Wednesday, February 25, 2004

In the post
After The Passion
by Prof Lubomyr Luciuk

Who killed Christ? The Hebrews? The Romans? All of us? Some, none, all of the above?

I have no idea. Let Biblical scholars, theologians and philosophers muse over such mysteries.

Did Mel Gibson's film, The Passion of the Christ, provoke pogroms? No.

Is Mel Gibson an anti-Semite? No. He knows Nazis murdered millions of Jews and others.

Yet there's the rub. Mr Gibson hasn't forgotten the many millions of non-Jewish Holocaust victims and those of other crimes against humanity. In the March issue of Reader's Digest he says: "The Second World War killed tens of millions of people. Some of them were Jews in concentration camps. Many people lost their lives. In Ukraine several million starved to death between 1932 and 1933. During the last century 20 million people died in the Soviet Union."

For such sentiments he is pilloried.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, while claiming no desire to engage "in competitive martyrdom," wanting only "historical truth" to be known, nevertheless rejected any comparison between his people's suffering and others. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach went further, denouncing any equation of the "horrible casualties of war with a government program of genocide." Abraham Foxman, of the Anti-Defamation League, was blunter: "[I]t was ignorant... it's insensitive. And... he doesn't get that either. He doesn't begin to understand the difference between dying in a famine and people being cremated solely for what they are."

Verily, it is Mr Foxman and friends who are in need of sensitivity training and history lessons. Lacking their chutzpah I will not venture an opinion as to whether being starved to death is worse than being murdered by poison gas. On matters of unnatural mortality, however, these gentlemen would do well to learn that more Ukrainians were liquidated during the politically engineered Great Famine in Soviet Ukraine than all the Jews killed in the Second World War. They were the chosen in a Stalinist terror campaign directed against the Ukrainian peasantry. And it was the Ukrainian nation that suffered the greatest loss of life during the Second World War, concluded the distinguished British historian, Professor Norman Davies.

Today we do, and should, remember the Six Million. Yet we tend to forget the Twenty Million, a conservative estimate of victims of Soviet tyranny, about whom Martin Amis wrote in Koba the Dread. Some scourged him for that.

What is troubling about the anti-Passion polemicists is that, beneath the cacophony, their agenda was not to stop Gibson's film from being shown (they couldn't), nor even to cripple its box office success (the controversy they stoked guarantees good fortune). The fount of this campaign is instead rooted in trying to get the rest of us to agree that the Jewish people's suffering was "unique" and that Christians, in particular, must feel guilt and atone for what "we" did to "them" over many centuries past.

While I disagree with any concept of blood libel, I do insist these men remain free to believe whatever they want and even to preach it, as long as the line between legitimate criticism and hate mongering is not violated. Close to that edge some have already crept. Still I champion freedom of speech over censoring that right - theirs, Mel's, and mine.

I also want them to understand something. As a Catholic, and a Canadian-born son of Ukrainian political refugees, I was raised believing all victims of evil must be hallowed. Those who persecute the innocent must be exposed and punished. How a people were slaughtered, or what the intent was of any regime, Left or Right, that orchestrated genocide, matters less. Neither my parents, priests, nor teachers ever said that a particular group of martyrs were somehow more deserving of memory than others. No one counseled us to elevate the millions of Ukrainians murdered by the Nazis and the Soviets above others who endured similar horrors. I do concede that I do not know as much as I should about the many tribes, peoples and nations who suffered mass murder before, during and after the 20th century, in Europe, Africa, Asia, and elsewhere, at least not in comparison to what I know about what happened to my own. However the Christian spirit that should inform my behaviour obliges me to pray for all victims, without preference.

Of course, I am only human, and, like most of us, flawed. Whether that is a metaphysical consequence of Original Sin or just a reflection of a basic orneriness that is all too human I have no clue. So it is hard to resist that most satanic of sentiments, the desire to take an eye for an eye. In retort to those who want to impel me to accept that the shed blood of their innocents is somehow more important than the spilled blood of mine I lust to roar: "No! More of mine died in a year than all of yours in six, and mine mean more to me and mine than all of yours!" But those are un-Christian thoughts. When provoked into harbouring them I know of only one refuge, prayerful reflection on words spoken by another Rabbi during His Passion, just before His death. Jesus, the Christ, said: "Father, forgive them; they know not what they do." I can try.

Professor Lubomyr Luciuk was once an altar boy at St Michael's Ukrainian Catholic Parish, in Kingston, Ontario.

Дуже дякую, д-р Луцюк! I plan on seeing The Passion this Saturday.

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