‘Obsession’ movie blowback: Huge outpouring of reader revulsion

Hundreds of complaints, over fifty cancelled subscriptions to the North Carolina News and Observer, public editor criticizes own newspaper for accepting hatemongering video without first identifying who produced it.

‘Obsession’ was produced by The Clarion Fund. Three of the founders of The Clarion Fund, which is responsible for this movie, are leaders or employees in an extremist group called Aish Hatorah that has been identified on Rick Ross’ Cult Watch website as a cult. For more information about it, who the group is and why it is accurate to call it a cult, go to www.progressiveislam.info and search for Aish Hatorah.

Ted Vaden, the public editor at the North Carolina News and Observer writes:

Should The News & Observer allow itself to be used as a vehicle for disseminating offensive speech against a religious faith?

No, was the resounding response from readers who objected to a DVD that was distributed in The N&O last weekend. The video, titled “Obsession,” portrays radical Islam as an organized global terrorism campaign aimed at Jews, Christians and America.

It depicts armies of jihadist warriors, suicide bombers in training and armed children chanting anti-Western slogans. Images of Islamist militants are juxtaposed with scenes of goose-stepping Nazi troopers. Graphic footage displays carnage from attacks in New York, London and Madrid.

“This is a film about a radical world view and the threat it poses to us all, Muslim and non-Muslim alike,” a title says at the beginning of the video.

After the DVD was distributed Sept. 13, protests poured into News & Observer offices. We received at least 300 e-mail and phone messages, and about 50 people canceled subscriptions

“By taking responsibility for the delivery of this movie, an esteemed newspaper lent credence and stature to a movie which is, at best, hyperbolic, frightening propaganda. Surely, money cannot replace ethics,” wrote reader MARY HARRISON.

“Gee, if I was still teaching, this video could be a classroom aid to show how some use hate and religious intolerance to scare people,” wrote retired fourth-grade teacher MARY GILBERT of Raleigh. “However, I would not want to poison young minds by having them watch it.”

The DVD was distributed by The N&O as an advertising product, inserted along with the advertising circulars into the paper. Jim McClure, vice president for display advertising, said he recognized that the DVD would be controversial and consulted with other executives before accepting it.

But he concluded that the paper should not deny advertisers the opportunity to reach the N&O audience because their message is unpopular or offensive to some. “The ultimate question is, at what point do you draw the line and start censoring things based on comfort level?” he said.

Many readers, citing The N&O’s well-publicized revenue problems, accused the paper of selling out scruples for advertising dollars. McClure said the paper doesn’t disclose what customers pay for ads, because they expect confidentiality for competitive reasons, but money was not a factor: “There was no consideration that this was so lucrative that we have to lower our standards and accept this. It was accepted on its merits.”

….

I have a problem with this particular entry into the free-speech marketplace, because we don’t know where the speech is coming from. The DVD package contained a name and address for the sponsor, The Clarion Fund of New York City. A Clarion Web site gives no information about its directors or its funding. It says the film was made possible by a large donor, but doesn’t identify who.

Omid Safi, a professor of Islamic studies at UNC-CH, has researched the video and the Clarion Fund. He says the producer of the video is a Canadian native who now is a rabbi and Zionist leader in Israel. Distribution was aided by a Christian Zionist organization headed by Texas evangelist John Hagee, he said, and a Clarion Fund Web site recently published, then removed, an article that endorsed John McCain over Barack Obama for president.

Safi noted that the DVD was placed in newspapers only in key election swing states, suggesting it’s intended to scare voters into the McCain camp. “The whole premise of this film is that the West doesn’t know what radical Islam represents,” Safi said. “Fair enough. Tell us what you represent.” My calls to the Clarion Fund were not returned.

I think newspapers have an obligation to be as transparent as possible with readers about the information they provide. In this case, I think the DVD fell short in two respects.

First, it should have been labeled as paid advertising content, as the newspaper would require of a political advertisement. Despite the story on the front page, it’s clear from their comments that some readers perceived the video as somehow endorsed by The N&O. McClure said it’s the first time he could recall that The N&O has distributed a DVD.

More important is the lack of information about the source of this controversial content. Without that, the readers were not in a position to make an informed judgment about the message they received.

Story here.

Letter to the editor responses to ‘Obsession’ movie

From the Lansing (MI) State Journal

DVD Drives Away Reader



I found a CD, “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West,” tucked into my Sept. 14 LSJ.

Its packaging boldly claimed, “As seen on CNN and FOX News by more than 20 million viewers worldwide.”

I am distressed that the LSJ would distribute such inflammatory, fear-coddling material. I am disappointed that Lansing’s newspaper has become an extension of CNN and FOX News. I am saddened that the LSJ is unable to distinguish journalism from jingoism.

As a nation and as a people, we are greater than this hate-mongering. We are capable of finding other more constructive ways to address extremism and inequity, nationally and globally. Showcasing war, demonizing “the enemy,” and presenting the world in “us vs. them” terms, feeds continual hate, misery, and arms sales – not security.

The LSJ has been shrinking in size. It has now shrunk beyond any recognition as a responsible newspaper. Cancel my subscription.

Laura B. DeLind

Mason

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Who’s Behind DVDs?

I just received a DVD in that could potentially fuel anti-Muslim hate in the community.

This is a time when every well-meaning individual, regardless of religious or ethnic background, is trying to foster an atmosphere of unity and understanding amongst various diverse groups that make up America. This really prompts me to want to ask the following questions:

Why does the LSJ believe it is appropriate to profit from this kind of hate message? Who actually paid for these to be distributed and how much did it cost? Would you have distributed a similar hate DVD from a racist group, whether white, black, Hispanic, Asian, etc.?

Now, does sending out the DVD in key election swing states have to do with putting a candidate at an advantage? I trust I’d get a response to these questions.

Muideen Kareem

East Lansing

______________

LSJ Wrong On DVD

The inclusion of the anti-Muslim DVD, “Obsession” in the Sept. 14 LSJ does a gross disservice to our community. While radicals may claim affiliation with any religious group, their true culture is one of intolerance and violence. By contrast, Islam is known as a religion that values peace and equilibrium above all else.

Look at Eric Robert Rudolph, identified with the group Christian Identity, who was responsible for the bombing at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics that killed two and injured 111.

How about Timothy McVeigh? Raised as a Catholic, he killed 168 and injured an additional 800 persons in a domestic terrorism attack on the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

Would the LSJ have distributed a DVD that offers these two as proof that Christian extremists are mounting a threat to America?

At the very least, it should have been incumbent upon the LSJ to seek to identify The Clarion Fund or its financial backers before accepting its 30 pieces of silver to sell out Lansing’s Islamic Community.

Michael Forman

East Lansing

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LSJ Delivers Fear

When I opened my Sunday paper on Sept. 14, I found the glossy insert, “Obsession.” This gift was not a perfume sample. It was a DVD of a movie whose subtitle read “radical Islam’s war against the west.” It was produced by the Clarion Fund (http://clarionfund.org), a nonprofit organization “whose mission is to educate Americans about issues of national security.” Perhaps.

But, the timing of this “gift,” the pivotal role that Michigan will play in the November election and the film’s shadowy funding suggest the hands of the well-financed, pro-war backers of John McCain – whether McCain himself approves or not. This is the politics of fear, pure and simple.

This is also the Gannett Company, the LSJ’s parent, taking a back-handed partisan position in the election. I wonder if they would circulate a free movie that questioned the global war on terror, even if they were paid.

Subscribers and voters, back to you.

Jack Smith

Williamston

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From the Des Moines Register

Who’s really behind this propaganda?

The DVD enclosed in Sunday’s Register contains 60 minutes of propaganda aimed at convincing the viewer that “radical Islam” threatens everyone in our country and that very nearly everyone in Muslim countries grows up learning the beliefs of “radical Islam.”

Though several people are named as responsible for making, manufacturing and mailing the DVD, in spite of a strenuous search on the Internet, I learned almost nothing about the executive producer (Peter Mier), the director (Wayne Kopping) and the Clarion Fund Inc., the nonprofit that apparently sponsored the DVD and seems to exist only as a street address in New York and as a 501c(3) with no disclosed source of funding.

What did the Register ask to know about the Clarion Fund Inc. before agreeing to insert the DVD?

-Mark Kane, Des Moines

___________________________

DVD sought to sow fear in the electorate

I am incredibly disappointed in the Register for serving as the delivery agent for “jihad Swift Boating” by including the DVD “Obsession” in the Sept. 14 edition. I watched it in its entirety.

This DVD connects modern Jihadi to Nazi Germany ideologues. It attempts to scare us into a paranoiac approach to our place in the world.

While I do not deny that terrorism is a real threat, and feel strongly that we must all prepare to deal with it, this is a blatant attempt to frighten us into our own brand of Western militancy. The last eight years of the Bush doctrine have taught us the consequences of stirring the hornets’ nest of militant Islam in the Middle East. Saber rattling, “shock and awe” and cowboy diplomacy have only fueled hatred of the United States in the Islamic world and threatened our long-term security here at home.

The fact that this DVD, which was produced in 2006, should be released with less than two months before our national election and that it should be targeted for newspapers in swing states is a thinly veiled ploy to frighten the electorate into voting for the perceived “party most likely to protect us.”

I shouldn’t be surprised that the Republicans are willing to stoop to frightening footage to secure votes. I had not thought the Register would serve as the delivery boy for Jihad hysteria.

– James L. Fritz, Decorah

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Newspaper insert was vicious propaganda

When I opened the Register this past Sunday to find a hateful insult to Islam, a decent and humane religion, inserted in the paper under the guise of advertising, I felt angry, hurt, violated and disgusted. I am ashamed of the Register, which claims to be “The Newspaper Iowa Depends Upon.” Upon which groups will you next release such viciousness?

I had a long chat with your advertising manager and have been advised that the decision to allow this material into the paper was collective, that it took place at many levels of your corporation and that it was a difficult decision. Respectfully, I have to say that I disagree that the decision was so difficult. The ethical line you crossed was as bright as the sun and as wide as day.

I have read the Register for 17 years and have never seen in any publication, short of the neo-Nazi papers that used to get shoved in our mailbox in Pennsylvania during the ’60s, such disregard for the difference between propaganda and information. Your paper is responsible for the latter: Let the slimy characters who vend this other stuff pay for their own paper. Don’t sully your reputation, my home and the idea of responsible free speech in a democracy.

– David Devonis, Davis City

___________________________

From Denver Post readers

“It was a shock to receive that in my newspaper,” said Priscilla Linsley of Denver. “It is wrong to distribute hateful information on Islam.”

Sherryl Weston of Westcloud Consulting teaches multiculturalism at Colorado universities. She said the DVD baits people to be anti-Muslim. “The newspaper is not the place for it,” Weston said. “It’s not news. It’s not an ad. It’s propaganda.”

“How do newspapers justify the right to profit from anti-Muslim hate speech?” asked Imam Ibrahim Kazerooni of the Islamic Center of Al-Beit in Lakewood. “Would newspapers have done the same if the materials had been anti-Semitic?”

FEC inquiry initiated into group that sent hatemongering anti-Muslim movie to swing-state homes

“American voters deserve to know whether they are the targets of a multimillion-dollar campaign funded and directed by a foreign group seeking to whip up anti-Muslim hysteria as a way to influence the outcome of our presidential election.”

Hi,

I blog at www.Progressiveislam.info, a progressive politics-interested blog on the Soapblox platform. I’m posting this story here because there are no doubt American Indians in all the swing states targeted for distribution of the warmongering, hatemongering, DVD ‘Obsession,’ which is essentially an attempt to demogogue people into voting for McCain by inciting fear and alarm against Muslims. If you know someone who has seen this movie and been affected by it, checkout the second excerpt in this blog post (Do-it-yourself guide to deconstructing responses to Republican’s new anti-Muslim video, ‘Obsession’) to talk them down from whatever tizzy the movie may have put them into.

I’m also going to put up a separate post of the overwhelmingly negative responses from newspaper subscribers who received the DVD. Thanks!

For a list of all of the states that are being targeted by this video, check out www.obsessionwithhate.com.

From Associated Press (link below excerpt):

A U.S. Muslim advocacy group Tuesday asked the Federal Election Commission to investigate whether a nonprofit group that distributed a controversial DVD about Islam in newspapers nationwide is a “front” for an Israel-based group with a stealth goal of helping Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

The DVDs – which critics call anti-Muslim propaganda – were inserted this month into more than 70 newspapers and paid for by the Clarion Fund, a nonprofit founded in 2006. The group’s focus is “the most urgent threat of radical Islam.” It has declined to identify board members or its funding.

….

In its complaint, CAIR cites New York Secretary of State records showing that three people who incorporated Clarion Fund also are employees or have been employees of Aish HaTorah International, a Jerusalem-based Jewish educational organization that has offices around the world.

“American voters deserve to know whether they are the targets of a multimillion-dollar campaign funded and directed by a foreign group seeking to whip up anti-Muslim hysteria as a way to influence the outcome of our presidential election,” Nihad Awad, executive director of CAIR, said in a statement.

As evidence of a McCain bias, CAIR cites a story in the Patriot News of Harrisburg, Pa., which reported that a Clarion Fund Web site ran a pro-McCain article before it attracted notice and was taken down.

“If you heighten the hysteria over national security or terrorism or do anything to make people more fearful, it’s clear they would trend toward McCain because that’s been his mantra throughout the campaign,” said Ibrahim Hooper, a CAIR spokesman.

Under federal election law and the tax code, nonprofit groups are restricted from getting involved in candidate races and foreign nationals may not contribute to American campaigns. The DVD’s distributors say their efforts are issue-based and don’t break election laws.

The Canadian producer of the film, Raphael Shore, is a full-time employee of Aish HaTorah International, an educational group that avoids politics, said Ronn Torossian, a New York-based spokesman for the group. Shore’s work on the DVD project was not done under the banner of Aish HaTorah, Torossian said.

“These are independent activities of individuals,” he said.

Gregory Ross, spokesman for the New York-based Clarion Fund, declined to discuss the complaint’s specifics. He pointed out that it’s normal for nonprofits to keep donors’ identities private. He said the group has “thousands of donors that span the political spectrum.”

“We are not telling people who to vote for,” said Ross, a former employee of Aish HaTorah International. “We’re just saying no matter who gets in office, the American people should know radical Islam is a real threat to America. We don’t feel radical Islam is getting its fair share of press.”

The group is preparing to release another film, “Third Jihad,” but has no plans for mass distribution, Ross said.

Story here.

For complete background on the Aish Hatorah cult, including an expose on how Aish Hatorah targets secular Jews and misrepresents themselves in doing so to gain access and trust to groom them for extremism, as well as media stories showing the links of the hatemongering ‘Obsession’ movie to top leaders in the cult’s group, check out www.Progressiveislam.info.

Do-it-yourself guide to deconstructing responses to Republican’s new anti-Muslim video, ‘Obsession’

By FATEMAH KESHAVARZ

If you have received a hair-raising “documentary” called Obsession in the mail this weekend, you are not a chosen surprise winner, or the recipient of a kind anonymous gift. You belong to a sought after group of people: the residents of a swing state estimated to be an undecided voter. The film is supposed to convince you that your country is at war with the majority of Muslims who are willing to conquer America, kill or convert you, and establish a fascist empire. If you watch the film by yourself, and have no way of evaluating its content, chances are you will be convinced. Rather, you will be terrified.

That 28 million free copies of Obsession is landing on doorsteps in swing states at this point in time, speaks for itself. Nonetheless, people are digging deep in search of the sources of financial support for this largest campaign of fear conducted to date. I’d say more power to them for their efforts to expose this campaign of emotional manipulation reminiscent of fascist like ideologies that have resulted in massive human tragedies.  For now, however, there are easier and more practical ways of countering this scare attack. As a Muslim who has never been at war with anyone, I list five of them here.

First, the movie tells you that in a Muslim country, a non-Muslim is supposed to be killed or sold like an animal. Look, in your neighborhood or among colleague, relatives, and friends, for an ordinary fellow American who has travelled to a Muslim country in recent years. Ask if he or she felt the threat of being abducted, converted, sold, or killed at anytime during his or her stay in that country.

Second, the Movie claims that the Egyptian textbooks tell school children that Muslims should kill non-Muslims and take over the world. Egypt has millions of Coptic Christian inhabitants. In fact, they form 20% of the Egyptian population. Ask yourself how have they survived living in Egypt for thousands of years? Then, locate an Egyptian Copt through your local library, university, the internet, and/or friends. Ask that person if he or she ever saw such a statement in his or his children’s school books.

Third, invite a Persian speaking friend (of whom hundreds of thousands live in the U.S.) to watch the movie with you. When supposed scenes from the Iranian TV are shown, they will tell you that the actual language they hear is not Persian but Arabic. The documentary makers did not know what they were piecing together. They banked on the fact that the audience will not know that either.

Fourth, the film interviews supposed Muslim fundamentalists who have turned nice, loving, and truthful after conversion to Christianity.  Ask yourself why you should trust them anymore now than when they were ruthless terrorists – if indeed they were terrorists. If not, why are they lying?

Fifth, when images of large and loud crowds in the film frighten you, imagine someone taking a few shots from the GOP convention’s loud chants, put a scary voice over, add a few shots of American soldiers breaking into Iraqi homes in the middle of the night, and throw a few statements from right wing shows into the mix.  It could be sold to Muslim audiences as “The American War on Islam.”

Finally, please send this simple guide to a friend who has been terrified after watching Obsession and tell them to vote for Mr. McCain only if they like four more years of what they have experienced for the past eight years…not because Muslims are at war with America. They are not.

Fatemeh Keshavarz is Chair of the Department of Asian and Near Eastern Languages and Literature at Washington University and the author of Jasmine and Stars: Reading more than Lolita in Tehran.