|The Passion of the
Christ generates strong reactions in Middle East
controversial film lauded by some, banned by
Compiled by Daily Star staff
Monday, April 05,
Mel Gibson's big screen
depiction of Jesus Christ's final hours has been embraced by
Arab Muslims and Christians alike, with some dismissing
allegations The Passion of the Christ is anti-Semitic and
others making clear such charges are part of its appeal.
Hanan Nsour, a 21-year-old
Jordanian wearing the veil of a strict Muslim, was moved to
tears by The Passion when she saw it at one of several Amman
theaters where it's playing to large audiences. Nsour said the
movie "unmasked the Jews' lies and I hope that everybody and
everywhere, they turn against the Jews."
The Islamic Action Front, a
hard-line Jordanian political party, says Muslims should spend
their leisure time reading the Koran or praying, not watching
movies. But the group's secretary-general, Hamza Mansoor, said
he had no objection to The Passion being screened in Jordan.
"The Jews are the most
upset with the movie because it reveals their crimes against
the prophets, the reformers and whoever contradicts their
opinions," Mansoor said.
In this part of the world,
anti-Semitic speech is often portrayed as inevitable
by-product of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Palestinian President
Yasser Arafat, after watching The Passion in the West Bank,
compared Jesus' pain during the crucifixion to Palestinians'
In places like Jordan,
Syria and Lebanon where the film opened in March, it has drawn
large and enthusiastic crowds. Elsewhere, Arabs eagerly await
A top Shiite cleric in
Kuwait, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Mehri, has urged his
government to let the film be shown in theaters there because
it "reveals crimes committed by Jews against Christ."
Films with Christian themes
are not usually shown in conservative Muslim Kuwait. A strict
interpretation of Islam forbids artistic portrayals of the
prophets, and Muslims revere Jesus as a prophet but do not
consider him the son of God or accept the story of the
The dean of Kuwait
University's Islamic Law College, Mohammed al-Tabtabai, has
issued a religious edict, that Muslims shouldn't watch The
Passion because Muslims reject the idea of an actor portraying
Pirated copies of the film
are nonetheless being circulated in Kuwait.
Bahrain banned The Passion
because it depicts Jesus, according to that Gulf nation's
Information Ministry. The ban applies to movie theater
screenings as well as tapes or DVDs.
The Gibson movie opened
Tuesday in Egypt, where the government censors made no changes
but because of its violence, said viewers must be at least 18
to see it.
Egyptian Muslim clerics who
might be expected to object were taking a hands-off approach
to the film.
"My understanding is that
it is about the last 12 hours in the life of Christ, which
involve Christians and Jews. Muslims have nothing to do with
that," said Sheik Abdel Zaher Mohammed Abdel-Razeq, whose
office at Cairo's Al-Azhar University offers guidance on which
films as well as books and other materials Muslims should
Censors have cleared the
movie for release in the United Arab Emirates, where a Gulf
News editorial gushed that "the film is so close to the human
condition in its depiction of betrayal, greed, falsehood,
forgiveness and love."
In Lebanon, Cardinal
Nasrallah Sfeir, head of the Maronite Church in Lebanon, had
high praise for the film. "It is not exaggerated and portrays
reality as it is. It is a very sad film and we did not feel
there was any anti-Semitism there," Sfeir told reporters.
The film is also playing in
Syria, one of the few places in the world that still has
speakers of Aramaic, the ancient language spoken by some
characters in The Passion. Salim Abraham, a 37-year-old Syrian
Christian journalist who speaks fluent Aramaic, was among the
first viewers. "I was so very happy to see my language, for
the first time ever, being spoken on the big screen and in
such a powerful movie," he said.
However the film was most
enthusiasticly received in the Palestinian Territories.
Many Palestinians, locked
in conflict against Israel, say they hope The Passion will
rouse angry emotions against Jews by Christian audiences
around the world.
"People are calling me from
everywhere in the West Bank ... to ask for copies of the
movie," said the owner of a Gaza city video shop, which sells
pirated copies of new release movies.
The shop owner, who
declined to be identified, said he received a flood of
telephone calls after placing an advertisement for the film in
a leading Palestinian newspaper.
In Israel, the local agent
for the film's international distributor Icon Entertainment
said it passed on its option to show the film, but declined to
specify its reasons other than to say the movie was
Industry insiders in Israel
say local distributors are not interested in the film because
of allegations it is anti-Semitic and concerns they are
unlikely to recoup their investment as films about Jesus draw
few movie-goers in the Jewish state. - Agencies
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