A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

more on Obsession

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on September 25, 2008

After four days of steaming about Obsession and combination of hate and money that must have fueled the distribution of 28 million copies of it around our beautiful country (if this is news to you, please see my previous post, available here), I have powered numerous cups of tea and am still irate. As an American, as an Iowan, and as a New Yorker, I am furious both that such hate exists in our country and that these same people have such a low opinion of my compatriots in Iowa, Florida, Ohio and other swing states. We may be in the flyover states, but we are not dumb – and this attempt at manipulating opinions, let alone votes, is pathetic and if not anti-American, at least certainly un-American.

Thank you to the many of you who have written with your thoughtful, sincere comments – RJ, Valerie, Faemom, Dawn et al. And thank you Intlxpatr and Faylasoof for posting about this story on your own blogs.

Thanks to my friend K, I have learned that an aptly named group called Hate Hurts America has published a website that addresses the DVD’s points: ObsessionWithHate.com. And CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, has asked the Federal Elections Commission to investigate the distribution of these DVDs. (If you want to contact the FEC yourself, you can do so via its website or by calling 1-800-424-9530.

And if you think that this DVD issue will raise a stink here at home, you might be interested to know that the international press is starting to cover it as well. My aunt saw an article about it in todays Kuwait Times, and the Abu-Dhabi-based The National yesterday published an article titled: “Electioneering with Arab Stereotypes” – which mentions, among other things, that the Clarion Fund, which distributed Obsession, has yet to file its requisite 501(c)(3) forms with the IRS.While it might seem obvious that the Arab world would be interested in this story, I’ve also found articles about it in Hong Kong’s Asia Times and the British paper The Guardian.

Meanwhile, I can see from the letters to the editor and “oops!” articles printed in the papers that distributed this DVD that public opinion is largely (although certainly not exclusively) against this kind of hate – and this kind of manipulation.

Here’s a sample, from Del Stone Jr., the Online Editor of Florida’s NWF Daily News (and yes, I am including it here partly because I love the title):

Putting Lipstick on Propaganda Doesn’t Change It

Wednesday’s mail brought a curious delivery, a DVD titled “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War against the West.”

I’d heard of the film only that afternoon. When I received my copy I became curious about its creation … and its creators.

“Obsession” is a controversial 60-minute “documentary” that attempts to describe radical Islam’s threat to the West through footage of terror attacks, clips from Arab TV and historical films of Nazi rallies. It has been shown on college campuses and on Fox News, and is now being distributed through direct mail and newspaper inserts.

“Obsession” was produced by the Clarion Fund, a 501(c)(3) organization which claims to accept no funding from the U.S. government, political institutions or foreign organizations. Clarion Fund’s mission statement reads as follows:

“Our primary focus is on the most urgent threat of radical Islam. By utilizing the following three mediums, Clarion Fund is helping Americans understand that the mainstream media is (sic) not adequately conveying the reality of radical Islam: documentary film production and distribution, online education, college outreach.”

Clarion Fund was founded in 2006 by Canadian filmmaker Raphael Shore, who now lives in Israel. The organization was described by a blogger on The Huffington Post as “shadowy” because it has not revealed the source of its funding. Clarion Fund Communications Director Gregory Ross said money for the distribution of “Obsession,” which has run into the “millions,” was collected from “private American individuals that span the political spectrum.”

Some 28 million copies of “Obsession” are being sent to Americans through the mail or bundled into the inserts of 70 newspapers in “swing states,” the implication being the filmmakers hope to influence the presidential elections, a charge Clarion rejects. The states include Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Missouri, Colorado, Iowa, Indiana, Florida, Wisconsin, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina and Virginia.

Newspapers in Florida carrying the DVD include the Daily Commercial, Florida Times-Union, Fort Lauderdale El Sentinel, Fort Myers News Press, Miami Herald, Ocala Star Banner, Orlando Sun Sentinel, Palm Beach Post, Tampa Tribune, Tallahassee Democrat, St. Petersburg Times and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

The newspapers have come under fire from critics who say the news organizations are circulating hate to earn back revenue lost in advertising declines over the past year. But a New York Times spokeswoman, questioned by journalism industry magazine Editor & Publisher, said the DVD did not violate their advertising terms of service.

Critics say Clarion is trying to skew the election to the Republicans. A group that distributed the movie at the Democratic and Republican conventions maintains a congressional “scorecard” that rates elected officials on terrorism-related issues (see watchobsession.org ). Sen. John McCain rates a 58, while Barack Obama and Joe Biden score a 25. Also, E&P reported an article on the “Obsession” Web site all but endorsed John McCain, but was taken down after questions were raised.

If you watch “Obsession,” remember this: The film is propaganda, just as Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11,” Leni Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will” and Sergie Eistenstein’s “Battleship Potemkin” were propaganda films. Even Frank Capra’s “Why We Fight” series was described as propaganda by the U.S. Army.

Even if you agree with “Obsession,” you should maintain a healthy skepticism.

Propaganda doesn’t stop being propaganda just because you agree with it.

“Obession” is being marketed through direct mail, newspapers, and on the film’s Web site.

If you want to offer Del Stone feedback on this piece, the paper states that he can be reached at 863-1111, Ext. 1433, or dels@nwfdailynews.com.

I also like this letter to the editor, published on Monday in the Rio Rancho Observer:

Editor:

I’ll make this brief. I have thoughts of 9/11 in my mind as often as I have prayer. That is most of the time. It cannot be judged because of surface things such as if I’m flying my flag or wearing my flag pin.

Why would your paper think that you have the right to say we don’t (think about 9/11), and you are going to bring this “Obsession” DVD into our home unwanted, to make sure we do? We are not so dumb and I am appalled that your paper takes on this preachy attitude. This DVD message has not the purpose to bring us into remembering 9/11. We are not about to forget it. We all know that this was meant to be a “smear and scare” tactic to move the Republican party forward in this country. These wicked DVDs were sent out by some unknown source at this convenient time to promote the fear again.

I was told the last time I ran an ad in your paper that the reason it was not being delivered to my area was there was too much growth, yet on Sunday morning there it was in my driveway, so you could deliver this DVD to as many as possible. Shame on you.

Beverly Norman

Rio Rancho

The Miami New Times, which apparently did not distribute the DVDs (although I am not sure whether this was as a matter of conscience or because the paper was not approached), has also been taking a keen interest in the issue. Here’s what one of its reporters, Kyle Munzenrieder, had to say yesterday on the paper’s blog:

Remember that Anti-Radical Islam DVD, Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West, you got in your Herald two weekends ago? Remember how we said it was controversial, and possibly a teensy bit Anti-Islam, as opposed to plain old anti-Radical Islam? Remember how after we suggested The Herald should have included a bit of a disclaimer, two days later they did and interviewed the director of the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations? Do you remember Miami, do you?

Because now CAIR is asking the FEC to probe itself all up into the Clarion Fund, the shady organization that paid for the distribution of that DVD in the Herald and 70-something other newspapers. CAIR’s thinking is that maybe, just maybe the fund “is really a front for an Israel-based group seeking to help Sen. John McCain win the U.S. presidential election,” according to a press release they just sent out.

“According to the website for the Secretary of State for New York, Clarion Fund Inc. is incorporated in New York as a Delaware based foreign not-for-profit corporation. According to the Delaware Department of Corporations, Robert (Rabbi Raphael) Shore, Rabbi Henry Harris and Rebecca Kabat incorporated Clarion Fund. All three of whom are reported to serve as employees of Aish HaTorah International, an organization apparently based in Israel. Also according to the Delaware Department of Corporations, the incorporators of the Clarion Fund used Aish HaTorah’s New York City address (150 West 46th Street, New York) to incorporate Clarion Fund in Delaware. It appears that the funding for the production, marketing and distribution of ‘Obsession’ may have originated from Israel-based Aish HaTorah International.”

So, basically we know that a foreign group may have paid for the distribution of some propaganda that drummed up national security fears at the expense of Muslims. Normally Republicans would be up in arms about “Got Dang Foreigners” involving themselves in our election process, but since this benefits them we’ll bet they’ll be silent (because they, meaning the people who control the party, not necessarily the voters, appear to have no morals and standards anymore, and it has never been more evident than during this election cycle, so we doubt they’ll man up now). And of course most of the mainstream papers aren’t going to push the issue because they were the ones who profited from all of this, but it was wrong, it was bullshit, and the FEC isn’t probably going to do anything about it either. Even if CAIR’s probing into the issue turns out to be a bit off (and frankly, no one seems to have any idea who the backers of the Clarion fund are, and this is the best we’ve seen), we’re glad someone isn’t letting it get swept up under the rug.

While we’re at it kudos to the Palm Beach Post (who also distributed the DVD) for coming down hard on the Clarion Fund:

“The irony is that The Clarion Fund, whatever the group is and whoever runs it, is operating like the secret cells it warns about. Terrorists are cowards. In their own way, so are the people sending out this campaign ad.”

And my friend K emailed me yesterday to relate her experience and to suggest that those of you in these swing states contact the publishers of your local papers to express your opinion. Here’s what she had to say:

Dear all,

I urge you to make a phone call.

As you will read at http://www2.tbo.com/content/2008/sep/24/me-islam-dvd-provokes-inquiry-request/, “The Tampa Tribune is one of about 70 newspapers that agreed to bundle the DVD inside its paper. One shipment went out in Sunday’s Tribune. Another is to be distributed this coming Sunday.” Please call Denise Palmer, the publisher and president, at 817 259 7424 and urge her to reconsider the second shipment. I got her assistant, who I kindly asked to put me through to voicemail, where I left a message stating who I am and how I urge the Tampa Tribune to make the right decision and not distribute racist propaganda again on Sunday. Many of you can probably come up with better, more articulate or persuasive arguments.

Also, I called the reporter Lindsay Peterson and thanked her for her even handed report for Tampa Bay Online (just a regurgitation of the AP story below, in fact, with some incriminating details re the distributors of “Obsession” left out, but still…).  I told her my concerns about the redistribution of “Obsession” next week–she was very sympathetic and at least acted as if she agreed. I don’t know if it would be productive or counter-productive to flood her with calls, but I do think that thanking her via email (lpeterson@tampatrib.com) and letting her know that you have called Denise Palmer would pique her to pressure being put on the leadership of the paper.

Feel free to forward; if we could get one Florida paper to pull the DVD, it would be a great start. There ARE papers in this country who have refused to distribute the DVD, for instance the Greensboro News & Record and the St. Louis Dispatch.

This issue isn’t really about Muslims, or Islam, or even radical Islam. Its about us: about America, and how we treat one another. As citizens we all have the right to vote based on our opinions and our values – and manipulating us to skew our opinions in one direction or another not only demeans each of us, but more than that, it smears our country and our democratic traditions. As Beverly Norman said: Shame on you, newspapers who agreed to distribute these DVDs. And shame on you, Clarion Fund, for treating American citizens so poorly.

2 Responses to “more on Obsession”

  1. intlxpatr said

    I read every word. I think this is the best entry you have ever published, genuine outrage tempered with judicious restraint. Hitting hard at the main point – this DVD is not who we are as Americans, and has no place in a national election. If they have newspapers sending it out AGAIN, the funding must be enormous. Shame on them, trying to tamper with our elections.

  2. Hi khalti, and thank you very much for your words of praise. I am outraged – especially at the attempt to manipulate Americans. This dvd is nothing like the Target ads or Hy-Vee grocery store circulars that appear in most Sunday Des Moines Registers – and to me it speaks of a real lack of respect for non-East Coast Americans. We have brains; we read and watch the news; and we form opinions based on thought and analysis.

    I agree with some of the commenters that the dvd does make an attempt to distinguish between Muslims and Islamists – but the manner of its distribution is a real cheap shot that shows how its distributors _also_ distinguish between “sophisticated” Americans like themselves and the rest of us.

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