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Rebutting Obsession                                        Single page

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

by Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak, Eli Clifton, Jane Hunter and Robin Podolsky, November 2, 2008

"If you want to get people to fight, you have to make them think there's a threat and they're in danger." Itamar Marcus, Obsession

1. Whose Obsession And With What?

The film, Obsession, purports to be about national security issues; but it does not offer the kind of careful analysis that such crucially important topics deserve. Instead, it offers an agenda-driven combination of emotionally laden images, distortions, omissions and, deliberately or not, outright misstatements.

Obsession vs. the Facts
By Eli Clifton

JewsOnFirst, an organization dedicated to the protection of the separation of church and state under the First Amendment, has published Rebutting Obsession: Historical Facts Topple Film's Premise that Violent Muslim Fundamentalists are Nazis' Heirs, Expose its Fear-mongering , a devastating critique of Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West. Obsession, a 2005 film that, in the name of exposing violent fundamentalism, casts suspicion on all Muslims, experienced increased exposure this fall, when the mysterious Clarion Fund initiated the unsolicited distribution of millions of DVD inserts inside swing state newspapers.

In support of the rebuttal, JewsOnFirst also offers a web-based slide presentation summarizing the key arguments, as well as profiles of the supposed experts interviewed in the film. Continue.

It is our assertion that this film's title, Obsession, works as a command as much as a description. We believe that the attitudes and ideologies appearing to drive the film are mirror images of those that the makers of Obsession impute to what they dub "radical Islam:" a unifying, objectifying fear and hatred of a collection of disparate countries, religious orientations, ethnicities and political cliques that combines them into one powerful, inexplicable, alien enemy — one that, the film hints ominously, includes our Muslim fellow citizens and recent immigrants to our country. At a time of transition and economic pain for the United States, Obsession builds an epic narrative that allows the viewer to project all of his or her real and various fears and anxieties onto one externalized, hated foe.

Most dangerously, the film is structured to belie its ostensible disclaimer of any intention to portray the entirety of Islam as a violent and hateful religion. Stock footage of Muslims bowing in prayer or circling the Ka'aba at Mecca are interspersed with frightening images of gun-wielding youths and speakers who misuse traditional Islamic concepts such as jihad to incite violence. Eerie, "Middle Eastern"-sounding world-beat music sets off both sets of clips.

The frankly anti-Islamic message of Obsession is most apparent when the viewer is being warned about the "danger at home." Undercutting the narrators' assurances that the masses of peaceful, "good" Muslims are not to blame and ought not to feel insulted by any insinuation they might infer from Obsession, is the repetition of the word "infiltrated," and the frightening message that the saboteurs among us may be indistinguishable by dress, manner or any outward sign — save that they are Muslim. To understand why this is dangerous, one need only remember the situation, during World War II, of Japanese Americans and the stigma faced earlier in the 20th century by non-Anglo-Saxon immigrants, including Jews1. Anyone needing reassurance after viewing Obsession might find it in remembering the degree to which all of those groups have, after all the fuss, helped to shape and become shaped by the culture of our country.

The Worst Accusation

Key to the Obsession narrative is an attempt to portray violent Islamic fundamentalism as a seamless continuation of Nazi fascism. Obsession strafes us with images, such as recurrent footage of the 9/11 attacks conflated with film from the Holocaust, to which we can't help but respond viscerally. It means to conflate outrage against these crimes with an acceptance of the very particular politics of the film, and to imply that a failure to accept the latter is a betrayal of the victims of the former. We are asked to forget the Cold War decades that elapsed between World War II and the rise of violent fundamentalism in the Middle East in order to associate that fundamentalism with the movement that in the West has become a key signifier of radical evil.

The argument that what Obsession's pundits persist in calling "radical Islam" is a direct ideological descendant of Nazi fascism, depends, as we will show, on staggering omissions and distortions. Any viewer who is effectively dissuaded from carrying on further research by fear of what the talking heads of Obsession dub political correctness, and what others might call a healthy curiosity, might come away from Obsession with a picture of history in which whole decades -- those in which the Cold War and the struggles for independence by formerly colonized nations that configured much of international politics -- never happened.

Obsession's invocation of the now familiar right-wing meme, "politically correct" is augmented with pseudo-psychological reflections about "denial." That discussion is punctuated with an image that has an inescapable, visceral effect on most Americans and any Jew watching the film: footage of a ranting Adolf Hitler. Itamar Marcus2 of Palestinian Media Watch compares "the press" of today to Neville Chamberlain.

The makers of Obsession wish for its audience to commit to the idea that "radical Islam" represents the sort of threat (that word is repeated over and over by the talking heads) that the Nazis did — and to regard their Muslim American neighbors with the suspicion that they might harbor within themselves just that degree of evil. The film juxtaposes footage of Hitler youth with awful scenes of very young children in Muslim and Arab societies purportedly being taught to envision themselves as soldiers and to parrot statements of deep contempt for Jews. (A professional translator has determined that, in at least one such scene that purports to children preparing to become suicide bombers, the on-screen translation is skewed to the point of misrepresentation. Please see Obsession's Translation Errors.)

Some of the most repulsive footage shown is taken from a Syrian movie made for satellite television called Al-Shatat. The film presents the ancient blood libel, first propagated by the medieval Christian church, that Jews slaughter Christian children in order to use their blood in making the Passover ritual bread.

However, even Bernard Lewis, advocate of the "clash of civilizations" theory, indicates that such imagery did not gain immediate currency among Muslims during World War II but has increased dramatically since the 1967 war leading to the occupation and military rule by Israel, of land inhabited by Palestinians who are not Israeli citizens.3 It is imperative to bear in mind that, before the military conflicts occasioned by the establishment of the state of Israel, the Christian blood libel was almost unheard-of among Muslims. Most Muslim countries contained sizable Jewish populations that had been mostly stable for centuries, albeit, as minority cultures, vulnerable.

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1. Ronald Takaki, Strangers From a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans, Penguin: New York 1989, pg. 30, 148, 201, 231, 328-329. Naomi W. Cohen "Friends in Court: An American Jewish Response to Antisemitism" in Living with Anti-Semitism: Modern Jewish Responses (Brandeis University and University Press of New England: 1987). Edited by Jehuda Reinharz. Pgs. 316 and 317.

2. Marcus, who resides in the occupied territory, once worked on staff for David Bar Illan, communications director for Benjamin Netanyahu. According to an article in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, January 2, 2001, by Akiva Eldar, "What Did You Learn in School Today, Palestinian Child," Marcus has continued to blame "Palestinian textbooks" for teaching hatred of Jews, even though the first textbooks printed by the Palestinian Authority — as alternatives to the Egyptian and Jordanian books that contained the objectionable messages — have deleted all stereotypical references to Jews as ‘treacherous" and, also, all calls for the destruction of Israel. This lack of attention to important changes in the facts does not speak well of Marcus’ analytical precision.

3. "Anti-Semitism in the 21st Century, Public Broadcasting System, first aired in January 2007. Please also see here.

Contents of our special section:
Rebutting Obsession