Friday, January 30, 2004

I've been watching with some interest the controversies swirling around Mel Gibson's upcoming film, "The Passion." Mostly, I've been excited to see it. The early reviews by those who have attended special screenings make it sound like something very much worth seeing. I've also been pleased to read that many Jews, and Christians who are certainly no anti-Semites have been also been saying that the film is in no way anti-Semitic.

Of concern to me has been the ADL's harping on the issue, mostly even before they have seen the film. As much as I admire much of what the ADL does and stands for, they are not the finally arbiters of legitimate expression - something that I think ought not to be stymied except in the most extreme of circumstances.

It was also, therefore, of interest and concern to me to read the snippet of an interview Peggy Noonan conducted with Gibson as pointed to and commented upon by David Bernstein of The Volokh Conspiracy:

'YOU'RE GOING to have to go on record. The Holocaust happened, right?" Peggy Noonan asks of Mel Gibson in the Reader's Digest for March. Gibson: "I have friends and parents of friends who have numbers on their arms. The guy who taught me Spanish was a Holocaust survivor. He worked in a concentration camp in France. Yes, of course. Atrocities happened. War is horrible. The Second World War killed tens of millions of people. Some of them were Jews in concentration camps. Many people lost their lives. In the Ukraine, several million starved to death between 1932 and 1933. During the last century, 20 million people died in the Soviet Union."

This is pretty ambiguous talk from a guy who certainly knows the eyes of a large part of the world are upon him.


There are some serious problems with this statement, include the gratuitous lumping of the Holocaust with other tragedies that were not relevant in context, that suggest an aggressive hostility to Noonan's question (the question itself would seem a bit strange, but for the fact that Gibson's father is a Holocaust denier), and at best a desire to put the Holocaust into "context". But here's the really troubling part: "The Second World War killed tens of millions of people. Some of them were Jews in concentration camps." I'm no expert on Holocaust "revisionism" (denial), but I've read enough about it to know that this part of Gibson's statement sounds a heck of a lot like what the deniers say: instead of stating the historically obvious, that there was a systematic campaign to exterminate Jews in death camps, they say that Jews were merely among the many victims who suffered and died in concentration camps; maybe they suffered slightly more than others, but that's about it. Indeed, Gibson is skirting pretty close to "Holocaust denial." [...]

Suggest you read all of Bernstein's comment. He's not condemning Gibson at this point, and neither am I, at this point it would just appear to be a..."bummer" for those of us hoping that the charges of insensitivity (yeah, I hate that word too, but it's the best one I can think of atm) against Gibson are without foundation.

It's disconcerting to read Sasha Volokh in a later entry on the same blog stick up for Gibson's minimizing (it would so far seem) statements - he's (Volokh) "not into the moral uniqueness of the Holocaust" and points to Clayton Cramer for explanation who speculates that the Holocaust probably has received so much attention "perhaps because Jews in the U.S. have been in especially influential positions in the publishing and media business."

Now I'm not going to go about re-discovering the wheel here, and putting down an essay justifying the unique aspects of the Holocaust - others I'm sure could do a better job, people who have given it a great deal of thought - certainly more than I'm likely to do in a quick late-evening blog-post. As well, it is a subject that I respect sufficiently to feel the subject ought to be addressed well and seriously, or not at all...else we risk diminishing it ourselves.

I would point out, however, that part of the evidence for the Holocaust's significance is right there, on Volokh's page. There is an item right below Sasha's pointing to some nasty anti-Semitism printed on the Palestinian Authority's web page - nothing unusual. And that's just it. The Holocaust was not just an isolated incident among many in the 20th century. It was a culmination of history, and that history isn't over yet. There are plenty of people out there waiting to pick up where Hitler (and the Hitlers before him) left off. The Holocaust did not die. It just sleeps.

There, well, I said I wasn't going to get into it, and I didn't, but I couldn't resist a comment. The Holocaust doesn't stand out because Jews in the media have made it do so, the Holocaust stands out and Jews have done their part to speak out for themselves.

I look forward to seeing the film. I heard that Gibson is putting some kind of tag statement at the end of the film, reported for the moment as "During the Roman occupation, 250,000 Jews were crucified by the Romans, but only One rose from the dead." That sounds pretty good (although, as one commenter points out, a bit light on the numbers, perhaps, but still, the spirit is on track).

I'm not sure what the final verdict of whether Gibson is really a Holocaust "minimizer" or not will matter as regards the film itself, but it would certainly add another dimension to how I will feel about it.

Update: Strange Women Lying in Ponds isn't exactly thrilled with the implications of this interview, either.

Update2: Sasha Volokh responds.

Update3: Follow-up post to this here.

Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: Gibson and the Holocaust.

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» More on Mel Gibson's Holocaust Statement at the blog Strange Women Lying in Ponds

The interview with Mel Gibson that I referenced in my below post is causing something of a stir around the blogosphere. My post below triggered a few emotional responses, which unfortunately no one chose to leave in the comments thread, Read More

» Simmering at the blog In Context

What does it mean to say that you're "not into the moral uniqueness of the Holocaust?" I keep reading this simple declaration, made a few... Read More


I don't buy Cramer or Sarah Volokh's take. In fact there "non uniquness" bullshit makes me very suspicious of their veracity. Gimme a break.

I think there was clearly some venom coming from Gibson, there can be NO doubt about that.

Best case is Gibson is detestful of certain Jewry, like ACLU - NY Times - ADL types etc.. big Hollywood types, and certainly feels vindictive about what he sees as extra scrutiny and warfare he's had to go through to make this movie.

While I don't think he's a """"anti-semite"""" the term is way too blunt and general, I also don't know him of course. I know he doesn't like the British, that's for sure. But his statement is right out of the exact textbook if not exactly of a Holocaust Denier or Minimizer describing the Holocaust.

In fact the Soviet swipe is usually an implication against the Jews by these types and now being used in Germany today, as we know of the former General there.

Gibson even says in the article that his pops has never led him astray (lied to him?) on anything. Like Ragu sauce - it's (the pops) in there.


Lighten up.

What Sasha was saying is that Jews aren't the only ones who've been the object of atrocies. Gibson didn't deny the holocaust. Quite the contrary. I think he just didn't want the interview to turn into a discussion of Christian-Jewish relations.

I wasn't aware that the ACLU and the NYTimes were surrogates for all Jews everywhere. If they are, you've got bigger problems than anti-semitism.

I have to agree with AST. This is getting way out of hand. Mel Gibson made a film about the life of Christ, Christ was a jew, the only people who were allowed to become christians at the beginning were jews.To think that I'll deny my religion because of some insecurity about a reaction to a movie, is out of line. Lastly, the way to a self fullfilling prophecy is scream about it in a paranoid manner. Mike H.

It's more than a movie though, isn't it? The use that such displays of The Passion have been put to have often lead to increased anti-Semitism. There's a long history there. Now, as I said, I have no problem with the making of the film and I'm anxious to see it, but how it's framed is going to make a difference in the effect it has. Gibson has been at the center of a controversy, in part because of his family background - a controversy he could do a better job laying to rest.

I mean, look at this situation, Peggy Noonan didn't just toss him a softball, she set it up on a tee for him and Gibson whiffed. Was he even trying? These aren't questions out of the blue. Gibson is very well aware of the issues at this point, to have him screw up an easy answer at this point is disappointing. And he did screw it up (as far as we know so far). All he needed to say was, "Yes, of course I believe the Holocaust happened, it was terrible, yada, yada..." and leave it at that. Qualifying it just sounds like a serious judgement lapse that, if it doesn't point to deeper issues, simply leaves the door open to continued speculation.

If you read all of Meryl's post, you'll find that Gibson has deliberately fanned the flames of this controversy from the very beginning. While the media chooses to emphasize the concerns of Abe Foxman (ADL), the concerns of Paula Fredriksen, a biblical scholar who was on the original interfaith panel that reviewed the film, have gone largely unreported. Check out what she has to say, and you'll quickly see a radically different picture emerge.

More from Paula Fredriksen here.

Thank you. That second Frederikson article is particularly interesting. There's a lot of story behind the headlines here.

I posted this at the Ponds post as well -

You make a very good point worth expanding on.
That the intent was to annihilate a race of people from the earth.

Sasha, writing on a legal blog, tells us that while manner of death - hanging etc..., may be more gruesome than say a death another death in either case an innocent life is snubbed out and that is all that really matters -

A serial killer may kill more grislily than someone who's in it for the money; a lynching may be more shocking, or may tell us more about deep political issues, or may be more socially harmful in some sense, than a random drive-by shooting; but all of the above are immoral because they snuff out an innocent life. The same right is violated in each case. Similarly, the reason it's immoral to kill 6 million Jews is because doing so involves 6 million acts of murder. Do I care any extra that they were killed because they were Jewish, or that their killing was systematic? Yes, in various senses, but not in the moral sense.

So then dropping a bomb in Hiroshima was as immoral as a portion of the Holocaust, say the Hungarian portion of it.

As a legal ""scholar"" then one has to ask why do we more severely punish people for 1rst degree premeditated or especially gruesome cruel murders than for 2nd degree heat of passion murder or for manslaughter like in a barfight, or for self defense murder, or for vehicular manslaughter (DWI), etc.....

In each case a life is snubbed out. If someone accidentally or recklessly kills someone its different than say OJ brutal and deliberate premeditated murder of his ex-wife. In each case an innocent life is taken.

HOWEVER, the fact that Sasha is stating that on a LEGAL BLOG, this 3rd rate intellectual argument on an otherwise INTELLECTUAL BLOG and noone has NAILED HIM on it yet is astounding. Its the most conspicouslyu weak attempt at moral relevating I've ever seen. And the question begs WHY the need for the glaringly weak argument?

In my opinion it shows evidence of the embarrassment some people have when the Holocaust is talked about and shown for what it is. While Jewish people are fully integrated into American society today this acts to isolate us again this causes consternation. The question might beg why the hell all the fuss about killing the Jews? why the fuss about the Jews anyway? For even a secure person this makes one very uncomfortable for the very reason the Holocaust is unique, because it specifically targeted to exterminate the "vermon" Jews on a Continent Wide (World almost) basis and nobody much cared either. Indians aren't embarrassed talking about what happened to them, its kind of vogue to, nor are Armenians, and the reason would be because its not assumed that there was ever a Continent (or even wider) cooperative effort to hate and exterminate them. Thus, its not like there might be something wrong with Armenians..... instead it was a more regional ethnic/religions battle with the Turks who to this day they hate, while Jews barely hate Germans anymore?

Permit me some leeway here.
Sasha, is trying to prove that an "intellectual" can postulate rationally on the Holocaust while it still being somewhat personal. In doing so presents an otherwise extremely weak case in doing so in my opinion to try and show how impartial and intellectual he is. In the end the opposite glares through of course.

It is true some people, the wrong people perhaps, sometimes talk about it too much or in the wrong or improper vein. However, in my opinion Hollywood (Spielberg) underplay the ferocity and depravidness of it when they make movies about it. How do you put on screen the regular occurences there and expect people to watch it? Grey Zone alone gives me nightmares and that wasn't even totally graphic.

A Survivor once told a good friend of mine wh saw Schindlers and Grey Zone that,
"What they reall did makes that all look like nothing"



Intersting reading Gibson's remarks regarding the Holocaust especially contrasting it with the purges in Russia. I have recently read an extrordinary book by Martin Amis 'Kobe the Dread'. It really is a reply to Christopher Hitchen for not being forceful enough in condemning the Russian horror. Mr. Amis writes about the Russian purges in relation the Holocaust. It is an extrordinary expose', he points out that even though the Russians dead far exceed those of the Holcaust, and the conduct of both were disgusting, perverse and inhuman, nevertheless the Holocaust was somehow unique in it's evil. Read the book. David.

"Syme: It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. You wouldn't have seen the [Newspeak] Dictionary 10th edition, would you Smith? It's that thick. [illustrates thickness with fingers] The 11th Edition will be that [narrows fingers] thick. Winston Smith: So, The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect? Syme: The secret is to move from translation, to direct thought, to automatic response. No need for self-discipline. Language coming from here [the larynx], not from here [the brain]" -1984 (film)


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