I have to admit the first thing that attracted me to Martyn Burke’s “Islam vs. Islamists” was that PBS had suppressed it. As is now well known, the Public Broadcasting network rejected Burke’s documentary – produced with Frank Gaffney and Alex Alexiev for the network’s “American Crossroads” series – on the film’s completion. PBS’ initial explanation for this blackballing was that the film was not good enough, aesthetically.
Well, yes, I thought when I heard that; that could be. Most things are. As a filmmaker I know that well. Not to my credit, I am usually especially hard on my fellows’ work – and on my own. Only one of the films I have written – Enemies, A Love Story – can I even watch today. Most PBS documentaries I find so stultifying I would rather read the phone book. The network has yet to produce its own Nanook of the North, to put it mildly.
So I assumed the criticism of Burke’s film was valid. Still, I was curious. I had not been entirely satisfied with previous documentaries I had seen on related subjects – Islam: What the West Needs to Know and Obsession – because, like Al Gore’s global warming film, they were made in the old-fashioned didactic style of the conventional documentary that always teeters on the edge of propaganda or special pleading. I assumed Islam vs. Islamists would be like that.
Boy was I wrong. Burke’s doc is a riveting and creatively made film about the most important subject of our time: what to do about radical Islam? It confronts this dilemma in a sly, novelistic manner, inter-weaving the stories of good, moderate Muslims with the Imams and supposedly “true Muslims” who, not surprisingly, accuse the moderate Muslims of not being Muslims at all. Soon enough we learn these Imams are apologists for terrorism and for the worst kind of medieval religious sadism. (One of them enthusiastically endorses the stoning to death of adulterers by holding up a Koran. “I didn’t make this up,” he says proudly. “It is written here.”) The mostly mild-mannered moderate Muslims are shown to be at risk for the lives, some of them accompanied everywhere by bodyguards.
All this is done with the people talking about themselves and revealing themselves (including the Imam responsible for the bloody Danish Cartoons riots). There are no so-called “terrorism experts” or other talking heads interpreting reality for us. In other words, this is a film, not another one of those didactic docs referred to above.
But it does have a strong point of view – and therein lies the rub. PBS, clearly, does not like what this movie says. And I suspect it likes it less because the film is well made (the reverse of what the network originally claimed).
PBS’ views seem particularly troglodytic today in light of recent events at Fort Dix. But that is the least of it. What is far more important to our country is that our Public Broadcasting network, an organization supported by taxpayer money, is practicing the most obvious censorship. PBS is operating here in the manner of similar institutions in the former Soviet Union and in modern day Iran – financing artists and then withholding distribution of their work when it is not deemed ideologically “correct”. It’s a form of thought-control and it’s unconscionable.
I hereby call on my fellow Motion Picture Academy members, whatever their political leanings, to protest this cowardly and un-American act of censorship. As artists, we should be appalled by such blatant disregard of our First Amendment rights. Public funding of PBS should be reconsidered if such reactionary behavior continues.
HOW CAN I SEE THIS FILM?
As of now, you can’t. There have been three public screenings so far, two in Washington and one in New York (standing room only). Another is under discussion for Los Angeles. Pajamas Media will keep you apprised if this happens.
WHAT CAN I DO?
You can sign the petition protesting PBS’ censorship here.
The gentlemen at PBS directly responsible for this censorship are, according to Mr. Burke, Leo Eaton and Jeff Bieber. Bieber perhaps tipped his hand more than he intended when he told Martyn Burke “Don’t you check into the politics of the people you work with?” – evidently referring to Messrs. Alexiev and Gaffney.
As Burke told me about his whole experience, “I’m living the Hollywood Ten in reverse.”
So it seems.