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Mountains out of foothills

Abbas Kiarostami's new film "Ten" made it to New York in time for the New York Film Festival last weekend, but he didn't. Kiarostami is Iranian; the U.S. State Department, reflecting how things have changed in the past 12 months, refused to issue him a visa without a three-month wait for a background check.

The story was reported in both the New York Times (here) and (here), both of which key in on the cost America's new security policy has on the international arts community. Salon's piece also uses the story as an opportunity to castigate the Bush administration (the rest of the world will think we're "rubes," Charles Taylor writes); and today (Wednesday) the Times follows suit with the inevitable editorial. An exception should've been made for the great director, the Times suggests. Referring to the reason Kiarostami was forced to wait the three months, they conclude by writing, "Such blanket restrictions based on nationality alone are counterproductive, reinforcing the notion that America is hostile to Islam in general, not just protecting itself against terrorism."

The blanket restrictions aren't ideal, but practical alternatives don't exactly leap to mind. And, the thing is, America hasn't closed itself off — Kiarostami's film hasn't been censored, suppressed or in any way restricted. The cost of the new security policy is real, but in the short term it isn't dire. All that's been lost for now are some opportunities for personal glory for a small number of artists from certain parts of the world; if their work, on the other hand, has suffered or lost exposure, neither the Times nor Salon (nor I) know of it. Film festivals, moreover, are typically scheduled more than three months in advance; chances are Kiarostami won't have much difficulty should he want to attend next year.

So this isn't quite the tragedy or gross injustice it's made out to be, so far as I can tell. But there's a far more worthy concern to raise. Security policies have all sorts of unanticipated costs; they are problematic measures for difficult times. This is why they must be explicitly temporary, and their conditions for termination spelled out. Once the threat of terrorism is sufficiently reduced, the costs of such restrictions will outweigh their benefits; and, in the meantime, if the terrorists' countrymen are offered an incentive (i.e., the lifting of those restrictions) for helping fight that threat, perhaps what are ostensibly protective measures can be molded into a positive influence.

It's too bad that government policies and their various consequences provoke politically motivated hyperbole instead of reasoned analysis from the media sources that report them. It dooms us to fighting demons that aren't really there, and overlooking the opportunities that are.

October 2, 2002 1:58 AM


All of this (Qaeda, the Iraqi problem, etc) are not temporary. These relatively new threats to America's shores are a result of the world becomming smaller... Communication, transportation, various interdependancies ranging from trade to people, we do all of these things far more frequently with far more distant neighbors than, say, even 5 years ago.

Unless the world becomes bigger, which it could, these threats will not diminish for the US. Should the Persian Gulf's oil refineries go up into an atomic poof next year, or should some other factor limit the flow of the greese that turns the world's gears, then the world will once again become much (much) larger than it was even in the 1970's. You don't want to live in that world.

America is particularly in-threat because of our status, our power, and our policies. Increased security, narrowing the channels of access between global compartments (i.e., states, regions) are here stay, should we wish to survive as a nation.

And, this is not only about our survival as a nation, but as a human ideal.

It's that dire.

.rob once again proclaims disneyland no more

Posted by rob adams on October 3, 2002 12:19 PM

But there's an alternative to the world getting bigger again -- it could get smaller still. If we were closer neighbors with, say, the Arab nations in the Middle East, terrorist organizations would start to run out of places to go. This is by no means an easy solution, but it's probably the only real one; and the only way to get there is to reach out, in whatever ways we can, to the rest of the world.

Of course we have to protect ourselves at the same time, and in that context I think that working with other countries as best we can to eliminate the threats that force us to construct those defenses that come between us -- and with the explicit goal of making those defenses obsolete -- is the best way to both reduce the existing threat and to improve the odds against its recurring.

Terrorism isn't a temporary problem, but its getting even tacit support from other nations could eventually be ended, if we play our cards right.

Posted by M on October 3, 2002 1:38 PM

I'm all for a smaller, and smaller world. But, as that process continues, so will our threats grow, for at least the next 30-50 years, by my guess. As we become more intimate with previously far-flung neighborhoods we will, as we've seen, encounter cultures we're ill prepared to relate with or understand completely, and vice versa.

That'll change, but it will take time, on a far arching learning curve. 30-50 years i say.

I, too, see a world where we all get along, and follow fairly similar policies of governance, trade, and civilizational goals. Right now, there are several different poles of thought on those grounds (Western, Far Asian, and Middle World). There will be compromises of thought and amalgamation of differing ideals; The America of 2050 will be a far, far different culture than that of today.

Some of the ideals we hold so dear today as Americans will be as anti-thesis to the NAmerica of 2050 as Mao's Little Red Book is to Jefferson.

.citizen 74.40.g

Posted by rob adams on October 4, 2002 12:40 PM

But whether it will take fewer than 30 or more than 50 years is to some extent up to us. If terrorist acts prompt reactionary responses, it will be longer. If they prompt visionary responses, who knows how short a time it might take?

Posted by M on October 4, 2002 12:53 PM

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