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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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4. An Alternative Vision

At one point, toward its conclusion, Obsession features footage of Muslim clerics calling for a world united under the guidance of Islam interspersed with images of bloody violence. The viewer is never told which of the clerics featured are calling for international missionary work and which are calling for armed conflict.

What might a Muslim audience, unfamiliar with the nuances of Western culture, make of footage devoted to calls by fundamentalist Christian preachers, to "bring the world" to their faith? Or footage of the unique culture of Christian "prayer warriors" speaking about their international ambitions? Particularly if such quotes were interspersed with footage of the Iraq war, along with the inflammatory rhetoric of those evangelical chaplains who aver that they are going to Iraq in order to fulfill a Christian mission.35

What if such a film were also to include footage of the bombing, by a right-wing extremist with ties to the white supremacist Christian Identity Church, of the federal building in Oklahoma City that resulted in over 100 deaths? And what might they then make of footage of the subsequently firebombed Holocaust Museum in Terre Haute Indiana, on the wall of which was written, "Remember Tim McVeigh"? Would it not be grossly unfair, even for people unfamiliar with the history and cultures of white American Christians to, after viewing such a film, regard all such people with suspicious distaste?

Should the United States government have declared martial law in white militia territories in the Northwest when they were at the height of their influence in the early 1980s? Should we have detained all young men with ties to white supremacist or Christian Identity organizations? Was not — is not—the violent combination of those forces genuinely dangerous? People can be both dangerous and, after being effectively isolated, marginalized. Timothy McVeigh was an eccentric, a pathetic figure, until he and his confederate actually managed to murder many people. The white supremacist, Christian Identity movement still bears watching. But its members don't seem to be in any position to take over the country, and it's just as well that our civil liberties were never curtailed in the effort to stop them.36

It is true that there are violent Muslim fundamentalists who regard themselves as engaged in a holy war against the West. Such people must not be allowed to murder anyone. But why should we echo their self-serving narratives of glorious, epic, transcendental struggle with complementary epic narratives of our own?37 And why on earth would we shrink from a cold-blooded analysis of how such groups rose to any position of influence — what conditions promote their growth and what developments would serve to isolate them?

Finally, since it is true that, as the makers of Obsession take care to state again and again, most Muslims are not in favor of terrorism, let alone actual terrorists, what is served by making our acceptance of the majority of our Muslim citizens conditional on their having rehearsed a set of denunciations and frantic denials? Doesn't it make us more vulnerable to terror — to increasing numbers of us feeling terrified and alone — to inflame categorical prejudices based on religion or ethnic origin? Should we not meet our compatriots as we find them and evaluate each person on his or her own merit?

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35. Reinharz, Ibid.

36. Jeff Cohen, FAIR: Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting website, September 19, 2001. "Rule of Law vs. Rule of War: Are Media Missing the Lesson of Oklahoma City?"

37. Along those lines, see The Washington Post, October 22, 2008: "On Al-Qaeda Web Sites, Joy Over U.S. Crisis, Support for McCain" and Slate Magazine, October 22, 2008: "Why Do Terrorists Love to Strike Around Elections" by Daniel Benjamin. It should come as no surprise that Al Qaeda would welcome the candidate who sees it as it sees itself and could be counted on to echo the grand assertions that give Al Qaeda’s efforts meaning.



Contents of our special section:
Rebutting Obsession