Oct 23, 2008

Obsession, but whose?

Like millions of Americans, especially those in swing states, I got the infamous Obsession DVD in the mail. I had heard a lot of negative opinions about it, but I wasn't going to form my own opinion based on somebody else's, so I decided to watch the film and find out what it was like.

After an hour, I emerged from my rec room with two conclusions: (1) the film is a vile bucket of vomit, and (2) its makers are very skilled in propaganda and probably have solid professional experience in similar projects.

The film starts innocently enough, with a warning that it is not about Muslims in general and that most Muslims are peaceful and have nothing to do with radical Islamist terrorism. Then it lists some well-known attacks by al-Qaida and related groups, and thus far the exposition is mostly accurate. (The only problem is throwing Chechen terrorism in Russia into the mix. As far as I know, the only thing it has in common with al-Qaida attacks is the religion of the perpetrators.) The early parts of the film are quite reasonable and balanced; the impression is consistent with the initial warning - terrorists are exceptions, aberrations, not representative of Muslim people.

But as the movie progresses, there are more extremist Muslims shown, and their extremism gets more severe. By the end, you can easily forget that there were any reasonable Muslims. Also, about the middle of the film, comparisons with Nazism and Nazi Germany begin, and soon they become the theme of the film. The explicit message, repeated several times, is that Western democracies are as cavalier about the Islamist threat as they were about the Nazi threat in the 1930s. This point is supported almost entirely by images and suggestions; there is no critical reasoning involved - and it couldn't be, because there are hardly any similarities between radical Islamism and Nazism beside hatred for Jews and widespread fanaticism, both common features of violent, hateful movements.

Perhaps most sinister tactic employed in the film is the thesis - again mainly developed near the end - that radical Islamists are everywhere around us, infiltrating the mainstream society, indistinguishable from normal, peaceful Muslims. This is the antithesis of the initial disclaimer: although it maintains that only a small fraction of Muslims are dangerous, it implies that every Muslim is suspect because we can't tell the bad ones from the rest. That message is very dangerous, and I am not surprised that attacks on innocent Muslims were reported soon after the distribution of the film began.

To make matters worse, there is no discussion in the film about what could be done to protect the Western civilization from the Jihadist threat, except that comparisons with Nazi Germany can easily lead the viewer to conclude that nothing short of obliterating the enemy lands will do. Even without such monstrous conclusion, at best the credulous viewer is left fearful and frustrated - a perfect recipe for brewing hate.

Critical minds can experience this film like a bird pooping on their shoulder - it's yucky, but clothes can be washed or, in the worst case, tossed. But people who are less resistant to visceral persuasion may find themselves somewhat diminished as human beings, against their will, and possibly unaware of it. It should definitely not be shown to those young enough that the society chooses to shield them from pornography, but it is also not safe for the majority of adults.

No comments: