Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The October cinematic surprise, Part 1: The Sunday morning jihad

So, after the tragic death of my old computer monitor, taken out by, of all things, cat vomit, I hooked up my new 'used' monitor (a nice 19" model I got for a good price) and decided to give it a test drive.

I have found that DVDs always seem to play better on high-resolution computer monitors than on conventional tube TV sets (I'm too stubborn and frugal to upgrade to HDTV quite yet). And I have a few DVDs that I like to watch on a computer, including CGI-heavy films like "The Matrix" or "300," or even a Pixar animated offering. For some strange reason, though, the disk I chose to christen my newly acquired monitor was some freebie that I salvaged from last Sunday's newspaper, a controversial Islam bashfest called "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against The West."

I held off on watching this until the other day, as it just didn't look all that exciting. We all know without watching what's in the DVD. We know that there are radical groups based in the Middle East that hate our guts. We know that fundamentalist Islamic television programmers tend to show rather outrageous, inflammatory rhetoric to the masses. Hey, we have people that do that here. The problem is, this DVD seems like an all-out attack on Muslims in general (though they run disclaimers that such is not the case). And that's not really fair.

Another problem with this film, originally released two years ago and now making the rounds again in the runup to the upcoming general election, is that we know so little about the people behind it. We know that it was written and produced by an Israeli-Canadian named Raphael Shore, who heads a shadowy nonprofit organization called The Clarion Fund. And in the past week or so, we know that Clarion spent untold amounts of money to freely distribute 28 million DVDs of the film in at least 70 Sunday newspapers, most of which are in so-called swing states. The group claims to be a non-partisan, non-profit organization, totally independent of any government, political or foreign entity. But some media outlets, including newspapers that distributed the DVD as an advertising supplement, are skeptical about the group and their intent. The Tampa Tribune reported that the Clarion Fund has yet to file a required 990 tax form with the IRS, which is required of all tax-exempt groups. And The Palm Beach Post pointed out in an editorial that the Fund "is not listed with Charity Navigator, which rates nonprofits based on efficient use of donors' money" and that Clarion has provided "No names of directors. No sources of money. Just the mission statement" on its website. The editorial concluded with the irony that Clarion itself seems to be "operating like the secret cells it warns about. Terrorists are cowards. In their own way, so are the people sending out this campaign ad."

Much of the controversy about the film as of late is in regard to the newspaper blitz. Some question the ethics of a so-called 'family newspaper' circulating a DVD featuring some rather grim and shocking footage that some groups would deem racially offensive. Some papers, such as the Orlando Sentinel, took a pass on it. Many others accepted Clarion's advertising money, saying that it was a sales department decision independent of the newsroom, and it was no different than running the weekly Lowe's circular. Most papers cited their First Amendment rights, which is understandable. But let's look at this from another standpoint. Would the same papers citing free speech justification take the same approach if some group came to them with their own DVD? How do you think that free copy of "Loose Change" or "9/11: In Plane Sight" would play out stuffed in the Sunday funnies? How about a DVD that attacks fundamentalist Christians for inspiring terrorists like Paul Hill and Eric Rudolph? How about if the same DVD showed clips from Pat Robertson, like when he called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez? Or Robertson claiming that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's devastating stroke a few years was a message from God warning him about coddling the Palestinians? Gee, wonder what the newspapers would think of offending those crowds?

So, what about the film? Well, as I said, I volunteered to watch it so you don't have to. And if you have indeed decided to take a pass on it and merely treat it as if it came from AOL, well, you aren't missing a whole lot. It's a standard talking head documentary intercut with snippets from television news shows from Islamic countries, crude internet videos, actuality feeds from anti-Western riots, American flag burnings, outlandish Iranian hip-hop music videos and even vintage Hitler/Nazi imagery. Palestinians are also broad-painted as terrorists. In short, it looks like a Mossad propaganda video.

And if that wasn't subtle enough, the disk also features a trailer for another Clarion release, "The Third Jihad," which looks like a continuation of the same theme as "Obsession." Not sure why they put in extended footage of Rosie O'Donnell, though. But I guess that unintentionally reveals something about the people releasing it.

Now, in this whole Israel/Islam debate, I choose to not take a side. Let them work out their turf beefs on their own. It's not really my concern. The sad thing is, the DVD is a blatant attempt by a foreign entity (with a U.S. branch office) to influence our presidential election, which is borderline illegal at worst, tacky at best. Clarion even offered up an endorsement of Republican John McCain for president on their site before snooping bloggers caused them to quietly 'disappear' it.

So, "Obsession" is what it is. Cheap propaganda that paints a whole race/religion with a very broad brush. The sound bytes taken from Arab television are rather interesting and sometimes a bit silly, but otherwise, it's an overly partisan snore. But if nothing else, at least now I can say I've heard Iranian hip-hop.

See the next installment for Part 2 of this election season cinematic rundown


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