Ali Suliman, Paradise Now
Credit: Paradise Now: Seamus Murphy

It’s easy to sympathize with the 32,000 petitioners who would like the Academy not to consider Paradise Now (pictured) for the foreign language Oscar. The film, which depicts a pair of Palestinian would-be suicide bombers, is a chilling story, not least for the way it portrays the two as ordinary people and not cartoon extremists.

Of course, it’s too late for the petition; all the ballots are being counted now, and Paradise Now certainly has a good chance of repeating its Golden Globes victory this Sunday.

But even if it weren’t too late, I think all thoughtful moviegoers would agree that political correctness shouldn’t determine which movies win Academy Awards. Yes, it’s foolish to pretend politics have no influence over the Oscars — the politics of film funding and distribution, the politics of who’s popular among Hollywood insiders, the politics of who campaigns hardest, and — oh, yeah — the politics of real-world events outside Hollywood. But at some level, the Oscars really are about artistic achievement, and one measure of artistic accomplishment is empathy: how well a movie makes you feel and understand the feelings of someone else who isn’t like you.

Paradise Now is just one of three nominated films (along with Syriana and Munich) that ask you to recognize that Muslim terrorists are like you in that they have aspirations, dreams, families, frustrations, and maybe even legitimate political grievances. To honor these movies isn’t to endorse the characters’ violent tactics, any more than to honor Chicago as Best Picture was to endorse murder or to insult murder victims. Shutting out Paradise Now may assuage the petitioners’ grief, but it won’t increase anyone’s understanding.

addCredit(“Paradise Now: Seamus Murphy”)