Recently I had a very interesting discussion about the movie Passion of The Christ with an eclectic group of academic friends each grabbing their own piece of the elephant. Rumi might not know it but even academics can be blind-in opinion that is. The Medics found it boring. More blood; it needed more bang-bang action to take their minds off work, but plenty to ponder on how long it would be possible to live with nailed hands and feet hanging from a cross.
Those in the liberal arts considered the film an artistic masterpiece. The historians thought it failed to live up to historical accuracy. Then there were the leftovers; you know the lawyers, the environmentalists, political scientists and the do-gooders of the world–the ones with the gift of gab, the over-analyzers and hot-air talkers.
What was the effect on the rain forest when trees were chopped to make crucifixion crosses? Was the movie anti-Semitic? Would there be another inquisition? Whose fault was it that Jesus was killed? Is there enough evidence? Does due process imply? Would the UN place sanctions on the Romans? Would America send in troops? Who would get fingerprinted at the gates to the Roman empire?
Then suddenly there it was. Someone said, “Look it could have been anybody's fault!” This caught my attention — YES maybe — but more interestingly, for once it Moslems were not involved. The aggressive bearded men in the film are not MOSLEM. Not the Taliban. No weapons of mass destruction. No Moslem fundamentalists. Not even any American involvement. It was not done for oil; there are no oil fields in Jerusalem, just olives.
So who did it? It was the Jews. Yes you heard it right. For once all the hysteria is not about the Moslems. It is between the Christians and the Jews and the perpetrators, for once, are not Moslems. I know it is only a movie and but people watching it take it as truth and for me this has always been the problem with media.
Whether on the news or in the movies, the average Jack, Mohammed and Ishmael accept whatever they see or read as truth and they believe it. So if the Jews are working up a fuss about their wrongful portrayal in the movie I can relate, and even offer some advice.
For years I have been frustrated with negative images of Moslems in the media. We are always stereotyped as being the bad guys; we are all dark in complexion with bushy eyebrows and angry eyes (what is that wax they put on the face of actors to make them look Middle Eastern?).
We all have machine guns, which we blast into air for fun, possess funny foreign accents. We are all backward and dirty looking. Our women are oppressed and veiled, chained to the kitchen, beaten by their husbands into conformity.
Yet in response to my frustration I often hear this: “RELAX!. It's only a movie” or “It's art”. Well, guess what ART HURTS. Christians and Jews are angry and frustrated with the media for being stereotyped and portrayed wrongfully in the movie. So here is my advice based on years of frustrated feelings: “RELAX! What's all the fuss? It's only a movie.” Feel better!?
Since September 11, bearded men from THAT crazy part of the world are always prime suspects in news stories. To make things worse the one billion Moslems in this world, each with their own unique culture and identity, have been placed under a huge umbrella. Apparently we are all THE SAME, living under the same umbrella with an imaginary meta culture that makes us all evil.
I believe the media's impression of Iranians goes further. We have been granted the top honor, for we are part of the one and only “AXIS of Evil” (aren't you proud?). And since its liberation, Iraq has transformed from evil into good, thus making us and our best friends, the North Koreans, the only remaining members of the axis.
But then all of the sudden the word is out: Was it the Jews who killed Jesus? The media attention is not on “us”. Terrorism experts on TV are not analyzing us! For a window of a while it is an issue between Christians and Jews. They are asking the world not to bunch them under one umbrella. Yes… it gets tight and frustrating under it, doesn't' it?
The passion happened in Medieval times a long long time ago. Yet for even a moment the movie lets the Moslems take a back seat and watch the frenzy. Don't get too comfortable though for it wont be long till we are back on the suspect list again.
Author Elham Atashi is a professor of Conflict Resolution at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University, Virginia.