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

A close-up

I’d draw the attention of your “browser” to the book’s first chapter.

The first chapter of Cinema in an Age of Terror discusses The Battle of Algiers, a film by the Italian Marxist director Gillo Pontecorvo.  The film highlights the reciprocal victimization of the French and Algerians during the closing years of French colonialism in Algeria. It contains a rather graphic portrayal of terrorism as it is inflicted by both colonizer and colonized.

In late summer of 2003, when resistance to the American occupation in Iraq acquired the profile of a war of guerilla insurgency through increased bombings and acts of sabotage, the office of Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict of the Pentagon prepared a special screening of Pontecorvo’s film for Pentagon officials involved in the war on terror.

Although The Battle of Algiers clearly seems to side with the colonized Algerians in their struggle for independence, it definitely portrays how victimizer and victimized become locked in a cycle of victimization that becomes self perpetuating.

So the first chapter of my book examines the dynamics of victimization and spectatorship that link colonial-era history to the history of terrorism in the present.

In particular, I deal with the ways that the Pentagon screening of the film was directly related to occupying the position of the victim.  In the wake of September 11th the U.S. identified clearly with the position of the terrorized victim.

The Pentagon screening of Pontecorvo’s film was an attempt on the part of the U.S. government to understand better the position and tactics of what it perceived to be the victimizer—the Arab Muslim insurgent in this film’s case.  However, such a perception also revealed how the U.S. was placing itself in the position of victim.

The book not only discusses the fairly unknown use of a film on colonial history by the U.S. government, but it also demonstrates the importance of victimization within terrorism that my work attempts to underscore.