Thursday, November 11, 2004

Submission, the film, and the shock of the un-shocking

Theo van Gogh's short film, Submission, is available at IFILM among other places. I saw it a few days ago. The atmosphere is vaguely haunting, especially the music. The actress is good. Since her face is mostly covered she has to use her eyes and her voice to full effect. To be honest I found her quite attractive.

However the shocking thing about Submission is that it is not shocking. Except for the Arabic language Koran quotes, it's basically a monologue summarizing any number of Lifetime Channel Movies of the Week. A woman forced to marry a man she does not love. An uncaring husband who abuses her sexually and physically. An uncle who rapes her. Parents who blame the victim. A culture of silence. A religion of shame.

I say that the film is shocking because it is not shocking. Having seen the film after the assassination of van Gogh I expected something, well, shocking. American television offers far more shocking images and narratives routinely, on many channels at once, without even turning on HBO or paid cable. What Submission really demonstrates is the hyper-sensitivity of (some) Muslims to any criticism or expression that they deem sacrilegious. Which means, ultimately, the utter comtempt by (some) Muslims for freedom of expressions, one of the cornerstones of Western civilizations, especially in America.

I am reminded of a comparative example of years past that demonstrate this Muslim hyper-sensitivity. Remember Piss Christ, the infamous photograph of Christ on the Cross submerged in urine? Certainly an offensive and blasphemous image to most Christians. Was he killed? No. Assaulted? Not to my knowledge. Were there any consequences? Yes. He lost federal funding for his photo exhibit.

Remember Sinead O'Conner tearing up a photograph on the Pope live on national television to the words, "Fight the real enemy." Murdered by Ops Dei? Nope. She released a CD two years ago.

I remember crossing a picket line to see The Last Temptation of Christ, a film that portrayed Christ on the Cross doubting His mission and imagining a different life. I wasn't beaten up or even confronted by the handful of protesters. The DVD is now part of the Criterion Collection of film masterpieces.

By contrast, Submission, does not deny the divinity of Allah or the role of Muhammed as prophet. It does accuse Allah of sanctifying abuse of women and it does so by using the Koran quotes, in Arabic, projected onto the bodies of bruised and beated women. It may be the use of these Koranic quotes that sends (some) Muslims into murderous rages. But again, I'm unimpressed. All it takes to offend these guys into assassinating people is an image of a Koranic quote on the skin of a woman? In a free Western society that is a ludicrous threshold.

Judging from the reaction to the film (even before van Gogh's assassination) I had expected something much more obviously offensive: Koranic quotes projected onto a steaming pile of pig dung; a naked woman squating on the Koran; a mullah kissing a veiled swine perhaps. But no, all it is, all poor van Gogh was kill for, all the Dutch Muslims are so freaking crazed about, are a few images of Arabic on a women's skin. That's it. As sad and desperate and weak as that may, that's all this is about. That is why a man was brutally murdered in the middle of the day on a public street.

How can people this intolerant, this childishly sensitive, this easily, some would say willfully, offended, live in the West? How can they coexist with people of other faiths, with atheists, with the Dave Chappells and Marilyn Mansons of the world? How can they live in a society where South Park is on every Wednesday night?

Try a little thought experiment. Look around our society, one that Islamist call "Christian" and "Crusader" and take notice of the sheer volume of criticism and ridicule aimed at Christianity. Some of it is funny and insightful, some of it is adolescent and rude, but all of it is protected speech. Now replace "Jesus" and "Christianity" with "Muhammed" and "Islam". Ask yourself, Can Islamists or even moderate Muslims live in such a society without threatening people, much less actually murdering them? Where cartoons show Muhammed as a small town talk show host. Where people sell t-shirts showing a picture of the Koran beside the phrase "Burn This Book." Where bands give themselves or their CDs purposely blaphemous names. If a band called "Festering Muhammed" went on tour, how long until the death threats poured in?

Imagine an all-girl band releasing a dance hit, "Mecca in My Panties," from their hit CD "Crotchless Hajj." Sample lyrics:

"You gotta pray toward Mecca boy, get down on your knees.
Five times a day is what it takes to please.
I know Mecca's hot but the journey's worth the ride.
You gotta circle my Black Box before you come inside."

Koran-a-rama, anyone?


Blogger blogblogblog said...

Excellent point. Christianity as a non-violent religion seems to take much more garbage than Islam. Check out this ultra-polite "Please stop dissing us" letter from Opus Dei to Sony:

2:41 PM  

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