Friday, March 15, 2013

Dark. Zero Forgiveness?

(March/April 2013 article in Zaghareet Magazine addressing the film Zero Dark Thirty and how we go about healing our global differences if we can't forgive and forget.)

By Al-‘Anqa

Author’s Note:  By now, most of you who were gung-ho to watch the Oscar nominated film Zero Dark Thirty which chronicles the CIA’s 10 year hunt for Osama Bin Laden, have probably taken the initiative to do so. IF you are someone who wants to see it but hasn’t yet found the time, be fair warned that this article contains SPOILERS.

I was one of the people who couldn’t wait to see Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow’s film which tells the story of the decade long manhunt for 9/11 mastermind, Osama Bin Laden. Being made and released so soon after the May 2011 raid in Pakistan where Bin Laden was killed, I was excited to see how it would portray this event and what new information might be revealed that we, the public, hadn’t yet been privy to.

The acting, I thought, was very good. The movie was cinematically beautiful. The locations and events felt authentic. I give a big kudos to the location scout and the continuity team. I was highly moved by the film. But, perhaps, not in the way the filmmakers intended.

I certainly didn’t walk away with a feeling of patriotic pride in being an American. I walked away devastated. I cried during the movie. I cried for two hours after the film was over. I think my poor husband, who went to the screening with me, was concerned for my mental health.

Because I’ve read a lot about the development of terrorism in the wake of the destruction of the twin towers, I understood most of the events that were about to be shown on screen before they happened. As soon as Jessica Chastain’s character, Maya, walked into the Islamabad Marriott hotel and sat down, I tensed up, waiting for the bomb to go off, knowing what had happened there in 2008. It was heartbreaking to see these events unfold before my eyes.

I’m a filmmaker whose production company works in the horror genre. I wouldn’t call myself particularly squeamish. I’m used to both watching and re-creating violence on the screen: sometimes purposefully over the top for comedic effect and sometimes meant to be realistic. In either case, our theory for film is to show just enough and then allow the audience to fill in the blanks, because what they can imagine for themselves is far worse than what we can show them. Not the case here. Visually seeing these events on screen was far worse for me than how I had imagined them while reading about them.

The question that stayed on rotation in my brain at the conclusion of the film, and that still haunts me, is this… What have we wrought? All of us, on both sides. How do we get to a place of forgiveness and acceptance with each other’s cultures after the decades of atrocities that have been committed by all parties? This dilemma encompasses so many countries and cultures, east and west. World War III? Are we in it?

Those children who watched the Navy SEAL Team kill their parents in their own house, who will they grow up to be? Will they ever feel safe again? And can we really be shocked if they grow up to continue the cycle of violence they’ve been thrust into by no fault of their own? Would I choose peace if I’d been force fed violence in my formative years? I think and I hope I would, but no one can know what they’d do until they find themselves in that situation.

How have our service members been effected by their missions? The film did a wonderful job of making the SEALs human. I saw the conflicting emotions they were working through as they carried out the raid. I have no reference point for how war affects the participants on the ground. But, I can only imagine that recurring nightmares are involved. The faces of those children haunt me, and I didn’t encounter them in the dead of night with blood on the floor and the murder weapon in my hand. How do we care for our service members when they come home…

How do we get to a place where both sides stop killing innocent people for politics! Terrorist attacks have broken families and left hearts bleeding all over the globe. Retaliations for these attacks have also taken innocent lives. It’s near impossible for war to miss every civilian. Make no mistake that hearts bleed and grieve the same in every culture.

I could keep going with the questions, but I have no good answers. I just have one wish:  That everyone takes the time to see this film.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Despite the sadness the film made me feel, it does an excellent job, in my view, of promoting a sea change toward peace and acceptance by visually chronicling the cycle of violence and revenge we’ve been stuck in for so long.

There are certainly those who disagree with me. Zillah Eisenstein, Distinguished Scholar of Anti-Racist Feminist Political Theory at Ithaca College, is sad to think of Zero Dark Thirty being seen globally, stating, “It will be read as another story of imperial empire with a (white) female twist”[i].

Yet, Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association commenting on the brutal death and rape of Jyoti Singh Pandey, says: "Gender justice needs to be brought and kept in the centre stage of the debate, not the death penalty” [ii]. My understanding of what she’s saying is finding peace within so that you can focus the community toward conversation that elicits real change. I believe that involves forgiveness.

“It is not enough to scream ‘death penalty’ and wind up the issue”, says Krishnan. “I find it funny that the BJP is demanding death penalty for the rapists, when within it’s own constituencies it gets goons to chase down girls who wear jeans or fall in love with members of minority communities — saying that women must adhere to ‘Indian sensibilities’, or else. We need to create a counter culture against this ultimatum. We need to create a counter politics, one that asks for the right for women to live freely without fear.” [iii]

There has to be room for forgiveness, on both sides. We didn’t get to this level of dissidence overnight, and we won’t change it overnight either. But, we have to start somewhere. The sooner we initiate forgiveness in our own hearts, the sooner we can get others to do the same, stop bombing each other, and start talking. What’s our other option? Keep attacking until one side is annihilated? Didn’t we fight World War II to avoid that scenario?

There I go with the questions again.

I understand humans have been fighting each other for resources, religion, power, and politics since our dawn of time. But our weapons were far less advanced before the 20th century. We’re in the 21st now and the rate of technological advance is only increasing. I just can’t believe in my heart that the majority of humans on this over-populated planet have failed to evolve toward understanding each other and accepting, even embracing our differences.

My hope is that everyone who views Zero Dark Thirty walks out of the theatre with a global consciousness on their mind and forgiveness in their heart. Because that’s the world that I hope for, and change starts inside, one person at a time.

The opinions expressed in this article are strictly those of the author and are not intended to reflect those of Zaghareet Magazine.  Al-‘Anqa is also known as Cindy Marie Martin.  She double majored in Broadcasting/Journalism and Theatre at Concord University.  You can read more of her ramblings at  

[i] Zillah Eisenstein, “Dark, Zero Feminism,” Al Jazeera, January 21, 2013,

[ii] Kavita Krishnan via facebook, “Indian Women Say It’s Time for Change”, Burrows and Barrels Blog, January 2, 2013,

[iii] Kavita Krishnan, “AIPWA National Secretary Kavita Krishnan Addressing the Protestors in front of Delhi CM's Residence Demanding Justice for Rape Victims”, AIPWA Blog, December 20, 2012,