November 26, 2013

Movie Review: Indigènes (Days of Glory) (2006)

"We're changing the destiny of France. Things must change for us, too!" - Abdelkader (Sami Bouajila)

Director: Rachid Bouchareb

Writers: Rachid Bouchareb, Olivier Lorelle

Producers: Muriel Merlin, Jean Bréhat

Studio: Multiple studios in France (production), IFC/Weinstein Co. (US release)

Major Stars: Sami Bouajila, Jamel Debbouze, Bernard Blancan, Roschdy Zem, Samy Naceri, Benoît Giros, Antoine Chappey, Aurélie Eltvedt

In the wake of France's utter defeat at the hand of the Nazis in May of 1940, the anti-German elements of the government were forced into exile. Following the Allies retaking of the French colonies along the North African coast in 1942, the Free French recruited soldiers amongst the "natives"; the indigenous inhabitants of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. These units were instrumental in French participation in battles in Italy as well as in Operation Dragoon, the Allied operation that attacked German forces in France from the southern coast in August of 1944. These soldiers fought, bled and died for a motherland that few of them had ever even seen, but believed in with a fervor. And France turned its back on them.

Indigènes follows four soldiers from Africa during this time. Each of them joins for a different reason. Saïd (Debbouze) joins to find security and a future in the Army. Messaoud (Zem) wants to live in Marseilles after the war. Yassir (Naceri) wants to earn enough money to marry off his younger brother. And Abdelkader (Bouajila) wants nothing less than France to live up to its promise of "Liberty, Fraternity and Equality."

None of them get what they want. And that forms the backbone of Indigènes, Rachid Bouchareb's impressive war film (nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2007) that is more a drama film with war elements. It looks at the institutional racism that the French military directed at it's African soldiers even as they died to liberate a country none of them had ever visited. Bouchareb looks mainly at the experiences of Algerian soldiers (Yassir is Moroccan), partially because of his background (he is French-Algerian) and partially because the Algerian veterans suffered a great injustice; having their pensions suspended in the late 1950s as Algeria was on the verge of independence from France.

The racism they suffered is expressed in various ways. Minor things like being denied tomatoes in the mess hall that the white soldiers get are almost more offensive to the African troops than the bigger examples, like getting inferior equipment and being denied boots in the dead of winter. Then there are the examples they never see. Messaoud meets a white French woman named Irene following the liberation of Marseilles. They fall in love and write to each other. But they never receive each others letters because the French military intercepts them.

November 25, 2013

It's Better Than Bombing

Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
So the usual suspects are freaking out about the interim deal reached with Iran over it's nuclear program:
"This agreement shows other rogue states that wish to go nuclear that you can obfuscate, cheat, and lie for a decade, and eventually the United States will tire and drop key demands," Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thinks the agreement makes "the world a much more dangerous place". And both Republicans and some Democrats in the Senate want to pass even more sanctions on Iran.

All of this hand-wringing, whining and disappointment miss two key elements when it comes to Iran and it's nuclear program.

  1. Iran has signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty: This matters quite a bit because, per the treaty, Iran has the right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. If you are intent on bringing Iran back into global society as a responsible member, you cannot deny them the rights they have under international treaties that they have signed. That's not how it works.

  2. Military strikes on Iran's nuclear program are useless: Using air strikes to achieve a goal like stopping ethnic cleansing or preventing incursions into no-fly zones work because those strikes just have to be effective enough to convince the bad actor to stop their actions.

    In the case of Iran's nuclear program, "effective enough" isn't good enough. If you were to use air strikes to eliminate Iran's nuclear program, they would have to be 100% effective AND they'd have to work the first time. Because if they don't, then Iran has no reason to not go ahead and finish weaponizing their fissile material and making a working bomb. There would be no bringing them back to the negotiating table.

    And there is no scenario - none - where there is a 100% guarantee that Iran's nuclear program could be eliminated by air strikes. Could air strikes dent the program and delay it? That is likely. But that only would set Iran on a crash-course to finish weaponizing their material for a bomb. Unless you can guarantee with 100% certainty the strikes would work...the strikes are useless.

Negotiating with your enemies is hard. Especially considering the history that the US and Iran share. But if we could do it with Germany and Japan in 1945...if we could negotiate arms reduction treaties with the Soviets in the 70s and 80s...then we can negotiate with Iran to reduce their nuclear program to a level consistent with peaceful usage.

This isn't North Korea. Unlike them, Iran is engaged with the wider world. And their people are aware of what is going on globally, of the freedoms that exist elsewhere, and want to be a part of that world.

This is a chance to peacefully resolve one of the major foreign policy issues the United States - and the world - face at this moment. We'd be fools to ignore the chance to make it happen.


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