The New Republic
Post hoc propter hoc…
Hold the Chicken
Jack Nicholson, in Five Easy Pieces, orders the special lunch in a diner with a side order of toast. The waitress says, “a side order of toast doesn’t come with the special lunch.” So he says: “Okay, bring me a toasted chicken sandwich and hold the chicken.”
Two successive Canadian Prime Ministers, like the waitress, have (a) apologized for genocide without using the ‘g” word, or (b) said there was genocide in Canada, but it wasn’t that bad.
Kevin Annett replies “hold the chicken.”
Variations on a death sentence…
Salman Rushdie, Kevin Annett and the Christian Verses
In London late in the winter of 1988, Salman Rushdie, an Oxford graduate migrated from India or some place and a successful novelist, published a book entitled The Satanic Verses. Although inspired partly by the life of Muhammad, Rushdie referred in the title to a group of Qu’ranic verses which purport to sanction prayer to three pagan goddesses domiciled in or near Mecca whenever they chose to touch down.
Apparently in Islamic circles you don’t just go around playing fast and loose with pagan goddesses. Although The Satanic Verses was an immediate commercial success as well as a critical and literary smash in the U.K. and elsewhere, winning the Whitbread Award for novel of the year and being short-listed for the Booker, right-wing Muslims, headed up by Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s Supreme Leader, took a dim view of Rushdie’s literary license.
In fact, you might say the Ayatollah cancelled it. Early in 1989, the Supreme Iranian slapped a fatwa on Rushdie, which in the Islamic literary world is the worst kind of rejection slip. In fact, it amounts to a death sentence for blasphemy. You know, like if you were a Catholic and you took the Lord’s name in vain, or even the Pope’s. (Like for example if you were to say: “There is no Pope but Francis, and Charlie Rose is his Prophet.”)
Not long after that, in 1992 and a continent and a major religion away, something similar happened to Reverend Kevin Annett, without the accompanying financial success. Educated at UBC instead of Oxford, he was a United Church of Canada pastor at Port Alberni on Vancouver Island, a small burg populated by loggers and Indians in equal measure, and about as unlike London as the Qu’ran is dissimilar to the United Church Observer. And he had not as yet written a novel (wait for it), but he had taken his pen in hand and written to Marion Best, the Church’s Moderator (which means CEO, but it sounds better to be moderate in some of today’s groovy religions).
In the letter Rev Kev suggested that at least two of the “Christian verses” in the Bible were being taken too literally in his bailiwick. First of all, he reported, “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s” was being exaggerated by local United Church scribes and Pharisees in that they were selling off Indian land (which happened to contain valuable old-growth forest) to a giant lumber company called McMillan-Bloedel and its blushing parent, the Weyerhaeuser Company of Seattle.
The second verse, as in the old refrain, was much like the first. Referring to another Biblical if not Satanic verse, Kevin Annett noted that, “Suffer little children to come unto me” had been overdone in its interpretation by the local Indian Residential School at Port Alberni (run by that same Church for aeons). It appeared that the tiny inmates had been suffering a lot more than the Lord had specified, i.e. because of rape, sodomy, torture and medical experimentation, and likewise probed with electric cattle prods, all of which Christian outreach was applied for little more provocation than failure to learn their catechism, and that all of such Christian endeavors were more prominent in the curriculum than readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmatic.
For the Reverend minister’s blasphemy, the Moderator didn’t exactly issue a fatwa, but there are more subtle ways of skinning a cat in contemporary Canadian Protestant circles, redolent with fellowship, TLC and outreach, as outlined above. Actually, there may have been times in the following 25 years when Kevin Annett might have wished that the Moderator had put him out of his misery, like stoning him in Port Alberni’s town square, or something. Instead, he was treated to the United Church of Canada’s version of a fatwa as administered by a fathead.
The Church simply fired him from his pulpit, subjected him to a stacked monkey tribunal run by United Church luminaries and captive jurists learned in the law, before ejecting him frock-less from the Church’s ministry like a frisbee, funded his wife’s divorce from him and her custody of his children, and blackballed him among commercial and religious circles the length and breadth of North America, such that he was subsequently unable to get a job flipping hamburgers.
If not a death sentence, it was more like a life sentence without the possibility of heavenly parole.
Flashback to Salman Rushdie:
If one is to be issued a death threat, which declared open season for every nutcase vigilante, NRA johnny and defender of the Muslim faith, the best place to be just might be the United Kingdom, nee the British Empire. Historically, that scepter’d isle has been about as opposed to offshore religions as you can get (under Henry the Eighth, in fact, even including Rome and its straight-laced papal attitude toward polygamy even for fat Kings). In a word, the British government extended its protective arms, the BBC crooned his martyrdom and none other than Scotland Yard supplied no end of plain clothes protectors, pro bono, it’s presumed.
Said a blurb from the fly-leaf of a subsequent Rushdie barn-burner:
“He talks about the sometimes grim, sometimes comic reality of… his struggle for support and understanding from governments, intelligence chiefs, publishers, journalists, and fellow writers, and of how he regained his freedom.”
Whilom, Rushdie did manage to avoid even being roughed up, which is more than can be said for some of his adherents. Such as several “connected individuals,” including his translator Hitoshi Igarashi, who – without benefit of either residual royalties or Scotland Yard body guards - was fatally whacked.
Thus festooned with a river of royalties and popular adulation, Rushdie toughed out the following thirteen years, until he made the inevitable progression to America, where betimes he has been continuously accepted as a sort of untouchable doyen and soothsayer in perpetuity, lionized by the literary world, academia and the New York Times Book Review, not to mention not infrequent summonses to attend at La Table Ronde of Charlie Rose on Public Television.
Meanwhile, back in the colonies, the formerly Reverend Kevin Annett faced a different sort of sentence, this one of slow death by a million pin-pricks. Most of the pricks were to be found in public institutions, significantly in the Federal Government and among all three major churches which, it turned out, as a result of his further research and whistle-blowing, were the associated perps in the century-long horror of 141 “Indian Residential School” gulags which had been established across Canada. He was in fact in little danger of these in power becoming his executioners, since without exception they were smart enough to spot martyr bate when they saw it. Ainsi, after shattering his life and any chance of normal citizenry, they merely rendered him a “banned person” and a rebel up to his jugular in unwinnable causes.
The RCMP, unlike the stalwart Scotland Yard which had lovingly embraced Rushdie, either ignored the shorn minister or thought up marginal means of harassing him. Occasionally he was worked over in the gloom of Skid Row alleys by unidentified uniformed figures, but nothing, like Rushdie, compared with some of his “connected persons.” This courtesy wasn’t extended to his native supporters in his new-found parish along Vancouver’s East Hastings Street. At least four of them disappeared or died in unusual circumstances. Like Hiroshi Igarashi, they were part of the picture by default, as is the case with most quiet crusades to put down disobedience.
Perceiving that he strove with those in control not wisely but too well, the Reverend Malgre Lui eventually moved on to an international stage and an enlarged combat avec ses defenseurs, where he expanded his efforts to include an even greater axis of evil involving the most powerful adversaries possible, whose scope and reach made Salman Rushdie’s Iranian enemies look like the Pony Rider Boys.
But as between the trials of Rushdie and those of Kevin Annett, such is the similarity between the major world religions in the distribution of their fatwas and their crucifixions.