View from the Pew
Using the past to prepare for the future
Don't we all get a queasy stomach when a news film captures hatred in action? Those twin-towers images still do it for Americans. But aren't we pretty much getting immune to repeating views of violence elsewhere on the globe? Unless they're chanting "Kill USA" -- that'll get you in the gut.
That's the overripe, nauseating hatred of today's "holy" war. We're trying to understand it, and we've got interpreters from all over the political and ideological map to help.
The decades-old exercise in extreme hatred, the genocide of millions of people by the Nazis, is just a chapter in textbooks for most people, along with other chapters in the religious-hatred chronicles like the Crusades and the Inquisition.
Except for the Jewish people. They mark the Holocaust with a memorial day on their annual liturgical calendar. The horrors are displayed in museums around the globe. Millions retell their own family stories.
And they keep making movies about it. The stories of the dead. The survivors and the heroes. The aftereffects. The meaning of it all. It's 63 years since the concentration camps gates were unlocked and World War II ended, and along comes another film festival in which three out of the eight films to be shown are about the Holocaust.
It's not fixation on the past, it's about preparing for the future, says Rabbi Aron Hier, who is coming to town to introduce two films. He will talk next weekend at the Kirk Cashmere Jewish Film Festival, where a documentary will be shown on the life and legacy of Nazi-hunter and humanitarian Simon Wiesenthal.
Hier, campus outreach director at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, will also speak at a Feb. 19 program at UH-Manoa's Hemenway Theater. He will introduce a film, "Ever Again," about the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe.
The film, produced by the Wiesenthal Center, links the rising hatred to neo-Nazi groups and Islamic extremists who are increasingly drawn to one another. UH scholars will talk about European history and Islamic philosophy to put it in context in a discussion period following the show.
"I think my goal is to help people understand there are geopolitical forces that people need to be cognizant of," said Hier in a telephone interview. He has taken the film on the road for the past year, showing it at Yale, Dartmouth and Stanford universities, and most recently at several Utah universities. He is headed for presentations in Europe.
"Colleges create a protected cocoon where you're involved in your own life and campus issues," he said. "That doesn't make for savvy citizens when they leave college. I'm hoping students will have an epiphany and say, 'We have to get involved.' I'm a denial buster."
Hier said, "The desired result is not necessarily to get people to organize -- I am wary of groups called Students for Love and Peace. I want to see that they pull their heads out of the sand."
A film that is about Muslims and is produced by a Jewish organization is bound to be accused as pro-Israeli propaganda. There is no way to separate the religious hatred from the politics. The sponsors say wait until you see it before casting the first stone.
"The heroes of 'Ever Again' are the moderate Muslims," said the rabbi. Hate is generated by "radicals who are trying to hijack their religion. I assure you Simon Wiesenthal would have fought the global jihad ideology with the same vigor he fought Nazis."
UH history professor Peter Hoffenberg said, "It's an important film, not intended to be inflammatory, not intended to be blasphemy or generalization about Muslims."
Yes, the religious hatred has political ties, but "it transcends the Middle East," said Hoffenberg, advisor to Shaloha Hillel Hawaii, the Jewish campus ministry.
"The much wider question is to understand why certain people hate certain other people," said the professor.
To face that question is not for the faint of heart. Or stomach.