This essay seeks to investigate the aporias and dilemmas of representation that Arab writers and artists confront at a time when the Arab world has become overly mediatized and ideologically territorialized as a zone of sectarian violence and death. For all the reports on Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon, the Arab world suffers from what might be called a collapse of witnessing. By focusing on the controversies over the humanization of terrorism in Hany Abu-Assad's film Paradise Now (Al-Jenna al-an), I demonstrate the ways in which the film grapples with the construction of a narrative terrorism that cannot be pre-discursively (and on licensed grounds) discredited as justificatory of terror. Oftentimes, narratives of terrorism are discredited not because they ostensibly raise ethical concerns over the aestheticization of terror but because they challenge the racial and geopolitical differentials on the grounds of which humanity is constructed, valued, allocated, or withheld. I argue that Abu-Assad's Paradise Now reopens the corridors of distant empathizing and shakes awake the intoxicated slumbering of our sobering imaginative impulses. Paradise Now treads the fine line between interpreting and responding to martyrdom operations (a.k.a. suicide bombing), ensuring that these complementary and simultaneous hermeneutic tasks do not slither accidentally into the moral abyss of justifying “terror-ism.” I demonstrate how the film makes use of cinematic conventions (e.g., the thriller genre and camera malfunctions) in order to undo the spectacle of terror-ism—and become something other than spectacle in the very route to becoming spectacle—as well as articulate a more nuanced and challenging narrative of Palestinian nationhood, a narrative that has been so far either impermissible or readily discreditable by status occupation. Welcome to the reel desert of the real.
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Nouri Gana; Reel Violence: Paradise Now and the Collapse of the Spectacle. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 1 May 2008; 28 (1): 20–37. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/1089201x-2007-053
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