War, Migrants’ Plight Lend Somber Tone to Venice Film Fest

VENICE, Italy — Five words sum up this year’s Venice Film Festival: “Based on a true story.”
Inside, movie screens exploded with the forces roiling our world: war, terrorism and the vast migration bringing hundreds of thousands of people to the shores of Europe.
Outside, hundreds of demonstrators — many of them barefoot — marched Friday to the festival’s Palace of Cinema to show support for those fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.
Throughout the 11-day festival, as beachgoers lounged on the sands of Venice’s lush Lido island, filmmakers and actors expressed dismay at the migrants’ plight and their mixed reception in Europe.

Displaced people were onscreen in “A Bigger Splash,” where refugees plucked from the Mediterranean were background players to the story of a rock star (Tilda Swinton) and her emotional entanglements.
Luca Guadagnino’s film drew boos at its press screenings from some who found the juxtaposition crass. But Swinton said the Italian director was simply showing reality.
“The idea that it’s possible to not be aware of this reality — which, by the way, has been a reality for decades — is becoming less and less tenable,” Swinton said.
“The more people’s tendency to want to edit this out and not be aware gets squeezed, squeezed, squeezed, that’s got to be a good thing,” she added. “Everybody has got to grow up about this and take proper, human responsibility.”
Reality was hard to avoid at the festival, which ends Saturday with the presentation of the Golden Lion prize. Many of the movies told stories that seemed to come straight from the news.
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There were African child soldiers drafted into a brutal civil war in Cary Fukunaga’s “Beasts of No Nation,” Afghan civilians caught between the Taliban and Danish troops in Tobias Lindholm’s “A War” and Turkish brothers trapped in escalating political violence in Emin Alper’s “Frenzy.”
Several films depicted real-life criminals and the social forces that made them: The assassin of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, incited by extremist rabbis in Amos Gitai’s “Rabin: The Last Day”; Johnny Depp’s Boston gangster in league with corrupt cops in Scott Cooper’s “Black Mass”; kidnappers protected by a military dictatorship in Pablo Trapero’s Argentine thriller “El Clan.”
Festival director Alberto Barbera said the lineup reflected a feeling among filmmakers that “we seem to have lost control of our world.”
“They feel that they need to face reality, to reflect on reality,” he said.
Many didn’t like what they saw.
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“The political atmosphere in the Middle East is horrible,” said “Frenzy” director Alper, whose film premiered amid rising violence between Turkish troops and Kurdish militants.
“It’s getting more and more horrible these days. Of course Turkey is (affected) because it has a border with Syria,” he said. “Now you can see in every city there are refugees coming from Syria and they’re begging on the streets and some of them are trying to go to Europe and you see these horrible, terrible pictures.”
Those pictures — a drowned boy on a beach, a distraught father with his baby in his arms — have moved and troubled people around the world.
Canadian director Atom Egoyan attended the festival with “Remember,” a thriller about the Holocaust. He said images of migrants getting a hostile reception in a European nation like Hungary were chilling.
“Did you think that you would find in Europe that people would still be pushed into a train and taken to a place where there would be police waiting for them?” Egoyan said. “That just seems horrifying and shockingly insensitive. How can that happen again?”

Hamburger Morgenpost, a German newspaper that reprinted Charlie Hebdo cartoons, firebombed in overnight attack

German police arrested two suspects in connection with an arson attack on a Hamburg newspaper that reprinted cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad from the French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo.

The assailants threw stones and an incendiary device into a basement window of the Hamburger Morgenpost’s building, the city’s police department said in a statement. The newspaper said on its website the arson attack destroyed several files in its archive.

No one was hurt in the attack, which the tabloid said took place after 2 a.m. Sunday. The two suspects are male, aged 35 and 39. The police are continuing to investigate the incident.

News organizations across Europe published the controversial Muhammad cartoons on their front pages following the deadly attack last Wednesday on Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Three connected terror attacks in the city, including at Charlie Hebdo and a kosher grocery, claimed 17 victims.

With files from the Associated Press

Charlie Hebdo attack a taste of things to come for liberal and not-so-liberal Europe


Wednesday’s terrorist attack on the offices of a French satirical publication was another shock taste of the future that confronts liberal and not-so-liberal Europe and other open societies.

By the afternoon there was a flood of robust commentaries agreeing with French President François Hollande, who said such attacks were aimed at destroying liberty. With the freedom of the press clearly at stake, many western journalists and editors declared they would not be cowed by such tyranny.

Although many of the stories and cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo were ridiculous and highly offensive, it is impossible to argue against such sentiments. But righteous proclamations journalists will not be intimidated by terrorists must be taken with many grains of salt.

The harsh fact is the barbarism of al-Qaida and its even more virulent stepchild, the Islamic State of Iraq & Al-Sham, has already terrified western media to the point almost no journalists have tried to bear witness to the outrages being perpetrated by ISIS and like-minded groups in Syria and Iraq. Nor are their equally sane editors pushing them to go there.

As understandable as such decisions are, the upshot is there is virtually no independent information about ISIS atrocities as the jihadists seek to establish a medieval caliphate. What is available is their vile propaganda videos and the experiences of those who have fled areas they occupy.

This has not their only victory. Some western embassies have closed because of the high likelihood they would be attacked. Others remain nominally open, but only by becoming armed fortresses. They are of symbolic importance, but can achieve little because the diplomats are too scared to go out to collect reliable information about what is happening or to speak with the authorities.

Radical Islam is winning in another way. From Sweden to Spain, Italy and Britain, terrorist strikes are purpose-built to provoke a public backlash that adds additional fuel to what is the first seminal confrontation of the new millennium.

One grim paradox is that tough laws restricting freedom are introduced to protect it. One reason is to confront the threat. Another is that countries such as France, Austria, and Belgium have elected illiberal politicians who vow to further restrict freedoms in the name of freedom if they gain power.

This war within the war has been taking place for some time now in some of Europe’s most open and permissive societies. Extreme religious intolerance was equally evident in a blitz of recent attacks by Islamic terrorists on synagogues in France and Christian terrorists on mosques in Sweden.

Over the past decade, the Swedish city of Malmo has taken in many refugees from Iraq and Syria who do not feel welcome. Paris and Birmingham are now so riven by Islamic radicalism, parts have almost become no-go zones for the authorities. Disputes over Islamic clothing, Shariah courts and what should be taught in schools are commonplace.

An underlying cause is that much of Europe is in a ruinous state economically, with Muslim youths finding it harder to get jobs than anyone else. Germany, with its uniquely evil history, prospered after Hitler and the Nazis were defeated, and became an international beacon of freedom. But much of that thinking has eroded since the turn of the century.

A battle for German hearts and minds is now under way, with rallies being held by progressives and hardliners arguing for and against immigration that has mostly been coming from Islamic countries.

Despite its own brush with terrorism, when demented men with Islamic connections murdered unarmed soldiers near Montreal and in Ottawa, Canadian society has not yet ruptured the way European society has. One of the reasons is undoubtedly because the Canadian economy has performed far better than those in Europe, with Norway and Germany perhaps being the exceptions.

Without question another factor is that Canada is a nation of immigrants. Having digested generations of immigrants, newcomers are generally not regarded with as much suspicion as they are in the Old World.

Until now Canada has probably managed to strike a slightly better balance than its European allies, but there is nothing to be smug about. Dozens, perhaps hundreds of young Canadian Muslims have been seduced by the idea of global jihad. Some others who still live among us undoubtedly agree.

Although far more intimidated than we wish to admit, we must try to understand as best as we can this evil and figure out ways to confront it without making things worse. Above all else, we must remain tolerant of all ideas except those that involve the kind of violence that poisoned France Wednesday and could poison Canada again at any moment.

Preserving liberty is a tricky business. In the face of such bloody provocations, there are no easy or obvious solutions.

Postmedia News

Qatar moves to cut ties with Hamas and repair relations with Egypt

Handout/AFP/Getty Images

One of the most vocal disputes in the Middle East may be coming to an end in a way that could have implications for the broader region.

Qatar, which had been supporting the deposed Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, has recently sent signals it wants to achieve a rapprochement with the regime of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.

Any re-emergence of ties with Egypt would also mean an end to funding the Islamist Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip and forcing Hamas leader-in-exile Khaled Meshaal to leave Qatar. Hamas insisted this weekend Qatar has not cut off its funding and says the oil-rich country continues to support it.

Referring to Mr. Meshaal, who moved to Qatar after wearing out his welcome in Damascus, Theodore Karasik, an expert at the Institute for Near East Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai, said, “The big question is what will happen to the Hamas leadership that has been based in Doha. Meshaal was supposed to go to Turkey, but now it looks like he may end up in Tehran.”

Mr. Karasik says Qatar came under pressure from the other Persian Gulf countries to change its stance toward Egypt, one of the region’s prominent Sunni states, in the face of the growing strength of the Islamic State of Iraq & Al-Sham, which now controls large swathes of Iraq and Syria.

At the most recent meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), members agreed to unify their policy, which includes support of Mr. Sisi’s government. Qatar, which also underwrites the Al-Jazeera network, has been pressed by Saudi Arabia and other GCC states to change its policy toward Hamas — which it supports — and improve ties with Egypt.

Handout/AFP/Getty ImagesPalestinian president Mahmud Abbas , left, with Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, centre, and Hamas exiled leader Khaled Meshaal in the capital Doha in August 2014.

The change could also affect Israel, which has long criticized Qatar for its support of Hamas.

“Qatar was caught red-handed sponsoring terror and it dealt a blow to their image,” said a senior Israeli official.

“They were quite happy dancing to all of the different fiddles in the region, but now they are at a moment when they need to make choices.”

Israel maintains a close security relationship with Egypt, with which it has had a peace treaty since 1979.

Meanwhile, Iran has increased its support for Hamas and is likely to up funding as well if Qatar reduces its sponsorship.

For Israel, having Qatar closely allied with Egypt would be good news.

“It would strengthen the moderates and might end some sponsoring of terror organizations,” the Israeli official said. “When you look at developments in the region, the emergence of a solid moderate is good not only for Israel, but for the U.S. and Europe as well.”

The Media Line