by the stormy present
Fri Jun 15th, 2007 at 10:01:24 AM EST
Yesterday, I happened to flip on Al-Jazeera -- the Arabic station, not the English one -- and find that it was broadcasting the the chilling brainwashing documentary Jesus Camp. (Official film site here.)
My initial reaction included this:
You know, it's maybe weirder for me seeing it in this context than it would be seeing it in a US movie theater or a "western" TV channel.
Oh my. Now this lady's talking about "our enemies" and how "they're focusing on the kids." And then she starts talking about Muslims and "training camps in Palestine", so it's pretty sure who she thinks the "enemies" are.
For those who haven't seen Jesus Camp, it's really disturbing. Here's some more of my initial reaction:
And now she's talking to a kid, who says, "I got saved at 5." He's talking about the age, not the hour. "I just felt there was more to life."
Oh, now they're onto Evolution.
I'm not sure I can watch this anymore.
So, what effect is this going to have on Arabs' views of the US?
I actually suspect it might help. Freakishly.
Migeru asked me to expand on that, and then Jerome asked me to make my response into a diary, so here it is, with a couple of minor format edits:
OK, I have a tiny window of time now. Let's see what I can do. I apologize if this response is a little rambling, but I haven't really had time to organize my thoughts on it, and we're really just talking about a gut reaction to the film, and the circumstances under which I started to watch it.
On reflection, I'm not sure I was right when I said it would "help." By focusing on the most obsessively religious Americans, it might change some people's perceptions of the US as a godless, craven wasteland full of morally corrupt atheists. But it also might reinforce those perceptions, since so many of the subjects of the film (evangelical Christians) seem to feel the same way.
But that was another thing that struck me -- the rather astonishing similarities between the sort of "Christian jihad" approach that the happy-clappy-campers take (and set of beliefs that accompanies it) to the mentality of the serious Muslim fundamentalists. (Note that I'm not saying "extremists" -- I connect that word to the use or advocacy of violence, but I saw little indication of actual incitement to violence in the brief part of the documentary that I had time to watch.)
I'm not the only one who noticed that. Wiki has this quote from the infamous Ted Haggard:
"Secularists are hoping that evangelical Christians and radicalized Muslims are essentially the same, which is why they will love this film."
The designation of the "enemy" is the same as well -- heathens and unbelievers, including secularist forces within their own societies. By their definitions, "the enemy" includes basically everyone but them.
So this is the thing that I think I was reacting to when I said it might "help." I think it was a gut response to what I suspect would be the familiarity of the scenes I was seeing. The rhetoric is similar -- these are people who see themselves as the "true" adherents of their faith, whichever faith they adhere to; they believe that others (fellow Christians or fellow Muslims) who fail to share their particular approach are corrupt or fallen or somehow "less holy." Not real Christians or Muslims. At one point, one of the kids in the film comments that she thinks God wouldn't want to go to a mainstream church, one that wasn't like hers.
In Islam, that has a name: takfir. In Christianity, it's perhaps more insidious, but probably more common.
The film also includes several scenes with a liberal Christian radio talk show host (I think he's on Air America) who criticizes the approach that the Christian jihadists are taking, and who says they bear little resemblance to the type of Chrisitanity he believes in, in that they lack compassion and forgiveness and commitment to (or concern about) social justice.
I hear this from progressive and moderate Muslims here as well. I don't tell them that it sounds to me like takfir in reverse -- they're saying that the extremists are not "real" Muslims, an idea that doesn't sit entirely well with me for a few reasons, but that's probably for another post.
I think that a lot of moderate Muslims (and Arabs) might recognize the tension between those two sets of views -- the fundamentalist and the progressive, both laying claim to their faith -- because I have seen over and over the same tension and same dynamic in this society.
So I think some secular and progressive Arabs and Muslims might be deeply disturbed (as I was) by what they saw in that documentary, partly because it might seem so familiar, because they are facing the same battle (and too often losing), and because of everything that those twin battles (and the signs of who is winning them) might imply for the future of our shared world.
So this is what I mean -- it's all familiar. Familiar and frightening. And I don't know if the fact that both religions (and the societies they are inextricably linked to) are locked in internal ideological battles for the soul of their respective faiths... I don't know whether people here would find that idea comforting (in that it holds out some hope that the fundamentalists will not triumph, in either case) or deeply depressing (because it seems that at this point, the fundamentalists are winning).
Probably more than you wanted to know.