Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Connecting the Dots

As I read Frank Rich's excellent thrashing of Mel Gibson, I couldn't help but seize upon something buried in this paragraph of fine analysis:

"If you criticize his film and the Jew-baiting by which he promoted it, you are persecuting him — all the way to the bank. If he says that he wants you killed, he wants your intestines "on a stick" and he wants to kill your dog — such was his fatwa against me in September — not only is there nothing personal about it but it's an act of love. And that is indeed the message of his film. "The Passion" is far more in love with putting Jesus' intestines on a stick than with dramatizing his godly teachings, which are relegated to a few brief, cryptic flashbacks."

All this is, of course, spot-on. But notice how Rich terms Gibson's threat: as a "fatwa." I agree with Rich's terminology; any threat of bodily harm or death, to a single person, from a religious authority, need not be in or from a muslim milieu to be termed a fatwa. The conditions for a threat to be as serious as a fatwa is not the prevaling faith of a given country, but the amount of the faith -- the degree with which its nature is fundamentalist. I'm sorry to say that the United States qualifies on all levels. Consider the likelihood that some skeptic or Jewish pundit who has attacked Gibson's movie will be hurt or worse by Christian fascists; consider then how strenuously that criminal would be prosecuted by the likes of John Ashcroft.

The concept of fatwa was of course introduced to most Westerners when the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a death sentence on the magical-realist novelist Salman Rushdie; issued on the grounds of "blasphemy." Now I wont say that we are that bad: no Christian thug, to my knowledge, put a contract on Graham Chapman for The Life Of Brian. But sectarian hatreds were invigorated by 9/11, kept at high pitch by the Iraq war, and now are being deeply manipulated by Gibson's phenomenon of a movie. Again, I wont be in the least surprised if some Falwell-loving type consummates, if that is the right verb, a fatwa on one of the "liberal media" types who've argued rightly that the movie is ahistorical porn. Unfortunately it may only be then that we'll see we have a "clash of cultures" here and a war against religious fascism to fight in our own country -- always a security priority over rich-in-resources garden variety Stars N' Stripes-burners in Mesopotamia.