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August 20, 2007

Islam vs. Islamists: Voices from the Muslim Center

Filed under: Uncategorized — lisoosh @ 11:30 pm

I came across this documentary tonight on one of my local PBS stations (lucky me I have three). It purports to show moderate Muslims in Denmark, France, Canada and the US who have been threatened for speaking out against radical Islam. It shows a Danish/Syrian legislator who spoke out against an attempt to set up a parallel Shaaria system in Denmark, a French Muslim journalist who uncovered a terrorist ring, a Canadian activist, a Sufi Imam in the US, an ex member of Nation of Islam who testified that the Saudis were actively promoting Wahabi Islam in the US and an American doctor who wants to promote Muslim/Democratic centrism.

Below is a trailer for the film. If you find the full version of the program online, be warned that there is a rather graphic segment showing women being stoned to death in the middle.

PBS Censored Documentary – Islam Vs. Islamists – Trailer

After viewing it and looking it up online it turns out that it was subject to a bit of controversy. It was originally commissioned as part of PBS series “America at a Crossroads” which was an 11 part (each independantly produced), 6 night series on Islam and America, but PBS decided not to air it because of perceived bias and inflammatory subject matter. One of the producers is Frank Gaffrey, who it turns out (I hadn’t heard of him) is a super neo-conservative, not exactly someone I share much in common with, but I would still have watched anyway.
I think that in originally banning it PBS gave it more power than it might have had if it had just remained part of the series – which would have fit it better as they chose a pretty narrow subject matter. It became a cause celebre of FOX news, right wing bloggers and the neo conservative establishment which used it as proof positive of “liberal bias” in the media.

So, what did I think? It was OK. I found the production to be a little rough, and was surprised to find that it was produced by a respected director. I also did find it a little narrow and alarmist in its focus. We see a few outspoken moderates who are being threatened by radicals. What we don’t get any idea of is how many radicals there might be, and how representative the moderates are. I would have liked to see more from moderate secular Muslims; it was good to see the ones we did, but they were presented as an embattled minority. The doctor did mention that the radicals are a very small minority and that there is a large silent majority, but that is all we hear.

Some interesting facts did emerge. It appears that the same cleric who was pushing for a parallel Shaaria system in Denmark was the same individual who incited the riots over the Danish cartoons. Even more interesting was that when he travelled to Arab nations to raise support, along with the cartoons, he also took other images, such as pigs with faces, and presented them as anti-Mohammed propaganda when they had no connection whatsoever.
Also, the Danish/Syrian legislator was being hounded by radicals pronouncing that they would never accept democracy or human legislators (making laws made them on a level with Allah, unacceptable). I don’t know how to reconcile that with living in a democratic country.
In the US, the Nation of Islam ex-member told of large amounts of Saudi money that was flowing to congregations and that the focus was on hard line Wahabi Islam. (This actually happened in a mosque near me, the more moderate Levantine congregation is now suing to have the Nation of Islam imam removed, America at it finest). The Sufi Imam mentioned the same thing. The doctor mentioned that the radical clerics moving in focus almost entirely on politics, not on the spiritual at all.

It was definitely interesting, if not the best documentary I have ever seen. I personally like to see separation of Church and State as much as possible – I deplore the extent to which Christianity is seeping into American politics and would like to see Israel separate Synogogue and State, so seeing the political aspects of Islam worries me.



  1. Lisoosh – this is a really provocative post, in a positive sense. For starters, WETA’s decision not to air the documentary was based on it’s evaluation that it is “alarmist,” “unfair” and “irresponsible.” In other words, they squelched it with the threat of the Islamists’ ace in the hole lurking about — the accusation of Islamophobia. The extremists win.

    You found it to be a bit alarmist. Well, I’m not sure we shouldn’t be alarmed. If the doctor’s experience is not atypical – and I don’t think it is – then the Wahabist view of the world, and its agenda, dominates the sermons in many of the mosques in America. That is not good by any stretch, and certainly not innocuous. We also have a few Pakistani-style Madrasahs.

    Here’s what I get at work from some Muslim colleagues, either directly or by innuendo. “America is to blame for the troubles of the Arab world, not us” or “calamitous events are part of the American-Zionist conspiracy.” But there is also a tendency among some of these people to accept a rumor from “back home” as factual news, especially if it seems to validate a negative view of the West or of Israel. These are well-educated people, professors with Ph.Ds (as well as friends, by the way).

    But there is another trend that is even more alarming and that is the presence of Christian extremists in powerful positions in the heart of government. Christianity has done more than “seep” into American politics. Sure it seeps in small ways, like among members of school boards, or city councils or state governments, and they never give up, even when slammed in court for proselytizing. But that is not so concerning as having Christian fundamentalists in charge of foreign policy with the ability to influence military decisions. And neither is the trend — if there is such a trend – to radicalize Islam in America. We should have a documentary on this, but it won’t happen.

    Very worrisome.

    Comment by Dan C. — August 21, 2007 @ 7:33 am

  2. Dan – I actually found this documentary by accident – there was nothing else interesting on TV – and found out about the controversy afterwards. I call it alarmist because of the breathless tone of the piece, and because of the imagery used such as the video of women being stoned (gruesome) which had nothing really to do with the topic and everything to do with instilling fear. I don’t doubt the veracity of those interviewed, and several were very impressive, I would have just liked to see some numbers. I say this because I have read plenty about “fanatical Jews” where they are presented as a huge presence whereas they are actually a pretty small minority, though growing and vocal. Percentages are important as is cynisism when watching anything.

    That said – CNN will have a series on this week focusing on religious extremism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I don’t know how good it will be but intend to watch it (after a friend taps it, I don’t have CNN).

    Comment by lisoosh — August 21, 2007 @ 9:51 am

  3. I agree with you about the gruesome parts, totally unnecessary. And about the numbers too. But as a researcher, I immediately thought of how difficult that would be, getting a handle on numbers. You aren’t the only one to point that out.

    The video I found was in six parts posted by Fox news, and of course with their propaganda starting it off. The title is “Muslims against Jihad.” (I can’t believe so many people swallow the crap Fox News puts out).

    Thanks for the heads up about the CNN series. I don’t have CNN either. I’ll see if I can get a friend to tape.

    Thanks for this post — real good.

    Comment by Dan C. — August 21, 2007 @ 10:34 am

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