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USA: “Obsession” Anti-Islam Film Angers Bloggers

Last week, many newspaper subscribers across the United States were surprised to discover a DVD inserted into their Sunday paper. The video, which can be viewed in its entirety on YouTube, is entitled Obsession: Radical Islam's War With the West and portends to compare the threat of radical Islamism with that of Nazi Germany prior to World War II. The DVD's release was timed to match the upcoming elections, and distribution of the DVD was almost entirely within swing states.

Almost immediately, newspapers began receiving complaints for their inclusion of the DVD, which was funded by The Clarion Fund, a group set up to combat “the most urgent threat of radical Islam.” Bloggers in the U.S. and abroad have expressed anger at both the distribution of the DVDs and the related crime.

Jordanian blogger Ali was understandably outraged at the timing:

While We Arabs and Muslims were busy thinking of food during Ramadan and watching Bab El Harra and Asmahan and the remaining 120 series on TV, having our delicious Sheesha’s (Water pipe) after Iftar, some mysterious group or organization was sending this disturbing DVD. The DVD bashes Islam and Muslims and warning Americans from expected terrorists attacks.

I see this as a typical fear-mongering propaganda that is always targeting the American people around Public Holidays and Anniversaries to remind the average American that those uneducated savage killers are still out there and they are ready to get to you.

Can you imagine the damage that was done to Muslims and Arabs and the lousy image we have in the west and the USA?

Not all Americans are well informed or well travelled, or have even met a Muslim. Therefore such hate DVDs will make a huge negative impact on the way they view Muslims and Middle Eastern. This will not be difficult for the relations between the West and East but also for Americans with Arab background living in America who can be harassed or be involved in hate crimes.

A Tale of Three Beans, also a Jordanian blogger, responded to Ali's post in her own blog. She wrote:

So, while I'm on the topic of misleading and outright lying, I wanted to go back to a post by Ali. I know he thought I missed his comment, but this is one of those conversations that requires thought and mulling over. Ali's post was on the mailing of 28 million copies of an inflammatory movie called Obsession to voters in swing states in the US. Now, long ago in my life, I learned not to comment on something about which I have no personal knowledge. So, I went out to youtube and watched the movie. It's divided into 10 six (ish) minute segments. So, now I've mulled and fermented my ideas and have some thoughts.

She then dug deeper into several of the issues related to the video, debunking myths and correcting poor translations. She also pointed out that there are a few valid points in the DVD, saying:

One fundamental message that followers of Islam would do well to heed is that Americans, average Americans, are scared of you. No, not just the radical Muslims -all Muslims. This is normal, it's natural. We're almost always scared of anything that's different. And, you look different. Sadly, both non-Muslims and Muslims alike get drawn into the trap of focusing on differences. Instead of pointing out the similarities between Ramadan and Lent to help bridge the understanding gap, the message delivered is that Christians wouldn't understand fasting (which says more about a lack of understanding of Christianity than anything). Islam and Christianity may vary widely, but they also share similarities. If you can help Americans (and Westerners in general) see that, you will be doing all of us favor. Each of you can play a role as an ambassador of your faith.

Finally, she concludes:

The reality about Americans is that while we may not be the most aware people in the world (nor are we the least, by the way), it's mostly a country of good people. They get up every morning and eat breakfast. They work hard to provide for their families. They love their children and want the best for them. The more things are different, the more they are the same. Americans are just like Jordanians. They're people who try their best to live life and ensure the well-being of their families. Understanding that whatever differences in tradition are just that – differences in tradition – may help bridge this gap. Remember that while you may even agree that American women are immoral, in the same way Americans agree that Arab women are subjugated and without rights. Neither picture is either wholly true or accurate. I think if we all try to understand each other better (not necessarily become like each other), our conversation will be richer and we may be able to leave fear behind and move forward with understanding and respect.

Writer and blogger Laila Lalami expresses few feelings toward the DVD but states that it won't make a difference anyhow:

I don’t, however, think that the DVD will have any effect on swing voters. We are so awash in Islamophobia in the States that any voters likely to be swayed by yet another Muslims-equal-terrorists rant are likely to have already made up their mind by now (and it’s not for Obama, let’s face it.)

Global Voices Morocco author Lalla Lydia explains why we should all watch the video:

I've noted that a lot of you are recognizing this sweet and unseasonal valentine as propaganda and tossing it in the trash.

I wish you wouldn't. Watch it. Like I did. And take notes.

I think it's well done. It reached its goal of scaring the crap out of viewers with all its rising crescendos of fear mongering, driving music and fast-paced images of terrorist attacks around the world.

Less than a week after the DVDs were distributed, children at a Dayton, Ohio mosque were the victims of an apparent hate crime in which gas was sprayed through a window of the building. Bloggers immediately connected the two incidents, despite the mainstream media's denial.

KABOBfest, a blog written by a group of mostly Arab-Americans, reported on the incident:

Is it mere coincidence that this attack comes after the “Obsession” DVD was distributed in the area? It just may be, and hopefully the policy investigate this vigorously enough to give us an answer.

This alarmist, Islamophobic video has been sent to swing states by a shadowy non-profit, the Clarion Fund. It is claiming to have sent 28 million copies. Most of the recipients will recognize it as the hate-ridden drivel it clearly is; but others may be inspired to secure the homeland and attack the enemy within — and this senseless attack may be one such case.

Interestingly, none of the mainstream media have covered this story. Perhaps if a Muslim committed a parallel attack at a church or synagogue, it would be newsworthy. What ever happened to the “man bites dog” theory of media interest? Perhaps we should update the adage to reflect the modern ethnogeography of violence: “White man attacks Muslims, that's not news. But when Muslims attack Whites, now that's a story!”

A Diamond's Eye View of the World, an American who blogs about Lebanon, reminds us that we have the right to protest the distribution of this DVD, sharing the Clarion Fund's address and urging us to write polite letters:

And if you want to contact the Clarion Fund, the address given on the DVD packaging is:

255 W. 36th Street, Ste. 800
New York, NY 10018
(646) 308-1230

Just remember: be polite, be professional, and articulate your position using evidence, not personal insults.

Also of note is that a group called Obsession With Hate has been set up to combat the propaganda perpetuated by the film.

  • http://bernyblog.wordpress.com bernardo parrella

    actually the dvd is being sent at random people in swing states: we got one the other day (in new mexico) and was planning to watch it and look up online to better see who/what was behind this kind of propaganda – even if the timing says it all (a month before elections)

    beside the dvd content itself, i think that such operations will mostly have a ‘boomerang effect’ for conservatives and fear-mongers, though…let’s just hope it won’t stir up any (other) hate crimes

    thanks jillian for the timely post! we are already translating it in italian!

  • http://jilliancyork.com Jillian York

    Wow, you got yours in the MAIL? Please do watch it, let me know what you think.

    I cannot believe that they’re mailing them out. I do agree with you; the vast majority of people who have actually viewed the DVD agreed that it is propaganda.

    Thanks for translation!

  • http://www.couscousglobal.com Tarik

    It makes me think of the film ‘Fitna’ by a politician from my country: Geert Wilders. (Which can also be found on sites such as Youtube.) The man`s speech in the media is almost always filled with Islam bashing rethoric. For example his film was an expose of Quran verses and images we`ve seen in the media in order to establish a causal relationship between the images and verses.

    However: some verses were misinterpreted. One part of a certain verse meant ‘to bring fear upon’ whilst it was translated as ‘to terrorize’.

    Films like these only widen the gap between the groups of people in question. Best thing to do – if you ask me – is to mock these films and to start a dialogue. Even though that it`s not always the easiest thing to do.

  • http://www.solanasaurus.com/ Solana Larsen

    Oh yes, Fitna which was protested around the world, and even caused the blocking of YouTube in Indonesia (has since been unblocked).

    http://advocacy.globalvoicesonline.org/2008/04/05/indonesia-blocks-youtube-over-fitna-the-movie/

    My favorite response to Fitna were the Iranian bloggers who started writing letters to Christ.

    http://globalvoicesonline.org/2008/04/11/iranian-bloggers-write-letters-to-christ/

    I think this stuff (both films!) should be outed for what it is – dangerous racism which pushes the boundaries for what it is deemed acceptable to espouse in public.

  • Ben Norman

    Dangerous racism? This movie is entirely accurate, and is fair and even-handed to the Muslim faith as a whole. It even has a disclaimer at the beginning noting that it’s sole focus are the radical Muslims who are hell-bent on destroying the west. These issues are critical, and to dismiss this movie as “garbage” is sad and a rash to judgment.

  • http://www.solanasaurus.com/ Solana Larsen

    It’s an emotionally charged narrative, seemingly created with the intent to instill fear in thousands of people. I think one has to ask what the motives are of people who distribute this sort of thing, not simply take it at face value. Is it helpful? Constructive? Open and honest about intentions, donors, and organizational affiliations?

  • http://jilliancyork.com Jillian York

    Ben,

    How so? How does this DVD portray an entire population fairly? Even if we could agree that it portrays a minority of the population fairly (and we cannot), this film is an ugly stain on our country.

    Jillian

  • http://bernyblog.wordpress.com bernardo parrella

    it’s very very difficult to believe such “disclaimer” displayed for a few moments at the beginning of the film, when the rest of it does nothing else but portray as “jihad” practically any activity and anybody in muslim countries: people at markets and in the streets, children at school, people praying in mosques, etc.

    it’s crystal clear that the movie does not focus on those supposed “radical muslims”, quite the opposite: it attempts to portray an entire population as such, trying therefore to instill a general fear of any muslim anywhere…

  • Doug Swallow

    If the acts of terror that are mentioned in this film; there are many that are not mentioned because it would be hard to bring up all of them in the length of time permitted, had not occurred, do you think that the DVD would have been made? I think not.

  • http://i-melon.blogspot.com/ Paolo

    Hi there,

    I’ve translated this post for GVO.it. Jillian, keep up the good work!

    This video is far from being accurate, and the emotional approach is far from being useful in analytical terms. Just to be sure, I do not want to deny the existence of such a problem. But this is the worst approach one could ever choose in dealing with it. The authors constantly play with the notions of culture, religion, and political ideology in a confusing fashion. They refer to political violence using these three notions as synonyms, as if they were interchangeable. Just few quick points:

    To begin with the title. Is radical Islam a region of the world? I did not know that? No ?! So, why do we keep confronting Islam and the West, then? Does it represent a culture? Perhaps, it’s a political ideology. Also, does the term West refer to a culture? And if it’s a culture, what culture? The French, the European, the American? Maybe, it’s a geographical category. Comparing oranges with apples does not help, at all.

    Second, I agree with Bernardo. The “moderate Muslims we are not against you” disclaimer is a ludicrous trick. The sections clearly speak about “culture of hatred” or “of Jihad”. Again, are we dealing with a culture, a religion, or a political ideology? Presenting under the same banner Hamas, Hezbollah, and particular traits of the Egyptian and Iranian popular cultures, this video gives the idea that we are facing a homogeneous and widely shared cultural setting. As for those who would share – or would be part of – such a culture, do they really feel represented by the gents portrayed in this video? The Arab/Muslim interviewees always talked in terms of “Islam being infiltrated”, “being corrupted”. But, what about other people – religious scholars, academics, thinkers and ordinary citizens – who directly refer to such phenomenon labeling it as “un-Islamic”? Many Muslims do regard radical Islam as being not Islam at all! Why were they left out from the narrative? What about the Saudi muftis who issued several fatwas condemning AQ’s strategy? Even some AQ militants harshly criticized its use of violence which often targets Muslims as well. There is no evidence which could support any counter-argument. For the authors’ aim was not to produce a balanced analysis, nor an accurate one, but something completely different. Arabs/Muslims must stand up and debunk these myths.

    Finally, the juxtaposition of the Nazi ideology with radical Islam is hilarious. Do they really have the same agenda? As for the radical Islam, are we talking about Hamas? Hezbollah? The Iranian government? Al Qaeda? Who are the supreme leaders, the key figures? Where are they based? Everywhere and nowhere. In sum, these movements, jointly with Iran and UK’s muhajiroun, want to dominate the world, establish the Shari’a and kill all the Jews because they all have Nazi spider on their caps and do the Hitler salute. So, what about our “Western” nazis? Do they want the same thing? Are they Islamofascists’ allies? Mhmh, I’m quite puzzled. But, hey, it’s Daniel Pipes speaking …

    Have you ever heard about the “Smearcasters”? Here they are: http://www.smearcasting.com/

    As for the radical Islam, I advise to watch the Doha Debate (6 parts), which is entirely available on Youtube.
    Here is the first one: http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=TLiqgv3Zq2g&feature=related.

    Have a nice day
    Paolo

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