1. This can be supported by recently discovered home video footage of the 9/11 attacks in which Czech immigrant Pavel Hlava focuses on and zooms in on a billboard for the film just before he turns his attention to the towers and captures the attacks on film (Glanz 34).
2. This definition of terrorism, of course, is not uniformly accepted. Gibbs, for example, only uses the distinction between legitimate conventional warfare and illegitimate terrorism as one of five determinants in his definition of terrorism, leaving open the possibility for state-sponsored violence to be labeled as terrorism (330). Others such as Perdue and Chomsky focus specifically on state-sponsored violence in their discussions of terrorism. Most attempts to establish an empirical definition of terrorism, however, tend not to discuss the ideological importance of using the term itself. They approach terrorism as an already existing phenomenon that needs definition without acknowledging that the act of definition itself is ideological.
3. To offer a much more recent example of this rhetoric and the melodrama of terrorism, note Tony Blair’s response to the London subway bombings in which the attackers were characterized as “barbaric” thugs waging war on “civilization” itself.
4. The idea that terrorists are irrational brutes is so essential to Western cultures, in fact, that the dominant ideologies cannot even bear minor dissent from this position. Susan Sontag, for example, while still decrying the violence of the attacks as “monstrous,” nonetheless asked in an editorial in The New Yorker, “Where is the acknowledgement that this was not a ‘cowardly’ attack on ‘civilization’ or ‘liberty’ or ‘humanity’ or ‘the free world’ but an attack on the world’s self-proclaimed super-power, undertaken as a consequence of specific U.S. alliances and actions?” (32). Such a position earned her the scorn of many and led Andrew Sullivan to start giving out the “Sontag Award” to critics of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq who he considers unpatriotic or even treasonous. In addition, Ward Churchill has faced similar scorn for applauding the 9/11 attacks and critiquing the United States. The University of Colorado (where Churchill was employed) even opened an investigation on his comments that threatened his tenured position.
5. The decision to move the action of the film from Libya to Colombia is an interesting one. It was mostly likely a decision made to distance the film from the culturally sensitive issue of Middle Eastern terrorism, but it involves the film in the issue of U.S. intervention in South America, which, as Barry Rubin points out, has been traditionally far more violent and oppressive than U.S. intervention in the Middle-East (98). As this fact is little known in the culture, and the film keeps a safe distance from historical specificity, however, it seems likely that the move to Colombia was intended to focus the story on a “generic” exotic nation to serve as the backdrop for a Western story about terrorism. We can also see this displacement of the issue of Middle Eastern terrorism onto a somehow more non-threatening (at least to Americans) form of terrorism in many other films throughout the 1990s: for example, Harrison Ford’s action films of the 1990s dealt with Irish terrorism — Patriot Games (1992) and The Devil’s Own (1997) — Colombian terrorism and drug dealers — Clear and Present Danger (1994) — and post-Soviet Russian terrorism — Air Force One (1997); the Die Hard films focused on German terrorists — Die Hard (1988) and Die Hard 3: Die Hard With a Vengeance (1995) — and South American terrorists — Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990); the 1997 film The Peacemaker dealt with Balkan terrorists with a stolen nuclear weapon. Similarly, The Sum of All Fears (2002) changed the Middle Eastern terrorists in Tom Clancy’s novel to Austrian neo-fascist terrorists for the film version.
6. This is supported by the second season of the critically acclaimed television show 24. In this season the protagonist, Jack Bauer, must stop Middle Eastern terrorists from detonating a nuclear bomb in downtown Los Angeles while simultaneously saving and reconciling with his estranged daughter. The show focuses on Jack’s role as a failed father and dramatizes how the reconciliation of the white, U.S. family takes place at the expense of the vilification of racialized villains. (This holds true despite the fact that the main villain in the show was revealed to be a blonde, white, U.S. woman who was raised abroad for a time in the Middle East and is engaged to a Middle Eastern man. Unveiling her as the mastermind works less to make the evil of the threat somehow more white and less racial than to reveal the vulnerability of innocent, pure, blonde U.S. women to the evil ideologies of “other” cultures and Middle Eastern men).
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