Hollywood's terrorist sympathiser
When John Carpenter sold the idea for Halloween to Moustapha Akkad, he pitched it to him in one line: “Babysitter to be killed by the bogeyman.” “The babysitter part grabbed me,” said Akkad, “because every kid in America knows what a babysitter is.” The movie became the highest-grossing independent film to date and spawned the most successful of the several franchises in which undeserving victims are butchered at random in archetypal small towns.As the above shows, Akkad was absolute scum. This essay had me simply sitting with my mouth wide open in utter astonishment, because, like I said, who would've thought that an Islamist could've been behind the dumbing down of American cinema?
By the time the bogeyman came for Moustapha Akkad, he had bigger fish to fry – mass slaughter not of stock types in hick burgs, but of powerful and well-connected elites in Amman’s western hotels. On November 10th, a team of suicide bombers dispatched by Abu Musad al-Zarqawi across the Jordanian border self-detonated at the Radisson, the Grand Hyatt and the Days Inn. Akkad was in the country for a high-society wedding and greeting his daughter Rima in the Radisson when Ali Hussein Ali al-Shamari and his wife reached within the folds of their clothing for the explosives belts. The California-raised Rima died first, her father the following day from the wounds he received. And so the jihad claimed among its five dozen latest victims Hollywood’s most prominent Arab-American.
Like a lot of youngsters, Akkad decided early on that he wanted to be in pictures. The odds aren’t helped if you happen to be growing up in Aleppo, in French Syria. But at 19 his father packed him off to Hollywood with 200 dollars in one pocket and the Koran in the other, and the division of his coat contents neatly summed up his work over the next 50 years. Moustapha Akkad made two kinds of movies. As a producer, he delivered slashers to the teen market with an efficiency that made him a very wealthy man: the original Halloween cost $300,000 in 1978 and grossed $47 million. As a director, he wanted to be an Arab David Lean and specialized in films that used Hollywood stars to explain Islam to a wider audience – The Message was the life of Mohammed and starred Anthony Quinn; Lion Of The Desert celebrated plucky anti-colonial Bedouin fighters, played by Quinn, Oliver Reed and John Gielgud, with members of Arab Equity relegated mostly to the roles of excitable extras; and at the time of his death he was developing a film about Saladin with Sean Connery. It was Akkad’s misfortune to have the benign intentions of this side of his oeuvre perpetually tripped up on the way to the multiplex: The Message was targeted by angry Muslims who thought the infidel fornicator Quinn was playing Mohammed rather than his uncle, and Lion Of The Desert suffered in America from the twin PR setbacks of opening a few months after the Iranian hostage siege and being co-financed by Colonel Gaddafy.
Nonetheless, Akkad persevered. “Islam right now is portrayed as a ‘terrorist’ religion in the west and by doing this kind of movie, I am portraying the true image,” he said of his Saladin project. Long before September 11th, he was always good for a quote bemoaning how Hollywood only represented Muslims as terrorists. “We cannot say there are no Arab and no Muslim terrorists,” he told The New York Times in 1998. “Of course there are. But at the same time, balance it with the image of the normal human being, the Arab-American, the family man.”
He half got his way: movies about the Arab “family man” are still thin on the ground, but the Muslim terrorist has all but disappeared – the film of Tom Clancy’s Sum Of All Fears de-Islamicized the bad guys and turned them into German neo-Nazis, and Sean Penn’s The Interpreter eighty-sixed the Muslims and made them terrorists from the little-known African republic of Matobo. Post-9/11 Hollywood perversely recoiled from its preferred villains of the Eighties and Nineties and now your poor Arab thespian can’t even get gainful employment as a crazed jihadist. Meanwhile, Akkad saw the Islamophile half of his work gain a new lease of life, as Oriental works in an Occidentally accessible form: according to Queen Noor, the Pentagon bought “100,000 copies” of The Message to show to US troops before they left for Afghanistan.
And, in the end, for all his efforts, the fellows who murdered Akkad were the most stereotypical Muslim terrorists of all: they behaved more like the psychos in his slasher movies than the noble Bedouin in his Islamic-outreach pictures.
On the part about Muslim terrorists in film though, there's an extra point to made, that, while there have been a few sufficiently convincing examples of Islamofascism in film, even before 9-11, there were still quite a few movies that either capitulated to groups like CAIR, or that were so watered down, they had very little impact, if at all. (I seem to remember an episode of Cagney and Lacey from 1985 where an Arab girl who was murdered by her brother did not get very much time to present her own viewpoint to the camera, whereas the scumbag brother and his other sister actually did get to spout their biased, bigoted viewpoints far more; they were even depicted as refugees from Afganistan, where their parents had been killed by the Commies, and one could end up thinking that they were more the victims of the Commies than of the Religion of Peace that they adhered to. Update: then again, maybe I'm misremembering: this episode actually wasn't that bad. There was something else though from Stephen J. Cannell's company that really let me down.)
So let's not think that even before 9-11, things were going that well in terms of writing a convincing depiction of Islamofacsism on screen.
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