On December 23, Steven Spielberg will discover just how dangerous it is to destroy myths when his latest film "Munich" opens in some cinemas in the United States.
It is inspired by events surrounding the murder of 11 Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists during the 1972 Olympics and the secret hit squad assembled by the Israeli government to track down the perpetrators and assassinate them.
I intentionally chose the word "terrorist" to get your attention and because I believe the murder of the athletes was an act of terrorism.
More importantly I chose that word because I worry that discussion in the Arab world around "Munich" will become stuck on that word and therefore miss the point of the film. I worry that the Arab world will ban "Munich" as just the latest example of a Western film depicting Arabs as terrorists.
If "Munich" is banned in the Arab world, it will be just the latest example of its unwillingness and inability to join the intellectual debates of the day. Not only does the film, based on the birth of the concept of counterterrorism, ask the big questions of our time but it also challenges the Arab world to produce its own works of art that ask equally painful and pertinent questions.
Is the Arab world up to that challenge?
Accounts from those who have attended advance screenings of the film say Spielberg spends just a few minutes at the beginning recreating the hostage taking, the failed rescue operation and the murder of the Israeli athletes. He is more concerned with counterterrorism and its usefulness.
Intentionally or not, Spielberg”s question applies not only to the operation of vengeance approved by then Israeli Prime Minister Gold Meir more than 30 years ago but equally so to the "war on terror" launched by U.S. President George Bush in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
David Korn of The Nation magazine writes: "As the agent and his team pick off the Palestinian leaders, they see that these officials are replaced by others who advocate even more violent attacks on Israel
and Jews and that Black September is stepping up its terror campaign.
Are their assassinations prompting this awful response that is leading to the death of hundreds elsewhere?"
They didn”t always get the right men. The film doesn”t mention it but in 1973 the Mossad killed a Moroccan waiter mistaken for a senior Palestinian fugitive in the Norwegian town of Lillehammer.
Although relatives of the murdered Israeli athletes have welcomed the film, Spielberg has faced intense criticism from those who complain that he has created a moral equivalence between Palestinian terrorism and Israeli counterterrorism.
Some have assailed him for inventing a scene between a Mossad agent and one of the Palestinians in which the latter lays out the case for a Palestinian state.
While this is taken for granted in the Arab world, consider the risks that someone like Spielberg took in making "Munich". Although he said he supports Israel”s response at the time, he told The Los Angeles Times that answering aggression with aggression creates a vicious cycle of violence with no real end in sight. The Israeli Consul in Los Angeles has already called Spielberg naïve.
But for all his fame and success, Spielberg was driven by something that we sorely lack in the Arab world – risk.
"I couldn”t live with myself being silent for the sake of maintaining my popularity. And I”m at an age right now where if I don”t take risks, I lose respect for myself. And this was an important risk for me to take," he told The Los Angeles Times.
One of the biggest risks he took was bringing on award-winning playwright Tony Kushner to co-author the screenplay. Kushner, who is Jewish, is hugely controversial among pro-Zionist Jews because of his leftist politics and his condemnation of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
He co-edited the book "Wrestling With Zion: Progressive Jewish-American Responses to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict". In his contribution to the book, he says he refuses to walk within the lines expected of an American Jew when it comes to Israel.
For the sake of disclosure, I have lived and worked in Israel, I believe in its right to exist as I believe in the right of Palestinians to their own state and I mirror Kushner”s refusal to walk within the lines expected of an Arab and a Muslim when it comes to Palestine.
And so I ask again, is the Arab world up to the challenge presented by Spielberg and Kushner? Where is the book "Wrestling with Palestine" in which Arab authors challenge conventional wisdom? Where is our "Munich" that dissects the roots of Palestinian terrorism and how it has harmed the Palestinian cause?
Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad”s "Paradise Now" which depicts two friends who are recruited for a suicide bombing is a good start. Abu-Assad takes the kind of risks that Spielberg talked about by introducing voices against suicide bombings.
But we must challenge the myths of our past if we are to move beyond being the passive objects of the debates of others. That is easier said than done, considering Arab inability to face up to the myths of today.
When a Hamas rocket exploded during a parade after Israel”s withdrawal from Gaza, many Arab journalists at the scene of the explosions chose to disbelieve their own eyes and to believe Hamas” lies that it was an Israeli rocket that killed the 19 Palestinians at the scene.