For a Few Weeks After 9/11, We Read and Thought. After Paris, This Reading/Viewing List Might Be Helpful.

Think back, please, to the weeks immediately following 9/11. In New York, they were quiet, contemplative, even profound. Eager to understand why it happened, many of us read Ahmed Rashid's 'Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia.' We hugged it out with people we loved. Those were three intense and, in retrospect, beautiful weeks. But as Jimmy Breslin predicted on September 12, "'Security' will make you weep." And it has.

Now Paris has its 9/11. Politicians and pundits tell us that we must kill this scrum, every last one. The heart pumps blood; we cheer for revenge. Meanwhile, I've seen no plan for part two of that campaign: reducing the misery that breeds terrorism in the poverty traps of the lesser banlieues. [The best piece on iSIS I've seen so far: this.] The best piece on reducing the misery that breeds terrorism in the poverty traps of the lesser banlieues? None. Given the general mood, I suspect I may be waiting for that piece for a long time.

For those who want to understand where terrorism comes from --- or, bluntly: Why do they hate us? --- here's a reading/viewing list.

The Battle of Algiers
Back and white. In French, with subtitles. One professional actor in the movie. It looks like --- it's shot like --- a documentary. Won the Grand Prize at the Venice Film Festival in 1966 and was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Screenplay, Best Director and Best Foreign Language Film. Banned in France until 1971. Why? Because Gillo Pontecorvo's film covers the period from 1954 to 1957, when Algeria was a colony of France and Algeria's National Liberation Front led uprisings in Algiers. French troops were sent in. The revolt was crushed. But the movie is not the record of a victory or a defeat. It's about what makes people cry "Enough" and do something about it. It's about the cost of conflict and the loss of innocent life. And, in the end, it's about the tide of history -- in this case, about what may be the inevitable result of colonial occupation.

Watch this. Look familiar?

Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire
Let me quote the author: 'Blowback' is a CIA term that means retaliation, or payback. It was first used in the after-action report on our first clandestine overthrow of a foreign government, the overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran in 1953, when, for the sake of the British Petroleum Company, we claimed he was a Communist when he just didn't want the British to keep stealing Iranian resources. In the report, which was finally declassified in 2000, the CIA says, "We should expect some blowback from what we have done here." This was the first model clandestine operation.
By blowback we do not mean just the unintended consequences of events. We mean unintended consequences of events that were kept secret from the American public, so that when the retaliation comes, the public has no way to put it into context.

The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements
167 pages. Written by Eric Hoffer, a longshoreman who wrote 10 books. He writes:
Though there are obvious differences between the fanatical Christian, the fanatical Mohammedan, the fanatical nationalists, the fanatical Communist and the fanatical Nazi, it is yet true that the fanaticism which animates them may be viewed and treated as one... However different the holy causes people die for, they perhaps die basically for the same thing.
All mass movements generate in their adherents a readiness to die and a proclivity for united action; all of them... breed fanaticism, enthusiasm, fervent hope, hatred and intolerance; all of them are capable of releasing a powerful flow of activity in certain departments of life; all of them demand blind faith and single hearted allegiance. All movements, however different in doctrine and aspiration, draw their early adherents from the same types of humanity; they all appeal to the same types of mind.

In Portuguese, "burn" is "quiemada." (In Pontecorvo's second great political the film, it's the name of a fictional Caribbean Island.) In the 1600s, the "natives" rebelled. The Portuguese response: burn the sugar fields and kill thousands, then bring over slaves from Africa. (So far, so factual. In many ways, this is the story of Haiti and the 1790s uprising led by Toussaint Louverture.)
The movie starts in the early 1800s. The slaves are restless. The sugar they harvest is a big cash crop. A splendid time for the English to stir up more trouble --- and move the Portuguese out. Sir William Walker" (Marlon Brando) is the British agent. (Feel free to see him as a CIA operative.) He's a fop in a lavender scarf, flask of whiskey never out of reach. He finds a slave named José Dolores (played by a non-actor who had, in fact, never seen a movie) and convinces him to lead a revolt. It succeeds. But no way are the ex-slaves capable of governing --- "Who will buy your sugar, José?" --- so Brando encourages them to let the English run things. Brando goes back to England. Jump ahead twelve years. José Dolores has come to understand how little has changed for his people. Now he's a rebel leader, commander of an ever-growing insurrectionary militia. Time for Brando to return to Queimada and put down the man he befriended and mentored...

Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic
"Globalizing fantasies were much in the air"-- Rome found a mission to share her superior values until there was "universal" peace. Far away, the army fought, but "to the urbane consumer back on the Campus Martius, it was only distant noise." There were shows to watch in Rome. And if none were scheduled, there was luxury shopping. The outcome: Rome won the world. All it cost the Romans was their freedom.

And...for balance... the Paris we remember and cherish.

The Best of Paris
Breakfast at the Marly, lunch at the Rotisserie du Beaujolais, dinner at the Coin de Gourmet on the Rue Dante. A silent stroll through the "Deportation" memorial to the 200,000 French Jews taken in World War II -- it's at the tip of the Île Saint-Louis -- before crossing the bridge for the classical music concert in the little church. The Degas pastels at the d'Orsay. Napoleon III's apartment in the Louvre. A stolen kiss on a Bateau Mouche.

[Cross-posted from]