The Long View 2004-03-16: Spain & Antichrist

Gibson never did film a Jewish action movie, I for one, am disappointed.

Spain & Antichrist


Mark Steyn was excessive in titling his recent Daily Telegraph column The Spanish dishonoured their dead. Nonetheless, there is little to quarrel with in his analysis:

To be sure, there are all kinds of John Kerry-esque footnoted nuances to Sunday's [victory of the Socialists after March 11's terror bombing in Madrid]. One sympathises with those electors reported to be angry at the government's pathetic insistence, in the face of the emerging evidence, that Thursday's attack was the work of Eta, when it was obviously the jihad boys. One's sympathy, however, disappears with their decision to vote for a party committed to disengaging from the war against the jihadi. As Margaret Thatcher would have said: "This is no time to go wobbly, Manuel." But they did. And no one will remember the footnotes, the qualifications, the background - just the final score: terrorists toppled a European government.

The point to keep in mind is that what the Spanish voting public thought they were doing is irrelevant. The Jihadis made a hypothesis about how the electorate would behave. They ran an experiment involving the deaths of 200 people. The hypothesis was confirmed. The result is a tested campaign strategy that could have more effect on the US elections of 2004 than the new campaign finance law, and even George Bush's really mean ads. AP White House correspondent Terence Hunt has these early surmises on the matter:

Now, with the Socialists' surprise election victory in Spain, analysts believe the ballot box rebuke of one of President Bush's closest allies in the war in Iraq could embolden terrorists to try the same tactics in the United States to create fear and chaos.

"That's an amazing impact of a terrorist event, to change the party in power," said Jerrold Post, a former CIA profiler who directs the political psychology program at George Washington University.

"The implications of this are fairly staggering," agreed political psychologist Stanley Renshon of City University of New York. "This is the first time that a terrorist act has influenced a democratic election. This is a gigantic, loud wakeup call. There's no one they'd like to have out of office more than George W. Bush."

Would a Jihadi October Surprise work in America? Certainly the Democratic claims that the Iraq War has been a diversion from the real Terror War lays the groundwork for a March 11 response in America. The Bush Administration has probably done as much as any government could to prevent further terrorist attacks. The steps it has taken have, frankly, been more effective than I or most other Americans expected. Nonetheless, another major incident in the US would certainly be used to argue that the Administration's whole 911 policy has been irrelevant to defending America.

The argument might not have the intended effect. The US did not have a choice about being the target of the Jihad. The Jihadis themselves make the connection between Iraq and the Jihad. If the connection is close enough for Al Qaeda, then it is likely to be close enough for the US electorate. One could debate the connection analytically, but it will hold politically.

Another possibility: if a Bush victory seemed certain late in the campaign, the Jihadis might disrupt the voting to call the legitimacy of the results into question. One can imagine scenarios with biological agents that might require public gatherings to be prohibited. That is another nightmare, however.

* * *

Since Mel Gibson's film The Passion premiered, there has been a lot of speculation about follow-on projects. Here's one that had actually occurred to me, though I did not mention it to anyone but my brother-in-law:

If the rumors are true, Gibson's next move could be a stroke of genius, at once disarming Jewish critics of The Passion and providing an ideal dramatic vehicle. Both stories are the stuff of screenplays. One parallels Gibson's earlier hit, The Patriot, set during the American Revolution, and the second echoes Braveheart, the story of a medieval Scottish insurrection.

The first rumor is that the filmmaker intends to make a movie about the central characters of the holiday of Hanukkah, fighters called the Maccabees. Nearly 200 years before Jesus' birth, they rose against Israel's pagan occupiers and their Jewish allies. The rebels triumphed in a guerilla war, and the temple in Jerusalem was cleansed.

Recently, Israeli educator Yossi Katz suggested that Gibson's next film should be a dramatization of the Bar Kochba Revolt of 132-135. At first, the rebellion was a success, but after 3 1/2 years, its forces were crushed. Ten leading rabbis were executed, and one was tortured and flayed to death, much like the scourging of Jesus in The Passion and the execution of William Wallace in Braveheart.

Of course, not just Gibson, but all of Hollywood is talking about new projects with religious themes. The result was inevitable:

Peacock [NBC] is partnering with scribe David Seltzer ("The Omen") and producer Gavin Polone to develop a six-to-eight hour limited series focusing on the final smackdown between God and Satan as foretold in the Bible's Book of Revelations. Just as intriguing as the storyline: Assuming the project gets a final greenlight, NBC hopes to roll out the series right after its broadcast of the Athens Olympics ends in late August, airing an hour a week as an event designed to create momentum for the fall season..."What the Book of Revelation predicted is at hand," Seltzer said. "Nuclear brinkmanship, worldwide terrorism, collapsing economies and environmental atrocities make it clear that the critical mass of injury to this planet is sufficient to bring down the wrath of God and put the biblical prophecies into play. What is not written in the Bible is whether man can do anything about it. This is where our story begins."

Polone has lofty ambitions for the still untitled project, which will be overseen by Pariah TV execs Vivian Cannon and Jessika Borsiczky.

One of the leading experts on medieval millenarianism, Bernard McGinn, made this observation in Antichrist: Two Thousand Years of the Human Fascination With Evil:

With a cast and subject matter embracing the whole world and its destiny, the [12th century] Tegernsee Play of Antichrist cries out for large-scale Hollywood production.

That play, like other medieval drama, is liturgically stylized, and in verse. A more realistic form would be a mistake, especially for a text like Revelation. Producers should not be thinking about The X-Files. They should be thinking about Jesus Christ Superstar. In fact, the old progressive-rock group Genesis did a music drama on the subject, called Supper's Ready. An animated version is available here.

Why don't these people hire consultants? 

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly 

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