This isn’t about a film

On my way into work this morning, I was thinking about the riots in Sydney and around the world led by radicalised islamists.

All the reporting says that these riots were in reaction to a film posted on Youtube. When I first read the news last week that the US Ambassador to Libya had been murdered by a mob, I then read Fr Lombardi’s statement on the event, and thought “What?” Here’s what he said according the CNS report:

“Profound respect for the beliefs, texts, outstanding figures and symbols of the various religions are an essential precondition for the peaceful coexistence of peoples,” said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman.

“The serious consequences of unjustified offense and provocations against the sensibilities of Muslim believers are once again evident in these days, as we see the reactions they arouse, sometimes with tragic results, which in turn nourish tension and hatred, unleashing unacceptable violence,” he said Sept. 12 in a written statement that was also translated into Arabic.

At that stage, I didn’t know that the rioting was supposed to be “about” that film, so I wondered why a statement about murderous violence began with a comment about respect for beliefs. Shouldn’t respect for human life and a denunciation of violence be at the top of the list?

Of course, since then, there have been endless denunciations of “that film” by western governments and Christian Churches. Here is the latest from Cathnews.

Okay, so back to this morning. On my way into work, I was thinking, “This isn’t about “that film”. Anyone who thinks that it is has got it all wrong. This is about something else.”

When I arrived at work, a colleague showed me a cutting from yesterday’s Age (I cancelled my subscription a fortnight ago!) of this article by Waleed Aly: “The Incredible Hulk proves to be no friend of Islam either”, in which Waleed says exactly what I was thinking, and then tells us what he thinks it really IS about:

It doesn’t matter that they object to insulting people on the basis of their religion, while declaring that Christians have no morals. This is baffling only until you realise these protesters are not truly protesting to make a point. The protest is the point.

It feels good. It feels powerful. This is why people yell pointlessly or punch walls when frustrated. It’s not instrumental. It doesn’t achieve anything directly. But it is catharsis. Outrage and aggression is an intoxicating prospect for the powerless.

Accordingly, it is not an option to leave an insult unanswered because that is a sign of weakness, rather than transcendence.

The protest is what the protest is about, not the film. This arises out of an honour/shame culture that is totally alien to our way of thinking.

Ironically, the solution, it seems to me, lies in harnessing the power of this “honour/shame” culture against this kind of behaviour. I was listening to a program the other day which was talking about so-called “honour-killings” in Pakistan. The way to combat this, said the commentator, was to make “honour-killings” collectively dishonourable, along the lines of “The world sees us doing this and says Pakistan is barbaric and stupid. Honour-killings result in dishonour, not honour. They shame Pakistan. Therefore, for the sake of our honour, we will not do honour-killings any more.” That isn’t a moral argument, but it is, I think a practical way of addressing that particular problem.

The same method can be used by the Muslim community in Australia (and elsewhere) to oppose these kinds of violence riots. “The violence brings shame on Islam, the Prophet and Allah, therefore, we as Muslims will not act violently.” If the Australian Muslim Community in particular, and the Australian community as a whole, can successfully brand this kind of violence (or any for that matter) as “shameful” it will no longer be a sign of weakness to refuse to act violently – it will be a sign of strength.

But of course, I am a Christian, and this has long been a part of our ethic. From “turn the other cheek” to “my strength is made perfect in weakness”, Christianity has long upheld non-violence as a strong (and hence honourable) way of reacting to the violence or offensive activity of others.

Fr Barron, in his DVD series, Catholicism, tells two stories, one about Desmond Tutu and another about Mother Teresa.

One day, Archbishop Tutu was walking on a boardwalk through a muddy area when a South African soldier was coming the other way. The soldier refused to make way for the bishop to pass and said “Get of the boardwalk – I don’t make way for apes”. Tutu stepped off the boardwalk and said “I do.”

Mother Teresa was asking for a loaf of bread from a baker for a starving child. The baker spat full in her face. “Thank you for that,” the saint replied, “now how about something for the child?”

Non-violence can turn the offensive action back on the offender. The best way to deal with silly offensive videos on Youtube is not to riot violently, nor to waste one’s breath denouncing it. It is to ignore it.

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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9 Responses to This isn’t about a film

  1. Peregrinus says:

    “The protest is what the protest is about, not the film. This arises out of an honour/shame culture that is totally alien to our way of thinking.”

    Well, of course it’s not about the film. The film is just a useful focus for expressing the feelings of victimhood and of conflict which are central to some people’s self-understanding. If they’re not a victimised minority struggling against oppression then they don’t know who they are, and that’s very, very scary.

    But none of this is “totally alien to our way of thinking”, if by “our” we mean the Christian West. It’s actually quite a common psychological predisposition; it fuelled a cycle of violence in Ireland for over thirty years – a struggle in which both sides were products of the Christian west. Indeed, I suspect the production and promotion of this film was probably motivated by the same feelings.

    It’s ironic that the people who produced and promoted this film, and the people who rioted against it, are allies. They hate each other, but they can transcend that hatred in their shared pursuit of a common goal, which is promoting the conflict which is essential to their psychological security.

  2. David,
    On an even deeper and disturbing level, it’s also about sinister powers manipulating the shame culture of Middle Eastern Muslims for their own religio-political purposes, which are inimical to Western civilisation.

  3. Peter says:

    It is difficult to see how Islam can reign the it’s extremist elements when it is an organisation devoid of structure.It has no heirarchy at all.It’s clergy are not even ordained.
    Where is the credible leadership with authority going to come from?

    • Schütz says:

      Well, they do have some structures here in Australia, such as the state boards of imams and the various Islamic Councils (State and the National Federation of Councils, AFIC). Then there are various academic centres and new structures for Islamic education, many of them attached to our universities, which has the benefit of keeping up standards. The muslim community in general values education, and many young women are doing Islamic studies which will change things a bit. Finally, as I said, the honour/shame culture remains strong. If the community at large and the Muslim community in particular is successful in classifying the behaviour we saw on Sunday as shameful and devoid of honour, we have a good chance of success – at least here in Oz.

  4. Kate Edwards says:

    It is a nice idea David, but I think what you are trying to impose is a Christian view of the world, that starts from the Golden Rule, and that is explicitly rejected by Islam.

    What the riots serve to remind, as Time has pointed out this week, is that the view in Islam that blasphemy is a very serious crime indeed and deserves serious punishment, is part of mainstream Muslim belief, and is not just a minority view. It is a view that is reflected in the law of most Islamic countries, as we should know all too well from the string of cases that have been publicised of late in relation to Pakistan, Iran and elsewhere.

    The riots should also remind us that where Christians generally have a concept of the organisation ultimately being responsible for the regulation of behaviour, and a concept of the rule of law operating through the properly delegated authorities, Islam instead has a concept of both individual and communal responsibility to act where perceived violations of the law occur (hence the phenomenon of ‘honour’ murders and the like).

    To suggest that the rioters were simply expressing ther anger and alienation in my view misses the point: the reason they feel angry and alienated is because, in their view, Australia (and other Western countries) is not (yet) a Muslim society that prohibits this kinds of insults to the Prophet.

    • Schütz says:

      Righto, Kate. But you seem to find it easier to believe that Islam will withstand the gates of hell than the Church!

      Someone recently, in one of the many commentaries on the current round of riots, pointed out that in comparison to the number of people involved in the Arab Spring uprisings, these “protests” (if that is indeed what they are) are miniscule. Which says to me that far more Muslims throughout the world are interested in freedom and democracy than in petty acts of blasphemy against the Prophet. Whatever was fuelling the rage of the mob in Sydney, it wasn’t the same thing or of the same degree as that which fuelled the outrage and shame of the vast bulk of Muslims in Australia in reaction to their stupid and violent acts. By supporting the Muslim condemnation of the protesters, we lend support to the growing point of view within the Australian Muslim community that such action is shameful and unacceptable to Almighty God.

      And I don’t think that these mobs of protesters are actually “angry” at anything. They are, however, frustrated and ashamed – possibly because the idea they have about themselves inside their heads does not accord with the reality of the world around them – and the only reaction they have to their frustration is violence. That isn’t the fault of multi-culturalism, or the fault of Australian or Western Society, or the fault of some video on Youtube. It is largely their own fault. They are not victims of anything but their own delusions about themselves.

    • Schütz says:

      And I think you will find that Islam actually affirms the Golden Rule… According to the Hadith, Mohommed said: “Not one of you truly believes until he wishes for others what he wishes for himself”. Close enough in my book.

    • Louise says:

      Hi David, it’s been a while since I was here. I agree with both you and Kate, where you do not absolutely disagree with one another. Which is to say, I think your analysis abut honour/dishonour is at least plausible and would be worth a try but I also think we need to realise that even if the rioting type of behaviour could be eradicated, we do still need to take into account the teachings of Islam regarding blasphemy. And although we do not surrently punish blasphemy in our own system, it was, for a long time punishable by law and is certainly still considered by some of us to be a mortal sin.

      I keep vascillating to and fro as to whether or not I think of the Muslims as a threat. I would firstly have to know their teachings more in depth. And while I do not think they pose a lasting threat to the Church, they may well post a real threat to a post-Christian society – supernature abhorring a vacuum and all that. I’m pretty sure these people – as a group – are not completely harmless.

  5. Matthias says:

    I agree david but kate has hit the nail on the head .I also have to ask if multiculturalism needs to be re-evaluated in the light of this riot.
    However let us alos see who is connected to this ‘film”-the Rev terry jones.yes he of buring Koran fame.he has by his association perhaps aided more persecution of Christians in Muslim countries by this connection. But let us also think of the persecution of Bahais,ahamadiya’s and Shiities alongside our Brethren

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