There’s a new movie out about “homegrown religious fundamentalists who kill in the name of God” — and Manolah Dargis, who writes movie reviews at The New York Times really wants to like it. You’ve got to admire Manolah. After all, who in America doesn’t want a solid documentary about the homegrown Western Islamists who are engaging in an ever escalating kill cycle. I want to learn more about the very British boys who blew up 52 people and injured 700 others in 2005. Or about Lee Malvo and John Allen Muhammad, who killed 10 people and wounded 3 more in Washington D.C. And it would be interesting to get more information about the recent German discovery of a major plot to target American interests in that country, with one of the arrestees being a German man who had converted to Islam.
Frankly, I admire a Times journalist who appreciates a movie like this. It’s probably a good movie even if it doesn’t touch upon the homegrown terrorists in Iraq who are responsible for thousands of Iraqi deaths, or the homegrown terrorists in Bali who are responsible for hundreds of Balinese deaths, or the homegrown terrorists in the Philippines who are responsible for hundreds of Filipino deaths, or the homegrown terrorists all over Africa who are responsible for hundreds of thousands of African deaths, etc.
Wait! Gosh! I’m am sorry. Ignore everything I just said. I got so excited by the first sentence in Dargis’ review, and made so many assumptions about it, that (a) I didn’t read the rest of the review and (b) I read the first sentence wrong. Here’s what the first sentence of the review really says: “The first thing you should know about the documentary ‘Lake of Fire’ — an unblinking look at the violent fight over abortion in the United States, including those homegrown religious fundamentalists who kill in the name of God — is that it was made in black and white.” The terrorists Dargis is talking about are the people who target abortion clinics.
Now, before I get to the real review, about the real movie, let me riff a little about the attacks on abortion clinics. They were and are inexcusable and do indeed manifest the same religious craziness that characterizes the Islamists. Even if you believe abortion to be profoundly wrong and murderous, the people who work at abortion clinics are acting lawfully. In any civilized country, if you have a problem with legal acitivty, you don’t kill people, you work to change the law. That is, those who bomb clinics or kill doctors are no better than any other criminal. But the thing to keep in mind about the anti-abortion activists who went violent is that the heyday of that kind of violence is over.
Between 1993 and 1998, three doctors and four clinic workers were brutally murdered in four shooting incidents and a clinic bombing. There have been no killings since then. According to statistics kept by the National Abortion Federation, most violent acts have declined dramatically or vanished entirely in the last decade. Between 1977 and 2000, there were 17 acts of attempted murder. There apparently have been no attempted murders since then. The last, very isolated, bombing was in 2001, with bombings peaking before 1991. There are still random acts of arson but only 6% have occurred in the 21st Century. That doesn’t mean people aren’t still trying, but they’re trying less: while there have been a total of 93 attempted bombings and arsons since 1971, only 16% took place in this century. All the numbers are like that (declining) except for one — trespassing, which has increased dramatically. My suspicion is that what the NAF calls “trespassing” is what is reported in the papers as “picketing. ” That is, in lieu of violence, abortion opponents have opted for nonviolent protest instead.
Most importantly, the acts of violence come from loners. Every major anti-abortion organization condemns violence and the decline in violence means that their voices are the ones dictating conduct in the field. To the extent there is a violent arm of the abortion rights movement, it is small, discredited and increasingly ineffective. In this regard, the abortion rights movement is the exact opposite of the Islamic jihad movement which is encouraged from the top, which has almost no voices from within Islam speaking against it, and which is growing ever more aggressively violent. Keep those facts in mind as you read the rest of this post about the movie review.
The movie is a British 2006 documentary called Lake of Fire. One of the movie’s strengths, says Dargis, is that it interviews “heavyweights like Noam Chomsky” to make more “sober points” (presumably, given Chomskey’s presence, sober points about how bad the anti-abortion crowd is). These sober points are necessary because, in Dargis’ view, the filmmaker commits the unforgivable sin of showing abortion. Having teased you above with mere clauses and sentences from the review, let me give you the first three paragraphs, in full, including Dargis’ honestly stated reaction:
The first thing you should know about the documentary “Lake of Fire” — an unblinking look at the violent fight over abortion in the United States, including those homegrown religious fundamentalists who kill in the name of God — is that it was made in black and white. This is critical. Because the other thing you should know about this fascinating, discomfiting, at times unpleasant, confused and confusing film is that it sets off extremely graphic images of actual abortions against a notorious photograph of a woman who died after an illegal motel room abortion, visuals that are inflammatory if, for the most part, also germane.
Not everyone will agree about the abortion visuals, including, perhaps, those who worry that such explicit imagery can speak louder than any pro-abortion-rights argument. It’s an understandable concern. Because they are filmed (the dead woman is immortalized in a still photograph), the abortions are unnerving, which is why I suggest that the faint of heart skip the rest of this paragraph. After the first operation, a second-trimester abortion, the doctor sorts through a tray of fetal parts, including a perfect-looking tiny hand and a foot, to make sure that nothing has been left inside the patient, which might lead to poisoning or even death. The doctor then holds up the severed fetal head. One eerily bulging eye looks as if it’s staring into the camera and somehow at us.
My initial and admittedly angry first thought about these images was that the director, Tony Kaye, was just resorting to shock tactics. The film doesn’t employ narration or on-screen texts that reveal his views on abortion; instead, there are 152 minutes of talking-head testimonials, on-the-street interviews and archival and new visuals. This means that you have to pay extra-special attention to his filmmaking choices, to the way he juxtaposes sights and sounds and who gets to speak and when.
It is in this context that Dargis expresses gratitude for the fact that such Leftist heavyweights as Noam Chomskey and Peter Singer inject their ideas into the film. Incidentally, for those of you who know Chomskey, but not Singer, Singer is the Princeton ethicist who created the modern animal rights movement (PETA-style); who believes parents should have a 30 day window within which to euthanize less than perfect newborns; and who thinks bestiality is okay, provided that the cow consents.
Anyway, after this start, the rest of the review is a muddled mess about context and images and credibility. You can read it yourself, but you won’t learn anything.
For me, the review highlighted, not just the Left’s, but everyone’s unwillingness to look unpleasantness in the face. We no longer live a raw life. People don’t die at home, they die neatly in hospitals. Criminals aren’t hanged in public spectacles, they’re dispatched in quiet, clinical rooms. As a squeamish type, I don’t generally mind, but it does seem to me that it interferes with our ability to understand just how bad things can be. With the Iraq War, our dead or their dead are filmed discretely from afar, both out of respect for the family’s of American soldiers and for fear that it could inflame things.
But maybe people need to be inflamed. One of the fascinating things about Ken Burns’ show “The War” is the newsreel footage he shows, both from the late 1930s and the 1940s. Keeping in mind that this was an era when married couples were not shown sleeping in the same bed and when the word “pregnant” was considered practically obscene, I would have expected the news footage to be equally discrete. Surprisingly, it wasn’t. Starting in 1938 and throughout the war, the newsreels people saw in theaters graphically showed victims of the Nazis, the Japanese and the Italians. Whether dead or dying, there they were, skeletal bodies, whose missing heads, gaping wounds, or other terrible war injuries and insults were caught for eternity in black and white. Even more shocking to a modern American, audiences got to see equally horrible images of Allied soldiers too.
I think that the old-time filmmakers showed these images because they could predict the audience reaction: when the audience saw the horrors of war visited on the innocent and the Allies, they would be outraged at the perpetrators; and when they saw the horrors visited on the Axis powers, they would feel self-righteous vindication. Nowadays, we can’t be sure how people will react and, in the mainstream media, I think the Powers That Be are worried that people might in fact react precisely as they did in the late 1930s and the War years: with outrage at the deaths Islamists inflict, whether these deaths are civilian or military; and with grim satisfaction over the deaths of these same Islamists. And you certainly can’t have that type of reaction, since it is the antithesis of the multi-culti, PC thinking that has been drilled into us for so many years.