Thursday, August 14, 2003

11. Thou shalt not force thy religion

down the throats of thy fellow citizens. And yet, in the proud tradition of Missibamiana government officials, Chief Justice Roy Moore has announced his intention to defy a federal court order, and force his religion down the throats of his fellow Missibamianans. To be fair, Moore has announced only that he will take his case to the Supreme Court, after losing in the District Court and the Court of Appeals. Of course, unless Moore applies for and receives a stay of the district court's order pending the Supreme Court's ruling -- or decision not to take the case, he's courting a contempt citation. And there can be little doubt that he'd disobey the Supreme Court as well. Federal marshals forcibly restraining Moore while they remove his theses from the wall for him? I hope it doesn't come to that.

UPDATE 8/19: The trial court denied Moore's request for a stay. Moore's applied to the Eleventh Circuit for a stay, but I think they'll deny it too, having already upheld the trial court on the merits. And unfortunately, there won't be any showdown with federal marshals. Moore will simply be fined for contempt, and the taxpayers of Missibamiana will be poorer by $5,000 a day than they already are -- unless, as is apparently the case, other state officials simply remove the monument in compliance with the order, Moore be damned. Thanks to appellateblog for the links.

Everybody's doing it . . .

Fair and Balanced . . . It's the new black. Not only are Lord Voldemort's minions smug and nasty, they're also humorless.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Passion Fruit

I haven’t seen the film. But I’ve read enough of the frothing criticism to know that the Anti-Defamation League has gone seriously, seriously wrong by calling for Gibson to modify his film before releasing it.

To demonstrate, let’s assume that every factual allegation Abe Foxman has made is true. That is, let’s assume for the sake of argument that Gibson’s film:

(1) ”portrays Jewish authorities and the Jewish "mob" as forcing the decision to torture and execute Jesus, thus assuming responsibility for the crucifixion.”

(2) “relies on sinister medieval stereotypes, portraying Jews as blood-thirsty, sadistic and money-hungry enemies of God who lack compassion and humanity.”

(3) “relies on historical errors, chief among them its depiction of the Jewish high priest controlling Pontius Pilate.”

(4) “uses an anti-Jewish account of a 19th century mystical anti-Semitic nun, distorts New Testament interpretation by selectively citing passages to weave a narrative that oversimplifies history, and is hostile to Jews and Judaism.” and

(5) “portrays Jews who adhere to their Jewish faith as enemies of God and the locus of evil.”

Let’s also assume that each of the above flaws is compounded by the fact that they contradict the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church, as Paula Fredriksen argued at length last month in the New Republic. Let’s assume that these contradictions of the Church’s teaching were deliberate: that Gibson believes, and wishes to propagate, these anti-Semitic canards. Let’s even go a step further, and suppose for the sake of argument that Gibson shares the loony, well documented, white supremacist and holocaust-denying beliefs of his evil father.

So what? To whom would this message appeal? Is the film so powerful that it would win converts to anti-Semitism who are not already inclined to hate? Or does the ADL believe people so weak-minded that despite the best intentions they would be manipulated by the film into becoming anti-Semites? I think not. Indeed, by producing the film in Aramaic and Latin (the latter, Fredriksen argues, being historically inaccurate, despite Mel’s claim to historical accuracy), Mel has already weeded out most of the weak-minded: Americans, effete intellectuals aside, are notoriously hostile to films with subtitles. Of the people in this country fluent in Aramaic, and thus able to understand the film without subtitles, 98% (or more) are observant Jews (who must know Aramaic because it is the principal language of the Talmud), and they are unlikely to join the ranks of the right-wing fringe.

Like would-be speech suppressers the world over, Foxman only does his cause harm with his jeremiad, giving Gibson publicity and prompting people to see the flick out of curiosity.

Foxman doesn’t see this. Today, the ADL put out a new press release, disclosing some of the – wait for it – anti-Semitic hate mail that was generated by its first press release. I’m not sure what Foxman’s purpose is in releasing the hate mail. It certainly proves nothing about any harm the film would do. All it does is drag some of the audience into the light of day. That’s good information to have. But at any rate, Foxman claims not to be calling for censorship of the film: “The League has not called for ‘censorship’ of the Gibson film, but rather asked for sensitivity to the dangerous implications of a conspiracy-oriented, historically false caricature of the Jews which has been repudiated by the Catholic Church itself.” Oh, I see: It’s not censorship Foxman wants it’s sensitivity. How should Mel show his sensitivity, though? Why, by “modifying” his film, of course. Abe, bubbeleh, if you talk like a censor and you smell like a censor, you’re a censor.

The country’s rapidly approaching the point where we enshrine in law a right not to be offended. In other places, like Australia, it’s already happened. When it happens here, God help us all (with, of course, no offense intended to you atheists and agnostics).