Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Schism

This is the title of a film by a Saudi blogger named Raed Al-Saeed made as a riposte to Geert Wilders’ Fitna, and now widely available on the internet.

Schism was removed from YouTube following “complaints”, although it was subsequently restored at Al-Saeed’s request.

It is not unnatural that there should have been complaints. But complaints are a different thing entirely to death threats. LiveLeak removed Fitna from its servers almost straight away owing to threats of death and violence from outraged fanatics directed against its staff (although the film has since been restored). Is Al-Saeed now in fear of his life because certain viewers have complained about Schism? One should think not. Geert Wilders, on the other hand, has every reason to look over his shoulder every day for the rest of his life (which, given what happened to Theo van Gogh, might not be that long).

Mahometan bloggers and commentators are of course delighted with Al-Saeed’s effort, but having watched it himself, Melancholicus is not impressed. One cannot compare Schism with Fitna without doing an injustice to the latter. Al-Saeed does not attempt to engage with the charges against Islam contained in Wilders’ film, probably because Wilders’ case is unanswerable. Instead, he takes the easy way out and resorts to attacking the Bible and Christianity in the same manner in which he perceives his enemy to have attacked Islam, with the result that the controversy has descended to the level of an ad hominem slagging match.

This approach is unfortunate not only because it causes further tempers to flare, but because Al-Saeed effectively treats Christianity and Islam as morally equivalent. Since he is a Saudi, Melancholicus assumes that Al-Saeed must be a believing Muslim (why would he have responded to Geert Wilders if he weren’t?). Why, though, would a believing Muslim regard Islam and Christianity as equivalent in their tone and tenor, and in what they teach? There would be no difference between the two religions otherwise, except that of party political identity. Similarly, it is not legitimate to compare the Qur’an and the Bible in the manner in which Al-Saeed has done; each is intended from the outset to be read in a different way. They are differently structured and contain different kinds of text. Both are held to be the word of God by the adherents of Islam and Christianity respectively, but even here there is a difference as to the precise mode of the revelation regarded as being contained in each. Melancholicus apologizes to the reader if he has by now made himself obscure, but this point (regarding the differences between the Qur’an and the Bible) will be made clearer below.

Schism opens with the following statement:

The following phrases are from the Bible, the Holy Book that teaches the most barbaric war criminals


Here, from the very beginning, Al-Saeed is on shaky ground. Who are these war criminals? Al-Saeed does not say. Whether he has in mind people like George W. Bush and Tony Blair, or those such as the butchers of Bosnia Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, or even the most extreme examples such as Hitler, Himmler and Heydrich, does he provide his viewers with any evidence that these men have been inspired by the Bible as he claims, or that any of them actually quoted the Bible in justification of his acts?

No, he doesn’t. Because he cannot. The perpetrators of Islamist atrocities, however, invariably cite the Qur’an as justification for their actions. Blot number one against Al-Saeed.

It is true that there are violent passages in the Old Testament, and Al-Saeed quotes some of them in support of his claims. But the violence of the Old Testament is confined to a particular time and place in history. No Jew or Christian today would attempt to use these verses as a justification for mayhem. But as the Qur’an is regarded by Muslims as valid for all times and places, its exhortations to bloodshed stand as strongly today as they did in the seventh century, and will always do so, as long as the Qur’an exists. Blot number two, as Al-Saeed has failed to distinguish between how Christians interpret the Old Testament, and how his own co-religionists interpret the Qur’an.

Furthermore, the violence of the Old Testament is mitigated, at least in Christianity, by the New Testament with its exhortations to love one’s enemies, to bless those who curse one, to pray for one’s persecutors and to do good to those who do one evil. Al-Saeed seems to be ignorant of this, or perhaps he doesn’t mention it because it would rather spoil his case. Blot number three.

The film then moves on to the notorious and highly-publicized 2006 footage of British troops beating up a group of Iraqi adolescents in Basra, filmed by one of the soldiers who is clearly enjoying the unpleasant spectacle and urging his comrades on. Having primed his viewers with quotes from the Old Testament, Al-Saeed clearly wishes us to associate the Biblical verses with the brutality of the troops, but in this instance there is no connection between the Bible and what the soldiers are doing. Nor does the one doing the filming - who speaks throughout the footage - ever mention the Bible, or any religious motivation whatsoever. Blot four.

The film then provides us with an image of a cross made from bullets standing on a table, on which there is also a copy of psalm 75. We then hear the voice of U.S. president George W. Bush describing his forthcoming invasion of Afghanistan by means of the word crusade. Al-Saeed clearly wishes us to take the “war on terror” for a war on Islam. What he fails to mention, however, is that the invasion of Afghanistan (and of Iraq after it) was prompted not by the Christian religion, or by the Bible, much less by psalm 75, but by a brutal and unprovoked terrorist attack on civilians in New York city which claimed almost 3,000 lives. An attack perpetrated by Muslims in the name of Islam.

If in 2001 the U.S. had gratuitously and out of the blue dropped a 150-kiloton bomb on Mecca, and afterwards cited verses from the Bible to justify the bombing, Al-Saeed might have had a just cause to complain. But as it is, the invasion of Afghanistan no more proves that Christianity is a martial religion than it proves the moon is made from green cheese. Blot five.

We then hear some pentecostalist/evangelical lady talking about Christianity, and inspiring the young. The scene then cuts to two children of, perhaps, ten or twelve years of age talking about their faith. This is what they say:



We're being trained to go out and train others to be God's army and to do God's will ... I feel like we're kind of being trained to be warriors, only in a much finer way ... I don't feel the sense of being afraid to die in battle or anything, like you would if you are actually going out to a war in the physical. There's a peace with it all, too. There's an excitement, yet peace at the same time ... you know, a lot of people die for God and they're not afraid.


There is no shortage of militaristic terminology here, and we can imagine the glee wherewith Al-Saeed must have latched on to this piece. Of course he must have thought of the militant youths of his own religion, who boast in front of their teachers and classmates of intending to strap on explosive vests and blow up the sons of pigs and monkeys (i.e. Jews) when they are old enough to do so. Does Al-Saeed really imagine that this is what the two kids he uses in Schism are talking about when they uttered the above quote? Instead, the children are speaking metaphorically, as their very words make clear. The girl talks of being a warrior “in a much finer way” than going to war “in the physical”. Quite obviously, a literal physical war is not at all in question here. While the boy in the video seems to refer to martyrdom at the end of the quote, he is of course referring to the Christian concept of martyrdom, in which one prefers to suffer death than renounce the faith, if such is unavoidable. Only in Islam, however, does martyrdom involve the performance of a deliberately suicidal act which invariably results in the taking of several other lives besides that of the alleged “martyr”. Blot six.

Then we are back to the pentecostal preacher, who says she wants to see young people as committed to the cause of Jesus Christ as young Muslims are to the cause of Islam. What’s wrong with that? Well, actually, here Al-Saeed inflicts damage on his own religion, for his film creates the impression that the preacher wants the youths in her charge to be as fanatical — and hence violent — as he back-handedly acknowledges Muslim youths to be. But however “committed” such Christian young people may be, can he show us any instances in which they have flown planes into buildings, or blown themselves up in crowded malls or restaurants, or bombed subway trains, or beheaded kidnap victims, all in the name of Christ?

Thought not. Blot seven.

We are then shown shots of what can only be a pentecostalist childrens’ service, in which all and sundry are animated by surging emotions. We see the woman preacher again, microphone in hand, animating the children with zeal and declaiming boldly such statements as “This is war! Are you a part of it or not?” As Al-Saeed’s use of this footage lacks a context, we don’t know what the occasion is precisely, but as it is clearly some kind of church service, with no guns or other weapons in sight, the preacher’s language is doubtless metaphorical, the ‘war’ in question being the warfare of the Christian life, namely the constant struggle against sin, against self and against the devil. Al-Saeed surely understands this, since it corresponds exactly to what Muslims describe as the greater jihad. But there is in Islam also a lesser jihad, that form of jihad with which we in the west have become all too familiar in recent years, namely fighting against the unbelievers with the sword and, in our day, the AK-47, the suicide bomb and the hijacked airliner. There is no Christian equivalent of this kind of jihad. Consequently there is no comparison between the metaphorical military language used by this pentecostal lady on the one hand and the literally hate-filled and bloodthirsty discourse of jihadi clerics on the other. The connection exists only in Al-Saeed’s mind. Secondly, even if the exhortation to “make war” were intended to be taken literally, pentecostalism is merely a fringe movement far from representative of Christianity as a whole. Could this guy really not do any better than this? If Melancholicus were a Mahometan (which holy God forfend), he would be profoundly disappointed with Al-Saeed’s lame and toothless effort. Blot eight.

The scene then cuts to Baghdad under attack at the beginning of “Shock and Awe”. Clearly Al-Saeed wishes us to apply the pentecostalist preacher’s cry of “this means war!” to what we see happening in the news footage. But once again, there is no connection between the two. The Bush administration and its allies attacked Iraq not because of any Christian or Biblical injunctions, much less because of the influence of some unidentified pentecostalist, but for reasons stemming from an Islamic attack on New York city that killed nearly 3,000 people. Here we can contrast Al-Saeed’s lame attempts to lay the blame for the war on Christian doctrine rather than on the fanatical Islamists where it belongs. He wastes precious time showing extended footage of warfare and violence that have nothing to do with either the Bible or Christianity when he ought to have been seeking out evidence to make a credible case. Blot nine.

Finally, we reach the ending. Schism closes with this text, against a background soundtrack of gunfire and explosions:



It is easy to take parts of any Holy book that are out of content [sic] and make it sound like the most inhuman book ever written. This is what Geert Wilders did to gather more supporters to his hateful ideology. To create schism.


Melancholicus thinks Al-Saeed misunderstands the meaning of the word schism; it certainly isn’t as appropriate a title as that given to Fitna by his nemesis Geert Wilders.

Then there is an expanded “English version”, which looks like it may have been made by someone else independent of Al-Saeed; this “English version” is somewhat more tendentious, and more obnoxious on that account, but the maker of the English version likewise has little to fear as a result of his actions. Christians are accustomed to such insult and humiliation. We don’t like it, certainly, but at the same time we won’t let it come between us and our rest. But any criticism of the Qur’an, however justified, without even stooping to the level of insult, invariably transforms extraordinary numbers of allegedly “peaceful” Muslims into homicidal maniacs.

The “English version” includes the provocative Biblical verse I came not to bring peace, but a sword (Mt. 10:34). Yes, Jesus did say those words. But once again, he is not speaking literally. This speech was not followed in the Bible by any outbreak of violence, nor has it ever been used by Christians as a justification for war.

The “English version” does a far better job than Al-Saeed’s original in ferreting out examples of atrocities committed by Christians against Muslims. There is some footage which recalls the massacre at Srebrenica in 1995 of over 8,000 Muslim men and boys by the Bosnian Serbs. This was a horrifying crime, for which the perpetrators have still not been brought to justice. Nevertheless, it is irrelevant to the Fitna/Schism controversy, since this massacre was motivated by political considerations first of all, neither were the Bible nor any teaching of the Christian religion ever employed to defend it.

The “English version” also shows some World War II footage of Wehrmacht troops taking an oath, which cuts immediately to contemporary footage of American servicemen taking a similar oath. We are supposed to identify the U.S. with Nazi Germany. A bit contrived, to say the very least. A tad unfortunate also, given the Hitlerite sympathies and rabid anti-semitism of so many Muslims past and present. The picture (which is NOT photoshopped) says it all.

Then there several other irrelevancies in the “English version”, including a terrorist attack on a funeral during the troubles in Northern Ireland, and the infamous “Jonestown” in Guyana at which 900 members of a religious cult committed suicide at the behest of their leader. All of these are indiscriminately pressed into service in an attempt to portray Christianity as a violent religion, or else at least as violent as Islam. The reader may make up his own mind whether or not these attempts have been successful.

The ultimate point of separation between these two films is nothing to do with what may or may not be contained in the holy books of either Christianity or Islam. The point is that Raed Al-Saeed can continue to go about his daily business unmolested, basking in the kudos and approbation of the Islamic media for having dealt such a shrewd blow to the kuffar. It took no great courage for Al-Saeed to make and post Schism. He had nothing to lose in so doing, and everything to gain.

For Geert Wilders, however, the situation is very different. He is a marked man, and for daring to speak out in defence of his country and western civilisation, he will live in fear every day of his life, never knowing when some crazed fanatic will seize the opportunity to kill him. Wilders is also under fire from the politically-correct morons who dominate so much of Dutch society, as everywhere else in the west. For his part, Al-Saeed endures no such opposition. Wilders has presented his viewers with a compelling case, amply supported with incontestable evidence. In contrast, Raed Al-Saeed comes across as an unoriginal imitator, a man who cannot answer Wilders or even turn the tables on him since he has no evidence to make a case. Since he cannot make a case, he throws a hissy fit instead.

Because contrary to what critics like Al-Saeed would have us believe, Geert Wilders’ film has nothing to do with Christian misinterpretations of the violent passages in the Qur’an; Fitna is about what Muslims themselves have made of these violent passages. That these passages are found in the Qur’an is certain; but no one in the west would have paid any attention to them at all if Muslims did not continually use them as justification for heinous acts of murder and bloodshed. If Muslims interpreted the Qur’an as Christians interpret the Bible, it is likely that there would have been no film for Geert Wilders to make.

A final word, addressed especially to any Muslims that might be reading this. Geert Wilders has made out a case that Islam is a violent religion and that its violence is a direct consequence of injunctions contained in the Qur’an. Wilders wishes to have the Qur’an banned in the Netherlands in order to protect the Dutch people. If Muslims disagree with Wilders’ conclusions — and they clearly do — it is incumbent upon them to refute the charges that Wilders has made, bringing forth evidence to disprove his claims. However, if Muslims react to Fitna with fury and rage, even going so far as to threaten the life of the man who made it, does not that rather prove Wilders’ point? It is one thing to claim that Islam is a peaceful religion; it is another thing entirely to expect non-Muslims to believe that claim. When we westerners see Muslims reacting with homicidal hysteria to any slur or perceived slur against their religion, we are not inspired with confidence that Islam is a peaceful faith or that Muslims are a mature and mentally sound people. When we see the kind of atrocities carried out by Muslims in the name of Islam, we will be more inclined to believe Geert Wilders than Muslim apologists who insist that Wilders’ claims are all lies. You Muslims, if you want us to regard you as anything more than violent, unstable, fanatical, immature, misogynistic, murderous neanderthals, it is up to you — and you alone! — to suppress the extremism in your midst, and to do something about the way in which the Qur’an and its injunctions to violence are regarded in your communities. Until such time as you do, you cannot fault us for not taking you at your word.

Lastly, before we finish, Melancholicus wishes to provide his readers with the appropriate links so that his readers may view both Fitna and Schism for themselves and, having seen, may make up their own minds on the matter.

Fitna may be viewed on LiveLeak here [CAUTION: this film contains graphic footage which some viewers may find distressing]

Schism is available on YouTube here.

The so-called “English version” is also on YouTube here.

Melancholicus now finds himself wondering why he lavished so much time and effort on this post, since Fitna is so powerful and speaks for itself. In contrast the two Islamist ripostes are so weak and pathetic that there is really no comparison between them. I have no scruple about labelling the Muslim makers of these videos as islamists, and hence bracketing them with the terrorists. They condemn Fitna and they condemn Geert Wilders, but why do they not condemn the horrible things done by Muslims, upon which Wilders has merely shone a spotlight, horrible things done in the name of Islam? Why do they not hang their heads in shame? Why do they feel the need to go after Christianity, which is totally irrelevant to the question of whether or not the Qur’an is a violent book?

Now the inimitable Pat Condell also has a say which, as usual, is well worth hearing: