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Why 'Christian Hate?'? An introduction to the blog

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Christians and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Read all my posts on this topic

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Reasonable doubt

Back at the keyboard after an excellent Christmas. You don't want to hear about it but I'm going to tell you anyway. It was preceded by a short retreat at an Anglican Franciscan friary on the Northumberland coast. We enjoyed walks along near-deserted beaches, the company of the delightful brothers, and attending Mass at dawn with the sun rising from the North Sea behind the altar.

Then we went on to join the family gathering at my sister's house a few miles outside Glasgow. On Christmas Eve we managed to fit in a walk along the fabled banks of Loch Lomond, then later we joined a small but welcoming Episcopal congregation for Midnight Mass (just one thing, folks, I prefer my carols without political corrections). Mrs Cyrus agreed to wait until Christmas Day to get at her presents rather than following the German custom of opening them on Christmas Eve, and my brother-in-law served up turkey with all the trimmings for eight with aplomb. On the 28th we returned present-laden to Berlin.

The real point of this posting is to talk about two of said presents. First off, a curiosity from the ‘old comrades never die’ department. I got a book called ‘The New Testament Through 100 Masterpieces of Art’. Right up my street, but I did a double-take when I saw who author was: Régis Debray. Régis Debray? This was a bit like discovering a hymnbook edited by Tariq Ali. Didn’t Debray take to the streets of the Latin Quarter with Danny le Rouge and company in May ’68? Not quite, as it happens, but I was warm. He missed the fun because he was in jail in Bolivia, having taken his radical principles a step further and joined Ché Guevara in his ill-fated guerrilla uprising the year before.

And what’s he been up to since? He ranked with the highest in Paris (yes, I got Life of Brian for Christmas too) at the court of François Mitterrand. He invented an academic discipline called ‘mediology’ but currently holds a chair in plain old-fashioned philosophy. Whether he is a Catholic in some unfathomably sophisticated postmodern way is a question my googling has failed to answer. As for his politics, I’d be fascinated to know whether he still believes the long-suffering people of Bolivia would have been better off if their country had been turned into a replica of Castro’s Cuba (myself, I’d say it’s a close call). What all too clearly does remain of his radicalism after all the murky realpolitik of the Mitterrand years is that latter-day socialism of fools, anti-Americanism. I enjoyed this fisk of an article he wrote for the New York Times.

Present number two: I’m not much of a film buff, but if I had to choose a favourite film Twelve Angry Men would be a strong contender. OK, it may be more of a filmed play than a film, but it’s none the worse for that, and it grips me no less powerfully because I know exactly what’s going to happen. Nearly half a century on it remains the definitive liberal creed: a statement, quite simply, of what it means to be civilized, and a warning of the need for eternal vigilance against the ways our human weaknesses – cowardice, conformism, intellectual laziness, indifference, bigotry, bullying, vengefulness, sadism – can threaten to tip us into barbarism.

So I reckon Juror Number Eight alias Henry Fonda is not a bad role model to try to live up to as I take ‘Christian Hate?’ into the New Year. The conflicts in Israel and Palestine are not simple, historically or morally. Everyone involved is human. Everyone has human rights, everyone has human failings. If you’ve assembled a collection of facts which convince you that one side has right on their side and the other doesn’t, you’re not seeing beyond your pet prejudices. Conservatives who think Israel can do no wrong, so-called liberals and leftists who think it can do nothing right: all are assigning Israelis and Palestinians their roles as goodies and baddies or vice versa on the basis of an internalized global narrative of good versus evil. Watch the film and let it remind you how persuasive the case for the prosecution can be if we’ve walked into the courtroom with our hearts already saying ‘guilty’. And instead, let us take its watchword to heart: reasonable doubt.

Happy New Year!

1 comment:

Johnnynorms said...

Happy New Year brother Cyrus, and all power to your elbow in 2006. To your elbows plural, cos you're typing it. Nice parallel with the film - I remember that one - everyone's getting peeved in a hot room with broken fans, but they're being kept there by that awkward H.Fonda! Yes, a good gripping viewing of a film, haven't seen it for yonks. By the way, I think I missed out on plomb - but I made up with bread sauce,
Regards from your actual brother!