What would Jesus say to ‘Sam Bacile’?

So a few blokes get together and decide to make a film. They have a network of friends, some of them with lots of money, and share a common hatred- Islam.

The film they make is so scandalous, so insulting, that it creates ripples around the globe. America, already seen by half the world as making a Christian Crusade against all things Islamic, has dared to display images of Mohamed, something specifically forbidden by the Qur’an, and this portrayal paints him as a weak, deluded womaniser who also abuses children and is gay.

They do not even tell the actors what they are planning- dubbing in the real content later.

It is a terrible film- you can see some of the lowlights of it on Youtube here. I am reluctant to give it any more airtime, but then again it is always important to know your enemy.

But then again, who is the enemy? On one side there are the bigoted, narrow minded Christians- the film maker appears to be a Coptic Christian called Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, and an organisation called Media for Christ. They are connected to lots of other prominent Islamophobes, such as Qur’an burning Florida Pastor Terry Jones.

On the other side, there are other violent men. People who would burst into Embassies and kill American diplomats. Others who would seek to kill people for making stupid crap films, and do so in the name of God.

So, this would seem to be a slight dilemma for those who seek to follow the ways of the Prince of Peace.

Although we have some easy clues in the Gospel stories- of how Jesus refused to join in with the men of violence, no matter where he found them but particularly when they claimed to have God on their side. He would saythat his followers should always be people of the open hand, not the clenched fist.

Because there is not doubt that the people behind this film were trying to provoke a reaction, even if the death of some of their own might have come as a shock.

Following the terrible attack on the World Trade Centre, the politics and theology of fear has dominated much of American collective consciousness. There is a really good article by Glenn Greenwald on what he describes as “The Sham Terroism Expert Industry” in which he has this to say;

The key role played by this “terrorism expert” industry in sustaining highly damaging hysteria was highlighted in an excellent and still-relevant 2007 Washington Post Op-Ed by Zbigniew Brzezinski. In it, he described how the War on Terror has created an all-consuming Climate of Fear in the U.S. along with a systematic, multi-headed policy of discrimination against Muslim Americans based on these severely exaggerated threats, and described one of the key culprits this way:

Such fear-mongering, reinforced by security entrepreneurs, the mass media and the entertainment industry, generates its own momentum.The terror entrepreneurs, usually described as experts on terrorism, are necessarily engaged in competition to justify their existence. Hence their task is to convince the public that it faces new threats. That puts a premium on the presentation of credible scenarios of ever-more-horrifying acts of violence, sometimes even with blueprints for their implementation.

There is no term more potent in our political discourse and legal landscape than “Terrorism.” It shuts down every rational thought process and political debate the minute it is uttered. It justifies torture (we have to get information from the Terrorists); due-process-free-assassinations even of our own citizens (Obama has to kill the Terrorists); and rampant secrecy (the Government can’t disclose what it’s doing or have courts rule on its legality because the Terrorists will learn of it), and it sends people to prison for decades (material supporters of Terrorism).

It is a telling paradox indeed that this central, all-justifying word is simultaneously the most meaningless and therefore the most manipulated. It is, as I have noted before, a word that simultaneously means nothing yet justifies everything. Indeed, that’s the point: it is such a useful concept precisely because it’s so malleable, because it means whatever those with power to shape discourse want it to mean. And no faction has helped this process along as much as the group of self-proclaimed “terrorism experts” that has attached itself to think tanks, academia, and media outlets. They enable pure political propaganda to masquerade as objective fact, shining brightly with the veneer of scholarly rigor. The industry itself is a fraud, as are those who profit from and within it.

Is it surprising that in all of the focus groups, think tanks and lobby groups, there is a sudden deeper interest in parts of the world where Christian are being oppressed, particularly by Islamic groups- for example the Coptic Christian in Egypt?

If this is happening within the political mainstream, how surprised should we be that the religious right might seek to go even further, and attack the very premise of Islamic faith in a direct way- as somehow overtly terrorist in its very make up?

What would Jesus say to these people? He might call them a den of vipers perhaps? But then perhaps he would relent and talk about longing to gather them together like a hen might gather its chicks.

What would he say to us? Perhaps he might expect us to get on with living the lives of makers of peace- small peace and Big Peace. This might mean deliberately opening our hands to the other and refusing to raise the fist (or the gun/missile/spy satellite/propaganda film etc.)


Burning holy books…

So, some mad pastor who leads a church of 50 people in Florida (rather fatuously called the ‘Dove world outreach centre‘) has raised a political storm over his ‘International burn a Koran day‘.

Apparently God told him to do it.

Check him out (Is that President Bush behind him in the picture being supported by the heavenly angels?)

Their website seems to be down, but there is a whole lot more nonsense on this Facebook page.

What is significant is not that some people are bonkers enough to think that this is a good thing to do- even a Christian thing to do- but rather that we live in times that such an act might be so inflammatory as to require statements by the President of America, our Prime minister, the Pope and many others.

There will always be idiots like Terry Jones. People who believe that their perspective comes straight from God. They are dangerous only in as much as they can be seen as an extreme version of a much wider world view that is prevalent across conservative Christianity.

I fear that this is true. Anyone who has spent time in conservative evangelical circles will be used to descriptions of anything that is not overtly Christian as being ‘of the devil’, or even ‘Evil’. Islam is described as ‘a deception of the devil’. Islamic terrorism is then a viewed as a natural consequence of an evil religion preaching hatred and violence. Any suggestion that this violence has to been seen in a context of global conflict, injustice and poverty is regarded as tantamount to getting in bed with the devil.

I simply do not concur. Anyone who has read the Sufi poets, or has any understanding of the effects of Imperialism and globalisation over the last 50 years can not simplify this issue to a dualistic good/evil issue.

The consequences of all this are likely to be more of this-

And more radicalisation, polarisation and intolerance.

In the name of God.

One thing that has become increasingly apparent to me is how we people of faith easily use our written texts like Asherah poles– we raise them high, as idolatrous objects of our worship. This was more or less the reason for this earlier post.

A few years ago, a friend of mine proposed an installation where we would burn a Bible. He wrote a poem that summed up the reasons for doing it- here. We never did it, as it was simply too controversial for our context, but I still think that the idea is interesting and provocative.

Because we do not worship the words in the book, we worship the Word, another name for Jesus, who had little tolerance for religious bigots.