Michael F. O’Riley


On his book Cinema in an Age of Terror: North Africa, Victimization, and Colonial History

Cover Interview of May 15, 2011

In a nutshell

This book is about the ways that cinema teaches us how the idea of occupying the position of the victim is central to the dynamics of terrorism.

I became interested in the ways that the terrorized and the terrorizing seemed to share the common desire to occupy the position of the victim—to be seen as the victim—as a way of justifying their victimization.

Examining a number of films focusing on colonial history in North Africa that focused on images of victimization, it occurred to me that the visual aspect of victimization was important to the dynamics of terrorism. I began to examine, in particular, how films focusing on the images and spectacles of victimization that took place within colonial history might inform our understanding of terrorism today.

Cinema in an Age of Terror argues that films focusing on colonial-era victimization and terror enable us to see how victimization is very much about territory—cultural, spatial, and ideological.

So, while many films highlighting the terrorism of colonial history often focus on victimization as a way of producing a new or more complete version of history, I argue that they ultimately remain locked in a history that opposes torturer and tortured, victim and victimizer. I argue that, fundamentally, this vicious cycle is very much aligned with the dynamics of terrorism today and points to the centrality of the ideology of victimization within it.