Imam Zaid Shakir’s critique of “Obsession” in Tikkun

Imam Zaid Shakir’s critique of “Obsession” in Tikkun May 6, 2009

Imam Zaid Shakir has an insightful piece in the current issue of the progressive Jewish magazine Tikkun refuting the Islamophobic hysteria and tendentious historical revisionism of "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West", the 2005 pseudo-documentary that was widely distributed in America last year by shadowy neocon and hardline Jewish groups in an obvious attempt to stir up anti-Muslim prejudices and scare voters away from Barack Obama, whose father was a (nominal) Muslim and who spent part of his youth living in the Muslim world.

Here's the beginning. Tikkun Magazine – Obsessed with Defamation and Slander By Zaid Shakir

This past September, 28 million copies of the anti-Islamic propaganda documentary Obsession were distributed free of charge in what were considered the "swing" states in the past presidential election campaign. This effort was clearly designed to leverage the idea in the minds of some Americans that Senator Barack Obama is a Muslim (he is not), seeking to identify him with the images and statements of Muslims portrayed in the video. These portrayals give the impression that Islam is a fanatical, bloodthirsty religion, whose adherents are hell-bent on destroying America. By implying a connection between Senator Obama and "radical" Islam, the film sought to prove that Obama was too anti-American to be seriously considered for the highest office in this land.

The film is propaganda that relies in some instances on distorting the truth and in others on blatant lies or vile innuendos. The film points to some extreme doctrines that the overwhelming majority of Muslims readily condemn, implying that "radical" Islam is the new fascism and that it poses an existential threat to the United States. This allegation is false and dangerous. To support this allegation, the film's producers juxtapose scenes of Nazi marches and other forms of political imagery with corresponding Muslim images

It's a great piece that needs to be widely discussed. I particularly like his comparison of the military resources brought to bear in the respective conflicts (i.e., WWII and the so-called War on Terror). It's an elegant way of showing how utterly dissimilar the respective threats are/were.

This observation doesn't detract at all from Imam Zaid's arguments, but for whatever it's worth I'm inclined to approach this Islamofascism claptrap from a different angle. I think it's ultimately more effective to concede that, sure, some Muslims have at some points in 20th century history and for specific reasons allied themselves to some extent with fascist campaigns, but make that concession part of a holistic valuable overview of how widespread such sympathies were around the world, including in America at the time. The claim that Muslims have been any more receptive to the siren song of Fascism is simply not supported by the historical record, and once that fact is highlighted the bias and myopia of this overheated rhetoric becomes impossible to overlook. And then the narrative collapses like the flimsy house of cards that it is.

The other reason I prefer this approach is that it forces mainstream observers (many of whom inevitably harbor a variety of anxieities and/or misconceptions about Islam) to confront the underlying assumptions that unconciously treat Muslims by a special, ultimately ahistorical standard. Even if one wins the media debate about which image is more typical of Muslim sympathies, the bias that makes these myopic canards seem credible remains in place.

Also, I worry that the most important corrective point–the diversity of Muslims–easily gets drowned out in a discussion of this that is based on these dueling lists of evidence, especially given the inherent sensationalism of MSM discussions. There are all sorts of facts about Islam and Muslims that refute Islamophobic hysteria and which are very evident from the historical record, but which nonetheless get short shrift thanks to sensationalism and already-entrenched MSM narratives. When the media is naturally inclined to dump evidence against one side's narrative down the memory hole, the other side's most effective response is to shortcircuit the whole pseudo-debate by highlighting its faulty premises.

As is so often the case in the GWOT debates, I think the best defense here is simply context. Then you don't even need to refute. That, of course, requires Muslims to set aside sometimes overly idealized images of Islamic history, past and present, but there's no legitimate doctrinal reason for Muslims to find that humility threatening–we just have some bad habits. But that's another discussion.

In any case, there's more than one way to skin this diseased cat. Imam Zaid brings some critical and woefully neglected historical facts into this often dreadfully biased discussion.

More on that third rate propaganda piece. Obsessionwithhate.com – The Real Story behind the Obsession Hate DVD

Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West is a 2005 anti-Muslim propaganda film put together by controversial anti-Muslim figures to further the perceived divide between Western and Muslim audiences. 28 million copies of the DVD were recently distributed by a mysteriously-funded entity by the name of the Clarion Fund with the help of 70 US newspapers in a curious and unprecedented campaign. This large distribution, particularly given it was targeted to swing states in the current elections cycle, piqued the interest of many, especially civil rights watchdogs.

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