The Mauritanian is an imperfect film, but it reminds us of America’s desire to demonize & dehumanize those it labels terrorists
Michael McCaffrey is a writer and cultural critic who lives in Los Angeles. His work can be read at RT, Counterpunch and at his website mpmacting.com/blog. He is also the host of the popular cinema podcast Looking California and Feeling Minnesota. Follow him on Twitter @MPMActingCo
The Mauritanian, directed by Kevin Macdonald, tells the true story of Mohamedou Salahi, who in the wake of 9-11 was tortured and held by the US at Guantanamo Bay detention camp for 14 years without charge.
The film, which as of March 2 is in theaters and available on Video-On-Demand, is adapted from Salahi’s memoir Guantanamo Diary, and stars Tahar Rahim, Jodie Foster, Shailene Woodley, and Benedict Cumberbatch.
The Mauritanian is a great story, but unfortunately not a particularly great film. Despite some effective moments, particularly the torture sequences, and a solid performance from Rahim as Salahi, it’s a mediocrity that’s not nearly as good as I wanted it to be or that it needed to be. One can’t help but wonder what a better director could have done with such dramatically potent material.
That said, I still recommend The Mauritanian, if for no other reason than it is an important story that contains some vital lessons for our current turbulent time.
As Orwell taught us, “to see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle,” and in the United States of Amnesia, our prodigiously propagandized populace is conditioned to be myopic in the moment and utterly blind to the past. This makes for a pliable citizenry that can be led around by their noses by a mainstream media designed to do just that. And this is heightened by gullible Americans lacking the intellectual vim and vigor to swim against the powerful current of establishment narratives in a search for some semblance of truth.
Thankfully, The Mauritanian is at least a visual aid to remind America of that which it is consistently capable – namely brutal authoritarianism fueled by frantic emotionalism.
The film does a service by reminding viewers of a few critical things.
First, that Guantanamo Bay prison is still open and people still languish there, despite Obama’s promises to close it when he became president in 2009.
Second, that Al-Qaeda and the US were allies in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. The movie doesn’t go into any great detail, but even that little bit of information might be shocking to those who’ve conveniently forgotten that (or never knew it in the first place) and other much more damning facts about America and Al-Qaeda’s fruitful relationship, then and now.
And third, that warmongers like George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Barack Obama, and their immoral minions, have never been punished, which is an abomination considering those who exposed their atrocities, such as Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, rot in prison or are forced to live in exile.
As The Mauritanian highlights, post 9-11 America went into a full-blown hysteria. The result of this was the Patriot Act, massive surveillance, rendition, torture, and the mass murder and mayhem of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
America has only gotten more hysterical in the following two decades. In recent years, we’ve had one mindless panic after another. There’s been the Russia panic, the #MeToo panic, and the racism/white supremacy panic, all of them delusions and illusions built on minimal evidence and fueled by irrationalism and self-righteous fanaticism.
These panics have been used to distort reality and manipulate people into fighting for draconian and totalitarian measures to combat them.
The most alarming hysteria is the new ‘domestic terrorism’ panic that sprung up in the wake of the Q-Anon Capitol riot of January 6. In reaction to this Q-Anon clown show, the political establishment and media have gone full Spinal Tap and upped the hyperbole to 11… 9-11 that is.
The delusional discourse that the Capitol riot was a 9-11 level event has led to politicians demanding a ‘9-11 Commission’ type of investigation. I wonder if the new Q-Anon Commission, maybe headed by the new ‘Reality Czar’, will be as toothless as the contrived show trial that was the 9-11 Commission?Also on rt.com Will Guantanamo ever close or is America just waiting for the remaining 40 prisoners to die one by one?
Watching The Mauritanian, I couldn’t help but think that Washington and the mainstream media want to do to troublesome ‘conspiracy theorists’, traditionalists, Christians, and Trumpists what Bush, Obama, and company did to Mohamedou Salahi… make them suffer and disappear.
This furor and frenzy over ‘domestic terrorists’ and ‘white supremacy’ is inversely proportional to the actual threat from these manufactured shadows dancing upon America’s cave wall.
9-11 was a savage and heinous attack, but the US’ overreaction to it brutalized innocent people and ended up transforming the brush fire of Islamic radicalism it was meant to extinguish into an inferno that engulfed the world and torched the Constitution. It seems very likely that a similar overreaction to the Capitol riot will result in the same counter conflagration on American soil, and the phantom threat of ‘right-wing radicals’ and ‘white supremacists’ will thus be made manifest.
In conclusion, The Mauritanian, although imperfect, is worth watching because it serves a noble purpose, which is to remind Americans of their unquenchable thirst to demonize and dehumanize those they deem as terrorists. Though the targets are now different, America’s evil impulse is as powerful as ever, and so is its susceptibility to hysteria and rampant emotionalism. And that portends a terrifyingly dark future indeed.
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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.