Power of entertainment can change American minds

Arabs don’t get the power of American entertainment, yet they spend a lot of time enjoying it.

Arabs have a wealth that ranks them financially among the most powerful on Earth. If they wanted, they could invest pennies of their wealth and produce some of the most compelling movies, television dramas and news programs in English that could dramatically change how Americans view the Middle East.

But while Americans view entertainment as a fundamental necessity to understanding the world’s reality and as a force that educates, Arabs see entertainment as something that does little more than entertain.

The fact is, Americans take their entertainment seriously. They often rely on fiction and drama to supplement their formal education, or lack of education, too. Oftentimes, Americans turn to entertainment as an alternative to realities they prefer not to see.

This week, Hollywood re-scripted the Middle East conflict yet again, this time in the season premiere of "The West Wing," a popular award-winning TV drama that takes real events from the headlines that most Americans can’t seem to understand, and re-engineers them into fictionalized dramas they can understand and accept.

The show is cast in a mock White House with a president, staff and political conflict that is often more compelling than real life.

Americans like their enemies cast in simple terms. They like the world painted in terms of either Good of Evil. That’s one reason why a real-life president like George W. Bush who has no formal experience or training in foreign policy can destroy Middle East peace, create conflicts out of complacency, and still win the support of a majority of Americans using a policy that is defined in childlike terms of "you are either with us or against us."

There is definitely no "gray matter" in the president’s thinking, especially when it comes to the Middle East.

The reality is, of course, that the Middle East is a very complicated mess of black and white and mostly gray in-between.

The premiere of the West Wing exploits that crisis, and scripts a situation where Palestinian terrorists murder two U.S. Congressmen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and another high level American administrator while conducting a fictional tour of the Gaza Strip. In real life, it would never happen for many reasons to complicated to explain.

But in TV entertainment, anything can happen and does.

The West Wing plot follows almost word-for-word Israel’s official propaganda about the Palestinians, which falsely blames all violence and terrorism on the Palestinians while disguising Israeli government terrorism as peace. In reality, Israel’s policies of confiscating Palestinian lands and expelling its inhabitants is the cause of the violence. But carefully managed by the Israeli lobby, most Americans don’t understand that reality.

In the TV version of the White House drama, "everyone" clamors for the "U.S." to immediately retaliate and attack Palestinian targets in the Gaza Strip, something the U.S. has never done in real life, at least directly.

The fictional West Wing "President," played by Martin Sheen, fights hard to resist the emotional mob-like clamor for vengeance and he insists on fighting to protect any chance for peace.

In real life, Sheen, the actor, is an outspoken advocate for peace and justice for the Palestinians and security for the State of Israel. I suspect Sheen, the actor, played a significant role in writing the script for this TV drama.

The show is counter-balanced, of course, by the usual pro-Israel propaganda.

It is all fiction based on some small facts but it reinforces what Americans have been brainwashed for years by pro-Israel propaganda to accept for the past 56 years.

When "President" Sheen asks his staff to give him ideas on how to avoid war and bring Israelis and Palestinians back to the peace table, the staff rebels and refuse to make suggestions.

In the end, the Palestinians and Israelis are brought back to the peace table, the Palestinians are made to look like terrorists reluctant to support peace, and the TV program has all of the drama that wins big audience ratings and Academy Awards.

But that is exactly what American entertainment is all about.

Americans are fundamentally racist and arrogant. They scream for vengeance when Americans are killed, but seem uncaring when their policies cause the murder and death of innocent civilians in a host of Third World countries they exploit for resources, slave labor and, of course, cheap oil.

Americans do not want TV programs that challenge the lies they accept and that serve as the basis of their fundamental ignorance of complex wars like the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The meaning of "entertainment" is "fiction." And the meaning of "fiction" is an acceptable "lie."

One day, Arabs might understand that investing in a strategy based on clever fiction can have more impact in achieving their desire for peace and justice than relying on a poorly proffered strategy based on "truth."

Give me one talented Arab Hollywood filmmaker with a large enough budget — the Arab World is the wealthiest regions in the world — and have that person make a compelling fiction movie in English that recasts the Palestinians in a fairer light, and I will give you a strategy that can win over the hearts and minds of the American people.

And with the hearts and minds of the American people on our side, Palestinians could achieve a just and fair peace that results in a Palestinian State that would be "more generous" than the so-called generous peace offer made by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak that Arafat rejected as insufficient.

A good movie in English would achieve more for Palestinian justice than all of the pathetically inadequate policies and strategies devised by all of the Arab World’s armies, kings and mullahs.