by Gary North
I have just watched a tape of a show broadcast on July 14. That video has forced me to re-evaluate the West's timetable . . . and also Osama bin Laden's. The show was a documentary titled, "The AMC Project: Hollywood and the Muslim World."
AMC is the American Movie Classics channel. It is a satellite TV channel. It got its start by broadcasting classic American movies without advertisements. It is broadening its audience.
The documentary began with images of the Middle East. The grabber was a telephoto shot of a mosque's minaret prayer tower. In the foreground were two commercial satellite reception dishes. Then these words scrolled across the screen:
In 1990, there was one satellite channel in the Middle East. Today, there are over a hundred.
For $12 a month, an Egyptian can receive 70 channels.
Governments cannot control these channels.
Click. Click. Click.
"Will and Grace." "Friends." "Sex and the City." It's all there, in living color — all the homosexuality, adultery, and fornication that Americans have come to chuckle over. It's a laugh a minute. And tens of millions of Muslims are laughing.
For 50 minutes, the documentary took us around the Middle East's TV studios. We got to see an Egyptian female TV talk show host who looks just like all of our female talk show hosts, from her blonde hair right down to her dark roots. "Look, it's Katie Jessica Stahl!" We got to see a video store which was filled with American movies. We heard interviews with a non-practicing Muslim who went to college in the U.S. and came to Lebanon to set up a satellite channel. He said that homosexuality and adultery are part of the great values that America is bringing to the Arab world. We also heard a professor at the American University in Beirut describe it as American pollution.
What became obvious is that the satellite networks have a problem. They must broadcast 24×7. There are a hundred of them. Where can a satellite network buy enough original entertainment programming to fill its prime time slots? There is only one answer: Hollywood.
So, the American cultural invasion that has enraged the French for two decades has arrived in the Middle East. It is not going to go away. There is too much money in it. "Add subtitles and broadcast" is just too simple a recipe.
The interviewer went to a video store in Cairo and asked pre-teens who their favorite American actor was. Mel Gibson won the contest, but Arnold was up there, too.
Everyone interviewed said the same thing: the American cultural presence is now universal. They all praised American technical proficiency in producing movies and TV shows. But most of them were worried. The younger children of the middle class are growing up as firmly addicted to the American materialist lifestyle as any pre-teen is in New York City, rural Alabama, or Peoria. They want to come to America.
One of the more articulate respondents said what any student of revolutionary movements should understand: the radicals are being driven to violence by this cultural invasion. The interviewer responded, "You're not saying that America is causing Muslims to turn to violence, are you?" Yes, he replied, that is exactly what I'm saying. American culture is capturing the Middle East, and the radicals are turning to extreme forms of Islam to maintain their cultural identities. Does it take a Ph.D. to figure this out? It is the story of violent resistance movements for thousands of years.
Osama's window of opportunity is closing. The children in that video store are clearly abandoning traditional Muslim values and clothing. All over the world, everyone under 40 is wearing jeans and running shoes.
The promotional for the AMC documentary says:
As satellite television and movies invade the homes of Muslims in the Middle East, many perceive it as an insidious cultural invasion by the U.S. — overt propaganda created to undermine their religious and cultural identity. From the overt homosexuality of Will & Grace, to the exaggerated violence of American action films, these powerful images project a value system that can inspire, as one Egyptian television executive states, "a kind of shock and rejection and hatred."
Yet many Muslims can't take their eyes off these images, as they've become virtually impossible to ignore. In Kurdistan, students say that American films reflect a people with greater freedom of expression and choice. "Our youth are being affected by these media products. They are enjoying it, they are consuming it, and they are imitating what they see," says Angy Ghannam, a news editor for Islam Online in Cairo, Egypt.
These Muslim critics overestimate Islam's importance for Hollywood. Hollywood's overt propaganda is designed to undermine America's religious and cultural identity. Undermining Islam is merely icing on the cake of anti-custom.
The interviewer interviewed women with head dresses. There were a lot of these women. But every one of them was wearing make-up. The mullahs of Iran may preach about the necessity of full facial covering — ski masks for desert women — but they have about as much influence over Iranian women as preachers did in America who used to preach against bathing suits that displayed women's "limbs." It would make about as much sense to tell Muslim young women to stop using mirrors, which I contend is the most culturally transforming technological innovation in mankind's history. (The wheel? Compared to what the mirror has wrought? Are you serious?)
THE WORST OF THE WEST
The TV shows that Middle Eastern Muslims are watching are the same ones that American Methodists are watching. The mullahs are as outraged as Don Wildman is, and for the same reasons. The debauchery of America is what sells on prime-time TV. It is also what sells during the day: soap operas and Jerry Springer.
The West's enormous wealth was not created by the fictional creeps who dominate the air waves. It was created by hard-working, future-oriented, risk-taking men and women who had the freedom to make contracts, plan for the future, and retain the fruits of their labor. That world is under assault on prime-time TV and in many movies. The best I can say for the Muslims interviewed is that one movie kept being mentioned as a favorite: "Braveheart." Some messages cross borders better than others. That movie's message is one that I would like to see cross a lot of borders, beginning with the one around Washington, D.C.
The onslaught of American entertainment is irresistible. The satellite network, the video, the DVD, and the Internet respect no borders. They respect only profit and loss. As technology gets cheaper, it penetrates lower economic strata like a bunker-busting bomb. What the Hutterites and Amish understand, some mullahs may understand but cannot enforce. If you don't stop the zipper, you can't stop Madonna. Culture is a package deal.
That Osama bin Laden will gain recruits for a time is obvious. This is the last stand of traditional Islam. For 1,400 years, Islamic authorities could close the borders to the West whenever they were not crossing the borders on horseback. They could expand, then lock down the territory they had conquered. The only territory that Islam ever surrendered was Spain, which took 750 years of resistance and war by Spaniards, and Greece, which took a war in the early nineteenth century, when the Ottoman Empire was collapsing.
But now national borders are disappearing. Muslims are invading Europe. They cross the borders once they have entered Spain or Italy. Meanwhile, America is invading the Islamic world culturally with TV, movies, and the Internet. Both sides are being forced to surrender their cultures. Europeans are disappearing because of falling birth rates. But Islamic authorities are losing their hold on their people because the materialism of the West is taking root in the Middle East.
If men will not rule themselves, then others will rule over them. If men will not turn away from evil on their own, then one of two things will happen: they will be ruled by those who seek to cut off evil on the supply side, or else evil will rule them. "Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin" (John 8:34).
Christianity has been struggling with the moral pollution of mass entertainment for two generations. On the whole, Hollywood is like the Borg. It announces, "Resistance is futile." But over time, immunities have developed. These immunities have been internally generated from within the Christian community. Christian schools and home schools have been the front line of defense. There has been terrible erosion, but the defenses have begun to work. Also, the effects of sexually transmitted diseases have become apparent. The STD's respect only one border: monogamy. Pagan sub-Sahara Africa is dying off. Yet an unprecedented Christian revival is taking place: from 9% of the population in 1900 to an estimated 46% today. Part of this percentage growth is the result of the AIDS death rate suffered by the non-Christians.
Islam has relied on coercion from the top to defend its borders. Those borders are now collapsing. In 1990, it might have been possible to control the electronic border. It no longer is.
I saw a recent news report on the economy of Baghdad. The hot item is TV satellite dishes. Saddam had kept them out. No longer.
Islam has not developed the necessary cultural defenses, which begin with self-restraint. It is facing a developed culture with an unstoppable technology. That technology is electronic. There is no doubt that Islamic alternatives will come — sitcoms as dopey as the West's — but the content will in the direction of Hollywood's. It has everywhere else. Why should Islam be different?
What had worked for Islam for 1,400 years — border guards with weapons — will no longer work. Neither will the police.
America is now hated in the Middle East, but it's too late for successful resistance based on coercion. Islam will now have to develop defenses based on self-government. The Islamic revolutionary brotherhoods have this. What remains to be seen is whether the broad mass of Muslims have it.
Bin Laden and his peers are running out of time. Those children in that video store like Mel Gibson. If bin Laden can re-package himself as the Braveheart of Islam, he will gain recruits. I think he is trying to do this. But the last word of the movie's dying William Wallace was "freedom!" That has not been one of Islam's catch phrases. "Islam" means "submission."
Thank God for Mel Gibson.
Copyright © 2003 LewRockwell.com