Tolerance a two-way street


By Christopher Gunty

What if, back in 1988, Christians in the United States had staged violent protests at the Greek embassy to the United States, because of the release of the film “The Last Temptation of Christ,” based on a book by Nikos Kazantzakis, born in Greece? Or if the protests spread to the Italian embassy, killing the Italian ambassador, because the director, Martin Scorcese, though born in Queens, N.Y., is of Italian descent? Those countries would certainly cry “foul,” and justifiably so.

There were a few violent protests, especially in France, when “Last Temptation” was released, and some deaths resulted. But for the most part, the protests entailed boycotting the movie itself, or an economic boycott of theaters showing the movie.

The movie was low-budget, by Hollywood standards, costing a little more than $7 million to make. It made money, with a domestic gross of more than $8 million, and strong international ticket sales.

The protests backfired, bringing an opposite and unintended, but frequently predictable, result: publicity drew people to see it. “Bad publicity is better than no publicity,” goes the axiom.

Similar scenarios surrounded a Broadway play in which Christ is depicted as a homosexual, and the book/movie “The Da Vinci Code,” which had numerous historical and theological errors.

Now another film has created controversy and spurred violent protests. An online video defames the Prophet Mohammed, mocking the prophet as a womanizer, child molester and killer, according to CNN, and as a sex-crazed simpleton, according to Catholic News Service. Some of the actors told other news outlets they were not told the truth about the project and that their lines were later dubbed to change the dialogue.

The film sparked violent outbursts in the Middle East, starting with the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya, in which U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others were killed. The uprisings quickly spread to other countries.

CNN reported that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah called for fresh protests Monday over the video, which he described as “a dangerous turn in the war against Islam and the great prophet.”

The network reported that Nasrallah appeared before the protesters earlier this week and called on all Muslims to push for the passage of laws around the world to criminalize “insulting monotheistic faiths and their great prophets, from Abraham to Moses to Jesus and Mohammed.”

Some in primarily Islamic countries have pointed out that the protesters, especially the violent ones, don’t represent the people of their land, or their faith. And yet, the protests against European and American targets after the publication of an editorial cartoon in a Danish newspaper mocked Islam’s prophet, and these new violent attacks, seem to indicate that many in the Muslim world are highly offended by “intolerance” of their faith, even while other faiths are not accorded the same tolerance or acceptance in those countries under Sharia law.

Perhaps one difference is that all too often, insults to Christianity in the media come from those in our own country, where our Constitutional freedom of speech provides a handy defense for those who would defame Christ or his church. It also allows for give-and-take in debates and economic consequences for those persons or companies that profit from such offensive content.

Religious leaders, including those at the Vatican, decried not only the message of the anti-Islam film, but also the attacks that followed.

Adherents of any religious background should be able to speak out when their faith or its leaders are mocked or sullied, but these reactions must be in the form of dialogue, not violence.

In Cairo, Egypt, Mohammed Abdu, a 22-year-old Muslim taxi driver, said he was angered by reports of the film but even more upset by the protests at the U.S. Embassy, according to CNS.

“Had (the protesters) been quiet and ignored (the film), it would have disappeared, but now it is famous. When people start climbing walls and attacking embassies, the people who made the film get the attention they wanted,” he said.

Such attention too often results in the injury or death of innocent people of faith. Sadly, the filmmaker and others whose work incites destructive violence rarely pay the price.

Copyright (c) Sept. 20, 2012

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.