Celebrity Politics, Iraq and Palestine

It comes as no surprise that top Hollywood stars are getting their say regarding the war on Iraq, or does it?

Traditionally, Hollywood has been a vocal platform where a wide variety of causes are championed, such as the fight against deadly illnesses, human rights in general, and children's and women's rights in particular.

Unlike the intellectual rebellion of the 1960's and 1970's however, celebrities these days seem to be more interested in causes that are unlikely to bring about controversy, somewhat fashionable causes you may say, "Free Tibet", breast cancer, the use of animal fur, and most recently, the increasingly fashionable, fighting for Afghani women's rights.

Needless to say, such causes are indeed honorable. But due to the timing, the nature and the extent in which these campaigns are often unleashed, one cannot help but wonder how genuine such activism really is.

"Going with the flow" can hardly resemble courage. Afghani women have been abused for generations, yet leading celebrities in the US seemed to realize such a fact only when the US officially waged war on the poverty-stricken nation, and strived to batter the already battered image of the Taliban. True, the Taliban deprived women of numerous rights, but the US war on Afghanistan had little, if nothing at all to do with such legitimate concerns. Freeing Afghani woman was neither on the top nor the bottom of the Pentagon's list of "things to do", when the Napalm leveled entire villages and killed thousands. But it was a fabulous myth to propagate throughout the media, and various Hollywood celebrities, of course, played along.

Celebrity politics, some genuine, and some not, have indeed made their mark in Hollywood. But unlike their European counterparts, voices of dissent in Hollywood often are unseen and unheard. No, American stars are not in agreement on everything, and are not all pro-the official policies of the White House, but they are aware of the price, often a costly one, they could possibly pay if their views sharply contrasted that of powerful groups, that with a greater weight on the public opinion than that of a beloved singer or actor.

But something is changing in Hollywood.

A growing anti-war movement is in the making. Over one-hundred celebrities have signed a letter to President Bush, published in major newspapers around the country, opposing a pre-emptive war on Iraq.

The letter was revealed about the same time that actor Sean Penn, the star of such films as "I am Sam" and "Dead Man Walking," defied the role of what is acceptable behavior for public figures in the US, and paid a visit to Iraqi hospitals, crowded with dying children desperately in need of medicine that is outlawed under the sanctions policy. Penn's move is likely to cost him, for the overwhelming, and often exaggerated patriotism sweeping the states these days is unlikely to forgive such a daring move.

Penn's visit to Iraq, and the letter signed by well-known actors such as Matt Damon, Gillian Anderson, David Duckovny, and Samuel L. Jackson was truly a milestone, for they chose to champion a cause that seemed little fashionable or rewarding. These decisions also came at a time of high emotions, where anger often conquers logic, and calls for revenge often overpower calls for humanity.

Daring as it may seem, taking an anti-war on Iraq stance requires much less risk than defending Palestinian rights. The key difference between both causes, is that the second is likely to directly spark an undying campaign of protests by pro-Israel groups and lobbies. Directly criticizing Israel's occupation and mistreatment of Palestinians, or simply voicing a concern or a positive gesture toward Palestinian rights has often set off denunciations that proved costly to many public figures in the United States. Somehow and in someway, calling for freedom for Palestinians seems to evoke accusations of anti-Semitism among Israeli supporters and powerful groups. As irrelevant as the accusations may sound, the strategy works, and for years it has silenced most of the dissenting voices.

But that taboo is also being broken. Jane Fonda, a well-known American actress, and a two-time Oscar winner just finished a tour to the West Bank, where she met with Palestinian artists and families who have lost loved ones due to Israeli violence. Moreover, Fonda had the chance to experience a glimpse of the real life drama millions of Palestinians endure everyday, as she too had to find her way through Israeli army concrete blocks, mud barriers and yes, she passed by the Israeli soldiers, who seemed friendlier than they usually are.

Clearly, this issue has little to do with acting, sports or aerobics and much to do with reality, or tragic realties. We, as individuals, regardless of what we do, or don't do for a living, bear a responsibility, toward our communities and others. While actors often manage to get us to cry, to be inspired, to learn something of value, they can too extend their mission beyond the stage, to help promote peace and justice. Needless to say, we are all capable of delivering a message, a virtuous one, of sharing our views, our vision, or even making a difference. Sometimes standing for what is just can prove costly. But isn't that the idea? Isn't this why we use the term "fighting" for justice?

You don't have to be a top-paid celebrity to make your voice heard however, or to make a difference or touch people's lives. All you need to acquire is courage and faith. The thousands of internationals who flooded Palestine to assist and protect Palestinian families are in fact our heroes, our celebrities, even if they had nothing to do with acting whatsoever. It is just that this fight is by far the most challenging, and needs people of conscience from all walks of life to join in. So, whether you are a Fonda, a Penn, or a teacher, a student or a stay at home mom, the fight for peace and justice needs you today more than ever before. Please don't hesitate for long, for much is at stake. Join us.

Ramzy Baroud is a Palestinian journalist and is editor in chief of PalestineChronicle.com.

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Older Comments:
Mr. Hale... You are not the only military member here. For some it is a job not a religion however. Most the people I know in the US military do not want nor agree with this war. They see it as ,and I quote several real authentic military members "sticking our noses in someone elses business". Mr. Hale not everyone is as obviously 1 sided as you are. While I pray that none of the friends I have made over the years die, I also pray that President Hussain does what is best for his people and doesn't give Cowboy Bush a chance to do what he undauntingly wants to do. I hope all these soldiers deploying now can return home never seeing a fight not murder by accident Iraqi children. It is war mongers like you, Chenney, Bush and Rumsfield who make "preventive wars" I can think of only one country launching "preventive wars" for the "poor treatment of Germans in Czec, and Poland, Hitler was his name and after he finished one country he went to the next and to the next. There is nothing wrong with respecting , even loving your country, if Allah is first and you are not so blinded by nationalism to write off any action of your country. Really Mr. Hale you are in the minority.
These soldiers are not bad Americans they see what you don't This war is wrong. I would love to see a new government in Iraq, but the people must earn their own rights not have "rights" imposed on them by a foreign power.
You are worst than a religious fanatic, at least a religious fanatic is obsessed with God. You are, however obsessed with man, and further with the right of a particular group of men to step on the rights of other men.
Don't even try to call me a liberal soldier or an idealist either. Don't say I'm a Democrat either. I voted for Dictator Bush because he spoke bad of "nation building" He lied. I will be sure that I vote for someone else next time. Anyone who can put the proven racist Ashcroft in...

Jason, did you receive help in writing your little essay? Point of fact you little nerd, I was in the United States Marine Corps and fervently wish I was on my way to Iraq right now with the rest of the boys. It's the little left wing religious zealots like yourself that have no clue about the world, Iraq, America or your own backyard. Probably because Mommy and Daddy are still paying all your bills. So cut your hair, get rid of the nose ring, get a job and try to contribute to society instead of bleeding it dry.

Sorry to be a prude by argue facts, I'm sure Mr. Norman will not gain a penny from a war on Iraq more than the rest of us.

Mike, you really exemplify the kind of gung ho stupidity this country is cursed with. Your sophomoric rant clearly shows you are an idiotic ignoramus and a wannabe GI Joe.
Incidently are you in the military ? I didnt think so....not surprising really given that most war mongers are safe thousands of miles away from the action. Go back to your corner and shut your filthy piehole.

It would be intresting to see what the reaction of Normans and mikes of this world be if their home is occupied and they have no one to help them and no military to defend them.

I supposse they will just roll over and die?

But we already have an Idea about what they will do. In Ireland we know how the peaceful jesus loving chistians have been solving their problems.

These jerks think that people are deaf and blind to know who they are. Just a bunch of crazed who suppourt the terrorist (did they think people forget how Israel came into being, by terrorist attacks and grabbing of land and not by elections) in apaches and tanks.

To declare that the likes of Senn Penn and Jane Fonda represent any intelligent thought from the United States is an illusion that should be embraced by the radical element from the Middle East. Hanoi Jane and the bulk of the Hollywood elite live at the far far left of the political spectrum. Hollywood despises any thought that comes from the political right and these giants of film live in a fantasy land about 98% of the time. America really should just take over Iraq and keep all the oil and shut off the pipelines to the other MIddle Eastern countries. Of course, I don't believe for a minute that Saddam is anything but a gentle and kind misunderstood hero of the revolution. Right.

AL said:
If these Celebs had been promoting this unjust war all the right wing extremists who post here would be cheering them. These celebs are people of conscience who are using their star power for something honorable and required.
John Norman is a shameless liar and hypocrite. The phony concern for the Iraqi people is nothing but a ploy to justify seizing that nations oil reserves, while supporting jewish state terrorism against Palestinians. This is to be expected from Israel's amen corner which wants to use American lives for their own nefarious purposes. ..

izhar: so you're in favour of keeping Saddam Hussein, a brutal, murderous dictator who models himself on Stalin?

I think that those Hollywood stars are more noble and holier than the Arab or Muslim leaders of Qatar, Turkey or maybe Saudi Arabia, that openly supported the unjustified, unnecessary war by Bush towards Iraq.
Islam teaches that all forms of injustices, hatred and violence must not be tolerated.
Bless the Hollywood stars, the refuseniks and all anti-war activists.

I believe that more and more people should protest in front of the white house to stop war agaist Iraq.This is very good article.Bush is behaving almost like a dictator.Thanks a lot to all the celebrities.

I think the last people I would get advice about the world rich celebrities or musicians that have no moral values. Now there are goog celebrities, and dare I say there are more actors and actresses with moral values then musicians.

John Norman.. again.. I want to ask you a simple question.. "Is the sick children on Iraq who resides on Saddam side are not as valuable as the sick iraqi children on the Kurds and Shia sides?"

probably you might also suggesting that the Palestinian Kids are less valuable than the immigrant Jewish kids from Soviet who migrate to Israel.

As usual.. another Zionist Double Standard. Like Mr Glennbeck use to say on his radio ..

"the enemy of my enemy is my friend"..

It would be interesting to know if Sean Penn also made cointact with the thousands of victims of Saddam Hussein's genocidal policies against the Kurds, the Shi'ites and the Marsh Arabs, not to mention the ordinary man and woman in the street who devoutly wants Saddam to be brought down but does dare voice his opinion.

Mr. Penn clearly seems to be imbued with an overwhelming sense of (unwarranted) self-importance. He has clearly placed himself amongst the collaborators of the Baghdad killer and, hopefully, yes, his box-office receipts will suffer.

As for Jane Fonda, it would have been useful for Ramzy Baroud to mention that Ms. Fonda also visited Israel and swa with her own eyes the victims of suicide bombers. But that evidently is an inconvenient fact that upsets Mr. Baroud.

Dear Mr. Baroudy, I was impressed by the article concerning celebrities who have spokne up for the Palestinians. I am a stay-at-home housewife and would like to know what I can do to help the cause of the Palestinians. Sincerely ,
Safiyya Kurdieh