I have no particular preconceptions going into the frenzy over Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ film. I think he has been great in any number of movies and I do not minimize his talents as a director. I also have no problem with his depicting Jews as culpable in the death of Jesus, although I see Romans as no less so – for both camps it was a matter of power and politics. I’ll let you know what I think about the movie after I see the movie.
Because of the controversy surrounding Gibson’s depiction of Jews in the film, questions have arisen regarding his personal attitude towards Jews, and in particular, his view of the Holocaust.
The problem I have now is reconciling what Gibson told Peggy Noonan in an interview for Reader’s Digest with what he told Diane Sawyer for ABC’s Primetime.
Cathy Young relates what he told Noonan:
- Holocaust denial is relevant here because of Gibson’s father, Hutton Gibson. A prominent member of the “traditionalist” Catholic movement which split off from the Catholic Church over the 1965 reforms of the Second Vatican Council (which, among other things, rejected the doctrine that the Jews were guilty of “deicide”) is also known as a Holocaust denier. Of course Gibson shouldn’t be blamed for the sins of his father; but in an interview with Peggy Noonan, forthcoming in the March issue of Reader’s Digest, he says, “My dad taught me my faith, and I believe what he taught me. The man never lied to me in his life.”
It was in the same interview that Noonan, who has defended Gibson in the controversy over “The Passion,” offered him a chance to end any speculation about his views on the Holocaust: “You’re going to have to go on record. The Holocaust happened, right?”
Gibson’s reply: “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.”
….Holocaust “revisionists” typically do not deny that Jews were killed; they simply minimize the killing, portraying it as another part of the overall death toll of World War II rather than the systematic extermination campaign that it was. In Bernstein’s opinion, “Gibson is skirting pretty close” to this kind of minimization.
….Gulag revisionism is not stigmatized the way Holocaust revisionism is. Historian Robert Thurston’s 1996 book, “Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia,” which argued that bad things happened but there was no systematic deliberate terror, was published by Yale University Press and received blurbs from respected scholars hailing it as “thought-provoking” and “original.” Meanwhile, “The Black Book of Communism,” a 1999 book documenting communism’s bloody record, was widely criticized as sensationalist and biased.
So yes, there is a double standard because communism is seen as having “progressive” goals. And yes, the Soviet regime engaged in mass murder on a Nazi-like scale. But that hardly justifies Gibson’s comments.
Given an opportunity to state clearly that the Holocaust happened and that it was a horrific crime, Gibson, instead, chose to hedge — to give a “yes, but” answer, to gloss over the Nazi extermination of the Jews and quickly move on to other victims of other regimes. This may not signify anti-Semitism, but it certainly signifies a frightening moral obtuseness. [Boston.com]
Exactly, I agree. The Nazi extermination of 6 million Jews WAS uniquely evil in its scale, its intent – the removal of all person’s of a given religion from the face of the earth – and its clinical mechanization. There has never been anything like it, and I pray there never will be again.
Now listen to what Gibson said to Sawyer, as related by our Blog Bloke:
- Gibson told Diane Sawyer for ABC’s “Primetime” that the film is not anti-Semitic because “to be anti-Semitic is a sin.” “It’s been condemned by one Papal Council after another. To be anti-Semitic is to be un-Christian, and I’m not.”
….”Do I believe that there were concentration camps where defenseless and innocent Jews died cruelly under the Nazi regime? Of course I do; absolutely,” he says. “It was an atrocity of monumental proportion.”
Asked if the Holocaust represented a “particular kind of evil,” he tells Sawyer it did, but adds, “Why do you need me to tell you? It’s like, it’s obvious. They’re killed because of who and what they are. Is that not evil enough?”
These last two sentences at least convey that Mel gets what the central issue is: that victims of war, no matter how deplorable their loss, are in a different category from systematic extermination. But was he able to more clearly convey what he really believes in the later interview with Sawyer, or was he simply more canny in knowing what he could get away with saying?
I don’t know – does Mel?