Winning It All, Semifinal No. 2

So much winning the future, and so little time. Here now, the second part of a three-part series featuring self-describing Christians and self-describing Muslims battling for a trophy that -- thankfully -- does not exist. (You can find the intro to this series as well as the first semifinal between Mike Tyson and Sarah Palin here.)

Meanwhile, our second semifinal highlights a transcontinental showdown: Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network and host of The 700 Club, versus Omar al-Bashir, the president of Sudan since 1993.


Pat Robertson, September 12, 2005

We have killed over 40 million unborn babies in America. I was reading, yesterday, a book that was very interesting about what God has to say in the Old Testament about those who shed innocent blood. And he used the term that those who do this, “the land will vomit you out.” That – you look at your – you look at the book of Leviticus and see what it says there. And this author of this said, “Well, ‘vomit out’ means you are not able to defend yourself.” But have we found we are unable somehow to defend ourselves against some of the attacks that are coming against us, either by terrorists or now by natural disaster? Could they be connected in some way?


Omar al-Bashir, May 12, 2009

I assume full responsibility for what has happened to my citizens. However, what has been reported to have happened in Darfur did not actually take place.


Like Tyson and Palin, Robertson and al-Bashir show us big-game skills worthy of this defining moment. In fact, along the vast landscape of rhetoric, there’s hardly a way to not notice them; their oratory seemingly gushes forth from a bottomless well.

On the one hand, you have al-Bashir -- a formidable military man. He studied at the Egyptian Military Academy in Cairo; he served in the Egyptian Army against Israel in 1973; he came to power in Sudan in a military coup in 1989. On the other hand, there’s Robertson. He is said to have spent most of his Korean War service in Japan administering liquor for the officers’ clubs.

Interestingly but not surprisingly, Robertson and al-Bashir are often linked to their monotheistic predecessors. One of them favors the Jew (for his Christian Zionist reasons) and one of them not so much (for his Arab reasons). But they are both on the record for statements which paint Jews with that conspiratorial brush.

As always, we certainly have to evaluate their above comments in light of the context in which they were said. In the case of Robertson, his words proceeded from the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which claimed over 1,800 lives and much land and property. In the case of al-Bashir, he was answering a BBC interviewer’s questions about the prolonged conflict in Darfur, which according to Sudan researcher and analyst Eric Reeves has resulted in over 400,000 deaths and according to various estimates almost 3 million internally displaced.

Importantly, in both cases, the men stared at television cameras and began to give answers. Of note: each was sitting in a comfortable chair as he spoke. To his credit, however, al-Bashir is the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and first to be charged with genocide.

So, in looking at the quotes framing this Final Four matchup, specific points must be awarded for the following good moves to the basket…

To Pat Robertson: for always auspiciously beginning with abortion; for reading “a book that was very interesting”; for courageously discussing the indigestion problems of land masses; for quoting Leviticus; for the ability to ask questions which seem like questions but are not really questions; for his obvious appreciation of the simplistic connect-the-dots worksheets of childhood.

To Omar al-Bashir: for giving off the unmistakable impression that he is accepting responsibility, like a good leader should; for flipping the script on its head with a classic “however”; for the capacity to deny large-scale horrific realities by essentially blaming the media, like a good leader should.

Again, there can only be one winner – the Christian or Muslim who scores the most points, offensively or defensively, and lives to fight another quotable day. And the winner is…Pat Robertson.

For me, this rhetorical clash comes down to this adept maneuver: Although al-Bashir is an Arab thug in the body of an African president, working out his ideological machinations of Arab supremacy through the historic conflict of nomads and farmers in Darfur, at least (in this quote, anyway) he kept God out of it. And there is something to be said for that kind of restraint, which is why Robertson must surely be victorious.

Like playing from a coach's whiteboard, Robertson's game is all about straight lines. He draws a straight line from abortion to 9/11 to Hurricane Katrina, and he believes that line is as straight as his interpretation of divine judgment on the United States of America. Yes, it is true: al-Bashir obstinately denies the truth of Darfur, which is morally reprehensible. But Robertson characteristically misinterprets the past, at the explicit expense of God, all the while maintaining an audacity to predict the future by staring into a television camera. Doubly impressive!

Coming soon: the championship game of this Final Four in rhetorical madness pitting Christian v Muslim. The final features Mike Tyson v Pat Robertson.

Almost Home

Winning It All, Semifinal No. 1