Leawood globetrotter and filmmaker Chris Turner, the subject of Tonya Dreher's fascinating documentary A Life in Hashistan
, hasn't yet set foot in Gitmo. That fact, one supposes, is proof that our government is capable of greater nuance than it has been credited for previously. Someone at Homeland Security apparently understands the difference between sympathy, which Turner never seems to come around to, and empathy, which Turner bursts with for the cultures he documents. Still, he has his man-crushes. Since 1967, he's been sallying off to Afghanistan, hooking up with the nomadic tribes that would one day breed both the mujahedeen and the Taliban. In his gripping early footage of hash smoking and dog fights, and in later scenes capturing the mujahedeen taking out Russian tanks, Turner is both deeply impressed with the men and seemingly ambivalent about the role of women in the culture. In interviews, he's given to amusing analysis, as when he links sexual frustration and the promise of martyrdom to suicide bombing: "Can you imagine, here's a 28 year old guy who doesn't know what a pussy is? Suddenly he's got 72 of them."
Dreher cuts smartly between recent interviews and Turner's own footage. His Afghanistan is austere yet beautiful, a land of stony nothing, of rubbled cities and arch-spined hyenas but also of an almost alien lushness — the poppy fields are a dreamscape. Equally compelling are his adventures, which include trouble with the feds, a Soviet prison, a request from the FBI that he spy on a North Kansas City mosque and, memorably, a long tea and dinner with Osama bin Laden.
For all the movie's visual wonders and geopolitical chutzpah, Dreher is also interested in the charismatic Turner himself. For someone who extols the virtues of a simpler lifestyle, he can be hilariously American.
Who better to represent the United States to the Muslim world?