June 12th, 2010 19:29 EST
Just One Bad Apple Can Impose a Security State
In the Year of the Mad Dogs, 2001, rabid fanatics murdered nearly 3,000 Americans in cold blood, Americans responded by irrationally attacking the wrong country, and the Germans made a film metaphor for how cruel security states arise from fear and disinformation.
Das Experiment, the March 2001 film directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, is based on the 1971 Stanford Experiment. A group of college students volunteer at a university medical facility for an experiment designed to study people under duress. Some are assigned to play guards and some to play prisoners. Violence is forbidden. But when one of the prisoners " defies the guards they retaliate with ever-increasing violence incited by one of their number. The experiment was to last for two weeks, monitored closely by scientists using surveillance cameras. But within days the situation degenerates into startling brutality and sexual degradation. When a woman doctor attempts to stop the experiment she is taken prisoner and raped by a guard " who in his ordinary life is a jocular Elvis impersonator.
The film foreshadows the tragedy and disgrace that was Abu Ghraib, and undoubtedly many of the facile arguments used by the student guards to justify their terrorist regime prefigured those used at Abu Ghraib. Sometimes the viewer has the eerie feeling that these Germans are entertaining a precognition about 9/11 and America`s responses.
Observers and participants alike are appalled at how quickly a brutal security state is imposed by the panicky guards. " Only once, towards the end of the film, is the word Nazi used, but the Nazi era is on everyone`s mind. The banality and patent hypocrisy of the words used by the student guards to justify their imposition of a brutal emergency regime are familiar to anyone who has read about the Nazi period.
It seems to me that only Germans, given their long and gut-wrenching introspection about the Nazi phenomenon, could have made such a movie, such a vehicle for comprehending how quickly democratic ideals collapse under the weight of security concerns.
The psychiatrist-philosopher Carl G. Jung exhorted us to abjure belief in accidents. There are none, he said again and again. And he invited us to watch like circling hawks for synchronicities, historical and personal. I think it no accident, then, that this film appeared six months before the terrorist attacks on the United States and our unfathomable response. Nor do I think it an accident that the hero of this film, if it may be said to have had one, is the character named Tarek Fahd, an Arab thoroughly assimilated into German culture. Played by Moritz Bleibtreu, Tarek is a part-time taxi driver and aspiring journalist. He is bold, comic and compassionate. He stands on the threshold of an outburst of anti-Arab sentiment in the West. He exhibits traits of which any German, any human being might be proud. He stands against irrational oppression and cruelty. But six months later hate-filled real Arab terrorists would panic Americans into gutting their democracy and turning it into a federal security state that persists to this day. We now have a commercially censored press claiming to be free and an impaired republic claiming to be democratic.
And the ironies and paradoxes only get thicker from that point on. Today, the very people who approved of our becoming a federal security state, rather than a democratic republic, are complaining about too much government. A great deal of government was fine with them when they wanted to punish the evildoers and pull everyone who looked even faintly Middle Eastern off the streets and into prisons, but now, with greedy Wall Street having eaten their jobs, they want to blame the government whose monstrous interference they had clamored for.
Ironies and paradoxes. Having marched off to the wrong country because we didn`t want to face up to the real causes of the terrorist attacks "our blindness to Israeli territorialists and to Saudi Arabia`s sponsorship of the kind of teaching that made so many Muslim fanatics "we now proceed to blame government for the sins of Wall Street. Government may well be to blame to the extent that it failed to regulate Wall Street, but that is not what our anti-government ideologues mean. As they have been blind to Israeli intransigence and Saudi complicity, so now they wish to remain blind to the plain fact that Corporate America has no intention of restoring the middle class. It may urge us to buy cars, but it has no intention of paying us well enough to afford them, just as it had no intention of paying us well enough to afford the homes predatory lenders enabled us to buy.
The only reason we had a middle class in the first place was because the labor movement fought for better wages and conditions. Ronald Reagan threw all that into reverse when he broke the air controllers` union and launched a prolonged period of union-busting. Leave Corporate America alone, he said, and the riches will trickle down to us from the top. How has that worked out? But the anti-government Tea Baggers, like the chicken hawks and their contractor buddies who got us into the Iraq and Afghan fiascos, are not about to own up to the fact that Wrongway Corrigan is the servant of Corporate America. What`s a crazy war or two when it makes the banks and contractors rich?
Das Experiment ought to be required watching for politicians and bureaucrats. It ought to be shown in the schools the way the Navy used to show recruits The Oxbow Incident. Every time the Patriot Act or Guantanamo or waterboarding is mentioned, Das Experiment should be shown. It should be shown in the UN. It was made in a country that knows how easily democracy can be surrendered to fear and hatred. It has the moral authority of that country`s agonizing reflection on its recent past.
If there is anything brutal, anything cowardly, anything overweeningly ambitious in a human being, the circumstances portrayed in Das Experiment will bring it out in all its raw ugliness. We are still living with the things that crawled out of the darkness in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. We just heard our former president saying he approves of half drowning people, bringing them back and then drowning them again "a president of the United States, which prides itself on its humanity and compassion. Das Experiment represents the darkness in which we still dwell, which we are so far unable to shake: the darkness of our worst instincts and the dankness of our hypocrisy.
Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He grew up in Brooklyn, West Islip and Manhattan, New York, where he attended Dwight Preparatory School and Columbia. He then served in the U.S. Navy.
His book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal LattÃ© first prize in fiction in 2008. His poems have been published in The American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, poemeleon, The Same, and other journals. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999.
He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.
Del`s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal LattÃ©`s fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother`s art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt`s art: http://www.irenericepereira.com
Far From Algiers Video Trailer #1 from Brent Robison on Vimeo.