A Borrowed Identity/Dancing Arabs Movie Review

If you are observing a cultural boycott of Israel please disregard this post.  If you are not, then please continue to read as I will now review an Israeli film called A Borrowed Identity and in other countries, Dancing Arabs.  This movie is worth seeing!  It’s about a young Israeli-Palestinian boy and his experiences growing up in Israel and attending the most prestigious boarding school there. It also shows how he faces issues of racism, assimilation, discrimination, friendship, and romance.  It’s a fascinating look at Israel from the perspective of its Arab citizens who often find themselves in conflicting situations as they are in the eyes of the state and the general population unwanted residents.  But honestly there are some things that the directors and producers did badly and I will outline those as well.  First, the positives:

  1. Good acting – Tawfeek Barhom does a great job portraying the stoic and reserved Eyad. Michael Moshonov might have given the best performance, portraying a paralyzed and ill student (Yonatan) who becomes Eyad’s best friend. The actress that portrays Edna, Yonatan’s mom, does a great job and so does Daniel Kitsis as Naomi.
  2. Good engagement with important aspects of Israeli society – The movie brings up the issue of education in a few scenes, both in Eyad’s childhood in an Arab/Palestinian school and in history class at the advance Israeli boarding school.  The viewer gets to see history as a contested field and how terribly biased the study can be when co-opted by the state to create narratives designating the “good guys” and the “bad guys”, establishing simple stories to explain who’s part of the Israeli we and who falls outside of the fold.
  3. Accepting ambiguity – Perhaps the most ambivalent aspect of the film is its acceptance of ambiguity.  It’s human nature to want a story to end decisively or for characters to be black or white.  The movie does a great job in accepting that life is not so simple.  Lots of issues and dilemmas in the movie are not resolved completely, but perhaps that is all right…

The negatives:

  1. Dialogue regarding the Israeli/Palestinian situation is a little too simple for me, especially when the scenes showed life for young Eyad in his Israeli-Arab town.  The director and writers could have done a way better job explaining perhaps the Israeli-Arab wars that occurred in the past or the military occupations of the West Bank and Gaza.  Instead, the writers chose to have Eyad’s family repeat empty rhetoric about the destruction of the Israeli state.  It’s too simplistic and too steorotypical.  In fact, to me, it seems to be catering to how an Israeli audience would want to see an Israeli-Arab family behave.  The writers completely failed in this front because movies should not be about pleasing an audience but about proposing evocative and provocative questions.  I don’t think any Arab family speaks about politics the way Eyad’s family is portrayed to do so; I think the writers completely failed there.
  2. I thought the interaction and relationship between Eyad and Naomi could have been initiated and developed better.

With that said, I think the movie is worth checking out.  If you see it, let me know what you think in the comments.


X-Ray Opt Out Difficulties at JFK Airport (NY)

As I approached the x-ray machine at the security checkpoint, I started to remember reading somewhere that it wasn’t obligatory to go through it.  Why should I give the airport full body images of myself that they may hold for an indefinite amount of time?  The x-ray machine is a virtual strip search with no suspicion of wrongdoing.  Psychologically speaking, people should not be made to feel like they needed to prove their innocence with no action or suspicion of wrongdoing.  With regards to the information in the x-ray image, that type of personal information is not something you want to hand over freely.  The issue at hand is not to determine what these images may be used for, but to realize that even if sinister usage is rare, we shouldn’t provide valuable information like this for free.  So, for privacy reasons as well as personal rights issues, I decided I would opt out.  I was nervous as I realized I may be the only person in the airport to do so.  I didn’t see anyone else request an opt out.  We were all being corralled through like sheep.  Human nature is often sheep-like in general.  We were designed to stay within the pack, to stay loyal to it, and that’s why the urge to fit in, especially at a young age, is greater than the desire to stand out and be different.  So despite the nerves, I decided to give it a shot.  What security responded with, however, was something greatly worth noting and sharing and I’m happy that I opted out so that I can share the reaction with everyone.

When I requested not to enter the machine, the security lady at JFK Airport told me that she wouldn’t do such a thing.  I repeated that I thought it was my right to opt out.  She responded vaguely admitting to such a protocol, saying that while she wouldn’t do such a thing, I may opt out but it would involve a longer waiting time, a “full pat-down”, and I’d have to wait for someone to free up for it.  I was surprised at this response and immediately I realized that there was a security policy to discourage people from opting out of the x-ray machine, a machine that would scan their entire body and save an image, who knows for what length; a machine that violates the fourth amendment of the Constitution and may be harmful for our health.  This was a peculiar time for me to practice my personal freedom because I was actually late for my flight; boarding had started 5 minutes before.  I notified her of this problem and she started getting snappy with me.  She exclaimed that she had already requested a pat-down expert and that I would have to wait.  She also said that she had warned me that this process would take a while so it was really my fault that I had chosen this path.  I waited and a full 5 minutes transpired before someone even freed up to come pat me down.  In that time, I would have gone through the x-ray and continued on to my gate.  When the security official showed up, I told him that my flight had started boarding.  He responded saying, “that’s what you get when you choose a pat-down”.  I couldn’t believe it.  I was being punished for exercising my right not to be strip-searched by a machine with potential health risks!  It was incredible.  There was no doubt about it; security was purposefully punishing those who chose to opt out verbally and by having no one ready to immediately pat you down once you elected not to use the machine.  You were made to feel like you made the wrong choice and the delay was significant.  I told the guy that I should not be punished for exercising my right and he iterated that if I had gone through the machine I would have been done already.  I was finally patted down thoroughly and by the time I was on my way, I would estimate that the process took about 10 minutes longer than if I had gone through the machine.  I ran to the gate and barely made my flight.

It’s clear that JFK airport security actively discourages passengers from opting out of the controversial machine.  Clearly security was understaffed and they should have appointed someone ready to pat down anyone who opts out.  We have to realize that we shouldn’t be made to feel guilty and subservient to security protocols that impede on our personal rights.  At the very least, JFK needs to change their security protocols so that there is always one guy ready to pat you down physically.  Hire another person!  OR maybe not have a pat-down guy at all and to just let opt-outers to walk through the metal detector and go on their way.

George Orwell Turns Over in Grave After Hearing Egyptian Television

From about a year ago:

George Orwell needs to become required reading material for the Egyptian public as soon as possible. I say this because the Egyptian media is currently pushing forward some of the most obviously Orwellian propaganda in the world today. Whether you are for or against the Muslim Brotherhood is besides the point of this article. What is at stake here is whether you are for or against democracy. The current media environment in Egypt is making a really strong effort to maintain the appearance of democracy. In many ways, the Orwellian media shows that big business, media pundits, and the military are still very much invested in protecting their image. To highlight some of the most aggravating things I’ve seen in the media, here are three ways in which the propaganda machine in Egypt has been defending the military coup and the ban of a popular party:

1. ”Egypt Fights Terrorism”

Most Egyptian channels made sure to display this slogan during the crackdown on the anti-military protests in Egypt a couple of months ago. It didn’t matter that the vast majority of the protesters were not even armed, the media had no qualms about sending a mass signal that it was in fact fighting “terrorists”, single-handedly aligning anti-coup and pro-Brotherhood protesters with other infamous terrorists of today such as Osama Bin Laden, suicide bombers, and the 9/11 hijackers.

2. Using Songs to Support the Army

Patriotic songs have been broadcast all over Egyptian television this past year. The amount of appropriation is appalling. Nationalism in Egypt is highly connected to the military. These nationalistic songs evoke strong emotions in the souls of Egyptians; they are not only patriotic and catchy, but also happen to be sung by Egypt’s greatest musicians and are nostalgia-evoking. The emotions that this music evokes is used by the media and military to stir devotion and support for the coup and against the “foreign” and “unpatriotic” Brotherhood.

3. Removing the Voice of the Opposition

The talk shows in Egypt are exclusively pro-military. The military shut down the pro-Brotherhood channels when they undertook the last coup. Most of the group’s leaders are in jail and most importantly, almost all pro-Brotherhood or anti-coup opinions are absent from the air. What replaces that vacuum is an onslaught of anti-Brotherhood opinions, arguments, and propaganda. I’ve personally seen talk shows spend hours discussing the separation of church and state (making the assumption that the Brotherhood violated that idea. They may have. But there is no alternative opinion or counterargument provided). I’ve also seen shows spend hours discussing outrageous claims about the Brotherhood, such as the MB’s impending plan to cede Sinai to Hamas, sell the Suez Canal to Qatar, and how they caused the gas shortage that preceded the coup by selling natural gas and oil to Gaza. As outrageous as those claims are to us, many or most Egyptians accept them as fact, even as the claimants provide no supporting evidence. The absence of a pro-Brotherhood voice or even a voice that reluctantly accepts their right to participate in the political process is completely absent in Egyptian media today.

I really don’t understand how this doesn’t aggravate more Egyptians. I don’t have a pro-Brotherhood stance myself, and I’ve heard many people justify the military coup in different ways. But I nonetheless cannot stand excessive and emotional rhetoric, which is pervasive in Egyptian media today.