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Emily Pimentel

GEOG 340
26 February 2015
The Freedom of Power
The United States has, since its creation, built itself a proud identity in freedom. Freedom
of expression, freedom of choice, freedom in the markets, freedom of political association,
freedom of religion- these and many more freedoms have constructed the idea of freedom as
something given by the government. Freedom comes from the hand of a life-giving power. In
turn, this implies that there are political powers that can destroy and remove unalienable
freedoms earned at birth. When positioning itself in international relations, the United States has
claimed its spot at the pinnacle of the political hierarchy as a model of democracy. When the
freedom of another state is in question, the United States perceives it its responsibility to step in
and provide a path to the right. Mahmood Mamdanis article, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: A
Political Perspective on Culture and Terrorism, presents this political intervention played by the
United States in the context of the military action in the Middle East. He further concludes that
the idea of political responsibility has become relative: the higher moral ground is the one that
most easily opposes democracys enemies from the outside. Mamdanis call for a more in depth
and contextual look at the battles that occur on the international side of Americas high moral
ground parallels Emad Burnat and Guy Davidis exposition, in Five Broken Cameras, of the
implications behind Israels preservation through the West Bank Barrier; freedom powers have
created a moral relativity that allows for the excusal and justification of violence.
Mamdanis article explores the binary created in the Western lens of Islam. This binary is
taken out of the historic and geopolitical context of power relations in the Middle East,
particularly Afghanistan. Furthermore, Mamdani confronts the paradox of American inaction in
regard to the distant engagement in raising particular groups of terrorism up against the large

The Freedom of Power

enemy of communism. He argues that the United States has failed to acknowledge and recognize
the place it has held in the empowerment and militarization of oppressive and terrorizing
institutions. He explores the history of American support of groups that were the target of the
Soviet Union. Mamdani focuses particularly on the regions of Southern Africa, regions for which
the United States [embraced] terrorism (Mamdani, 2002, p. 773). Terrorism was a tool used
and deemed fitting for the fight against the communist regime. However, the civilians of these
affected nations joined ranks as a target and enemy of these terrorist groups as well. The
hallmark of terror was that if targeted civilian life (Mamdani, 2002, p. 770) in order to weed out
other powers. This is a blatant rejection of freedom completely funded, politically and physically,
by a power dedicated to the free and brave. Behind the breakaway from the chains of Soviet
communism was the creation of a new slavery to terrorism and barefaced violence. However, the
United States has the power to walk away from any implications or consequence that might have
occurred in the trajectory of its aid and involvement.
Emad Burnats film, Five Broken Cameras, is centered on the barrier conflict in the West
Bank village of Bilin. The Israeli government and military, while facing opposition by many in
regard to its barrier, does not have a power to which it answers. Its validity as a recognized state
has empowered its military and government to create this barrier without facing the
consequences played out on Palestinian civilians. Moreover, not only are there inherent harms
faced by the Palestinians as a result of the barrier, but also there are deliberate measures and
actions taken against them. This is demonstrated in the burning of the olive trees- not only a
symbol of Palestinian identity, but actual prosperity and agriculture (Burnat, Davidi, 2011). First
they are denied free access by the implementation of a guarded and armed gate; then, they are
attacked by means of their livelihood. The lack of Israeli responsibility to action is further

The Freedom of Power

reflected in the scene in which Burnat films families waiting at the barrier gate a year after the
Israeli government deems it unlawful and calls for its destruction (Burnat, Davidi, 2011). In the
meantime, on the other Palestinian-owned side, Israeli resettlement housing is staking claim,
denying the possibility that the Palestinian owners should ever be returned their land. This
perpetuation of the denial of Palestinian property rights seems deliberate.
The nation-state of Israel could arguably be paralleled with the American-fed terrorist
groups in the notion that both were raised up for the purpose of freedom. Their empowerment
was a solution to the oppression and danger faced at the hands of significant opposing militant
and political powers. However, Israels freedom was founded on the institution of peace, rather
than terror. It was not supposed to come at the harm or expense of any other party. Somehow,
though, the militarization of the Israel-Palestine border has broken down this notion and taken
Palestinian livelihood and lives as a byproduct.
The ultimate argument presented by both Mamdani and Burnat is the rejection of the
binary. There is no absolute moral victim or absolute moral enemy- politically, historically, or
culturally. They both expose the consequences of a moral conquest of freedom. Are these
countries hosting terrorism, or are they also hostage to terrorism (Mamdani, 2002, p. 773)? The
complicated history and enactment of violence that has surrounded the West Bank and Gaza Strip
is one that cannot be seen from one side. As a gift to his son and a gift to the world, Emad Burnat
gives his perspective as a guide to moral speculators. While it is perfectly within ones right to
choose a national alliance, it is also the responsibility of involved parties to recognize the
consequences of the violence of war, of conquest, of freedom. Is it just to claim freedom at the
expense of anothers? While neither Mamdani nor Burnat may be able to provide an answer, they
provide an opportunity to explore the meaning of morality and freedom in the context of war.

The Freedom of Power

Works Cited

Burnat, E., Camdessus, C., Davidi, G., Gordey, S. (Producers), & Burnat, E., Davidi, G.
(Screenwriter/Directors). (2011). Five Broken Cameras. (Motion Picture). State of Palestine,
Israel, France : Kino Lorber.
Mamdani, M. (2002). Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: A Political Look on Culture and
Terrorism. American Anthropologist, 104 (3), 766- 775.