Globally, The Passion meets with outrage, praise

london | An Islamic leader says it reveals Jewish “crimes.’ European Jewish leaders are troubled by it. Israeli theaters don’t plan to show it.

“The Passion of the Christ,’ Mel Gibson’s crucifixion epic, is moving into cinemas around the world, and into the international tempests whipped up by terrorism, war and clashing religions.

“It’s not going to help quiet things down,’ said Giorgos Moustakis, who teaches theology and Christian ethics at the American College of Greece. “There are fundamentalists in every religion — Christians, Muslims and Jews. Films like this get extremist feelings going. That cannot be good.’

“The Passion’ has gone global as Christians prepare to celebrate Easter. But this week also coincides with Passover, which could sharpen the focus on what some perceive as the movie’s anti-Semitism.

For many around the world, as in the United States, the core issues of the film are the blood-soaked depiction of Jesus’ last hours and the emphasis on Jews clamoring for the Romans to crucify him.

Gibson and many clergy who praised the film deny it has any anti-Semitic overtones.

Many in the Arab world welcome the film, seeing it as an anti-Jewish message gaining worldwide currency at a time of escalating Palestinian-Israel clashes.

“The Jews are most upset with the movie because it reveals their crimes against the prophets, the reformers and whoever contradicts their opinions,’ said Hamza Mansoor, secretary-general of the Islamic Action Front, a hard-line political party in Jordan.

The film has opened to packed houses in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat watched the film at his West Bank compound with a group of local Muslim clerics and Christians from the United States, Canada and Britain.

The film will not be seen in Israel, either. Shapira Films, which has the Israeli distribution rights, “decided this was not the appropriate time to screen it,’ spokeswoman Orly Ben Eliyahu said.

But that does not mean it is being ignored in the Jewish state.

“Given the damage he’s done to Christian-Jewish relations, I wouldn’t want to be Mel Gibson on Judgment Day,’ wrote Yossi Klein Halevi in The Jerusalem Post.

In France, the film’s opening Wednesday, March 31, coincided with a European Union report which showed that among member nations experiencing anti-Semitic acts and threats, France had the sharpest increase — a six-fold jump from 2002 to 2003.

In Germany, Charlotte Knobloch, vice president of the Central Council of Jews, warned that the movie’s “suggestive power … will give a further push to the current resurgence of anti-Semitism.’

The movie has equally firm defenders.

Miikka Ruokanen, a professor of theology at the University of Helsinki, called it “the best biblical film’ and rejected accusations of anti-Semitism.

Italian theaters were set to screen the film Wednesday, April 7. But Pope John Paul II saw it at a private screening in December, and later blessed Jesus’ portrayer, actor Jim Caviezel, a devout Roman Catholic. Vatican officials openly praised it.

Not so the Roman Catholic archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, who described the film as “ridiculous’ for its graphic attention to the beatings and abuses suffered by Jesus.

Others, too, recoiled at the violence.

“It is downright gruesome,’ Oslo Bishop Gunnar Staalsett said on Norwegian state television. “It made me out and out nauseous.’

But that is just what some advocates say is needed to draw attention to Christianity’s core beliefs.

In the Philippines, where some faithful are nailed to crosses in Easter re-enactments, Bishop Ramon Arguelles wondered whether Gibson “may beat Mother Teresa’ as an evangelizer.

Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales, in a pastoral message, called the film “a serious labor of love, painstakingly made, of genuine artistic and religious value.’

He cautioned viewers against reading an anti-Jewish message into the film: “Anti-Semitism may not be justified ever, the church teaches us, and the terrible crimes anti-Semitism has led to, culminating in the Holocaust of the last century, are surely crimes in the eyes of humanity and God.’