Historical Facts Topple Film's Premise That Violent Muslim Fundamentalists are Nazis' Heirs, Expose its Fear-mongering
The inclusion of Beslan in this initial whirlwind tour of terrorist violence exemplifies the lack of careful analysis that characterizes Obsession. First of all, in contrast to the deliberate bombings first mentioned, there is no doubt that the way in which the raid on the school, occupied by armed Chechen rebels, was handled by the Russian government, is responsible for the enormous loss of life. Second, the conflation of a nationalist movement that arose out of a fight for sovereign independence, and against the annexation of its country into Russia, with the internationalist Al Qaeda, which fights for a worldwide Muslim Caliphate18 is an example of the failure of Obsession's makers to put the events it considers into their own particular socio-economic context. Instead, the film's director, Wayne Kopping said in an interview that this sequence is intended to show that these attacks are all fronts in the same war.19 (It will be interesting, as relations between the United States and Russia become more strained, to see how this simplified narrative plays out. Currently, the militarist right wing in the United States is pushing for NATO's inclusion of Georgia and the Ukraine. This is a move that could oblige us to war with Russia if that nation attacks a NATO country. What then? Would not the Chechen rebels become our brave allies, as did fundamentalist forerunners of the Taliban in Afghanistan?)20
The introductory section of the film establishes the motif that will recur throughout: the double move in which we are assured that Muslims are not, in the main, sympathetic to terrorists — and are then confronted with stock images of praying Muslims accompanied by that same haunting music, which has, by now, become marked as a signifier for the alien menace, juxtaposed with violent leaders of Hezbollah and Hamas and angry young men destroying American flags. We are reminded pointedly that there are approximately a billion Muslims in the world. We are invited to wonder what percentage of them supports "radical Islam." Then we are assured by Daniel Pipes that the figure is about 10 percent, maybe 15 percent. A few things need pointing out. First of all, 10 or 15 percent is nothing close to a majority. Second, we are not told what "support" means or what evidence backs this statistic. Is Pipes discussing armed fighters or people whose only show of support lies in expressing angry sentiments to a pollster?
It may be useful here to interject some recent polling data that serves to render Arab and Muslim attitudes toward the West and United States at once more complicated and more explicable than the way they are presented in this film. According to polls conducted this year by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, majorities in seven out of ten Muslim countries do indeed disapprove of terrorism (Jordan and Egypt are divided, although the sharp upward trend in the last two years in Jordan (32 percent increase) is to reject terrorism, as it is in Pakistan (23 percent increase). Only in Nigeria, in sub-Saharan Africa with its own preoccupying inter-religious dynamics, did a majority show sympathy for terrorism.) The vast majority of Western Muslims reject terrorism altogether. However, even within those populations in the Muslim world that reject terrorism and/or Osama bin Laden, negative opinions of the West remain high. It does not seem to be the case that disapproval of the West necessarily indicates sympathy for violent fundamentalism, although it is true that violent Islamic fundamentalists utilize anger at what is perceived as Western aggression as a means to recruit. Nor is disapproval of the West necessarily motivated by religion. Another recent poll, taken in Iran by WorldPublicOpinion.org, demonstrated a strong differentiation among many Iranians between Europe, which they tend to view favorably, and the United States, of which, at least as far as its policies go, they tend to disapprove. This same poll points to a significant plurality that would welcome negotiations with the United States and, also, a peace agreement to establish an independent Palestinian state — neighboring, not erasing, the state of Israel. This complicates the idea promoted by Obsession, that, for all Muslims, "the West" is seen as a monolith.
18. The Caliphate is the political leadership of the Muslim polity in classical and medieval Islamic history and juristic theory. For a more nuanced understanding, turn to the Nixon Center's website, The National Interest, to John O. Voll's article entitled " Revivalism, Shi‘a Style" a review of Makers of Contemporary Islam.
20. Let’s remember that Rambo III was dedicated to "the gallant people of Afghanistan" during the period in which the United States was allied with Muslim fundamentalists in their fight against Soviet domination.