Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Bitter Lake (2015)

Created & Narrated by: Adam Curtis

'Bitter Lake' is the latest from the excellent Adam Curtis which was released last week through BBC's iPlayer. It can be best described as a documentary on US-Saudi alliance through the prism of clusterfuck that is Afghanistan. The title comes from the salt water lake in the Suez called 'Great Bitter Lake', where Roosevelt and the then King of Saudi Arabia forged their alliance close to the end of the World War Two. The alliance was built on the need to secure America's supply of oil in exchange for money and weapons with the promise that there won't be any interference from the West regarding the faith of Saudi rulers. The 'House of Saud' which formed the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia drew its legitimacy from 'Wahabism', an extremely orthodox form of Islam with a longing for an imagined medieval past. The Saudi rulers have a pact with the Wahabi fundamentalists and the rulers in Saudi have made a habit of exporting the Wahabi ideas outwards so that the clergy don't interfere much with their domestic rule. This has resulted in them setting up Madrasas all over the Isalamic world to promote Wahabism and this is what has happened for example in Paksitani madrasas. So in short the 'House of Saud' has a pact with the devil of Wahabi fundamentalism and USA have the same with the devil of Saudi Arabia. It is perfect time for Adam Curtis to release his latest work considering the death of the Saudi King and dictator Abdullah this week.

The main narrative that is given by Curtis in the documentary is that the politicians from the West have resorted to simplifying complex issues pertaining to Islamic World as a Good versus Evil battle off late. This was done after the 9/11 attack during the ongoing War on Terror. This is a throwback to that Reagan era in which the same was done for funding the Mujaheddin against the Soviets. Everyone knows about how USA aided Osama Bin Laden in the 80s only for him to turn on them later. It was interesting to know that the opium with which he funded his operations since the 90s was also a product of US strategy in Afghanistan. The Americans had helped build a network of dams in Afghanistan in the 50s which caused the water table to rise along with introducing salinity in the soil. This made it very suitable for the cultivation of Poppy from which Opium and its by-products are made. 

The documentary gives us a complete history of Afghanistan from the 1950s and how the policies of the super-powers influenced its course as well how it influenced them back. For this, Curtis use Tarkovsky's 'Solyaris' as an analogy. Got to say it also kind of explained the film for me since I didn't understand much of it when I watched it some years ago. In it, the Cosmonaut encounters a mysterious river in the Alien planet which he thinks has consciousness. They try to influence it using X-Rays but what happens is that the river starts to haunt them by making them face up the ghosts of their past. They start distrusting everything and this is exactly what Curtis is saying happened to the Soviet and US coalition when they tried to influence matters in Afghanistan during the 80s and noughties respectively. The Russians tried to model Afghanistan as an ideal socialist country only for it to corrupt them and haunt them into Soviet breakup after the defeat. In same way the US coalition thought they could export their ideas of Democracy and Freedom only to end in defeat and face up to the fact they themselves believe in nothing and are morally bankrupt. Make no mistake, both the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq ended in defeats for them and you only need to see the recent state of both countries to recognize that.

Some people might dismiss Curtis as a Conspiracy theorist but I don't agree to it. What he doesn't do is assume that the events that are happening in the World is done with careful planning for a desired outcome. He portrays a World where the policymakers make decisions based on their own self-interest with some tragic unintended consequences. They are just some blundering idiots who are in over their heads to understand the complexities around issue but have the arrogance to think that they can influence such matters. Before 90s they had cold war as an excuse and now the so called war on terror. In an ideal world they should not interfere in matters concerning these countries about which they have limited understanding. Now they have the favorite excuse of preventing genocide of Good people by the evil and continue to interfere in matters when in fact they are largely driven by the defense industry and businesses. Curtis use the example of British Army's experience in the Pashtun region of Afghanistan. The different factions involved in the Civil War used British forces to crush their enemies by pointing out that they are battling Taliban and in effect everyone turned against the British there and in effect they only helped to compound the situation.

The documentary is available in its entirety of Youtube and the link has been embedded with this review. It is a great watch and there is a difference in style employed by Curtis. Rather than purely relying on narration using archive footage, he also uses rather recent footage from the war on terror times without any narration with various effects of tragedy, comedy and irony.

Rating: 5/5