Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

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The top 5 terror finance films of all time

February 24, 2013

Thrillers about terrorism focus on adventure, explosions, and tension; while they may depict specific terrorist attacks and the logistics behind them, such movies rarely address the financing.  Meanwhile, movies about bank robberies, jewel heists, and corporate malfeasance show how bad guys finance themselves, but these financial crime films tend to boil down to greed, or the acquisition of money for personal use, rather than raising money for broader social objectives.

We are left with a handful of movies dealing with the actual financing of terrorism or rebel insurgencies, and those that do often address the subject briefly.  Although it’s tough to find movies that incorporate both elements, it’s worth the investment.  These five movies help illuminate important concepts in terrorist financing in ways that news articles and scholarly research cannot, and in ways that simple bank heist movies can’t either.  They’re also sure to entertain you along the way.

By the way, it took a long time to compile this short list, so please acknowledge Money Jihad if this ranking is reproduced elsewhere.

  1. “Casino Royale”—Le Chiffre is a bankroller to the world’s terrorists.  But he is being pursued by terrorists who want access to their funds immediately.  Le Chiffre sets up a high stakes poker game in Montenegro to get more money and restore his credibility with his terrorist clients.  His rival?  None other than James Bond, 007, who enters the match with money fronted by the British government.  If Bond wins, the international financing of terrorism will be setback; if he looses, the government will have directly funded terrorists.  While the men play their game, is Bond’s love interest being forced to work for an unnamed terrorist group in Algeria?This film shows how skill, charm, and a little bit of luck by Britain’s best spy can triumph over shadowy but well-connected forces behind the international financing of terrorism.
  2. “The Path to 9/11″—The television miniseries (especially Part I) that aired on ABC in 2006 includes an ensemble cast and multiple story lines, one of which focuses on the money trail that led U.S. intelligence to recognize the threat posed by Osama Bin Laden in the 1990s.  The trail begins with the cunning bomb maker, Ramzi Yousef, who bombs the World Trade Center and becomes and international fugitive.  From the Philippines to Pakistan, Yousef works on his explosives, causing mayhem wherever he goes.  He’s planning a massive attack–bombs detonating aboard flights, but to do it he needs money—real money—for materials, equipment, electronics, and men.  His comrade tells him about a Saudi millionaire who can help. Meanwhile, tired of going after “small fish,” the FBI’s John O’Neill and other senior members of the U.S. counter-terrorism community try to find out who’s funding Yousef.  The U.S. gets a nervous informant who is about to depart with Yousef on a trip to Afghanistan, where Yousef says they can meet his financier, whom he calls “the tall one.” The money chase story line earns this miniseries its place on the list, but even without it, the movie is a devastating portrayal of bureaucracy and politics getting in the way of mid and lower level agents who are trying to stop Bin Laden 9/11.  This important film is unfairly maligned by liberals who have flooded the Internet with an endless stream of angry, overly politicized criticism.
  3. “The Long Good Friday”—Unbeknownst to an English mafia boss, one of his lieutenants delivers cash to the Irish Republican Army, but skims a little for himself along the way.  The lieutenant ends up dead, and the boss, played by Ed Hoskins, and his loved ones wind up the target of a seemingly inexplicable bombing campaign. It turns that out another of his key gang members, a real estate developer who employs Irish workers, was the one responsible for the ongoing payments to the IRA.  While the bombs are exploding, Hoskins is trying to complete a major business deal with an American investor played by Eddie Constantine (who also appears in another noteworthy terrorist financing movie, “The Third Generation,” as a West German businessman who funds terrorism in order to sell equipment to security forces fighting it.)  His best advisers tell him to back down, but Hoskins thinks he can go toe-to-toe against one of the most dangerous terrorist organizations in the world.  It’s a tense, exciting film, and it’s somewhat unique among movies for providing a glimpse into how front companies can be used to fund terrorism. Hoskins was widely praised for his performance, and Helen Miren who plays his wife is absolutely superlative.
  4. “Baader Meinhof Complex”—The movie portrays the terrorist acts committed by the Red Army Faction, or Baader-Meinhof group, in West Germany in the late 1960s and ’70s.  The group also carried out bank robberies which they regarded as legitimate “expropriation” to finance the revolution—a common Marxist terrorist fundraising technique.  Ultimately the first generation of the Red Army Faction fell apart.  It’s a well-done film that illustrates how the terrorists’ search for bigger and better attacks ultimately destroys and shatters not just the lives of their victims, but their own lives too.
  5. “Nighthawks”—Wulfgar, an international terrorist mercenary—sets off a bomb in England, striking “a blow against British colonialism” in Northern Ireland.  But children are killed in the attack, and the IRA refuses to pay him.  Struggling to overcome a shortage of pay and his damaged reputation, Wulfgar gets plastic surgery and sets off for New York.  There he hopes he can launch a major terrorist attack that will be covered by the news media capital of the world, and prove his worth again to international terrorist organizations that would hire him again if he succeeds.  He is aided by “Shakka Kappour,” a ruthless Moroccan terrorist in her own right.  Only cop-on-the-beat Sylvester Stallone can stop them, with assistance from his partner Billy Dee Williams and counter-terrorist expert LeGard, who does as good a job as anybody since Col. Mathieu from “The Battle of Algiers” in getting inside the mind of terrorists to defeat them at their own game.  Explosions, dramatic tension, and great pacing earn this overlooked thriller a place in the top five.

Honorable mention:  “A Bullet for the General”–Chuncho (or sometimes Chucho) and his bandits traffic arms for General Elías, a rebel leader during the Mexican Revolution.  Chuncho is joined by “El Niño,” an American man with mysterious motives.  They conduct a good, old-fashioned train robbery, seize rifles from a military garrison after assassinating its commandant, and dispossess the richest man in San Miguel of his wealth.  The film may not be the best of the Italian produced “Zapata westerns” set during the Mexican Revolution which all touched on similar themes, but it is one is quite germane to how an insurgent movement is armed and financed.

A problem worth noting about terror finance movies is that about half of them are designed convince audiences that terrorism is an artificial phenomenon created and funded by capitalists to increase profits circuitously.  While movies in this mold such as “The Third Generation,” “Burn!” and “The International” are relevant to the subject of financing terrorism or a revolution, and are entertaining, they are based on fundamentally flawed premises about the nature of the threat and cannot be wholly recommended.

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Flashback: Romney’s No Apology

November 4, 2012

Mitt Romney touched on several issues involving jihad and the necessity for energy independence from the Middle East in his book, No Apology.  Some of the governor’s comments—which suggest that he has a far clearer understanding of global threats, foreign affairs, and national security than his opponent—are worth revisiting today.  Romney wrote:

  • Radical Sunni & Shia “endeavor to cause the collapse of all competing economies and systems of government.”
  • “In all forms of energy, Russia already is the largest exporter in the world, actually outpacing Saudi Arabia.”
  • “Our dependence on foreign oil rose from 42% of our total consumption in 1990 to 58% today.”
  • “Massive Saudi investment in Islamic study centers in Western universities is designed” to lull the West into inaction.
  • “The [Ottoman] empire’s wealth was amassed from pillage and taxes.”

A presidential candidate who actually defends America and who is critical of aggressive rivals?  Very refreshing.

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Muhammad inspired Michael Myers?

October 31, 2010
Michael Myers peers over the balcony

Michael Myers in "Halloween"

The Prophet Mohammed in a Mosque

Muhammad in a mosque

 

One of the greatest horror films ever made was “Halloween,” which was produced by Syrian-born Moustapha Akkad in 1978.  The film was so thrilling that Roger Ebert proclaimed “I would compare it to Psycho.”

Apart from producing the Halloween series, Akkad is perhaps most famous for directing “The Message”—the sword and sand “epic” glorifying the life and conquests of Muhammad.  “The Message” was released just two years prior to “Halloween.”  It seems a rather dramatic change in focus—does it not?—to be making a religious biography one year and a gory slasher flick shortly thereafter?  But there is more continuity between the two movies than meets the eye.

First person camera

There are a few famous films in history, such as “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” that have used the viewpoint of the camera to simulate the viewpoint of a character in the movie.  Two of the other best known films to employ that technique are—you guessed it—“The Message” and “Halloween.”

More often than not, arch-villain Michael Myers is depicted either by the camera or in the shadows, at a distance, and only in a mask.  Like our beloved Prophet, you never see his face.  The production of “The Message” was interrupted, protested, and boycotted on many occasions over rumors that an actor would portray Muhammad on screen.  If Moustapha Akkad ever desired to show the face of Muhammad, the death threats convinced him otherwise.  Akkad decided to use first-person camera and only portrayed Muhammad’s more distant relatives and companions to avoid the controversy of showing Muhammad’s inner circle.

Read the rest of this entry ?

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Anti-Israel play debuts in Atlanta

February 1, 2010

Tennis in Nablus,” a new play that opened this weekend at Atlanta’s Alliance Theater, celebrates the Arab revolt against Britain and Zionists in late 1930s Palestine.

As drama, the play is successful and even enjoyable.  As politics, “Tennis in Nablus” is trashy and offensive.  I’ve written a lengthy review of the play here at TheaterReview.com (under the moniker “Terminus”).  One striking element of the play, and the most relevant for our readers, is the character of Tariq, an Arab businessman in Palestine who starts off the play as a friendly partner to British and Jewish business and political class.

But after a painful journey of wrongful imprisonment in the dungeons of the British occupying force, Tariq is radicalized into becoming a supporter of the revolt and a bankroller of Palestinian terror.  In so doing, Tariq becomes a champion of the Arab street and the hero of the play.

The anti-Israel political message of “Tennis in Nablus” is one-sided and may be upsetting for Jewish audiences.  The glib celebration of financing the Arab revolt should be equally disturbing anybody concerned about money laundering and terrorist financing.

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Even when broke, thugs buy weapons

December 11, 2009

One would be tempted to believe that during a global economic recession and an Iranian budget catastrophe, that the Islamic Republic would cut back on lavish spending to develop a nuclear program.  That’s possible, but isn’t borne out by the recent history of the neighborhood.

Andrew and Patrick Cockburn’s Out of the Ashes, a political overview of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq during the 1980s and 90s, helps illustrate the point.  Even when Saddam’s regime had no money, it forked over heaps of cash—with no questions asked—to Saddam’s nuclear scientists:

No one knows precisely how many billions of dollars where lavished on the Iraqi bomb project.  Even during the darkest years of the Iran-Iraq war, work proceeded at full speed.  The scale of the project, the creation of a network of foreign contractors, and the success with which the program was kept out of the international public eye were a monument not only to the talents of Jafr [an Iraqi nuclear scientist] and the overall director of the scheme from 1987, Saddam’s cousin and son-in-law Hussein Kamel, but also to the insouciance of the Western powers.  It was not as if the veil of secrecy surrounding the project was complete.  Even when a close U.S. ally, Saudi Arabia, agreed to help finance the Iraqi bomb program on the promise of repayment in nuclear devices, Washington took no action.  (p. 89)

The parallel today is that Iran is also disregarding its economic woes in order to support expensive weapons programs and foreign intrigue.  Nobody really knows how much money Iran is spending to arm itself, eventually to nuke Israel or threaten the West.  The Cockburns’ book is dated but its lessons are fresh.

Read my full review of Out of the Ashes on Amazon here.

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