Terror's Advocate

I watched Barbet Schroeder's new documentary on Jacques Verges over the weekend. If you enjoy watching films that do not insult the intelligence and have a clear moral backbone without engaging in moral grandstanding, you'll get a lot out of this film. Verges - adored by many of the interviewees - emerges as a monster of a kind - a proud supporter of the murder of innocents for political purposes. The film doesn't flinch from this - and the horrifying calm of Verges as he responds to questions about his close connections to former Nazis and the international terrorist, Carlos, is the riveting performance of a sociopath.

But what it also reveals is that terrorism itself - especially in its modern variety - is rooted in the deepest sense of indignity and dishonor that afflicts many cultures reduced to servility by colonialism or indigenous pathologies. Verges' profound anger from growing up in the developing world and righteous resistance to the French occupation of Algeria fuels his career of defending evil in the courtroom. You can see in this movie how violence begets more violence, how evil propels more evil, and how easy it is in advancing a cause to become morally corrupted by anger. A legal defense of terrorists is necessary; but a defense that also celebrates the guilty is one that tips over into evil as well. In our current war, we have to somehow retain a balance between acknowledging the evil of the enemy, while never losing sight of our own moral vulnerability as well. This requires constant self-assessment and unending self-awareness. It's not easy. And this film reminds us of how hard it is.