We live in a scary world. The oil price is skyrocketing, and we’re running out of the stuff. Terrorists are planning the destruction of our very way of life. Morality is being eroded, the news can’t be trusted. And the economy. And debt. Big trouble.
Or is there?
If the makers of the movie Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West have it there way, there sure is. And it’s bigger, badder, meaner and madder than anyone realises. Bigger even than George W Bush and Donny Rumsfeld think. And the naive lefties — have they got a surprise coming.
The movie is a three-stranded twist of shock yarn. The first strand is a series of interviews with 4 or 5 specific individuals who have something to say about “radical Islam” and the “jihaidsts”. The second strand is a lavish comparison of today’s radical Islam to Nazism of the 1930’s. And the remaining strand is a large number of clips from Arabic television.
The message, to simplify: there are some crazy guys out there. They won’t be happy until every Jew, American and (frankly) immoral westerner has been either wiped out, or forced to submit to Islamic law. Actually when we say “some”, we mean lots (about 150 million according to this film’s statistics). And by the way, these are basically the same kind as were goose-stepping around Germany in 1938, in fact, these guys were actually buddies with those guys. They’re organised, they’re armed, they don’t give a crap about their own well-being, and they’re coming. For you. Soon. Just you wait and see.
I’m being facetious, but that’s largely because it’s hard to take the ranting and raving seriously. Not that of the crazies in the TV clips, nor, by inference, the producers of this film.
There are a few things the film says which bear repeating before I go any further:
Firstly, it sets up the story by saying that most Muslims are not extremists, and this film is about them. This acts as a useful caveat that allows the filmmakers to go on and present the Islamic world as packed to capacity with crazies. It’s undeniably there, so they can’t be accused of portraying Muslims as a whole in a bad light.
Secondly, early on in the film, is the argument that there is a co-ordinated effort in over 50 countries in the world in the name of jihad. In fact, I’m not exactly sure that’s what the filmmakers say exactly. Not exactly. But with this film you have to read between the lines, at the heavy, double-underline in red ink. And they very clearly imply that jihad is a global problem. That the same people, essentially, are behind the whole thing. And that’s why it’s such a giant threat.
Thirdly, it says quite adamantly that people in the west who cut the jihadists any slack — by trying to reason with them; by trying to negotiate; by blaming themselves for having an arrogant foreign policy — miss the point. The jihadists don’t care a damn. They only care about destroying the western way of life.
So let’s look at two specific claims in this film, and ask ourselves if they are to be taken seriously.
1. There is a global, co-ordinated Islamic fundmantalist threat: is this true? Yes, there are many countries that may be called “Muslim states” from Algeria to Indonesia; from Pakistan to Iran. And, thanks to the removal of secular Mr Hussein, probably Iraq soon enough. And unsurprisingly, many of them have similar ideologies.
That said, is it a fact that Pakistan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Jordan and Dubai are all teamed up in a plot to destroy America and Israel? The Saudis who have massive investments in the US economy, and are apparently so buddy-buddy with the Bush’s as to think of George as part of the royal family? The Jordanians who openly condemned the World Trade Centre attacks, and co-operated with America fully in the Gulf War?
And while we’re on the subject of common ideologies, how many countries in the world are Christian countries? I’m not talking about the thin veil of separation of church and state. I’m talking about countries where people swear on the bible to tell the whole truth and nothing but. Where President’s use the word “God” in speeches and attend Christmas masses. And yet we would never argue that there is some kind of common threat to the world as a result of common religion.
Unless that religion happens to be Islam, it seems.
Islam has been demonised — perhaps you can trace that back as far as the crusades. Perhaps further. But now of all times, a shifty man in a turban walking onto a plane or a subway or a bus in London or New York is scary. And that’s not because, in fact, he’s a threat. But because public perception, shaped by mass media, has turned him into a figure of evil, just as it did to the Russians during the Cold War.
In fact, the global nature of the threat is emerging as the ATTACK on Islam as a religion and a way of life emerges from the West. Not to argue that extremism is new, or that there haven’t always been calls for the destruction of Israel and America. The Ayotollah in Iran was doing that 20 years ago. But mobilisation on a mass scale is more recent. And it’s being helped — as the intelligence report this week in the US says — by an outright attack by the US in particular on the sovereignty of Arab nations.
2. Islam is just like Nazism: now wouldn’t this be the ultimate clincher if it were true? If the Muslims are up to the same no-good that Hitler was up to, and we ignore it again, well then as George Bush himself said, “fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again”.
And yes, the producers have managed to come up with a whole lot of anti-semitic claptrap from Arab TV; a handful of cartoons that are scarily similar to Nazi propoganda; and testimony from “a historian” who argues that the two situations are exactly the same. There’s even footage of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem hanging with Hitler, and a regiment of Arab SS officers he helped to assemble.
My response to this: it’s hardly a surprise to learn that people in the Arab world hate the Jews. That’s a bit like finding out that the IRA have a problem with the British government. We know this already. And whilst they may not be inclined the same kind of shameless extremism, a lot of Jews feel rather similarly about the Arabs. The phrase “mortal enemies” comes to mind.
Jews will be quick to say they don’t want Arabs wiped off the earth. They just want them to stop wanting Jews wiped off the earth. Leave Israel alone, stop spreading anti-semitic feelings and just buzz off. Problem is: they aren’t going to just buzz off. And so there is a much shorter step from this apparently tolerant point of view to war — as we recently saw in Lebanon.
As Matthew Rothschild argues in this piece, to pull Nazism like a rabbit from a hat to explain today’s situation is spurious. Whatever similar ideologies these two groups may have (and even that is a stretch: Hitler was certainly no religious zealot) the Arab world simply does not have the might to pose that kind of threat to the world. The US has, as Rothschild notes, over 10,000 nucleur weapons. Perhaps double that number exist in the whole of the Western world. Iran — the greatest threat Bush and Israel presumably see today, has, maybe, the chance of building one or two.
And that’s only if these unreasonable and apparently non-negotiable jihadists stop acting out of turn by actually entering into talks, as Iran did this week.
The emotive segue into Chamberlain’s “Peace in our times” speech is not only disingenuous, it’s completely inapplicable: the US has already gone to war with the Islamic fundamentalists. Not only now, but throughout the 80’s when they sold countless weapons to Saddam Hussein to try and overthrow the Ayatollah. They have bombed the crap out of the Taliban in Afghanistan. And they will, it seems sure, continue this campaign.
No-one, least of all Bush and Blair, is posing for photos shaking Osama Bin Laden’s hand and declaring a truce. In all likelihood, the handshaking with the Bin Ladens happened a long time ago in the complicated Web that is George senior’s history.
This film makes one important point: there are extremists out there, and they are dangerous. Point taken. But surely we already knew that? There is nothing new in this documentary apart from the extreme tone with which it is composed. And by presenting such a de-contextualised and one-sided story, it becomes an example of the kind of propoganda it deplores. Far from offering new and shocking insight into radical Islam, it pours petrol onto the fire of the hatred growing on both sides of this religious, political and economic impasse.