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Jews On First!

... because if Jews don't speak out, they'll think we don't mind

Rebutting Obsession

Historical Facts Topple Film's Premise That Violent Muslim Fundamentalists are Nazis' Heirs, Expose its Fear-mongering

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One of the uglier sequences in the film makes cynical use of Dr. Khaleel Mohammed of San Diego State University. Indeed, Dr. Mohammed has since condemned Obsession as a "vile piece of propaganda"22 for which he has been "used." Dr.Mohammed reminds the audiences that the traditional meaning of the word jihad is indeed "self-struggle," a meaning confirmed by the avuncular John Loftus (left), identified only as "a former federal prosecutor."23 Just as the viewer may be settling into a sense of warm admiration for this admirable idea, up pops Shoebat again with the attention-getting remark, "Jihad may mean self-struggle… but so does Mein Kampf." Suddenly, the nuanced meaning of jihad is obliterated, and we are advised that today, jihad "means struggle against the Jews." Lest we misunderstand, we are treated to what has become viral YouTube footage of Sheikh Dr. Bakr al-Samarai having an especially wacky moment while preaching at Baghdad's Al-Gailani mosque. Is the viewer to understand from this hateful image, employed in Obsession in connection with the concept of jihad, that those Muslims, in the United States and elsewhere, who take back the traditional use of the word and advocate for a jihad of the soul are to fear being labeled as terrorist sympathizers?

Obsession takes particular issue with the notion that antipathy for the United States in either the Arab or Muslim worlds (which often are conflated, or used as synonyms in this film, even when footage from a non-Arab country, such as Iran, is being shown—in fact, the film shifts from Arab to Farsi often, with no indication of such switching is given in the subtitles) might be attributable to any concrete set of causes. Speakers such as Nonie Darwish, a convert to Christianity and U.S. resident who was the daughter of an Egyptian army officer , insist that any attempt at introspection on the part of the people of the United States following the 9/11 attacks represents either craven self-hatred or a naïve misunderstanding of why the attacks were perpetrated.24 Itamar Marcus of Palestinian Media Watch assures us that contrary to what "academia and the media" might hint, there is nothing to be gained from trying to understand violent attacks on the United States by Islamic fundamentalists in terms of any causality at all other than "ideology." We are not to wonder why such ideology might be persuasive and to whom. It just is.

Immediately thereafter, however, commentators begin to suggest an analysis that they find acceptable. Loftus reappears to observe, cannily enough, that for dictators, another enemy of the people serves as a convenient distraction. Other pundits, including Darwish, chime in to agree that a society can be effectively distracted from its own problems and internal inequalities by a mobilization against a common, external threat. No kidding. Again, Obsession mirrors itself.

If the viewer is willing to resist the scolding and risk the pollution of self-hatred that must accompany an attempt to figure out why this decade has seen such a sharp rise in violent Islamic fundamentalism, then what is presented in Obsession as hateful and demonizing Islamic propaganda might provide a clue. Many of the examples of so-called Islamist propaganda that are decried in the film turn out to be news footage of the war in Iraq or videos that incorporate such clips. Much of what is shown will appear extreme to American audiences who don't watch foreign news broadcasts. We have learned to register a cliché when newscasters talk of "kicking down doors" and we have seen footage of the actual kicking; but we rarely see footage of what follows. The "propaganda" shows terrified women and children held at gunpoint, beatings, dead civilians, missile attacks on residential areas. A thickening anger on the part of viewers who identify more with the civilians than with the soldiers, and who have watched these images of an actual war, initiated by the United States, for years, can hardly be reduced to "ideology."

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23.Loftus, a former intelligence officer, is a spokesman who may prove embarrassing to the makers of Obsession if they want to maintain their mainstream credentials. Loftus definitely has gone off-message more than once. The reader is invited to visit where, in addition to screeds against "Islam and Terrorists," one may find references to the close ties between the Bush family and Saudi government and, further, between the Bush family and the Nazi regime — a reference that might prove especially discomfiting given Obsession's message with regard to the Nazi "legacy."

24. See the Los Angeles Times article and Jim Holstun’s review of her book at the Electronic Intifada.

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Rebutting Obsession