Please read the 2/23/12 update at the end of the article.
Whenever I hear Christians claiming that Muslims are “violent,” I immediately become suspicious and I try to discover on what basis the accusation is made; so, when Wretched TV posted a YouTube clip titled “Those Peaceful Muslims” on their Facebook page, I was compelled to watch it, and I was disturbed by what I saw.
If you don’t know, Wretched is not your typical conservative Christian news show; it is affiliated with Way of the Master/Living Waters ministries and has a consistent theme of finding clarity in the news, life, society, and relationships through a biblical approach to the Gospel, and often exposes the absurdities of the thinking/logic in our age through humor, a quirky personality, a fair handful of sarcasm, and seriousness when the topic calls for it. It takes its title from “Amazing Grace,” and the host, Todd Friel, considers himself to be the “wretch” in question.* Often in the show, they will play an interesting YouTube video that they found and Friel will provide Christian commentary on it. The show airs on a few Christian TV networks, and the TV and radio show both have very strong followings among the reformed community.
Because of their reputation and popularity, I was extremely saddened and angered when I watched their video on “peaceful Muslims” and discovered that they had intentionally and obscenely edited raw footage from the 2011 Arab International Festival in order to portray Arabs as violent, irrational, vulgar, hate-filled people. This deceptive editing and commentary is utterly unacceptable for Christians, particularly influential Christians, and so I hope and pray that Todd Friel and the rest of Wretched media will publicly apologize for their behavior and thoroughly reconsider their reporting and editorial practices.
What follows is an explanation of just how Wretched deceived their viewers and why it matters.
“Christians Preaching the Gospel” or Inciting Hatred?
Todd opens the Wretched TV clip by setting the scene for the YouTube video he is about to play: at the “Muslimfest” (more on that name later) in Dearborn Michigan, across the street from a group of Christians preaching the Gospel, a crowd of Muslims are responding to them, “Just as they do on the TLC show.” Todd’s sarcastic comment seems to imply that the following clip reveals the real nature of Muslims, unlike the cleaned up, politically correct image of Muslims in Dearborn found on the TLC show. Just a few seconds into the video, we can already recognize a familiar narrative about Muslims in America: They pretend to be peaceful, they try to blend in, but if we watch carefully, they will reveal themselves to be violent, irrational, and un-American.
The YouTube clip then begins, and we are shown a crowd of young men who appear to be Muslims cursing, flipping the bird, and even spitting on the camera!
What we don’t see is who these kids are responding to. Todd has already told us that the “Muslims” are reacting to “Christians preaching the Gospel” on the other side of the street, but in the video, all we see of these Christians is a quick shot of a few signs and the barely audible sounds of their “preaching.” However, with a bit of YouTube sleuthing, I was able to identify the Christians and hear their “preaching” of the “Gospel.” It turns out that these Christians were comprised of Ruben Israel, an infamous street preacher known for his offensive signs and his tendency to mock his audience and his friends.
In the original YouTube video (which was, apparently, filmed and posted by YouTube user connect741, not Wretched media) that Wretched TV used for their TV segment, we hear from one person that the Christians who were “preaching the Gospel” at the festival were calling Muhammad a pedophile, which it turns out was exactly the message Ruben was preaching while he was at the Arab festival, as you can see here in the YouTube video that he posted.
In addition, we get a clearer shot of their signs in the original video (see here):
Now, compare them with the signs in this video, released by Ruben Israel:
Finally, in connect741’s original video (on the left) we can catch a quick glimpse of Ruben standing with the street preachers. Compare that with the picture of Ruben taken from his YouTube video (on the right).
Clearly, this group of “Christians preaching the Gospel” was the group lead by Ruben Israel.
So, what exactly was the “gospel” that they preached? As you can see from the video, their preaching included comments like:
Muslims hate Jews, Christianity, and most of them hate America.
“Go dye your hair, blonde, go dye your hair.”
“You’re a wicked Muslim! You don’t know God” (Screaming at a person in the crowd).
“You’re a disgusting Muslim. You’re on your way to the devil’s hand.”
You get the idea. I’d strongly encourage you to watch the whole video, if you can stomach it. Near the end, a fight breaks out momentarily. The Christians claim that the Muslims started it, but what is very clear is that whoever threw the first punch, this group of Christian “street preachers” had been mocking, yelling at, laughing at, and inciting the festival goers for a long time before things got out of hand. Which was to be expected, since in Ruben’s pre-“preaching” speech to his cohorts, he tells them that their goal is to “avenge” the blood of Christians killed by Muslims. They went into this expecting violence and intending to give a “salty” message.
Considering the vile and hateful message these people were “preaching,” is it really any wonder that these Muslims were angry? Naturally, I don’t think this justifies their hate, but it does explain it. They were being incited to anger and violence by a group of Christians who went to “avenge” blood.
Suddenly, these Muslims don’t seem as irrational and violent as Friel made them seem.
Of course, it is quite possible that the Wretched people had no idea that the preachers’ messages were so violent and hateful, but that is really no excuse at all. Todd Friel tells his audience, as a statement of fact, that these people are “Christians preaching the Gospel,” which implies that what they are doing is loving, not hateful. In other words, Friel implies that the Muslims had no reason, except for their own inherent hatefulness and violence, to respond so angrily to the street preachers.
If they knew that this group was led by Ruben Israel, then they deceived their audience by saying that they were “preaching the Gospel.” If they didn’t know, then they deceived their audience by stating as fact (“Christians preaching the Gospel”) what they only assumed.
Not only does the clip grossly misrepresent the Christians, but the Wretched crew also edited out moments in the original video when older, more responsible Muslims tried to calm down the younger crowd, thus demonstrating that “Muslims” are not all violent thugs. And they also edited out the part when the cameraman antagonizes a Muslim by sticking his camera in the man’s face repeatedly until the man spits on it. We get the spit, but not the context.
If you watch the entire original video, you can see that this cameraman–a self-proclaimed atheist, not a part of the Wretched crew–had been antagonizing the festival-goers for some time. But in the Wretched version of the video, all we see is a group of violent, profane, hateful Muslims spiting on cameras and flipping the bird at peaceful Christians who just want to share the Good News.
They lied. Period.
And then they lied some more.
Liberal, Ignorant, Postmodern Ladies or Peacemakers?
Todd introduces the next clip by describing the “liberal, postmodern” women who wanted to bring peace to the festival. You should already be able to catch the deception here. In the Wretched clip, we have no idea of what the “Christians” were doing, and why these two old ladies might have felt that both groups needed to learn how to live peacefully.
The Wretched video makes it seem as if political correctness (once again!) has kept those liberals from condemning Muslims for their violent ideology. But if those street preachers were Ruben and company, it makes perfect sense for these ladies to insist that both groups need help. It would also mean that by failing to acknowledge the hatred and violent language from the “Christians,” and by repeatedly trying to get these ladies to admit that the Muslims were the violent ones, the cameraman was himself being deceptive and mean to these ladies.
But the story keeps getting better. After repeatedly sticking his camera in the faces of these young, angry Muslims–despite warnings to stop–a few of them start pushing the cameraman and it becomes clear that he is about to get beaten up. Guess who comes in to save the bellicose cameraman from his own folly? The two old ladies he had just finished mocking.
That’s right. The liberal, postmodern, ladies rescued the arrogant cameraman. But why doesn’t Todd tell us that? Why does Todd imply that these liberal ladies have no real concern for keeping peace when, in fact, they are quite willing to put themselves in harm’s way to save the arrogant?
The Bigotry of “Dearbornistan”
The evil of this Wretched TV clip comes not just from its thoroughly deceptive editing or Todd Friel’s arrogant sarcasm, but also from the racism/religionism inherent in the narrative Friel tells and the language he uses.
As I alluded to earlier, Friel presents a common narrative about Muslims in this video. Muslims are irrational, violent, hateful, animalistic threats to our country who have been sheltered by liberal political correctness. By sarcastically titling the video, “Those Peaceful Muslims” and grossly misrepresenting the situation, Friel is actively promoting the idea that Muslims (or at least Arab Muslims) are all violent animals; he is presenting evidence to support that narrative.
Then there are Friel’s witty comments about the Arabs:
Instead of calling it the Arab International Festival, which is the festival’s actual name, he calls it “Muslimfest.”
After showing the first clip, Friel comments that, “They look like Americans but act like Muslims.” The implication being that you can’t be an American and a Muslim and that the obscene and violent scene we have just watched is indicative of what real Muslims act like.
Dearborn Michigan becomes, “Dearbornistan,” suggesting that the American city has been turned into an un-American, Muslim city.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time Todd Friel and Wretched media have espoused bigoted views on Muslims. In this clip from the radio show, Todd reads a list called, “Ya Might Be a Muslim If,” which includes such lines as, “You might be a Muslim if you are amazed to find out that cellphones have other uses than setting off roadside bombs.”
Why Does This Even Matter?
Let’s recap quickly. Wretched TV intentionally edited this video to portray Arab Americans as violent, irrational, thugs. They misrepresented the “preaching” done by the Christians, either intentionally or out of gross negligence. They edited out the cameraman’s repeated attempts to incite violence. And they mocked two ladies who were anything but postmodern. In fact, Wretched TV’s willingness to utterly misrepresent this situation suggests that they have bought into the very postmodern belief that truth is merely an act of power and power is necessary and evil. If anyone is a postmodernist here, it is Wretched TV.
Let me be clear here. I did not write this to attack Wretched media or Todd Friel. But what they did was wrong. It was deceptive. It was sinful. And it had very real consequences.
They lied about the Arabs and Muslims at this festival, and thereby actively promoted a dangerous stereotype about Muslims. A glance at Wretched’s Facebook posting of the video shows that it was heavily shared and that some of their fans did take the video as evidence of the inherent violence of Islam. And on YouTube, the video has nearly three thousand views so far. Think about that.
They lied about the two old ladies and in the process lied about the ignorance of liberals.
Wretched media is an influential ministry that is quite popular among many conservative Christians. Through their gross deceptions in this video they have reinforced stereotypes about Arabs and Muslims and mocked specific people. What they did was completely unacceptable for any Christian organization.
Since the time of my original posting of this article, I have talked with Friel about my objections to this video. I found him to be humble, gracious, and open to correction. He agreed to pray about his “tone, delivery and sarcasm,” but we ultimately disagreed over the question of whether or not this video was deceptive. I stand behind my analysis and still believe that the video was deceptive. But I want to make clear that I do not believe that a mistake like this means that the entire Wretched enterprise is uncharitable or unreliable. People and groups make mistakes. At the same time, whatever good Wretched and Friel might do does not negate the deceptiveness of this video, and so, I still hope and pray that they will do the godly and loving thing by issuing a public apology and admitting their deception to their fans, apologizing to the peace group which they mocked, and apologizing to the Arabs and Muslims at the Dearborn festival.
A friend and fan of Wretched mentioned to me that my description of Wretched was still not accurate. He offered the above description marked by *.
In the original post, I mistakenly described Wretched TV as a “reformed Baptist” show. I corrected it to read “conservative Christian.”