September 28, 2008

Obsession with Obsession - radical islam and controversial film

A few weeks ago, the Charlotte Observer, along with the New York Times and other newspapers around the country, included a free DVD in its Sunday edition. The DVD was an abridged version of the film "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West."

The film has generated controversy because it is said to unfairly portray Islam as a violent religion, use fear-mongoring and appeals to emotion in comparing Islamic extremists with Nazis in 1930s Germany, and incite hatred toward all Muslims.

I watched the film and can see why some Muslims would be upset at it. However, I think that the film itself goes out of its way to differentiate between (and even endorse) the majority of Muslims in the world who oppose terrorism and violence from the minority who support and condone it.

But I must say that I can understand Muslims feeling negative towards it in general in the same way that I find myself critiquing documentaries on things like the Crusades, the Salem Witch trials, abortion clinic bombings and religious imperialism done in the name of the Church. These documentaries often feature speakers who are otherwise hostile or critical of Christianity in general (even though they don't appear so in the particular piece in question), thus I get frustrated because people then see them as an "expert" on Christianity. Likewise, these documentaries often don't feature promiently enough actual believing Christians who speak openly and honestly about why these atrocities go against the very nature of the Christian faith and are, therefore, to be seen as aberrations rather than examples of "radical Christianity." In addition, these type of documentaries usually mistranslate or take out of context passages of Scripture which leaves the impression that Christianity in some way does allow for these type of interpretations. Thus I end up not recommending such films or critiquing them for all the negative results they may have in not leading people toward the true message of the Christian faith.

This is precisely why I can understand the criticisms of "Obsession" by many moderate Muslims and Islamic groups. The film does not attempt to be pro-Islamic (though it tries not to be "anti-Islamic"). Some speakers in the film are openly critical of Islam in general elsewhere in their writings or interviews, yet are not indicated as such in "Obsession", leading one to believe they are "objective" in general toward Islam. This would be more acceptable to many Muslims, I believe, if the speaker's views toward Islam in general were made clear or noted somehow in the film for qualification purposes. Finally, the film translates many things on the screen which appear in Arabic, though the translations are apparently not accurate translations of what is actually on the screen.

These are valid criticisms against the film and deserve to be heard by non-Muslims who view it.

The charges of fear-mongoring, "hate speech", and racism that have been levelled against the film, however, are simply disingenuous in my opinion. They are on par with similar critiques levelled against "The Passion of the Christ" when it was released. The film depicts many Muslims in favorable light and even shows the violence committed by terrorists against fellow Muslims who do not agree with them. There is a clear and unambiguous disclaimer right at the beginning that specifically states that the film is about those on the fringe who use Islam to promote violence rather than the majority of Muslims who condemn violent Jihad.

So all in all, I have to say that I recommend people watch the film (which you can do for free on Google video or at the film's website It is extremely eye-opening (and heart-breaking), particularly regarding the indoctrination of violence and terrorist tactics to young children by radicals.


I also recommend watching the film with a critical mindset and listening to the concerns raised by non-radical Muslims about the film and the depiction of Islam in general (which can be found in a helpful format at As in every attempt at objectivity, "Obsession" does not achieve it, despite its intentions.

Any discussion of religion mixed with politics and violence will always be controversial--particularly among adherents of the religion in question. This should be kept in mind and weighed accordingly. However, in the case of "Obsession", I believe there is enough truth in it to outweigh the shortcomings and I believe it is worth watching if for no other reason that to generate critical thinking and discussion of these issues.

As usual, your comments are welcome. I'm curious to hear how others who received the DVD and have watched it feel about it.


1 comment:

Sam Filkins said...

Interesting post, James-Michael. Finally a reasoned look at the film. I saw it when it first came out a few years ago, and too found it quite even-handed and fair...far from painting the entire Muslim religion as "terrorists," it makes a point - as you noted - of differentiating between those radicals and extremists who are attacking us and their neighbors and the Muslim religion as whole, which is quite peaceful. I think this film deserves a fair look, as it's a very important part of the debate. Thanks again.

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