Unable to sleep a few nights ago, I sought mind-deadening through cable TV. I chanced upon a movie I thought would do the job — a murder mystery set in a mountain abbey in 14th Century Italy. I didn’t get what I expected.
Instead, the movie, The Name of the Rose, starring Sean Connery and Christian Slater among the most recognizable actors, made real the horrors of the Inquisition. It made real the personal depravity embraced by the inquisitors, required of those who benefited from it, and inflicted upon those who merely sought to survive it. It was like watching a prequel to Schindler’s List, a totalitarian holocaust in slow motion lacking only the brutal efficiency of a modern state in mobilizing it.
Indeed, the totalitarian impulse that bedeviled the abbey — and there is no other appropriate term — saw itself threatened by seemingly the weakest and least obvious of emotions, the mockery of laughter that drove out the pretense that the totalitarians were superior. To maintain control, the totalitarians would have to suppress joy and replace it with fear and misery, for lesser people could not be trusted to obey without fear. I’ll avoid spoilers for those who haven’t seen the movie, but the events of the abbey demonstrated that the totalitarians were just as unable to obey their own rules as those “lesser” people on whom they imposed the rules. Indeed, in looking for graphics on the Inquisition to illustrate this post, I rapidly came to wonder if contemporary drawings publicizing the inquisition tortures were actually socially acceptable forms of hardcore pornography for the educated religious classes.
I have a Facebook friend (who many of you know from her blog as Faithful Dissident) who has become very active over the past year or two in supporting refugees from the Afghanistan conflict within her country. At times, she has posted pictures of women in Kabul taken in the mid-20th Century to show that Afghanistan is not inherently the benighted, uncivilized place it so often seems to Westerners. Once alerted to that fact, it was easy to find such evidence on the web, such as the picture on the right.
Unfortunately, it was also very easy to find evidence that the same totalitarian, pathological culture seen in the Christian Inquisition, Hitler’s Germany, or in today’s North Korea is never far below the surface of human civilization, and the rights of the people of Afghanistan have gone backward, not forward over the last generation. Under the Taliban, women are not educated for jobs, but they can be shot down in the street or disfigured.
As I noted in a post in mid-summer, the competing moral worldviews of progressives and conservatives seem to serve an evolutionary role in preserving us against divergent threats. Progressives protect conservatives against their moral blindness to inflicting “friendly fire” on their own tribe; conservatives protect progressives against their moral blindness to the threat possibilities of new experiences.
But evolution has not extinguished individuals whose worldview stands outside either end of the progressive-conservative moral spectrum of their “tribes”, and who regard others as prey anytime doing so is useful to their own ends. And, of course, the various cultural tribes of mankind have been slowly diverging as long as geography has isolated them from each other, so their spectra are no longer congruent in the first place.
It is the intensity of that separation, magnified by personal or cultural trauma, and the “dominion at all costs” resort to violence it carries, rather than the sheer numbers of such extremists. And as events are playing out in the news this week (ignoring little things like territorial disputes over islands off the Asian coast that are rekindling hostilities predating WW2 between Japan, China, and their smaller neighbors), one of the most intractable moral conflicts emerging seems to be the conflicting worldviews between fundamentalist Islamists, on the one hand, and other Muslims and non-Muslims on the other hand.
Walter Russell Mead noted two days ago that the notion of a possible clash of civilizations (after Huntington?) was looking stronger:
“The biggest bomb in the region right now, and let us hope and pray that it doesn’t go off, involves the relations between Coptic Christians and Islamic radicals (and the mobs they can command) in Egypt. The news is only slowly getting to Egypt that the film — one of the stupidest pieces of hack work I myself have seen — was made by a Coptic Christian in the US. When and if the film is actually viewed in its 14 minutes of amateurism and low production values, its intention to vent the rage and frustration some Copts feel about their treatment in Egypt will be clear. It is an angry, embittered and perhaps not very spiritual Copt’s view of the way Islam treats his community — and a cry of anger and frustration…
“The Islamic value — and it a worthy one on its own terms and would certainly have been understandable to our western predecessors who punished blasphemy very severely — of prohibiting insults to the Prophet of Islam clashes directly with the modern western value of free expression. To the western eye (and it’s a perspective I share), a murderous riot in the name of a religion is a worse sin and deeper, uglier form of blasphemy than any film could ever hope to be. To kill someone created in the image of God because you don’t like the way God or one of his servants has been depicted in an artistic performance strikes westerners as an obscene perversion of religion — something that only a hate-filled fanatic or an ignorant fool could do. “
If the opportunity for LGBT individuals to marry the person they love is the civil rights issue of our time, then the right of LGBT individuals to avoid imprisonment or execution because of whom they love is the civil rights ISSUE of our time.
If requiring voter identification is an example of bigotry, then ethnic cleansing of regions in Syria is an example of BIGOTRY.
When it comes to politics, there is perspective, and then there is PERSPECTIVE. There are rights, and then there are RIGHTS.
Let us not lose ours.