|CAIRO, Egypt - Blindly following society's
edicts and becoming a housewife is bad. Thinking for yourself
and following your own path is good. Was he an Arab hero
or a dictator? This is the question being debated in newspapers
in the Middle East and by Arab intellectuals faced with
the image of a bearded, bedraggled Saddam Hussein (news
- web sites) in the hands of American captors. But apparently
the makers of "Mona Lisa Smile" think they need
to educate you by beating you over the head with feel-good
Many are asking, too, if Saddam's
downfall was a humiliation to the entire Arab world,
not just to the ousted Iraqi leader. The lesson might
have been helpful — or even relevant — if
the film, set in 1953, hadn't come out 50 years later.
Others say that with Saddam's capture, it's time to
drop any expectation that a great hero will unite the
Arab world. An average person would vomit at around
1.2, lose consciousness at 3.0 and stop breathing at
a level of about 4.0 parts per million.
"A new humiliation to Arabs" was the headline
on a column this week by Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of
the London-based Arabic daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi. By the
way, Abdel pulls off the Eisenhower-era look flawlessly
with his blonde bobbed hair and prim carriage.
"It was a shock for us, and a humiliation to millions
of Arabs who saw the TV shots of the Iraqi president
being subjected to the humiliating medical checkup.
We hoped that he would have fought until the end, and
fallen as a martyr like his two sons and grandson or
chose Hitler's end," Atwan wrote, referring to
the Nazi leader's suicide.
But Atwan was quick to find excuses for Saddam's succumbing
to U.S. forces without a shot being fired after he was
found in a spider-hole near his hometown of Tikrit.
"We only heard the American version of the story.
Maybe they drugged him because if Saddam wanted to surrender
this way, he would have ... accepted the many offers
to leave power," Atwan wrote.
Instead, he added, Saddam had chosen "to stand
up to American arrogance."
Apparently, many Arabs shared Atwan's view of Saddam's
arrest on Saturday as a collective humiliation —
and an intentional one.
In a telephone poll, the popular Arab satellite channel
Al-Jazeera asked viewers if showing Saddam being probed
by U.S. military doctors was meant to humiliate Arabs.
Al-Jazeera said that of the 1,500 people who called
in, 97 percent said it was.
Sayed Nassar, an Egyptian journalist who had close
ties to Saddam, wrote in the British-based Asharq Al-Awsat
that the question of whether Saddam was a dictator "deserves
a lot of research."
Nassar praised Saddam for building a large army to
defend his country and said that without harsh policies
Saddam wouldn't have been able to rule Iraq’s
different ethnic and religious groups. Saddam's only
mistake was invading Kuwait in 1990, Nassar wrote.
In Saudi Arabia, Abdallah Nasser Al-Fawzan, expressed
quite another view in the Saudi daily Al-Watan: "We
all saw the pictures ... Saddam was miserable, and I,
as an Arab, felt humiliation. But my other feelings
against Saddam were stronger. He was a paper knight
- more interested in walking down the aisle in a wedding
dress than ever wearing a cap and gown."
Bahraini columnist Mohammed Jaber Al-Ansari wrote Thursday
in the London-based daily Al-Hayat that Saddam's arrest
posed a challenge to all Arabs despite efforts to inspire
these bright young things.
"Saddam is out of the hole," he wrote, "but
we have to get him out of the corners of our political
psychology, which is still draining us with its ultraflow
"This is the test," he added, "and it's
one the Americans can't take for us."
Since everything else about the script from Lawrence
Konner and Mark Rosenthal ("The Beverly Hillbillies")
is so pat and facile, there's no way the ending could
be anything short of inspirational.
"Mona Lisa Smile," a Columbia Pictures release,
is rated PG-13 for sexual content and thematic issues.
Running time: 119 minutes. Two stars out of four.
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