The Dog That Did Not Bark

In the Sherlock Holmes story Silver Blaze by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes was able to deduce that the killer of Colonel Ross’s racehorse was the owner of the stable dog. As the fictional Holmes chronicler Dr. John Waston explains:

Colonel Ross still wore an expression which showed the poor opinion which he had formed of my companion’s ability, but I saw by the inspector’s face that his attention had been keenly aroused

“You consider that to be important?” he asked.

“Exceedingly so.”

“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.

The only person at whom the stable dog would not bark warnings was the dog’s owner. Hence, the dog’s silence indicated that the only one who could have entered the stable and killed the horse, was the dog’s owner.

Since then, the metaphor of the “dog that didn’t bark” characterizes the import of any conspicuous silence. After millions of people have watched Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ, and after solemn proclamations by many in the chattering classes that the movie, at the very least, might inadvertently inflame anti-Semitism, what is curious is the dog that didn’t bark.

If there had been a significant increase in anti-Semitic events, such as the destruction or defacement of synagogues, we can utterly rely on the fact that such an increase would have been given prominent play in the media. Over the last several weeks, the persistent silence by some in the media who might have welcomed a vindication of their first, and now demonstrably erroneous judgment of the movie is perhaps the most credible evidence that anti-Semitism was not the effect of the movie. Indeed, a survey by the Institute for Jewish and Community Research suggests that, if anything, The Passion of the Christ has had a positive impact on the disposition toward Jews.

According to the president of the institute, Dr. Gary Tobin, “The film and perhaps even more, the discussions about the film, are having something of a positive effect, which is good news …While the film may have a different impact elsewhere in the world, so far The Passion of the Christ is not producing any significant anti-Jewish backlash.”

But the United States is perhaps the world’s most progressive non-Jewish nation with regard to its embrace of its Jewish citizens. As Dr. Tobin wonders, could not the movie, when viewed by those not so favorably disposed, at least inadvertently play into anti-Jewish prejudices? The question is fair given the nearly infinite capacity of human beings to bend any message to suit their own purpose. Certainly, the words of the Bible itself have been ill-used by the ill-intentioned.

There was a time, centuries ago, when the Islamic world was more accommodating to Jews than Christendom. Unfortunately, much of the Islamic world now suffers the affliction of anti-Semitism. What would be the effect of showing The Passion of the Christ in such an environment? Well the first surprisingly positive reports are in as the movie has now opened in Qatar. Some in Qatar were attracted to the movie because of its purported anti-Semitism, but a fascinating thing has happened. Many Muslims walked away from the movie, not with their anti-Semitism inflamed, but moved by the fact that Jesus loved his enemies and forgave those who persecuted him. As a Christian missionary (a somewhat dangerous and tenuous position in the modern Islamic world) has observed, “Muslims are going to see this film because of their hatred and in the end, the message they will hear is love. Is it not like God to do something like that? They mean it for evil and God means it for good.” Perhaps those who were most vociferous in their condemnation of the movie as anti-Semitic and who as a consequence attracted Islamic audiences to the film were in their own clumsy and wonderful way working the will of God. Curious.

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