Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Opinion

Theocratic thuggery knows no borders

Muslims don't necessarily own the corner on religious outrage over movies.

As a critic in Chicago back in 1988, I had to pass through a metal detector to get into the Biograph Theater for a screening of Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ, which among other things included a rather randy scene of Jesus getting frisky with Mary Magdalene.

The Biograph had received threats if it showed the film. The need for the metal detectors wasn't entirely unfounded. Around the world, the movie had sparked protests and several theaters had been torched. Some people died. All because of a movie.

As we've all too sadly witnessed this week in both Libya and Tampa, ignorance mixed with intolerance can be a dangerously combustible cocktail of irrationality.

In Libya, in Cairo, in Yemen, protesters have assaulted U.S. embassies and consulates, angry over a brief video clip of an obscure, dreadfully produced movie purporting to belittle the Prophet Mohammed that — until very recently — few people had actually ever seen.

Now four U.S. diplomats, including Libya Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, have been killed. All because of a video clip, which may have provided some nefarious cover for others to hide behind as a predicate for their assault on the diplomatic buildings.

To be sure, one can observe all the unrest unfolding across Northern Africa and the Middle East and start feeling awfully superior. All this folderol, all this angst over a stupid and ineptly made video?

And it is also a tragic commentary on the power of social media outlets like YouTube that any dolt can post just about any sort of inflammatory piece of bigoted garbage without any filter of common decency to be seen eventually by millions of uneducated people.

Sure enough, the dotted lines from the carnage in the streets eventually made their way back to Florida and on to Tampa. This is a surprise? This is Florida, after all, the outlier of outright liars capital of the planet.

Although the origins of the anti-Islamic video are murky at best, and those associated with it have gone into hiding, it still didn't take long for Koran-burning Gainesville pastor Terry Jones to openly associate himself with a racist, Islamophobic movie.

This had to be a bit like addled comedian Professor Irwin Corey taking credit for Japan's nuclear meltdown.

Perhaps Jones had nothing to do with the production of the video, but he was one of the few willing to take a call from Fox News. And once again Florida found itself in the glare of the media spotlight.

Don't you suspect Jones would announce a "Bald Eagle Barbecue for the Bible" if he thought it would get him some airtime with Shepard Smith?

Still, Jones had some stiff competition a little farther down I-75 for the who can be more ham-handedly obtuse title. Hills-borough School Board candidate Terry Kemple once again inveighed against the possibility the community's students might actually learn something about Islam.

Kemple and his bichon frise of the Good Book, School Board member Stacy White, led a protest against allowing speakers like Hassan Shibly of the Council on American-Islamic Relations to deliver classroom presentations on the history and culture of his faith.

No good can come from this. After all, if Shibly is permitted to run around dispelling myths and stereotypes about Islam, it makes it much more difficult for the likes of Kemple to continue to foment myths and stereotypes about Islam.

You can push this education stuff in the schools only so far, you know.

What do the mobs in the streets of Benghazi and beyond, Terry Jones sitting in his doublewide cathedral and Terry Kemple along with his apostles of twisted propaganda have in common? Too much.

Ignorance. We fear what we don't know, what we don't understand. And fear is a fertile breeding ground for hatred. Manipulation, too.

Those rioting in the streets thousands of miles away have no clue the source of their anger is some lone theocratic thug buried in the shadows of society with access to a website. Terry Jones lives in an egocentric parallel universe where his blessings are counted in quarter-hour ratings points.

And Terry Kemple hopes and prays his old-time religion of reality-challenged intolerance will land him a School Board bully pulpit.

We've seen this Groundhog Day of distortion too many times. But it never gets any better.

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