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  • World View
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 6, 2006
      Sheila Musaji
      American Muslim

      On August 30th the `documentary' Obsession: Radical Islam's War With
      the West was shown in Saint Louis. Prior to the showing of the film
      we had approached our local Interfaith Partnership group and asked if
      they would stand with us to express their objection to this film, and
      were told that 1) this was not an interfaith issue, and 2) is was a
      matter of free speech.

      I understand that all of us have a right to free speech, and that even
      hateful speech is protected. I do not understand how any part of the
      religious community can not only condone but promote propaganda and
      racism directed towards another religious community. The showing of
      this film was legal, but we question that it was moral.

      This `event' was sponsored by Aish Hatorah of Saint Louis, advertised
      in the Jewish Light as a community wide event, and in Jewish in Saint
      Louis and at the event Robert Cohn, Editor of Jewish Light praised the
      film and the speaker. The organizations who were listed as event
      sponsors in the program were: Aish Hatorah of Saint Louis, Branches of
      Issachar, Citizens for a Just and Lasting Peace in the Middle East,
      EMMIS Communications, and Saint Louis Hillel. Branches of Issachar is
      a Christian group, but we have been unable to find any information
      about them. A billboard complete with stereotypical Arab was posted
      on a local highway to advertise the event. Aish Hatorah's spin off
      organization Honest Reporting also produced this film.

      Over 1,000 people (including children) attended the screening, among
      them was our little group of 6 Muslims. Fortunately, we sat together
      because as the evening progressed we drew comfort from each others
      presence. The audience seemed to be primarily Jewish, but with a large
      Christian contingent also.

      The film was a classic propaganda piece - in its 1 hour and 17
      minutes, except for a disclaimer that this was not meant to be about
      all Muslims, the balance of the film was relentless in its depiction
      of issues, political movements, individuals, and positions as
      connected to the religion of Islam.

      It is a fact that the Mufti of Jerusalem sided with Hitler and that
      there are photographs of him with Hitler (as shown in this film). It
      is also a fact that there are photographs of Catholic priests,
      Lutheran ministers, and Catholic bishops and cardinals with Hitler and
      even giving the Hitler salute. It is also a fact that there were
      Muslims and Christians who protected Jews from the Nazis, who fought
      against the Nazi's, and who were killed in concentration camps. There
      are Muslims who have been declared "righteous gentiles" by Yad Vashem
      and other Holocaust memorial groups. The majority of Allied troops
      that landed on the beaches of Provence in August, 1944 were "free
      French" Muslims from North and West Africa. Muslims fought with the
      Allies in France, Italy, Stalingrad, and Leningrad. Are they now

      Bigotry and hatred can be found in all communities - for every
      photograph or speech in this film another could be shown just as
      virulent from another community, e.g. American protestors burning the
      American flag, Jewish Israeli children signing missiles with love,
      photos of Christian clergy with Hitler, Hitler's statements about
      Christianity, Nazi insignia with Christian symbols, statements by Meir
      Kahane or other Jewish Defense League members, or by Christian white
      supremacist clergy, Jewish Israeli's having a party to celebrate the
      Hebron massacre. Statements by extremist rabbis that during time of
      war the enemy has no innocents, or that call for the extermination of
      the enemy. Signs in a U.S. shop window calling Palestinians pigs and
      cockroaches. The list is long, and the effort to demonize each other

      Some of the reactions of our group were: "I felt dehumanized",
      "demoralized", "anxious", "sickened", "fearful of the reactions such
      propaganda might provoke", "attacked as a Muslim", "defamed". All of
      us were much more upset by the audiences reaction than by the film
      itself. To us the propaganda techniques seemed obvious, but the
      audience reaction showed that it was having a powerful effect.

      There was no relief from the barrage of negative images, and there was
      no counter balance. This film establishes Muslims as the "other", as
      a dangerous, alien, violent, inhuman other. It was completely
      one-sided and without nuance, there was nothing positive about Muslims
      or Islam even hinted at.

      Two weeks after the event we are still experiencing physical and
      emotional distress primarily due to the positive reaction of the
      audience - including applause and standing ovations, and to some of
      the hateful comments we overheard from individuals sitting around us.
      The fact that some of us saw people we knew, who saw us and said
      nothing and avoided eye contact was very disturbing.

      This sort of propaganda produced, marketed, and promoted by Aish
      Hatorah, a Jewish organization and then promoted by the local Saint
      Louis Jewish community and advertised in Jewish Light, and praised by
      Jewish community leaders at the event concerns us as Muslims who have
      been committed to dialogue and bridge building between the local
      Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities. This has the potential of
      completely derailing dialogue efforts and driving a wedge of suspicion
      and distrust between the communities.

      After this event many of us have had the opportunity to speak with a
      number of individuals in the Christian and Jewish communities who
      attended the film and who have told us that they were also shocked by
      the content of the film and the reaction of the audience. They
      expressed concern and distress and wanted us to know that this event
      was not supported by a majority of local Christians and Jews and that
      most of those in attendance did not represent the mainstream.

      Phillip Deitch was quoted in an article in Jewish Light as saying: "I
      left sad. An opportunity to build meaningful bridges was missed while
      passions were inflamed and polarization was the result. While deriding
      anti-Jewish anti-Israel propaganda the movie was edited in a classic
      propaganda style opening with emotional 9/11 film footage, sinister
      music throughout and contrasts with the Nazis. They mocked their own
      opening disclaimer that they are only speaking of a minority of the
      Muslim community when the movie is all about presenting Muslim
      fundamentalism as a world wide threat while showing film footage of
      Muslims at prayer."

      In an article on the Center for Theology and Social Analysis site,
      Mark Chmiel noted: "Both the film and speaker appealed to fear, pure
      and simple, making the equation Arab/Muslim = Nazi. Often the
      moderator and Shoebat talked about the threat to our values as Jews
      and Christians—what about the Muslims who aren't terrorists? It was
      painful as a Muslim acquaintance was sitting in front of us and
      weeping as she listened to this Christian who proclaimed that he loves
      everybody basically preach a kind of hatred of Palestinians en tout:
      They can't be trusted. All of them?"

      It helps to know that some in the audience were not swayed by the

      Certainly, there are Muslims who are extremists, who are criminals,
      and who believe violence to be a solution to problems. But these
      problems are not unique, nor do they exist in the Muslim world in
      isolation. Blaming an individual, organization, political movement,
      government, or nation for political problems makes sense. Attempting
      to single out Muslims as uniquely evil in the world is absurd and
      dangerous. There is a need to call this one-sided assault on Islam
      together with the increasing incidents of anti-Muslim and anti-Arab
      incidents around the world for what they are: the new Anti-Semitism -

      We can continue trying to put the blame on "them" and exonerate "us"
      but it is not only a waste of time, but an evil distraction keeping us
      from getting at the root of the problem.

      This film is emotional terrorism, and terrorism cannot stop terrorism.
      Only justice and spiritual solutions have any hope of decreasing the
      current world crisis. We can continue to look for ways to place the
      blame for what is happening on some mythical villain. The truth is
      that there is a dark side to human nature that we must all confront.

      Within America the rhetoric connecting Islam with terrorism and
      fascism is increasing, and even the President has used the term
      Islamic Fascists. There are clergy people, radio and television
      personalities, and journalists who have made derogatory and
      inflammatory statements including accusations that Muslims are a fifth
      column, threats of collective punishment against Muslims in America,
      and threats to surround the Muslims in America with razor wire or
      intern us like the Japanese in WWII. One Christian group even held an
      Islam versus America conference. The American Jihad site even claims
      that "Consequently we must adopt a new paradigm - THE ONLY GOOD MUSLIM
      IS A DEAD MUSLIM! A few innocents shall perish, but who really cares?
      Muslims multiply like rodents so it's no big deal."

      This film simply feeds into this demonizing of Islam and Muslims and
      helps to create an atmosphere in which such incitement seems reasonable.

      The bottom line is that all of those who participate in, cooperate
      with, or do not speak out against evil (no matter what their religion)
      bring shame on the human race. As the Qur'an warns us all:

      "Oh you who believe, stand up firmly for justice, as witnesses to God,
      even if it be against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and
      whether it be against rich or poor; for God can best protect both. Do
      not follow any passion, lest you not be just. And if you distort or
      decline to do justice, verily God is well-acquainted with all that you
      do" (Quran 4:135).

      Muslim, Christian and Jewish heroes and criminals were all reading the
      same Torah, Bible and Qur'an, but certainly interpreting it
      differently. I do not believe that those evil ones among any of our
      communities represent any religion. Human beings can find in any
      scripture both the inspiration for greatness or a justification for
      evil. We all have te capability of producing extremists of the most
      brutal kind, and Christianity, Judaism, and Islam have all been used
      as a justification for such brutality.

      As Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has said: "We condemn the abuse of religion
      by fanatics whose sole purpose is to rouse hate and beget further
      violence. Nothing is as antithetical to all religion and especially to
      Islam, as the wanton violence. ... We cry out against such violence,
      and seek to console those who have suffered from it. ... We declare
      that all religions have the same relative value with respect to the
      high goals we seek to reach as humans, and the same lack of value of
      when they fail to call forth the unity of God. ... We pray for a
      future that is replete with peace and love for all of humanity across
      the world, and for a future that is far, far different from the
      tumultuous, hateful times that we live in now..."

      The speaker at this film was billed as a "former" PLO terrorist turned
      Christian/Zionist. Walid Shoebat claims to live in California under
      an assumed name with protection from the Islamic radicals who have
      declared a "fatwa" to kill him. He made many undocumented claims, and
      most shockingly said that it was time to stop working for peace - it
      is time to start taking real action. . A review of his radio
      interview before the St. Louis presentation, as well as a review of
      statements at other showings of this film, and of his website
      http://www.abrahamic-faith.com is very revealing. He has said "Please
      take back the holy Temple Mount." He has said "We need to choose war."
      He has sanctioned the use of extrajudicial assassinations.

      This is a man who wants to hurry Armageddon and the rapture along, at
      which time the Messiah will come and the Jews, Muslims, and everyone
      who does not believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God will be killed
      and sent to hell. This is anti-Semitic and Islamophobic. This is an
      extremist Christian terrorist. This is not a former terrorist. This
      is a man who used to hate Jews and now hates Muslims, who used to
      commit violence against Jews and now justifies violence against Muslims

      As Abdul Cader Asmal has said "The term Islamic embodies the very
      values and attributes of the faith (Islam) that a Muslim believes in
      and loves. A believer in any faith could deviate from his religion,
      pursue ungodly activities unrelated to it, or in direct contravention
      thereof, and end up being a rapist, terrorist or even a fascist. There
      would however be nothing of intrinsic religious value in such
      behavior. As religions go, there can be no such entity as Christian,
      Judaic or Islamic fascism, at least not until a new religion comes
      along promoting itself as second best."

      How do we counter such defamation? How do we heal the wounds created
      by such propaganda? How can we build familiarity and understanding
      and establish dialogue and trust in an atmosphere of suspicion and fear?

      Never again should apply to everyone - so that the injustices of the
      past are not repeated. We need to decide if we will allow the
      hatemongers to turn Islam into the enemy because some extremists
      misrepresent it to justify their crimes. We have seen in humanity's
      history that choosing the path of villifying one particular racial,
      ethnic, or religious group can lead us into very dark places. We owe
      our children a better future than the one that would be created by a
      clash of civilizations or a clash of religions, and those who want to
      lead us down this path again must be resisted.

      We would hope that all of those in the interfaith or civil rights
      communities who believe in bridge building and dialogue speak out in
      some way against this sort of propaganda against any of our religious
      communities. The executive director of our local Interfaith
      Partnership group has said: "We are about building bridges and
      relationships between those who represent different religious
      communities" "We are responsible for our neighbors." Interfaith
      Partnership has moved more toward "building on the relational aspect
      and celebrating diversity." All of these are positive goals, can they
      be achieved by ignoring very real issues within our communities?

      Aish HaTorah, the producers of this film say that their objective as
      an organization is to revitalize the Jewish people by providing
      opportunities for Jews of all backgrounds to discover their Jewish
      heritage in an atmosphere of open inquiry and mutual respect. We
      would hope that all of those Jewish and Christian organizations who
      sponsored or promoted this event and who are continuing to sponsor
      showings of the film across the country would reconsider their
      involvement, and the possible consequences. Stirring up hatred and
      racism cannot be good for any of us. Can one people be "revitalized"
      by the demonization of another?

      If this is not an interfaith issue, then what is the point of
      interfaith activity? Am I alone in seeing a terrible similarity
      between this demonization of Muslims and the past demonization of
      Jews? I am I alone in seeing the production of this film as a
      defining event in interfaith relations in the U.S.?



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