I spent the summer of 1973 doing two things: listening to the Watergate hearings while draughting for my family business, and listening to Jethro Tull’s new, controversial, “concept” album, A Passion Play. The combination of the two doubtless contributed to the malaise that overshadowed me as I started college (Watergate itself was something of a passion play.) It also undermined parental credibility: after years of my father asking me, “Have you seen a rabbit wearing glasses?” to get me to eat my carrots, at the centre of the album was the recitation, “The story of the hare who lost his spectacles.”
Three years later I got the chance to go abroad, so I went to the UK. Back in London after touring Britain, I was still suffering from having listened to too much Tull–way too much, as it turned out. One recurring line in Passion Play went as follows:
There was a rush along the Fulham Road
There was a hush in the passion play.
Now in London, the obvious question remained: where was the Fulham Road? And what did it look like? On Sunday, having been to Mass and having dined with the beggar, I went on out to the Fulham Broadway underground station and emerged to obtain an answer to these questions.
The first thing I found out was rather obvious: there wasn’t much of a rush. It was Sunday, and I was amazed again at how dead things went in the UK on the weekend. I did find an Odeon theatre playing a film I had heard about in the US but couldn’t see: The Message, a film about the life of Mohammed and the beginnings of Islam. Being both a history buff and realising that Islam was an important religion, I could not resist taking a look.
The Message has a long and complicated history. Directed by the Syrian Moustapha Akkad and starring Anthony Quinn, by Islamic custom the film could not directly portray Mohammed or his immediate family. He solved the problem by using the camera to look out at what (or who) Mohammed might be seeing at the moment. He retained a group of imams to make sure everything else was proper from an Islamic standpoint and began shooting the film in Morocco. Eventually ejected from that country, and the imams having resigned, he ended up shooting in Libya, where Muammar Qadafi lent him military support (probably the Libyan military’s finest hour.)
By the time the film was released in the US, extremist Muslims were sure that sacrilege had been done, so they threatened to blow up the theatre where it was supposed to open. But Muslim leadership in Britain had a better handle on the situation, so we were able to see it in London.
And “we” were quite a group. As the moviegoers filed into the theatre for the showing, that sudden realisation came over me: “I’m the only white guy in this place.” The rest of the viewers were obviously immigrants, probably mostly Pakistani. Once everything went dark and the film started, it was pretty interesting. So was the crowd; they cheered when the Muslims won a full battle or killed an infidel. I thought that they might get fired up to start “jihad” in the theatre and I would be their first victim. But they didn’t, the film ended peacefully, and the happy Muslims filed out.
It’s too bad that “Europeans” on both sides of the Atlantic didn’t–or couldn’t–avail themselves of a real education on Islam and the Middle East. Instead we careen between the politically correct platitudes of our elites and the unrealistic expectations of our idealists. Anyone familiar with Muslim history–even that shown in The Message–realises quickly that we are dealing with people who choose to meet their objectives in a different way than we are accustomed to.
But Islam wasn’t the only matter under consideration in those days. Modern life has many distractions; rock music was and is one of them. Some time before my trip to the Fulham Road, it became clear that, if I planned to be the person God created me to be, I would have to alter my focus. So I took my leave from the “minstrel in the gallery” and turned more surely to the One who had rolled the stone away and could lead me “from the dark into ever-day.”