One, two, three, four, what are they fighting for?
Directed by Molly Bingham & Steve Connors
The year 2007 saw a flood, a spate, a “surge” if you will of films about America’s so-called War on Terror. Few of them made much of an impression on the box office, proving Americans are so weary of the conflict they don’t want to face it at their local cineplex. But to paraphrase one of Jon Stewart’s better jokes from the Academy Awards, we can’t back down now. If we stop making war movies, then the audiences have won!
Meeting Resistance is the latest documentary to try to open eyes about what’s happening on the ground in Iraq. The short, sharp, to-the-point film is the work of two intrepid journalists, Molly Bingham and Steve Connors. Shortly after the ground offensive began in Iraq in 2003, Bingham and Connors grew curious about those choosing to fight against the American forces. Who were these insurgents and why were they doing it? Accomplishing what no one else could (or was interested in), Bingham and Connors sought out and interviewed members of the Iraqi resistance, crafting a document whose title serves both literal and figurative purposes.
The film allows a number of talking heads to speak for themselves--although, given the manner in which identities are hidden, “talking hands” or “talking blurs” is probably a better description. This is a perfectly understandable but unfortunate technique that dehumanizes the very subjects the filmmakers are trying to bring to life. Still, the interviewees express themselves eloquently. For years now, George W. Bush and his administration have spun stories about evil terrorists who are motivated by their universal hatred of freedom. Oddly enough, none of the insurgents interviewed in Meeting Resistance expound on their hatred of freedom. In fact, almost all of them cite freedom as the primary reason they’re opposing the American forces. This is definitely the film George Bush does not want you to see.
What becomes apparent very quickly is that these resistance fighters are a diverse lot, motivated not by a love for Saddam Hussein nor by a hatred of the United States and all it stands for. Instead, these are a wide cross-section of patriotic Iraqi citizens (identified as “The Teacher,” “The Tourist,” “The Imam,” “The Wife” and other generic titles) increasingly angry that their country has been taken over by a violent and unaccountable occupying force.
It’s not difficult to understand what these people are feeling, watching U.S. forces indiscriminately bomb neighborhoods, harass locals and torture prisoners--most of whom are innocent, turned in by greedy neighbors eager to cash in on America’s $2,500 reward for informing on fellow Iraqis. “If Iraqi forces invaded America, and tanks were rolling through your neighborhood, how would you feel?” asks one unidentified Imam. Even more sobering are statistics gathered by a professor at Baghdad University. Little of what he has learned backs up America’s assertions about terrorists and foreign forces and Ba’ath Party loyalists.
The facts seem unavoidable: This is not a war. It stopped being a war years ago, and has become an occupation. Listening to recent comments by John McCain (to name just one) that the war will soon be over but American forces will be in Iraq for “100 years” makes our leaders seem hopelessly naive and out-of-touch. Not only did the United States government manage to alienate the sympathies of the entire world in the wake of 9/11 by invading a country wholly unconnected to that event, but American forces have now managed to turn the overthrow of a much-hated dictator into a public relations nightmare for an entire region of the globe.
For all its eye-opening exposition, though, Meeting Resistance isn’t entirely composed of sympathy and light. It is a scary, sobering film. Though Bingham and Connors’ narrative stops a few years short of our current predicament, it’s clear the forces of the resistance are growing more and more impatient with the occupation. Insurgent forces are starting to fragment. (Whether this is instigated by CIA or Mossad meddling remains an unconfirmed conspiracy theory.) No matter what the root causes of their fight, it’s obvious these people are particularly conditioned to the art of war by cultural, religious and even ethnic forces. By the end credits, it’s easy to be both sympathetic toward and scared of the Iraqis. Nearly five years down the line and thousands of deaths later, American forces are starting to look like the clueless family in the haunted house movie who fail to heed the blunt warning to “Get out!”