In a recent Pew survey, American journalists in Iraq said they viewed the lives of ordinary Iraqis and the sense of daily life in Iraq as “undercovered.” “There are too few reports that include Iraqi citizens-not Green Zone politicians but regular folks,” one TV journalist said. “We need to hear their voices.”
If the Western press has neglected the voices of ordinary Iraqis, the thoughts and motivations of the overwhelmingly Iraqi men and women who comprise the insurgency have been all but invisible. In their award-winning new documentary Meeting Resistance, journalists Molly Bingham and Steve Connors seek to change this. A series of interviews with Iraqi insurgents, interspersed with footage of neighborhood bombings, Meeting Resistance is challenging and remarkable-a silent look at the other side in an age of “evildoers.”
The American Bingham and the British Connors went to Iraq to cover the invasion as freelancers in February 2003; they shot Meeting Resistance over the course of 10 months in 2003 and 2004. I spoke with them by telephone.
The basic idea behind your film-consider the motivations of people who are, for American soldiers, mortal enemies-is something I think many Americans would have a great deal of antipathy toward.
Molly Bingham: There are a lot of advocacy films out there right now. Ours is not one of them. Steve and I approached this project as journalists. After the invasion, it quickly became clear that small-scale attacks [on coalition forces] were gaining cohesion, and finding who was behind those attacks, and what they thought they were doing, seemed like a reasonable question.
Nevertheless, I can imagine your being branded unpatriotic in many parts of the country.
MB: I’m not a soldier. And I know this is not a film that’s easy for American soldiers to watch. At the same time, if I had committed myself to the U.S. military, and was willing to risk my life for it, I would hope the American people would be having a profound and meaningful discussion about what my life was on the line for.
Is that discussion occurring right now?
MB: Well, this is an election year, and Iraq is a core issue. : Meeting Resistance has this missing puzzle piece: Who is opposing us in Iraq, and why? : If the reality is that [the insurgents] are not going to stop shooting at us and killing our guys until we withdraw, than we need to have a realistic discussion in this country about whether we’re up for that. Is [Iraq] where we want to spend our money? Is that where we want to send our sons and daughters? And if so, for what? After four years of working on this issue almost exclusively, I can’t tell you what I really think our policy objectives are in Iraq.
We’re hearing from many different sources that what is now occurring is a low-level civil war, that if we leave it’s going to erupt into a full-scale civil war, and at this point, even if Iraqis don’t want it, the most efficacious way of dealing with the situation is a confederation of three separate states-Sunni, Shi’ite, and Kurd.
Steve Connors: One of the great myths in this country right now is that the United States is altruistically standing between two sides in a civil war, keeping them from each other’s throats. That isn’t the case. The United States military is overwhelmingly engaged in force protection. In other words, they’re looking after themselves.
MB: There’s a pretty paternalistic tone to [the idea that] even if the Iraqis don’t want it, the best thing for them is a confederation. Seventy-one percent of Iraqis want the United States and all foreign troops to withdraw within a year. : The Iraqis want self-determination. They don’t want foreign troops in their country, and they want to make their own decision about their next move. Now, that may be inconvenient for us, but to say that we’re not going to listen to the Iraqi people because it doesn’t suit our foreign policy objectives is a pretty amazing stance, given that we invaded their country on the pretense of delivering democracy, freedom, and self-determination.
Molly Bingham and Steve Connors present Meeting Resistance in the Santa Barbara Central Library’s Faulkner Gallery on Wednesday, January 16, at 7 p.m. A $12 donation is suggested. See meetingresistance.com for more info.