Reprinted with the kind permission of the author as part of a new feature here at The Agonist sponsored by FSB Associates which will run on Mondays: The FSB Book Club. Full disclosure: absolutely no money is changing hands here. FSB has generously agreed, at my request, to provide us with book excerpts and from time to time interactions and chats with the authors themselves.
by Sumbul Ali-Karamali
In Ohio, early voting began yesterday. In a seemingly unrelated event, four days ago in Ohio two men sprayed a noxious chemical into the babysitting room at a mosque in Dayton, causing babies and children to suffer burning eyes and throats, and forcing panicked evacuation of the mosque. Two apparently disparate events, perhaps, but they’re unexpectedly connected.
The incident at the mosque occurred at the end of the same week that an anti-Muslim propaganda dvd was distributed by mail in Ohio. Twenty-eight million copies of this same dvd had previously distributed as a paid advertisement in major newspapers in swing states, of which Ohio is one.
Called ”œObsession: Radical Islam’s War on the West,” this film has been described as perpetuating anti-Muslim hate speech, characterizing Muslims as followers of a violent religion, and equating Muslims with Nazis (though Muslims are a faith group and Nazis were members of a European state with a standing military). The movie features Islamophobic pundits speaking on behalf of all Muslims.
Several organizations, including the ”œHate Hurts America” coalition (www.obsessionwithhate.com) ”“ a nonpartisan diverse community coalition that brings together Americans of various faiths, races and backgrounds in a unified stance against intolerance ”“ have already thoroughly debunked much of what the dvd claims as truth. In fact, Dr. Khaleel Mohammed, the only Islamic Studies professor featured in the film, issued a statement communicating distress ”œthat [the filmmakers’] alarmist drivel should be mixed with [his] whittled down interview” and that it ”œproves that the intent of the film is not to educate, but to mislead.”
At least two lawsuits have been filed because a nonprofit, which the distributor of the film purportedly is, cannot participate in political activities. Although the filmmakers claim that they simply wish to inform both parties about the ”œthreat of radical Islam,” the film, three years old now, was distributed in battleground states just weeks before the upcoming election. Moreover, one of the talking heads in the film has insisted elsewhere that Obama, whatever he says, is still a ”œpolitical Muslim” (whatever that is). And the Republicans are clearly reputed to be the party ”œtough on terror,” with McCain repeatedly using the threat of ”œIslamofascism” (whatever that is) to garner support for his campaign.
But here’s the obvious point that so many are missing: the so-called ”œwar” this film talks about and allegedly inevitable ”œclash of civilizations” isn’t about incompatibility between Muslims and the Jewish-Christian world. Or even between Islam and the West. It’s a war of ideology between the dogmatic, rigid, exclusivist people on both sides.
A friend of mine recently mentioned in an email that he’s come to realize that the world is divided into two religious groups. ”œNope,” he wrote, ”œit’s not Jewish-Christian and Muslim. It’s thoughtful and dogmatic.” And it’s the dogmatic fear-mongers in this film, the very parallels of the dogmatic fear-mongers in the Islamic world, which are precipating a war here.
The message of the Obsession dvd is to convince Americans that Muslims are on a violent mission to further their goal of global domination. In other words, they say that Muslims despise the West and are out to convert or destroy it. The filmmakers are recruiting Americans to their side with this argument and attempting to affect the election to stop this claimed calamity.
Well, guess what? Muslim extremist groups do exactly the same thing.
Al-Qaeda and similar groups of Muslim extremists busily translate American anti-Islam hate literature into Arabic so that they can convince Muslim populations that the West abominates Islam and means to crush it. They had the Crusades as proof, after all, and now they have Iraq and Afghanistan, as well. Samuel Huntington’s clash of civilizations mindset simply plays into their hands and proves their own correctness: the West despises Islam and means to destroy it.
So the real war is between hate-mongering, fear-mongering extremists on both sides who recruit followers to perpetuate an eternal war against ”œthe other side.”
Airing bin Laden’s videos and declaring him an enemy legitimizes him and perpetuates hate speech. Would we interview prominent members of the Ku Klux Klan on national television? Would we distribute a KKK dvd on racist philosophy? No, because it would be tantamount to hate speech. Distributing the Obsession dvd is the same thing; it’s distributing hate speech.
And, as the children at the Dayton, Ohio mosque can attest, perhaps it’s already resulted in at least one hate crime committed by Americans.
Thank goodness, though, that at least one newspaper in this country understands that freedom of speech comes with the responsibility to use it wisely. The Greensboro News and Record in North Carolina refused to distribute the Obsession dvd and declined the money that came with it. The publisher stated that the dvd was divisive and it played on people’s fears. Editor John Robinson said that ”œjust because you can publish doesn’t mean you should.”
Today is Eid ul-Fitr, the Festival of the Fast-Breaking, the holiday that comes immediately after the fasting month of Ramadan. Muslims all over the country, and indeed the world, are celebrating Eid. And despite the dvd, despite all the flourishing hatred the 9/11 attacks unleashed, a wonderful thing happened today: The Empire State Building in New York, the self-same city that suffered those attacks, lit its world-famous tower lights in green today Eid, in the same tradition of its yearly lightings for Christmas and Hanukah.
It’s there, I think with pride in America, my country, it’s that way that peace lies.
Â©2008 Sumbul Ali-Karamali
Sumbul Ali-Karamali grew up in California frequently answering difficult questions about Islam and its practices posed by friends, colleagues, and neighbors. (“What do you mean you can’t go to the prom because of your religion?”) She holds a B.A. from Stanford University and a J.D from the University of California at Davis and earned a graduate degree in Islamic law from the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. She has served as a teaching assistant in Islamic Law at SOAS and a research associate at the Centre of Islamic and Middle Eastern Law in London. Her book, The Muslim Next Door, is available from White Cloud Press.