taxes in support of the resistance, they were subjected to punitive measures.”

One can’t necessarily trust any historical narrative, either. According to the Internet Movie Database, “This film, a box-office failure, was bankrolled by Libya’s Colonel Muammar Qadhafi.”

Qadhafi has been Libya’s dictator since 1969, and, according to BBC, “has been accused of sponsoring international terrorism, which led to American air-raids on Tripoli.”

On the other side, according to the Internet Movie Database, “This film is banned in Italy. Owning and showing it is a criminal offense, on the ground of ‘defamation of the armed forces.’”

Who do you want to believe? Qadhafi or Italy, which banned the film as an opposing argument?

In the end, I would like history to be based on facts, not propaganda. It should not make heroes of murderers.

I don’t want to see a made-for-TV-movie called “Osama bin Laden: Hero of the People.” I also don’t want to go to the theater to see “The Humane Vice President” with Kelsey Grammar playing Vice President Dick Cheney. Not when CNN reported on Nov. 21 that Cheney has lobbied against anti-torture legislation in Congress.

History should not be like a fashion photo shoot, where the photo department can touch up the model’s blemishes.

Leave the picture alone. It might be the only way to shame al-Qaida – and others – into behaving decently.

Columns reflect the opinion of the author and not necessarily that of the Northern Star staff.