Friday, July 17, 2009

Bruno's "Terrorist"

Updated Below

Sascha Baron Cohen's new film "Bruno" features Cohen boldy and bravely confronting what he calls a Palestinian "terrorist" named Ayman Abu Aita. The star of Borat, Cohen recently appeared on David Letterman to talk about how he used CIA contacts and a team of security professionals to get an interview with this bloodthirsty killer.

Dion Nissenbaum has more over at Checkpoint Jerusalem.

It seems pretty clear that Cohen paints an extraordinarily flawed picture of the Palestinian territories, and his outright bragging on Letterman about his courage playing a gay man under fire in the West Bank (where he tried to get himself kidnapped) does nothing but propagate the same old stereotype about Arab societies in general, and Palestine in particular. This is quite ironic when his movie purports to illuminate just how intolerant individuals are when it comes to the homosexual community. I guess Cohen feels the need to break a window in order to build one.

There is absolutely no reason for Cohen to brag about his adventure into Bethlehem (with or without his crack security team). The city is tame and quiet for the most part. I remember even describing it as "sleepy" during my visit. The impressive Church of the Nativity sits outside of a large public plaza called Manger Square. Palestinian Christians and Muslims mill about the narrow streets buying goods at the outdoor market not far from the square. Keeping with tradition, the Imam of the large mosque across the square from the Nativity Church keeps the keys to prevent bickering between the various Christian sects that have set up shop in the church. No security detail is needed to wander aimlessly around the city. Tourism is down so much since the second Intifada that vendors and Palestinian children alike take notice and immediately offer their hospitality as a reward for making the trip few make these days. In fact, during my six months in the West Bank (living in a rented apartment in the Palestinian college town of Birzeit) the only moments I felt genuinely unsafe involved Palestinians AND Israeli soldiers. Regardless of where I traveled - with only rudimentary Arabic skills - Palestinians were pleasant and hospitable and I rarely felt as if I was being viewed with suspicion.

Cohen, in his quest to illuminate intolerance, displays his own faults in accepting without questioning stereotypes about Palestinian society.

Update: A Palestinian friend of mine made an interesting and insightful comment about Bruno's terrorist visit: "I suspect Cohen is hiding behind the fact that he's making a pseudo-documentary, and that when he introduces this guy as a terrorist, it is 'Bruno's naive description' and not Cohen's." Cohen would certainly have an easier time writing off criticism concerning this issue had he not appeared on Letterman as himself rather than Bruno and boasted about the trip.

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