Last year, Islamist anger over the mass distribution of the DVD Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West was quite predictable. As is their modus operandi, the Islamist cry focused on victimology and attacking the messenger, while avoiding any real debate over the message of the DVD itself.
North Carolina proved to be particularly fertile ground for the validation of Islamist woes. One newspaper, the Greensboro News and Record, flatly refused to distribute the DVD, while another, the News and Observer, “allowed” the paid distribution of free speech but enclosed an editorial board op-ed, which served as an insert warning to readers.
But that wasn’t enough for Islamists. Some are now fighting back with their own DVD, entitled The Fog Is Lifting (Part 1): Islam in Brief, produced by an Egyptian nonprofit group, the Bridges Foundation. Some 20,000 copies of the DVD were distributed to three zip codes within Wake County, North Carolina. Bundled in an issue of the News and Observer, the DVD aims to “repair the image of Islam” and is allegedly designed to counteract the Obsession DVD distributed in the same paper in September of last year. While marketed to “explain” Islamic precepts and theology, it does so from only a single point of view. Islamist apologist Omid Safi, a professor of religion at UNC-Chapel Hill, described the DVD as follows:
It’s a full-throated defense of the tradition in which Islam is presented as the perfect egalitarian, scientific, pluralistic, modern religion that doesn’t have the flaws of all the other religions. … It remains to be seen if it will be seen as preaching to the choir, or if it will succeed in persuading people outside the Muslim community.
Apparently, Professor Safi believes that a video proselytizing to the general public, which proclaims Islam not to “have the flaws of all the other religions” and declares scientific doctrines like evolutionism wrong, is somehow preaching to the choir and constitutes an appropriate American message. He ignores the fact that there is a diversity of theological interpretations in Islam, including the varying schools of thought within Sunnism and varying sects within Islam, including Alevism, Sufism, and Shiism. Safi would have been more accurate if he had stated that the DVD portrays Islam as interpreted by the political Salafi movement. He then would have also had to concede that some Muslims would find such evangelism wrongheaded and a misrepresentation of the diversity of thought amongst Muslims here in the U.S. It is precisely this type of Islamist supremacism that prevents real reform today against radical Islam and marginalizes any Muslim thought that does not toe the line of political Islam or the Salafist movement.
Moreover, it is counterproductive for Muslim groups like the Bridges Foundation and so-called thought leaders like Professor Safi to support a proselytizing video of Salafist ideology in today’s post-9/11 climate, where moderate Muslims and non-Muslims battle against the root of Islamist terror, the ideology of political Islam. Even Khalilah Sabra with the Islamists at the Muslim American Society thought it obvious that the DVD “doesn’t address the real concerns people have about Islam.” It leaves out any discussion whatsoever of political Islam (Islamism), terrorism, and the root cause of both: militant Islamism (radicalized political Islam).
What seems to be missing in the debate is a candid effort to separate spiritual Islam from political Islam, which was at the heart of the DVD Obsession. The spirituality within Islam demands that Muslims assume the responsibility of tackling the root cause of terror which is perpetrated in Islam’s name. Any effort that fails to recognize and address the slippery slope that political Islam presents misses the mark and calls into question its intentions.
Consider the Bridges Foundation itself. Founded in Egypt, the birthplace of the Muslim Brotherhood and political Islam as envisioned by its founders, Sayyid Qutb and Hassan al-Banna, should the Bridges Foundation not be speaking out against the grand design of the Brotherhood?
This isn’t likely when one considers its director, Fadel Soliman, who is also the main narrator in the DVD. Soliman is a former national chaplain of a Saudi-based charity named the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) in Northern Virginia. According to the Washington Post, in May 2004, WAMY was shut down in a raid by the FBI, the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Joint Terrorism Task Force in connection with a terrorism investigation. In addition, the U.S. branch of WAMY was founded in 1992 by Osama bin Laden’s nephew, Abdullah bin Laden, whose connections with WAMY were suspect.
The Post notes, “An affidavit signed by Customs Senior Special Agent David Kane contends that a WAMY publication lists people who have attacked Israelis, including a man who killed 14 people by driving a bus off a cliff, as ‘heroes from Palestine.'” Moreover, the same affidavit states that the document also claims that “Jews are humanity’s enemies: they foment immorality in the world.”
Given this background, the distribution of the DVD now takes on a whole different meaning. Despite its somewhat innocuous message to “educate and inform,” the sources of the DVD, and more importantly producers’ intentions, cannot be wholly discounted.
All of a sudden, one realizes that the fog has not lifted. In fact, it has gotten much thicker. The media did not do a thorough investigation into the ideology behind the DVD and its distributors with even a portion of the fervor it demonstrated with the fall release of the Obsession DVD. I guess the media is in the fog as well.