Americans are becoming indifferent to Obsession

Sheila Musaji

Posted Oct 31, 2008      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Americans are becoming indifferent to Obsession

by Sheila Musaji

It is possible to become discouraged by the tsunami of Islamophobia coming at the Arab and Muslim communities in the United States in waves.  The most recent distribution of 28 million copies of the Obsession DVD was perhaps the most disheartening.  However, the American people are beginning to respond, and not in the way that those behind this Islamophobic campaign would have hoped for.  It is possible that those who attempted to plant the seeds of discord may have gone too far and that the American people are beginning to see this effort for what it really is and to reject the message of hate and divisiveness.  We have more important issues that we need to face together - climate change, unemployment, a failing education system, health care, a housing crisis, an enormous national debt, eroding civil rights, a war in Iraq based on lies, a banking crisis, an energy crisis, and eroding International respect.

A much more constructive approach to fighting against extremism and terrorism is the effort put forth by the Leadership Group on U.S.-Muslim Engagement.  They have produced a report called “Changing Course: A New Direction for U.S. Relations with the Muslim World.”  The team who has put this together includes religious leaders, community activists, Muslims, non-Muslims, politicians, etc.  This report explores the problem of extremism and its causes and gives some sound recommendations for combatting extremism and improving the image of the U.S. worldwide.

As Michael Felson pointed out in Haaretz:  “As for fostering mutual respect - and here the strident cries of “Obsession” reverberate - the group urges us, for example, not to provide additional ammunition to extremist groups by linking the term “jihad” with their contemptible actions - since jihad, in the sense of non-violent spiritual striving, is a sacred obligation for all Muslims. Overall, it calls on U.S. leaders to acknowledge and respect Islam’s religious tenets, while condemning extremist violence as reprehensible not only to U.S. citizens, but to the vast majority of Muslims across the globe.”


The National Council of Churches Interfaith Relations Commission has issued a statement against the Obsession DVD which said in part:

“We are deeply troubled by the apparent intent of a film that presents a barrage of violent images, pieced together with the voices of commentators who move from speaking of “radical Islam” to impugning Islam and Muslims more generally and presenting fear-mongering parallels between today’s extremist terrorists and the Nazis.  The National Council of Churches and its member churches consistently and adamantly denounce anti-Semitism in all its forms and condemn all forms of ethnic, racial, and religious hatred, including the Islamophobia typified in this film.

The stated aim of this film is to alert and educate the public about the dangers of terrorism perpetrated in the name of Islam.  We recognize that in all our traditions, extremists and radicals have forged the weaponry of violence. The National Council of Churches condemns extremism, terrorism, and religiously motivated violence, as do our Muslim dialogue partners here in the United States and globally.  We stand firmly against terrorism in all its manifestations. However, the content of this film has no useful analysis of terrorism beyond a shallow, monolithic, clash-of-civilizations theme that suggests that the only two responses to “radical Islam” are war or appeasement.  Such a false choice serves only to incite the fear of Islam and aggression against Muslims. 

As an alternative to the message of this DVD, we lift up the current and unprecedented worldwide exchange between Christians and Muslims. The Muslim initiative, “A Common Word Between Us and You,” has gained wide response from the churches, including the National Council of Churches, and has generated an ongoing process of dialogue. Building constructively on the foundations that unite us in fractured world provides a far more hopeful way ahead for Muslims, Christians, and Jews alike.” Full statement


Jewish Voices for Peace has published a statement “We Stand With You”: “In recent weeks, over 28 million copies of the virulently anti-Islam movie Obsession have been distributed to people across the country–including every pastor and rabbi in America; the words “Muslim” and “Arab” have become synonymous with “Terrorist”; and now many openly state that being a Muslim-American or Arab-American disqualifies one from holding elected office in this country.  A strong democracy requires a majority that stands up for the minority, refusing to remain silent when others fuel the fires of division and hatred. We are appalled by the recent escalation of demonizing attacks against Arabs and Muslims. These are attacks on people we are proud to call our neighbors, colleagues, loved ones and fellow citizens. As Jews and other people of faith, we know too well the price when others remain silent. To our Arab and Muslim friends, we say we stand with you.  As people committed to a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians, just as we condemn Muslim extremists who demonize Jews or Christians, we also reject efforts by Christian and Jewish right-wing extremists to stigmatize all Arabs and Muslims in an effort to build support for unfair policies in the Middle East. It is in our interest as Jews, as Americans and as human beings to end Israel’s unlawful occupation of the Palestinians, and to fully recognize each other’s humanity, regardless of religion, skin color or ethnicity.”  On the statement site individuals can send in their photograph and a brief statement in support of Muslim and Arab Americans.  It is a heartwarming effort.

Campbell Brown spoke up and said “so what if Obama were a Muslim”.  Colin Powell also made a moving statement.  Powell said:

“I’m also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, “Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.” Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, “He’s a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists.” This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son’s grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards—Purple Heart, Bronze Star—showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn’t have a Christian cross, it didn’t have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way. And John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know. But I’m troubled about the fact that, within the party, we have these kinds of expressions.

And, lots of other folks are beginning to speak out:

An interfaith group in florida issued a statement that said in part:  “We, the undersigned, call upon all Americans of conscience to counter the Islamophobia disseminated through the screening of “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West” by the Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum on Friday, January 18, 2008. We call on the Attorney General to represent the mandate of his office, which is to preserve the safety of all Floridians and not to target any group with bigotry emanating from propaganda which threatens a vulnerable population.”

“This is no longer a discussion about Muslims. This whole enterprise becomes the responsibilites of Christians and Jews and other religious people to stand in their pulpits to educate and refute these claims. I think that this distribution will have echoes in this society for a very, very long time. We will for a very long time be involved in rebutting, correcting the record, and defending those people who are being defamed.”  Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak, co-founder of

“In the Jewish tradition, we hold a particular disdain for people who are, as we say, “sinners with the permission of the Torah.” That is, we deplore individuals who selectively apply the permissions and restrictions to claim that they are within the sacred instructions in pursuit of disreputable and destructive ends.  If you would like to see an example of such people in an American context, you need only look to the production and distribution of “Obsession.” Claiming a concern for the United States and documentation of aberrant elements in disparate expressions of Islam, the creators of this film have constructed a thinly-veiled call for disparagement and distrust of all Muslims. And exercising the rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution, the distributors of this DVD have attempted, by inference and innuendo, to limit the rights of Muslims to enjoy the free exercise of their faith. To add insult to injury, the targeted markets for this film are states considered critical to both Presidential candidates in order to influence the outcome of the election in favor of their candidate. Free expression, free press, free elections – all of these values that Americans cherish and protect are being used cynically to justify the excesses and instigations of “Obsession.”  Rabbi Jack Moline, Interfaith Alliance (Note:  more than 80 interfaith leaders signed on to the Interfaith Alliance statement)

“Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West, is a documentary film that takes a few specific events, tosses in a few dark and ominous clips of radical Islamists, mixes in bits of distorted history and ties it together with angry and, at times, naive interviews. The result: An absurd conclusion that Muslims of the world are plotting to destroy the United States. The film is total nonsense.  To the great shame of American journalism, over the course of two week-ends in mid September, 28 million copies of Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West DVD were delivered in local newspapers to voters in swing states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Colorado, Iowa, Florida, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Virginia.  The film would have viewers believe that Muslims everywhere are a threat to the United States. This includes, dear friends, any friendly neighborhood Muslim family (including yours, if you happen to be Muslim), which faithfully attends Friday prayers at the local mosque. Would these newspapers have agreed to toss 28 million copies of a hate propaganda film onto America’s front porches attacking Christianity or Judaism?”  James M. Wall,  Editor and President from 1972 to 1999 of the Christian Century Foundation, Adjunct Professor of Religion and Culture at Claremont School of Theology

“The movie is appalling, a piece of the most blatant sort of pernicious propaganda. We have formed a task force to see what we can do to countervail against it.” Robert Bruttell, an adjunct professor of religion at the University of Detroit and a member of Interfaith Scholars, which is part of the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity & Inclusion

“Similar to the way in which Mel Gibson’s hate-filled “Passion of the Christ” was screened in the fundamentalist Christian community, so too have the producers of “Obsession” marketed their film to the Jewish synagogues and Christian Zionists to create a grassroots movement of anti-Muslim hate that dispenses with academic discourse - for which the film has great contempt and says so at regular intervals - and the hope that dialogue might present for a more peaceful future.  As Itamar Marcus states explicitly in the film, there is no point in discussion; the implication here being that all we have is violence.  And it is through this note of violence that “Obsession” inscribes itself within the very circle of hate and propaganda that it ostensibly aims to combat.  It is therefore a mutual sense of incomprehension that is meant to control the discourse and reinforce the Manichean world-view of each side and leave us resigned to a future of hopelessness, fear and perpetual war.  Such is the Pyrrhic victory achieved by those who insist on propaganda and rhetorical violence as a means of discourse.”  David Shasha, Editor Sephardic Heritage

“... a hateful message that maligns Islam and paints all Muslims with a broad brush as a hateful bunch hell-bent on violence.” the Executive Committee of the Miami-Dade County Asian-American Advisory Board

“If all Muslims are truly our enemies, what is next? Round them up and put them in camps so we can keep an eye on them? That’s ludicrous. We must as a nation stand against prejudice and intolerance and hate. And if we don’t, we have to question why we even exists as a nation.” Rabbi Marvin Schwab, Santa Fe, New Mexico interfaith leader

“Obsession” is an attempt to make not a band of terrorists but all Islam the enemy. Bad enough in itself; even worse that it was deliberately sent to millions of homes through newspapers in the major “swing states” of presidential politics. It was an attempt to transform religious fear and ignorance into religious hatred, and hatred into an election tool.”  Rabbi Arthur Waskow, The Shalom Center

“We are here as a group of diverse individuals representing all kinds of communities to indicate to those people who, for their own self-serving purposes, created this DVD to let them know that they will not succeed. They may have started something that they may resent in the long run. After all, they were hoping for destruction and violence, they were hoping to divide us. The fact of the matter, this has brought us closer together to communicate to the community at large to indicate that those who spew hate will not succeed.” Rabbi Allen Freehling, Executive Director of the Los Angeles City Commission on Human Relations

“The movie is appalling, a piece of the most blatant sort of pernicious propaganda. We have formed a task force to see what we can do to countervail against it.” Robert Bruttell, an adjunct professor of religion at the University of Detroit and a member of Interfaith Scholars, which is part of the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity & Inclusion

According to an article by Sarah Posner in Jewish Week:  “Now, the content of “Obsession” and its ties to Aish are leading some rabbis to strongly criticize the production — and Aish HaTorah itself —for, as they view it, using a broad brush-stroke to smear the entire Muslim community. Some fear the central role of Aish HaTorah officials in “Obsession” and two other films by the same producers puts Jews at the center of those promoting a “clash of civilizations.”

“I don’t think the film is a fair presentation of the issue, nor do I think that was the filmmakers’ goal,” said Susskind, whose group is composed in part of local Jewish community relations councils in cities nationwide. The apparent role of Aish HaTorah in the production has left many of those councils, which work with other local groups, including Muslims, anxious that the film might be perceived as “something being promoted by the Jewish community.”  Hadar Susskind, Washington director of the Jewish Council on Public Affairs

“There is a disclaimer at the beginning of the film, one sentence saying that the majority of Muslims worldwide are not extremists. But it comes right after an image of a terrorist with a rifle. And that is the only disclaimer. The rest of the film simply overwhelms it.”  Rabbi Steven Jacobs, rabbi emeritus of Temple Kol Tikvah in Woodlands Hills, Calif., is co-founder of the Coalition for Rnewing American Democracy, a recently formed multifaith group established to counter the production.

Jeffrey Goldberg notes in his article “The Jewish Extremists Behind Obsession”:  “Obsession” “the work of hysterics ... designed to make naive Americans believe that B-52s filled with radical jihadists are about to carpet-bomb their churches, and are only awaiting Barack Obama’s ascension to launch the attack. ...  “The tragedy of ‘Obsession’ is not that it is wrong,” he wrote in his Blog. “The tragedy is that it takes a serious issue, and a serious threat — that of Islamism — and makes it into a cartoon.”

The Interfaith Partnership of St. Louis denounced anti-Muslim bigotry.

Five newspapers that have refused to carry the Obsession DVD insert:  the Greensboro News & Record in North Carolina.  The Saint Louis Post Dispatch  The Star-Banner in Ocala, Florida.  The Detroit Free Press.  The Cincinnati Enquirer.  The Cleveland Plain Dealer. 

The President of Interfaith Alliance National, Rev. Welton Gaddy has issued a statement on the distribution of this DVD.

The President of the Triangle Interfaith Alliance (Raleigh, NC) has issued a statement on the distribution of this DVD.

Many concerned scholars have issued a statement about Islamophobia in the 2008 U.S. election campaign.  And there is a statement from American Religious Leaders in Response to Mass Distribution of ‘Obsession’.  Both of these continue to gain endorsers.


The Endowment for Middle East Truth has pulled out of the Obsession project altogether.

Howard Gordon who is the executive producer of Fox’s drama “24” (and who is listed on the cover of the DVD insert as a supporter) has withdrawn his support for the film and released a statement in which he said: “After being contacted by a number of people whose opinions I respect and after reviewing Obsession with their criticisms and concerns in mind, I have asked the film makers to remove my endorsement from the Obsession website and from any future promotional materials. While I remain committed to the film’s essential message—that the hate-mongering promoted by radical Islamism presents a real threat to western values of tolerance and pluralism—I also appreciate that the goal of co-existence and tolerance is not being served by films like Obsession.”

Khaleel Mohammed one of the Muslims interviewed in the film has released a statement saying in part: “Sadly, it would seem that I have allowed myself to be used. I gave an interview to the makers of “obsession” wherein I explained the meaning of Jihad, and its misuse by extremists. I understood that the film would be used objectively, focusing on fanatics who seek to spread violence. I am aware that there is a disclaimer at the beginning of the film that says it is not about Islam in general, but only about extremist interpretations. ... I cannot stand by silently and allow my participation in such satanic demonization of innocents. I apologize to my fellow Muslims for appearing in such a film. I apologize to my Jewish teachers and friends—who have warned me time and again about falling into such a situation—for not heeding their counsel.”

RESOURCESResources for Responding to “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War With the West” DVD Mass Distribution to 28 million Americans. 
History of Obsession: Radical Islam’s War With the West
Who is behind Relentless, Obsession and The Third Jihad? for a background on those responsible for the production, mass distribution, and promotion of the film. 
In-Depth Summary & Analysis of “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War on the West” for a point by point discussion of the film.
What You Can Do to respond to Obsession.
Americans are becoming indifferent to Obsession