Opening at theaters around the country starting tomorrow (screening information is here), “Meeting Resistance” is a film that gives a voice to the shadowy Iraqi resistance that has fought the world’s most powerful imperialist country in history to a standstill. With an economy of means, this documentary accomplishes what all great art strives for, namely the humanization of its principals. With so much hatred directed against Sunni insurgents, who lack the socialist credentials of past insurgencies that attracted the solidarity of the Western left, “Meeting Resistance” takes a giant step forward in making the “enemy’s” case. After watching this powerful film, one will have to agree with George Galloway’s assessment in a speech given at the al-Assad Library in Damascus on July 30, 2005:
These poor Iraqis — ragged people, with their sandals, with their Kalashnikovs, with the lightest and most basic of weapons– are writing the names of their cities and towns in the stars, with 145 military operations every day, which has made the country ungovernable by the people who occupy it. We don’t know who they are, we don’t know their names, we never saw their faces, they don’t put up photographs of their martyrs, we don’t know the names of their leaders. They are the base of this society. They are the young men and young women who decided, whatever their feelings about the former regime — some are with, some are against. But they decided, when the foreign invaders came, to defend their country, to defend their honor, to defend their families, their religion, their way of life from a military superpower, which landed amongst them.
Co-directed by Steve Connors and Molly Bingham, “Meeting Resistance” allows a group of insurgents in the Al Adhamiya district in Baghdad to explain why they decided to fight the occupation, how they are organized, and–perhaps of the greatest interest–what kind of backgrounds they have. Among the most interesting revelations is that only a small percentage can be described as Baathist “dead-enders”, the description that was offered by the Bush gang early on and that was accepted by some sectors of the left. A political science professor in Baghdad, the only interviewee who is not actually part of the resistance, estimates that less than 10 percent are Baath Party activists.
If they do have connections, they tend to be like “The Warrior” (his facial features are obscured, as is the case with all other fighters) who was a special forces officer in the Iraqi Army and part of a thousand man suicide squad sent to Kerbala and Najaf in the first Gulf War in 1991 to put down the Shia rebellion. When he returned alive, he was charged with dereliction of duty and sentenced to death. (Saddam was obviously influenced by Stalin’s defense at Stalingrad, but a corrupt Baathist “socialism” was hardly a sufficient motivation to fight until death.) His sentence was reduced to life imprisonment and commuted after 3 ½ years in prison where he suffered torture, including broken legs. After the US invaded Iraq, he joined the resistance immediately. Even though he hated the top brass of the Iraqi government and military, he hated occupation more.
In another interview, we learn that one young man who had almost no interest in politics launched what was in effect a one-man resistance after he was humiliated by American soldiers. While he was sitting in a coffee shop with three other friends late one night, two Humvees pulled up. Soldiers poured into the shop and lined them up against the wall where they were cursed and slapped. The young man was so aggravated that he spent his own money on an RPG the next day and destroyed the Humvees. Not satisfied, he bought a rocket launcher next and attacked a tank all on his own. As the interviewer put it, you cannot suppress the Iraqi’s sense of “gallantry.” One of the enormous pleasures “Meeting Resistance” offers is the discourse of the Iraqi people, who are a race of Dylan Thomases based on the evidence of the film.
Addressing the topic of Sunni-Shia conflict, the film makes it pretty clear that the resistance, at least the contingent based in Al Adhamiya, is totally opposed to attacking Shia pilgrimages and mosques. They surmise that the occupation forces, or even the Israeli Mossad, organize these attacks in order to divide the Iraqi people. They also explain that many Sunnis and Shias in Iraq are married, so that it is impossible to view the conflict as purely tribal. That being said, they are not happy with the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s refusal to issue a fatwa against the occupation. If he did, the occupation in their opinion would end in a week.
One of the fighters, whose face is covered by a kefiya, has come to Iraq from Syria out of a sense of duty to Allah and a feeling of Arab nationalism, two themes that unite the resistance above all else. He is a deeply religious young man who explains that if Iraq is defeated, then Syria will be next. This belief appears vindicated by the recent Israeli attack on an alleged nuclear weapons facility in Syria, a preparation perhaps for an attack on Iran. One might hope that the Iranian government would eventually develop a sense of solidarity with all under attack from American imperialism. Indeed, they might follow the example of this Syrian fighter, who is Shia himself.
Molly Bingham, Steve Connors
Directors Steve Connors and Molly Bingham deserve enormous credit for having the courage and the dedication to conduct these interviews. Both had worked as free-lance photographers in Iraq from March to June 2003. After the occupation began, they were struck by the rising level of resistance despite Bush’s claim of “mission accomplished.” They became convinced that there was a “fundamental story to the war that was not being significantly covered,” according to an interview contained in the press notes, and began work on the film in August of 2003.
The project obviously contained great personal risk, as they explain the interview:
To the dismay of our families, the short answer is that we didn’t really have any guarantee of safety while we worked on this story. Like all other journalists working in Baghdad at the time we were the possible victims of random violence, being in the wrong place at the wrong time when an ambush occurs, an IED or a car bomb are detonated, being killed by coalition forces either during combat or like many civilian Iraqis, during the response to an attack, or being kidnapped. But we were also exposed to the specific dangers of this story; that the fighters we were interviewing would turn on us, or that one of the many intelligence services, militaries or militias in the country would find out what we were doing and decide to rough us up or kill us to find out what we knew. We are very lucky that none of the possible things that could have gone wrong did. Not all journalists who have been working in the country have been lucky.
Steve Connors hails from Great Britain and served in the British army in Northern Ireland in the early 1980s, a stint that obviously prepared him for the film project. “Meeting Resistance” is his directorial debut.
Molly Bingham was born in Kentucky and graduated from Harvard in 1990. In March 2003, while working as a freelancer in Iraq, she was detained by the Iraqi security forces and spent eight days in Abu Ghraib. Her father is Barry Bingham Jr., the former publisher of the Louisville Courier-Journal. The Bingham family, a dynasty really, includes many notable characters, including Barry’s sister and Molly’s aunt, Sallie Bingham who had become a radical feminist in the 1970s. There was a monumental feud in the paper in 1989, when Sallie battled Barry over what she regarded as sexism at the paper. The paper was sold when the differences reached the breaking point. Like her aunt Sallie, Molly Bingham clearly has the courage of her convictions and we are all the better for that as demonstrated by the remarkable “Meeting Resistance.”