Obviously, there are two ways to look at this film. If you're an Arab, you're probably going to join that angry crowd and call it "one of the most racist films against Arabs Hollywood ever made". If you're not an Arab, you might consider it a flawed but not uninteresting military trial movie questioning the methods of the US Marines Corps, with an interesting friendship between two Vietnam veterans played by Samuel L. Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones. Well, it would have been interesting if the Marines were really being unethical, but then the Marines Corp. would never have permitted it. It was "A few Good Men" again.
Which leads to the premise of the film, the whole trial revolves around the fact that the man charged to evacuate the US Embassy in Yemen deliberately killed 83 civilians, even using the word with M and F so cherished by Jackson, to call the people. At that point, the film had already crossed the line, because I can't recall any other instance that made a villain out of people, children and women included. I guess it could only be done for Arabs and/or Muslims. And then the McGuffin of the film, the piece of evidence is a missing tape that will prove that the civilians were armed, again, even the children.
Sure, the film isn't anti-Arab, it is anti-Extremist, no kidding. As soon as the kids carried guns, they were a threat, they were killers and they "deserved" to be killed. That's not the element I blame on the script, what I condemn is the idea that such a story had any particular relevance, that there was a need to find a case to justify a mass-killing of civilians. To make a movie where Samuel L. Jackson the most popular US actor, defended by Tommy Lee Jones, who's not hated either, would take crap from everybody because he ordered to kill women and children, so that the emotional 'Gotcha' of the film, would be the proof that the hero was right, after all. What a relief! American honor is safe, it was the Arabs all along.
Some say the film was prophetic, anticipating 9-11, how is that exactly? Did women and children pilot these planes? 9/11 was the result of a context starting with Muslims being ruled and killed by Barbarian regimes, and the military interventions didn't make things easier. But people have an inclination to accept Arabs and Muslims as fully barbarians and irremediably bad guys. I'm not saying that's the intent of William Friedkin, but what was he thinking? He's brandishing the authorization he got from the King of Morocco to shoot the film, not to mention that many extras were Moroccans, so they were part of it, it's not the Asian-looking guys passing for Libyans in "Back to the Future".
But, as a Moroccan, I don't give much credit to Friedkin's defense, my country was the scenery of many movies that weren't exactly Arab-friendly, I even saw the shooting of some "Homeland" scenes in my neighborhood, and I was surprised to see that the place I grew up with could pass as Iran. But in the long history of Arab and Muslim shaming, this film is probably the culmination. I have seen it many years ago, I have loose memories, but I'll never forget the ending and the infuriating effect it had. It was the only instance of a movie that made an aggressive statement against a population, and not having a single redeeming character, it was American Marines vs. Arab Civilians.
In 1993, people wept with the little girl from "Schindler's List", she was the living incarnation of the tragedy lived by the Jews. Arabs deserve reverse symbols, the one little girl who's seen dying in the film carried a weapon, I'm a father of a little girl and I don't want to venture into an analysis that would lead me to the conclusion that one deserved to die, but the film wants me to do so. As for the prophetic argument, those who claim that the film somewhat anticipated 9/11, well, how about an even that happened the very year of the release. Let me refresh your memory.
In 2000, a Palestinian kid died under the arms of his fathers who was begging everybody to stop shooting. It was proved that an Israeli soldier did it, and I'm sure it was an accident, but even that kid's death met with denial. Supporters of Israel said it was a set-up, he was killed by one of their own, I even remember a French actor saying that he read the father was ready to sacrifice another son, no one questioned the veracity of this information. Now, there was a kid, he wasn't armed, and he was killed but no one made a symbol out of him, outside the Arab world, it's like the Western audiences would rather have fictional Arab villains than genuine victims, and that's the core of the problem.
Same shtick, when Muslims die in a bombing, it's because they wanted to, when their kids die, it's because they were used as shields. There's already a strong anti-Arab resentment and movies like "Rules of Engagement" make it worse. it will teach them to always be careful about Arabs, even women, even little girls, who knows? They might hide grenades inside their dolls.