Religious fanatics throwing bombs over film

While listening to all the outraged right wing rantings about free speech and how Muslims were a separate, primitive class of religion for their outraged and violent response in Libya to the deliberately provocative work of a California porn director, I kept thinking to myself, “Why does this all seem so familiar?”

And then, last night I watched Martin Scorcese’s 1988 film, “The Last Temptation of Christ”, and it all came flooding back. From Wikipedia:

On October 22, 1988, a French Christian fundamentalist group launched Molotov cocktails inside the Parisian Saint Michel movie theater while it was showing the film. This attack injured thirteen people, four of whom were severely burned.[8][9] The Saint Michel theater was heavily damaged,[9] and reopened 3 years later after restoration. Following the attack, a representative of the film’s distributor, United International Pictures, said, “The opponents of the film have largely won. They have massacred the film’s success, and they have scared the public.” Jack Lang, France’s Minister of Culture, went to the St.-Michel theater after the fire, and said, “Freedom of speech is threatened, and we must not be intimidated by such acts.”[9] The Archbishop of Paris, Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger, said “One doesn’t have the right to shock the sensibilities of millions of people for whom Jesus is more important than their father or mother.”[9] After the fire he condemned the attack, saying, “You don’t behave as Christians but as enemies of Christ. From the Christian point of view, one doesn’t defend Christ with arms. Christ himself forbade it.”[9] The leader of Christian Solidarity, a Roman Catholic group that had promised to stop the film from being shown, said, “We will not hesitate to go to prison if it is necessary.”[9]

The attack was subsequently blamed on a Christian fundamentalist group linked to Bernard Antony, a representative of the far-right National Front to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, and the excommunicated followers of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.[8] Lefebvre had been excommunicated from the Catholic Church on July 2, 1988. Similar attacks against theatres included graffiti, setting off tear-gas canisters and stink bombs, and assaulting filmgoers.[8] At least nine people believed to be members of the Catholic fundamentalist group were arrested.[8] Rene Remond, a historian, said of the Catholic far-right, “It is the toughest component of the National Front and it is motivated more by religion than by politics. It has a coherent political philosophy that has not changed for 200 years: it is the rejection of the revolution, of the republic and of modernism.”[8]

[…] Although Last Temptation was released on VHS and Laserdisc, many video rental stores, including the then-dominant Blockbuster Video, declined to carry it for rental as a result of the film’s controversial reception.[14] In 1997, the Criterion Collection issued a special edition of Last Temptation on Laserdisc, which Criterion re-issued on DVD in 2000 and on Blu-ray disc in Region A in March 2012.

Lesson of the day: No religion has a monopoly on irrational violence.

The criminalization of speech

Glenn Greenwald:

Over the past several years, the Justice Department has increasingly attempted to criminalize what is clearly protected political speech by prosecuting numerous individuals (Muslims, needless to say) for disseminating political views the government dislikes or considers threatening.  The latest episode emerged on Friday, when the FBIannounced the arrest and indictment of Jubair Ahmad, a 24-year-old Pakistani legal resident living in Virginia, charged with “providing material support” to a designated Terrorist organization (Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT)).


What is the “material support” he allegedly gave?  He produced and uploaded a 5-minute video to YouTube featuring photographs of U.S. abuses in Abu Ghraib, video of armored trucks exploding after being hit by IEDs, prayer messages about “jihad” from LeT’s leader, and — according to the FBI’s Affidavit — “a number of terrorist logos.”  That, in turn, led the FBI agent who signed the affidavit to assert that ”based on [his] training and experience, it is evident that the video . . . is designed as propaganda to develop support for LeT and to recruit jihadists to LeT.”  The FBI also claims Ahmad spoke with the son of an LeT leader about the contents of the video and had attended an LeT camp when he was a teenager in Pakistan.  For the act of uploading that single YouTube video (and for denying that he did so when asked by the FBI agents who came to his home to interrogate him), he faces 23 years in prison.


Let’s be very clear about the key point: the Constitution — specifically the Free Speech clause of the First Amendment — prohibits the U.S. Government from punishing someone for the political views they express, even if those views include the advocacy of violence against the U.S. and its leaders.  One can dislike this legal fact.  One can wish it were different.  But it is the clear and unambiguous law, and has been since the Supreme Court’s unanimous 1969 decision in Brandenburg v. Ohio, which overturned the criminal conviction of a Ku Klux Klan leader who had publicly threatened violence against political officials in a speech.

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