Post Mortem January/February 2006

Moustapha, Messenger of Hollywood

Moustapha Akkad (1935-2005)

But Moustapha Akkad made Muslim movies and violent movies, and ne'er the twain did meet. His mentor was a master of the latter, Sam Peckinpah. In the late 1950s the director had in mind a film on the Algerian revolution, and asked UCLA to find him someone who knew the turf. The only graduate from that neck of the woods was Akkad. The French gave up on Algeria, and Peckinpah gave up on the picture, but he kept the young Syrian in tow for a movie called Ride the High Country (1962). At dinner in Hollywood, Akkad kept getting asked what he thought of American food, American houses, American girls, so he sold a series to CBS in which a group of foreigners talk about their reactions to American life. Then he did a travel show with Cesar Romero, and pretty soon he had the career they'd said back in Aleppo was impossible: he was a Hollywood moviemaker.

Akkad prided himself on his "duality." "In my house I am a pure Arab," he told The Star in Jordan two years ago. "When I step out, I am thinking like an American." The "pure Arabs" who killed him despise that kind of flexibility, and some Americans would raise an eyebrow at quite how pure an Arab he was in the privacy of his own home. In an interview with Luke Ford for his 2002 book The Producers, he agreed with the author's estimate that Hollywood's muscle was "70 percent Jewish," but reckoned you got along fine as long as you steered clear of certain subjects. "The media runs the world," he said. "No tanks or planes. The media and the public companies. This is what The Protocols of Zion is all about. The Zionists, last century, were persecuted in Europe. So they immigrated to America. They had a target. They were united. They did not permit [statements] critical of Zion. They went all the way to control the world and to control the minds of the people through the media. There's a lesson to learn from them."

Anyone who's spent any time in the Middle East will have heard that, from Saudi businessmen and Bahraini doctors and Palestinian intellectuals and other urbane, educated Arabs of the kind you find in the bars and lounges of Hyatts and Radissons. But professed admiration for the cunning of the Zionists is a more unexpected cliché from a man enriched by Hollywood whose children went to Los Angeles high schools filled with the progeny of liberal Jews. In hindsight Akkad's "duality" seems more like professional schizophrenia. And though he claimed that Halloween was nothing more than a savvy commercial decision, for a schlock horror fest it was, as it happens, very Middle Eastern in its pathologies. Its principal character, Michael Myers (no relation to Austin Powers's Mike Myers, though they're about the same age), begins his impressive tally of corpses with what can be seen as an old-fashioned Muslim "honor killing": he stabs his sister to death after she's had sex with her boyfriend. Its conflation of sexual insecurity and male violence is at least as relevant to Arab culture as it is to alienated losers in small-town America. The only difference is that unlike the various unprosecuted perpetrators of honor killings from Jordan to Pakistan, Michael Myers eventually winds up getting decapitated, in one of Halloween's many sequels. "With H20 we chopped off his head," Akkad exulted, while leaving himself a loophole: "But was it really his head?"

The "duality" of Moustapha Akkad finally came together in one freakish finale at the Amman Radisson. But he'd encountered terrorism once before, nearly thirty years earlier. Many Muslim scholars were outraged by The Message—or, as it was then called, Mohammed, Messenger of God. Though Akkad had observed the prohibition against representations of the prophet, even a rumored glimpse of his shadow (which the director had at one time considered) provoked objections. Hamaas Abdul Khaalis, formerly a Seventh-Day Adventist called Ernest McGhee, decided to do something about the abomination. A dozen Muslims seized three buildings in Washington, D.C., and took 150 hostages, including (in an early example of the many internal contradictions of the Rainbow Coalition) the future mayor of Washington, Marion Barry. Barry was one of a couple of dozen injured. Jewish hostages were abused. A reporter was killed.

Khaalis had several demands, including a ban on Akkad's movie and the transfer of Muhammad Ali, among others, to his custody. The ambassadors of Egypt, Iran, and Pakistan stepped in and drew the kidnappers' attention to Surah 5:2 from the Koran: "Let not the hatred of some people in shutting you out of the Sacred Mosque lead you to transgression and hostility on your part. Help ye one another in righteousness and piety."

It worked: Khaalis threw in the towel. Alas, by November 9, 2005, Islamic terrorism had refined its techniques beyond intercession. Explaining the success of the Halloween franchise, Moustapha Akkad said, "If you're locked inside a house and there's somebody there who wants to kill you, that could happen to anybody. You can relate." It was the bogeymen closer to home he couldn't relate to.

Mark Steyn is a columnist for Britain's Telegraph Group, the Chicago Sun-Times, and other publications.
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