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Getting Past Stupid

by Jo Page on September 19, 2012


If there’s one thing I understand, after 20 years as an ordained clergy, it’s that faith is irrational. If there’s another thing I understand, it’s that irrationality, while it may provide comfort, insight, inspiration—making art isn’t exactly a rational process—is also dangerous. Yup, I’m here to tell you, speaking from the perspective of a person of the cloth, religion can be dangerous. Toxic.

If there’s yet another thing I understand it’s that people can be incredibly stupid and we, as Americans, are inclined to give them coverage because our founders decided that ensuring certain freedoms were more important than the imposition of certain restrictions. (This is a decidedly non-religious approach to civic responsibility, which is why I always cringe/laugh/wince whenever I hear a conservative keen to whip up national fervor talk about how we began as a “Christian nation.” Um, no.)

So some two-bit idiot with an alias list as long as his forearm makes a low-budget anti-Islamic film that most Americans ignore because we’re used to a lot of stupid shit going down here and it goes viral in the Islamic world and next thing you know the ambassador to Libya, along with three other Americans are killed in reprisal. Camera-shy Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah is out in front now flaming the fires of anti-American sentiment and violent protests.

Is it possible—just for a moment—for someone religious also to be rational?

I mean, this very same week The New Yorker is running a piece by Salmon Rushdie on how it destroyed his life in 1989 when a fatwa was issued against him for penning The Satanic Verses.

The exact words of the Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa were these:

“I inform the proud Muslim people of the world that the author of the Satanic Verses book, which is against Islam, the Prophet and the Koran, and all those involved in its publication who were aware of its content, are sentenced to death. I ask all the Muslims to execute them wherever they find them.”

Salmon Rushdie’s world blew up because he wrote a book. Rushdie was and is a talented writer and The Satanic Verses (the title of which the Ayatollah Khomeini misquoted—see above), among his other works, is a book of great insight, despite being controversial. But he—and those associated with its publication—were sentenced (by what court beyond the absolutism in the Ayatollah’s mind?) to be killed by any Muslims able to gain access to them.

Rushdie is still living with the scars of the fatwa on his life. But some bigoted rube from California with enough money to finance a low-budget movie gets his hate message out there and the response is to murder the Libyan ambassador and colleagues? The response is protest signs emblazoned with the slogan “America, the greatest Satan”? Are there even gradations of “Satan”?

Obviously this is not a stand I normally take. As a person of faith, I’m frankly ashamed of much of the so-called Christian right-wing—there is neither world enough nor time to articulate what I believe has been the outright political hijacking of the gospels’ message. But that doesn’t mean that—on the world’s stage—other faith systems get some kind of political immunity from rational response to irrational behavior.

Nevertheless the United States was, to quote Kurt Cobain, all apologies. Nothing wrong with that. But on other hand, what miniscule percentage of the United States was this film-maker (oh, what’s his name, again?) representing? And why are we allowing his face on our foreign policy currency? Why not just say “Oh, that nut-job. Don’t we all have a few of them in each our countries?”

Kathleen Parker—and I am not a fan—writing for the Washington Post quotes French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy who, citing Ambassador Steven’s death, said “the imbeciles have won.” But she makes a point:

“BHL was  referring to the fact that  Stevens was a great friend of Libya and of the Muslim/Arab world generally. The imbeciles killed perhaps their bravest advocate in the Western world. And they killed him, perhaps in part, because of the actions of another imbecile in the US. One lowlife creates an anti-Islam film that looks like a blend of The Blair Witch Project and “Keystone Terrorists” and the unhappy Muslim world goes ballistic.

“I emphasize the word ‘unhappy’ because it is no more accurate to condemn the Muslim world for the atrocities of a relative few than it is to indict America because one lowbrow decides to upload a lousy flick that nobody would otherwise watch or even know about. Hey, demonstrators: Anybody can make a movie. It doesn’t mean anything.”

She’s rude, Parker is. Indelicate, indeed. But she’s making an important distinction.  One rube’s bad movie isn’t worth the violence and the murder. Isn’t that just common sense?