THE battle of the Middle East, it seems, is now being fought in America's heartland.
No, not the gun-toting, grenade-throwing battle, but a battle of a different kind. It is a battle to smooth the road to the White House for Republican John McCain.
Unfortunately, it is being fought at the expense of Islam and Muslims. The perpetrators of this phony battle are none other than a neo-con cabal that includes avowed Islamophobe Daniel Pipes.
A shadowy foundation by the name of the Clarion Fund is behind the wide distribution of a DVD titled Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West. The film was made in 2005 by Raphael Shore, a Canadian living in Israel. At the time, the film was not picked up by general distributors but was screened on American college campuses by Jewish and evangelical Christian student groups. It was also shown on CNN and Fox News amidst widespread protests from Muslim groups.
The film has been resurrected to help the Republican presidential ticket in the swing states. Seventy newspapers, including The Blade, in these key battleground states distributed free copies of the DVD as a paid supplement in their weekend editions. So far, in excess of 28 million DVDs have been distributed and a new blitz of direct mailing to households in these states is under way.
A New York based tax-exempt 501(c)(3) corporation, the Clarion Fund, is behind the free distribution of the DVD. The organization is mum about the composition of its board and unding sources. A hot link from the fund's Web site, in clear violation of the law, led to John McCain's campaign Web site. The link since has been discontinued.
During the Democratic National Convention, organizers tried unsuccessfully to have the DVD placed in delegates' packages. Undeterred, they walked around the convention facilities and gave DVDs to the delegates. The Republicans, on the other hand, were too happy to oblige and all delegates to the Republican National Convention received the DVD in their packages.
So what is in it that is so objectionable? Plenty.
The film starts with a premise that radical Islam is out there to destroy Western civilization. To make the case, it shows selected clips of anti-Western diatribes and violence from Arab electronic media. Then, in an old and tested cinematic technique, it intersperses film footage from the Nazi era and equates radical Islam with Nazism.
It is a powerful message and appeals to people already sensitized to the common refrain of the war of terrorism. What the film fails to show, however, is that current Arab and Muslim regimes around the world, even if they were so inclined (and they definitely are not), have neither the capacity nor the technological superiority to do what the Third Reich did. But the intended purpose of the film is not to enter into such historic and philosophical considerations but to tar the entire edifice of religion and discredit all Muslims. You repeat the refrain radical Islam often enough and after a while, people only hear the word Islam and equate it with Nazism.
Using this technique, one could make a derogatory film about any religion, ethnic group, or nationality. Using half truths, false and misleading historic juxtapositions, and a deep-rooted hatred of others, one could use the alchemy of slick movie-making to demonize anyone. As in the infamous swift-boat commercials of the last presidential election, the message sticks and the images linger.
Some would argue that most people can differentiate between radical and nonradical Islam and therefore moderate Muslims should not feel offended. The reality is otherwise. When Republican presidential nominee John McCain cannot tell the difference between Shias and Sunnis and wishes to continue the war in Iraq for the proverbial 100 years, how can we expect the average Joe to understand the difference between the peaceful majority and a warring and murderous minority?
So why did the newspapers facilitate distribution of this message of hate? The answer has to be that it was to help with their declining bottom lines. But there were a number of newspapers that decided not to distribute the film. According to John Robinson, editor of the Greensboro News and Record in South Carolina, the film is divisive and plays on people's fears and serves no educational purpose. He further said that the revenue it would have brought in was not a motivator. He concluded his reasoning by saying that just because you can publish does not mean you should.
Here is a lesson in civics and societal responsibility for the bean counters on North Superior Street in Toledo.