MoDo may or may not have gotten an advance screening… In “A Tale of Two Women” she says the new movie “Zero Dark Thirty” and the story of the real-life Carrie Mathison is setting off waves of envy at the C.I.A. and in Hollywood. Admittedly I didn’t pore over every word, but I don’t see where she actually said she had seen the movie… The Moustache of Wisdom is in Cairo and has a question: “Can God Save Egypt?” He says the real fight going on in the streets of Cairo and elsewhere is about freedom, not religion. If the Mayans had been right these would have been MoDo’s and The Moustache of Wisdom’s last columns. Oh, well… Here’s MoDo:
Rarely have there been two such intriguing women at the heart of such a dramatic true story.
The first, a smart, prickly, compulsive C.I.A. operative in her 30s, is the real-life Carrie Mathison (minus the slutty behavior at work).
She started at the agency out of school, just before the Twin Towers were attacked on 9/11, and worked in Islamabad tracking terrorists with the monomaniacal zeal of Captain Ahab. Like Carrie, she’s a talented analyst but not, according to colleagues, Miss Congeniality.
The Washington Post’s Greg Miller wrote about the young woman who spent years messianically hunting down Osama bin Laden, convinced that they could find the fiend by trailing the couriers who hand-delivered messages to him. The inspiration for Maya — the character played by Jessica Chastain in the new Kathryn Bigelow/Mark Boal movie, “Zero Dark Thirty” — the C.I.A. operative was allowed to share her story with Boal for his screenplay.
She is described in the movie as a “her against the world” lone wolf and “killer” whose bosses learn life is better when they don’t disagree with her. She was working in Pakistan as a targeter, recruiting spies and finding drone targets, when President Obama put bin Laden’s capture back on the front burner.
“The operative, who remains undercover, was passed over for a promotion that many in the C.I.A. thought would be impossible to withhold from someone who played such a key role in one of the most successful operations in agency history,” Miller writes. Who do you have to kill to get a raise around here?
Miller continued: “She has sparred with C.I.A. colleagues over credit for the bin Laden mission. After being given a prestigious award for her work, she sent an e-mail to dozens of other recipients saying they didn’t deserve to share her accolades, current and former officials said,” since they had tried to obstruct her.
We’ve become obsessed with the vicious undermining and murderously competing fiefdoms in the Stygian world of “Homeland.” And Miller offered insight into the real thing, noting the “waves of envy” the movie has generated as operatives wrangle over credit for felling Osama. As a former C.I.A. associate told the reporter, the agency is “like middle-schoolers with clearances.”
In “No Easy Day,” the account of the raid by Matt Bissonnette, one of the SEALs who went after bin Laden, the female operative is called “Jen.” She wears expensive high heels and ribs Bissonnette about being part of “the boys’ club” that shows up at the very end “for the big game.”
When Bissonnette asks Jen to give him the honest odds that Osama is in the compound, she shoots back: “One hundred percent.” After the terrorist is killed and brought to a hangar in Jalalabad, she is overwhelmed and begins crying.
Bigelow, the driven director who tells the story of the driven operative, says she felt as if she’d been dealt “a royal flush” when they discovered a young woman at the center of the Osama hunt. You can say they undermine their heroine’s story of relentless, patient data crunching by leaving the impression — a false one, according to Senator Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee — that waterboarding played a crucial role in getting Osama. Or, as the blogger Spencer Ackerman points out on Wired.com, you can say the film boldly depicts torture as “the intersection of ignorance and brutality.”
Bigelow, too, sets off waves of envy in her insular community. The glamorous 61-year-old, the first woman to win a best director Oscar, for “The Hurt Locker,” has become Hollywood’s unsentimental premier chronicler of war.
After worrying about criticism of their C.I.A. access from the right, Bigelow and Boal are now the toasts of the right.
Some who have seen the movie say the harrowing repeated opening sequences of waterboarding, beating and degrading a detainee in a C.I.A. black site to elicit intelligence puts “a thumb on the scale for torture,” as Slate’s Emily Bazelon writes. But the debate flares about whether this is merely “a problem of emphasis and degree, not absolute falsity,” as Bazelon argues, or whether it makes the film “borderline fascistic,” as the New York magazine film critic David Edelstein referred to the “unholy masterwork.” He also named it the best movie of 2012.
Bigelow told Dexter Filkins of The New Yorker that she was taking “almost a journalistic approach to film,” while Boal told New York magazine that he uses a “hybrid of the filmic and the journalistic.”
So did they gild, or in this case, waterboard the lily? Torture, after all, is a lot more “filmic” than poring over data.
As The Times’s Scott Shane and Charlie Savage have written, “the harsh techniques played a small role at most in identifying bin Laden’s trusted courier and exposing his hide-out.”
On a conference call Tuesday organized by Human Rights First, Tony Camerino, an author and former Air Force interrogator, said he was puzzled over why Boal created “a piece of fiction” when “the real story” would be “just as exciting.” And he objected to a central character who’s complicit in torture “and yet is still viewed as a heroine.”
Boal told TheWrap.com that despite the gruesome torture scenes, viewers who come away thinking torture was the pivotal tactic in nabbing bin Laden, rather than one method used in a decade-long hunt, are “misreading the film.”
Another movie that I will not see. Here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:
When you fly along the Mediterranean today, what do you see below? To the north, you look down at a European supranational state system — the European Union — that is cracking up. And to the south, you look down at an Arab nation state system that is cracking up. It’s an unnerving combination, and it’s all the more reason for the U.S. to get its economic house in order and be a rock of global stability, because, I fear, the situation on the Arab side of the Mediterranean is about to get worse. Egypt, the anchor of the whole Arab world, is embarked on a dangerous descent toward prolonged civil strife, unless a modus vivendi can be found between President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood and his growing opposition. If Syria and Egypt both unravel at once, this whole region will be destabilized. That’s why a billboard on the road to the Pyramids said it all: “God save Egypt.”
Having watched a young, veiled, Egyptian female reporter tear into a Muslim Brotherhood official the other day over the group’s recent autocratic and abusive behavior, I can assure you that the fight here is not between more religious and less religious Egyptians. What has brought hundreds of thousands of Egyptians back into the streets, many of them first-time protesters, is the fear that autocracy is returning to Egypt under the guise of Islam. The real fight here is about freedom, not religion.
The decisions by President Morsi to unilaterally issue a constitutional decree that shielded him from judicial oversight (he has since rescinded most of it after huge protests) and then to rush the completion of a new, highly imperfect, Constitution and demand that it be voted on in a national referendum on Saturday, without sufficient public debate, have rekindled fears that Egyptians have replaced one autocracy, led by Hosni Mubarak, with another, led by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Morsi and the other Muslim Brotherhood leaders were late comers to the 2011 Tahrir Square revolution that ended six decades of military rule here. And because they were focused only on exploiting it for their own ends, they have grossly underestimated the deep, mostly youth-led yearning for the freedom to realize their full potential that erupted in Tahrir — and it has not gone away.
Whenever anyone asked me what I saw in Tahrir Square during that original revolution, I told them I saw a tiger that had been living in a 5-by-8 cage for 60 years get released. And there are three things I can tell you about the tiger: 1) Tiger is never going back in that cage; 2) Do not try to ride tiger for your own narrow purposes or party because this tiger only serves Egypt as a whole; 3) Tiger only eats beef. He has been fed every dog food lie in the Arabic language for 60 years, so don’t try doing it again.
First, the Egyptian Army underestimated the tiger, and tried to get it back in the cage. Now the Muslim Brothers are. Ahmed Hassan, 26, is one of the original Tahrir rebels. He comes from the poor Shubra el-Kheima neighborhood, where his mother sold vegetables. I think he spoke for many of his generation when he told me the other day: “We all had faith that Morsi would be the one who would fulfill our dreams and take Egypt where we wanted it to go. The problem [now] is that not only has he abandoned our dream, he has gone against it. … They took our dream and implanted their own. I am a Muslim, but I think with my own mind. But [the Muslim Brothers] follow orders from their Supreme Guide. … Half of me is heartbroken, and half of me is happy today. The part that is heartbroken is because I am aware that we are entering a stage that could be a real blood bath. And the part that is happy is because people who were completely apathetic before have now woken up and joined us.”
What’s wrong with Morsi’s new draft constitution? On the surface, it is not some Taliban document. While the writing was dominated by Islamists, professional jurists had their input. Unfortunately, argues Mona Zulficar, a lawyer and an expert on the constitution, while it enshrines most basic rights, it also says they must be balanced by vague religious, social and moral values, some of which will be defined by clerical authorities. This language opens loopholes, she said, that could enable conservative judges to restrict “women’s rights, freedom of religion, freedom of opinion and the press and the rights of the child,” particularly young girls. Or, as Dan Brumberg, a Middle East expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace, put it, the draft constitution could end up guaranteeing “freedom of speech, but not freedom after speech.”
The wild street demonstrations here — for and against the constitution — tell me one thing: If it is just jammed through by Morsi, Egypt will be building its new democracy on a deep fault line. It will never be stable. Egypt is thousands of years old. It can take six more months to get its new constitution right.
God is not going to save Egypt. It will be saved only if the opposition here respects that the Muslim Brotherhood won the election fairly — and resists its excesses not with boycotts (or dreams of a coup) but with better ideas that win the public to the opposition’s side. And it will be saved only if Morsi respects that elections are not winner-take-all, especially in a society that is still defining its new identity, and stops grabbing authority and starts earning it. Otherwise, it will be all fall down.