Friday, February 17, 2006

postal scrotum: remarks on the Muslim flap

A reader writes:

I've really been enjoying your Golgotha series. Great stuff. Very funny. It's odd to me how you can say that you're Christian and yet at the same time write such sacrilegious stuff. I wonder how you reconcile that.

Also enjoyed your piece on Muslim two-facedness. Will generalize a bit here when I speak of "Muslims." I feel very much the same way. I didn't know that caricatures of Jews were a staple of the Islamic press. So how can they be so two-faced about the Danish cartoons? Western appeasers will say that we have to understand Muslim anger because of the poverty and inequality in Muslim countries, and also because of the history of cruel Western imperalism there. No doubt they have suffered and continue to suffer many indignities, but that doesn't warrant riots and the like.

It's all the worse, though, when the U.S. up and bombs more innocent civilians (a la Gulf War Part II) mainly in the name of energy interests. The thing is, though, the Muslim countries don't seem to understand tolerance. You know, you didn't see a lot of the Jewish survivors of concentration camps coming out and going ballistic on the Germans. A lot of them took it lying down (quite literally).

It's also interesting when you compare the post-WWII U.S. occupation of Japan to the present occupation of Iraq. The Japanese knew they were beaten, but they were smart about it. They didn't resist, and they set about rebuilding their nation. Look at Japan now, the world's number two economy. The Iraqis, though, seem to just want to spill blood.

One thing the Western press doesn't talk about much is how much dissent there is among Islamic countries. For example, I've heard that everybody hates the Palestinians; they're treated like shit in other Arab countries, from what I hear. Bin Laden's pretext for nine-one-one was not the Palestinian-Israeli debacle but the American occupation of the Holy Land (KSA). Look at the eight-year Iran-Iraq war. Muslims have to get their act together.

re: your first paragraph

One of the extra chapters to appear in my upcoming book deals with just this issue. The question "Are you a real Christian?" has come up several times, usually in a personal context. The notion of "real" Christianity (or "real" religion in general) is fodder for an interesting discussion.

re: Muslim rage and comics

My blogrolling of cool blogs is paying dividends. I saw over at Riding Sun that British comic artist Frank Miller, famous for his mid-80s classic Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, is creating an openly propagandistic graphic novel in which Batman will take on al-Qaeda. Pure fantasy, of course, but:

Holy Terror, Batman! is no joke. And Miller doesn't hold back on the true purpose of the book, calling it "a piece of [propaganda]," where "Batman kicks al Qaeda's ass."

The reason for this work, Miller said, was "an explosion from my gut reaction of what's happening now." He can't stand entertainers who lack the moxie of their '40s counterparts who stood up to Hitler. Holy Terror is "a reminder to people who seem to have forgotten who we're up against."

It's been a long time since heroes were used in comics as pure propaganda. As Miller reminded [us], "Superman punched out Hitler. So did Captain America. That's one of the things they're there for."

I admit I was uncomfortable when I heard that some artists had tried their hand at post-9/11 superhero scenarios-- most of them of the "Why wasn't I there to stop this?" variety. The survivor's guilt of a fictional hero rang hollow to me. Much more touching was the famous post-9/11 picture of the snow sculpture depicting a fireman being comforted by an angel. Those guys, the firemen, were the ones who had the balls to go into still-shifting rubble, risking their asses for folks they didn't know and might not even have liked in other circumstances. Whether you believe in angels or not, you have to agree that the sculptor's heart was in the right place: the firemen deserved a tribute. I have no problem mythologizing that sort of hero.

That's also why, when I think about the Republicans I like and dislike, Rudolph Giuliani stands much taller in my mind than the likes of Dick Cheney or George W. Bush. Rudy, whatever his faults, was out there in the dust and rubble on that day, seeing to his people. Cheney, in the meantime, was in some James Bond-style capsule, shooting toward Undisclosed Location #237 somewhere near the earth's core. GW Bush took a few days to get to NYC; he then stood atop the still-smoking rubble with his blowhorn, voiced his steely determination in the face of the enemy, and absorbed the ragged cheers of the firemen and the other workers who'd been laboring non-stop without any thought to "how this would play on TV."

If St. Anselm was right in thinking that what exists in reality is somehow "greater" than what exists only in the understanding, then I'll take a real-life Rudy Giuliani to a comic book superhero any day. But this won't stop me from having a childish chuckle at the sight of Batman mopping the floor with al-Qaeda flunkies. Frank Miller often sets a brooding tone, but he rarely goes for survivor's guilt.



impletqueen said...

In response to "It's odd to me how you can say that you're Christian and yet at the same time write such sacrilegious stuff. I wonder how you reconcile that." ..

How could you NOT reconcile that? Jesus clearly had a self-deprecating sense of humor, as evidenced by the miracle at the wedding in Cana; so what's the problem? I expect God as I understand Him is highly amused.

Main Entry: sac·ri·lege

one who steals sacred things, from sacr-, sacer + legere to gather, steal -- more at LEGEND 1 : a technical and not necessarily intrinsically outrageous violation (as improper reception of a sacrament) of what is sacred because consecrated to God
2 : gross irreverence toward a hallowed person, place, or thing

So, um, it's sacrilegious by definition. Uh, so? By this definition Jesus Himself was seen, in His day, as sacrilegious. So there. Neener.

I'm a shuttup before this gets, i dunno, long or somethin'.

Kevin Kim said...


Many thanks, but my reader's intentions weren't accusatory. Mr. Anonymous is a good friend of mine, and it's a legitimate question he's asking.

I think, however, that you've got a point about Jesus and his supposedly sacrilegious behavior. The gospel scene in which he reads from Isaiah-- "the spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor (etc.)," ends with Jesus telling his listeners, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." This provoked immediate outrage: was this man declaring himself the messiah?

Several other stories in the gospels provide us with clues that Jesus was deliberately crossing boundaries with the purpose of showing how silly those boundaries were.

However-- was Jesus the same as, say, modern Christian supersessionists? The Christian scriptures support a number of different interpretations. A supersessionist would insist that Jesus was sweeping Judaism aside in favor of something new-- a stance that has led to a long and painful history of Christian antisemitism.

I tend to think that Jesus never lost sight of his Jewishness. His debating techniques and parables-- many of which use a "turning turtle" strategy that exalts the low and debases the high-- are reminiscent of rabbinical techniques in vogue at the time. Boundary-crossing wasn't new to Jews; Jesus might well have been addressing mainly those Jews who had come to see the Law as a set of bright-line rules whose letter was more important that the Law's spirit. In that sense, Jesus might have been trying to remind Jews of their original God-consciousness, an awareness for which the Law was an aid, not an impediment.

Somewhat applicable to the Muslim situation, I think: Jesus was often accused of violating religious commandments, but his message was that the unwritten scripture of the heart was far more important than any written, discursive scripture.

A rich topic, about which I have blogged very little (mainly for lack of reading), is the subject of "holy" or "foolish" wisdom. I'd like to think that some of what I attempt on the blog is done in that vein. Perhaps that's a first step in answering Mr. Anonymous's question. Or maybe it's too pretentious to associate myself with the "foolish wisdom" crowd.