Change—it’s what everyone yearns for when there’s an overwhelming sense of political frustration and economic depression. But where does real change come from? In the weeks prior to the presidential election, a much-needed discussion about change has been prompted, but not just about external change. It is a change of mentality, not from the American people, as Barack Obama has rightfully addressed, but from the presidential candidates themselves.
In early September, the Clarion Fund, a far right-wing group, paid 70 newspapers in swing states to distribute 28 million DVDs of the “documentary” entitled “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West,” which is a perfect example of racist propaganda. By portraying Arabs and Muslims in a hateful manner, at this point in time, it plays off of many uninformed Americans’ baseless anxieties and deep mistrust of Obama in an effort to lean favor toward John McCain. According to “Obsession,” being Muslim and Arab are one and the same with both identities constituting a threat to the more civilized and refined western hemisphere.
From the start of this election, the words “Arab” and “Muslim” have been deemed the equivalent of being profane and offensive. Somehow a person’s religious background has turned into a subject matter used to form accusations and suspicions, especially of one presidential candidate due to his supposed ethnicity.
However, these are not simply words. They are identities that represent millions living within the United States. When the future leaders of this country have not explicitly redressed this issue of racism purported by both campaigns, including ideological terrorism amongst their supporters, it’s worth questioning whether we have progressed since the civil rights movement. Or have we merely transferred our fear of minorities from one group to the next, from Blacks to Latinos to Muslims. The very phrase, “accused of being a Muslim,” or “I don’t trust him because he’s an Arab” is a notion that is propagated by the film.
It opens with a statement that reminds the viewer that most Muslims do not support terrorism, but then seeks to undermine and eventually reverses that claim. “Obsession” implicates millions of Muslims with the discourse of terrorists and argues that Arab media entirely consists of tirades and incitements against America and Israel.
In this way, the film seeks to fuse together two different identities—Arab and Muslim. The filmmakers illustrate their points using footage from sources such as the Middle East Media Research Institute and Palestinian Media Watch. By painting that footage as typical of the Arab media, the filmmakers deliberately misrepresent entire populations while moving their discourse into the realm of hate-speech. It attaches the political ideology of terrorism and the ethnic identity of Arab to Islam, a religion that promotes no terror and of which 15 percent of its population is Arab.
Moreover, the backdrop to the narrative of the entire film is composed of images of Muslims praying in Mecca and senseless talk about jihad (of which the film fails to accurately define), most of which is taken out of context.
The film essentially globalizes a radical view that is held by a small minority who claim to be Muslim. The film also fails to point out that every Muslim country, including Saudi Arabia, prosecutes any individuals even remotely suspected of belonging to non-state militant movements or violent ideologies.
Nonie Darwish, one of many “experts” of dubious credentials often quoted throughout the film, stated, “They are not trying to be part of the American way of life, they are not trying to be a part of our culture; they are here with an agenda to make Islam the law of the land.”
With that said, the age-old question arises: “Is being American and being Muslim inherently in conflict with one another?” No, they are not. Many values preserved by the Bill of Rights are also held by the Qur’an, such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion. The ideals of the right to life, liberty and property are not exclusively American by any means. They are inalienable human rights that are promoted by Islam as well. These ideals, safeguarded by the Constitution, have also bred economic opportunity and have resulted in a mass influx of immigrants to the United States not only from the Arab world but also from all over the globe.
As a Muslim, an American and an Arab, I don’t believe that we can have a president, let alone an administration, that can safeguard American ideals and promote outward change if justice is not established within. The distribution of this film exposes a “preemptive” mentality that justified invading Iraq and both candidates’ silence on the issue will only encourage ignorance to spread. In defending himself, Obama ignored the opportunity to educate the masses about the implications of the “accusations” about being a Muslim or an Arab.
Both campaigns have exposed America’s self-righteous efforts to combat intolerance abroad, while ethnic intolerance against its very own Muslim Americans and Arab Americans is not redressed. It is a failure that needs to be corrected for the sake of real change.
Yasmin Nouh is a third-year literary journalism major. She can be reached at email@example.com.