The media loves to wring its collective hands over each new droning video sermon released by Osama bin Laden or Ayman Zawahiri, but it is the release — to unprecedented box office success — of the Turkish movie “Valley of the Wolves: Iraq” that heralds the failure of the Bush administration to win the “battle of ideas” that is has insisted is so central to its “global war on terror.” The reason is simple: The average Joe everywhere from France to China, and all of the developing world, pretty much loathes U.S. foreign policy; but even in hotbeds of anti-American sentiment nothing quite matches the entertainment allure of American action movies. Al Qaeda’s video production values are no match for those of Jerry Bruckheimer, but “Valley of the Wolves” signals a shift — now audiences in the Muslim world (and beyond) can find a Bruckheimer-esque package of thrills, explosions and near misses, and vicious goons whose diabolical deeds crank up the audience for emotionally satisfying revenge fantasies in which the Rambo types deliver the bad guys their comeuppance — except that this time, the bad guys are the U.S. military; the wronged innocents are Iraqis; and the avengers are Turkish special forces going to war with their NATO ally. (You can get a sense of the movie’s narrative, and watch some clips if you can get them to play in your browser, on the movie’s web site.) In other words, American-style action flicks need no longer be a guilty pleasure for the angry youth of the Muslim world; now there’s a genre of action movie that resonates with their world view.
Indeed, Turkish prime minister Erdogan is reported to have seen the movie and recommended it to friends, while his wife attended a premiere and described it as “a beautiful film.”
An Abu Ghraib scene is staged for ‘Wolves’
You can already imagine the Turkish producers weighing up sequels: A Turkish Rambo blows up Israel’s West Bank wall and restores Palestinian access to Jerusalem, or a Turkish James Bond character infiltrates the Danish press and uncovers a neo-Nazi conspiracy to use cartoons to provoke a war between Islam and the West. The possibilities are endless.
And let’s not even talk about “The Night Baghdad Fell,” an Egyptian satire that is drawing record crowds to Cairo’s cinema’s with its depiction of a U.S. invasion of Egypt. (I’d hesitate a guess, here, that at least some of those are repeat-viewers desperate for a second look at the movie’s sexual fantasy scene involving U.S. Secretary of State Condi Rice as a bellydancer — spare us the action figures…)
It is not just the fact of these movies, but their commercial success that indicates just how badly the Bush administration has lost the battle of ideas in the Muslim world. Muslim civil society appears to be hungry for an emotionally-satisfying revenge fantasy to release the anger that has built up over everything from Iraq to the Danish cartoons, and they’ll pay to see movies that deliver. The commercial logic of the movie industry suggests that “Valley of the Wolves” may spawn a genre.