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defending the First Amendment against the Christian right ...

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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Is there any problem? Of course. Just not like they say there is.

Certainly, some of the material drawn from popular Islamic cultures that Obsession displays is highly disturbing. There is a special perversity about children being taught to embrace a life of permanent warfare. The crudity and vehemence of categorical bias expressed against Jews and Americans is painful to watch and reflects a real antagonism. On the other hand, it would be wrong to imagine that the bias goes only in one direction. Al-Jazeera's Stacey Kaufman has collected footage of small-town Ohio voters who turned out for a Sarah Palin rally referring (as though it were an insult) to Senator Barack Obama as a Muslim (he is, of course, a Christian); suggesting that when a "nigra" runs for president of the United States, he must be a manipulated front for some unseen force; and yelling abuse at Obama supporters, one of whom indicates that he has been called "the n-word" (he appears to be white) and threatened with physical harm.31 Doubtless most Americans would be embarrassed and insulted if this behavior was viewed overseas as representative of our country — and yet the behavior and the thinking behind it do characterize a small but dangerous minority.

In Obsession, other examples of what are presented as the unique problems associated with Arab culture also seem oddly familiar. Dr. Wahid ‘abd al-Maguid of the Al-Ahram Center for Political Studies, an Egyptian think tank, is shown in a television interview, decrying the tendency to "violence" in "the Arab culture," and sure enough, the footage that follows includes exuberant celebrations of extreme violence, including the attack on the Twin Towers — in a rap song combining some ska with obvious American gangsta stylistic influences. Dr. al-Maguid might have been an American sociologist warning grimly of the corrupting effects on youth of the video game "Grand Theft Auto" — or one of those weedy "elitist" types ruing the bare-knuckled masculine style favored in "dude culture" and in certain right-wing sectors of this country.32 This is not to say that Arab cultures do not operate from their own specific imperatives. But the conflation of all such cultures, for an audience of people who are mostly unfamiliar with the complexities of the Middle East, is more misleading than useful. The few images of lone speakers who promote tolerance are contrasted with vociferous preachers of jihad, which is always presented to mean violence. This failure to reflect the complexity of Islam denies Muslims' varied identities, their day to day activities and broad range of concerns. Obsession's own denial of context and history not only misinforms its audience, it is liable to foment a hatred equal to that which does exist.

The part of that section of Obsession called "Jihad in the West," depicting what it calls a threat of "infiltration" in the United States, might be the film's most blatant appeal to the American viewer's fear. Continuing the motif of simultaneous accusation and reassurance, we are warned by the pundits of Obsession that enemies walk among us. Says Nonie Darwish, "Of course, not all Muslims are like that, but America has to wake up. We have been infiltrated … and we are strangling ourselves with our political correctness." More than once, the twin demons of the "the media" and "political correctness" are invoked to warn against any namby-pamby liberal tendencies toward excessive respect for the sensibilities of shady minority populations.

This shibboleth of "political correctness" has come to stand for a tangle of constructs according to which any critical thinking or provision of unflattering information about our government's conduct, or even any search for a complex analysis, is at once egg-headed, "elitist," actively disloyal and contemptuous of "ordinary" American folk. This dismissal of the demands on civic life incumbent on citizens of a constitutional republic founded by immigrants is, of course, as contemptuous in its assumptions about the capacity for thought of "ordinary" Americans as it is possible to be.

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31. Al Jazeera, October 15, 2008.

32. In this context, it is telling to remember that Sayid Qutb, an influential leader, in the 1950s, of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, has famously recounted his formative and negative impressions of U.S. culture in terms that many cultural conservatives in the U.S. would appreciate. Said Qutb, after attending a church dance during which the lights were dimmed and couples danced to "Baby, It’s Cold Outside": "It is difficult to differentiate between a church and any other place that is set up for entertainment, or what they call in their language, 'fun.' " Qutb’s forays into racism would certainly be unacceptable today in the polite company of conservatives, although in the 1950s that may not have been the case. Said Qutb, of the American: "Jazz is his preferred music, and it is created by Negroes to satisfy their love of noise and to whet their sexual desires." See "The Man Behind Bin Laden," by Lawrence Wright, The New Yorker, September 16, 2002.

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Rebutting Obsession