Let me start with some really exciting news: we have our first batch of documentaries selected and approved!!! This post is meant to introduce one of the documentaries.
Tea on the Axis of Evil, directed and produced by Jean Marie Offenbacher, asks a very simple yet important question: what is it like to live in an “EVIL” country? Ms. Offenbacher filmed Tea on the Axis of Evil between 2004 and 2006 in Syria, a country termed by the Bush administration as part of the “Axis of Evil” in 2002. (Note: in his State of the Union Address President Bush identified three countries as part of this Axis: Iran, Iraq and North Korea. Later that year, US Under Secretary of State, John Bolton, added three additional countries– Syria, Libya, and Cuba- as states trying to obtain weapons of mass destruction in a speech called “Beyond the Axis of Evil”).
This documentary counteracts the general Western stereotypes about the Arab World by studying real people with diverse personalities and issues. It focuses primarily on Syrian moderates, who Ms. Offenbacher claims are the majority. But calling this a film about moderates in Syria would be a gross over-simplification. In TEA, Ms. Offenbacher displays the diversity within Syrian society- which includes 5 Muslim sects, 16 Christian denominations and even a small Jewish population- by interviewing a variety of subjects, from a female politician championing equality to a young student claiming a Hijab makes her look “cute.” Furthermore, TEA presents the changing attitudes of the Syrian moderates as Islamic Fundamentalism emerged as a threat during the 3 years of filming.
TEA is a little extra special for me because it echoes many themes of the favorite course I took last year as a freshman at Tufts University. This Anthropology course, which had the lengthy title of Practice and Politics of Knowledge in the Middle East, questioned the manner in which knowledge is produced about the Middle East. For example, the first issue we discussed was “Orientalism,” a misrepresentation of the “East” by the “West” brought on by colonialism. One aspect of Orientalism is that the West often speaks for the East, which can promote generalizations and stereotypes. So when the Bush Administration tells the world that Syria is an “evil” country, power is stripped away from its moderates, who are trying to enact change in the country.
I will stop trying to act like a professor now and leave the educating to the professionals. I am just really excited about this movie because it discusses a hot topic, but studies it from an overlooked vantage point: that of the Syrian moderates. This unique point of view, the Arab point of view, should provide a new perspective, one that you could only get by traveling to the Middle East and engaging with its citizens.