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09.22.2008 4:55 pm

Post-Dispatch refuses to distribute DVD offensive to American Muslims

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
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obession2.jpgDespite the perilous state of American newspapers, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch advertising department took an ethical stand and refused to distribute the DVD of a film that for two years has troubled American Muslims.

The film, called “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West,” was distributed to an estimated 28 million people via 70 American newspapers, primarily in states crucial to the coming presidential election. The only other newspaper reported to have refused the DVD was the News & Record in Greensboro, NC.

The Miami Herald reported that its own decision to distribute the DVD angered the Muslim community there:

We feel that it’s going to incite more hate and bigotry against our community,” said Altaf Ali, Florida chapter director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The DVD does not do enough to differentiate between terrorists and mainstream Muslims, he said.

The Herald’s description of the DVD says it includes…

…montages of terrorist training camps and suicide bombers paired with narration by commentators such as Daniel Pipes, founder of the conservative Middle East Forum think tank. Many of the film’s pundits are known for controversial views on Islam. In one part of the DVD, clips of Muslim children being recruited as suicide bombers are interspersed with images of Nazis.

Jen Wood, the Post-Dispatch’s vice president of advertising, said her department received the request to include the DVD as an insert at the beginning of the summer. She said the advertiser provided the newspaper only with a trailer, and refused when Wood asked to see a copy of the entire film - something she described as “not an unusual request.”"I didn’t have enough information to make a decision, so I said ‘no thank you,’” said Wood. “It wasn’t clear what exact message they were trying to send.”

The Herald reported that the nonprofit Clarion Fund, which promotes “national security through education,” sent the DVD to 28 million households, “many in election swing states such as Florida, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania.”

In Florida, the DVD was distributed in the Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the St. Petersburg Times, the Florida Times-Union of Jacksonville and the News-Press of Fort Myers.

In October 2006 (another election year) I wrote a story about how besieged the St. Louis Muslim community was feeling- the worst, many told me, since just after Sept. 11, 2001. A St. Louis screening of the “Obesession” movie featured in that story:

At the end of August, a thousand people — about half of them Jewish and half Christian, according to organizers — attended a screening of the movie “Obsession: What the War on Terror is Really About” at the Frontenac Hilton Hotel. The group’s sponsors promoted the movie with a provocative billboard featuring a dark-skinned man whose head was wrapped in a kuffiyeh and the words, “Confessions of a Terrorist.”

The terrorist in question was Walid Shoebat, who said he was a former member of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Shoebat appeared in the hourlong movie and then spoke to the audience.

Muslims who were there said they were horrified by what they believed was the movie’s inference that Islam, terrorism and Nazism were one and the same, despite a disclaimer that ran at the beginning and end of the movie that said “most Muslims are peaceful and do not support terror.”

Far more upsetting, they said, was the reaction of the audience.

Writing in “The American Muslim” two weeks after the screening, [Sheila] Musaji said those Muslims who attended were “still experiencing physical and emotional distress primarily due to the positive reaction of the audience — including applause and standing ovations — and to some of the hateful comments we overheard from individuals sitting around us.”

Fatemeh Keshavarz, head of Washington University’s department of Asian and Near Eastern Languages, who was at the screening, said: “This was hate speech, pure and simple. … being in that room, I felt threatened.”

The movie was made by Honest Reporting, “a grass-roots movement dedicated to ensuring that Israel receives fair media coverage,” according to its website. Honest Reporting is an arm of Aish HaTorah, an orthodox Jewish education network based in Jerusalem.

Richard Senturia, executive director of Citizens for a Just and Lasting Peace in the Middle East, which co-sponsored the screening, said that the Muslims who attended “saw what they saw and heard what they heard. I’m not going to deny their feelings.”

Karen J. Aroesty, the Anti-Defamation League’s regional director for Missouri and Southern Illinois, was also in the “Obsession” audience and said she was disturbed by what she saw in the crowd’s reaction. She is now working with Muslims on an effort to re-screen “Obsession,” but this time to also provide a forum for people to discuss their feelings about the movie.

“Frankly, things are getting out of hand,” Aroesty said about the sequence of events that have frightened many St. Louis Muslims. “All these things happen, and they converge in different ways in a community like St. Louis.”

Wood said her department needs to have a full understanding of what is being advertised in the newspaper, otherwise, it “reserves the right” to decline an ad. “I exercised my right not to accept [the DVD],” she said.


Comments are closed.

What a pitiful decision — to keep opinions and ideas away from readers. The only cause I can find in the story is that it “has troubled American Muslims.” Is that the sole reason? Seems flimsy. C’mon, Post-Dispatch: this deserves greater scrutiny. And scorn.

— Information Seeker
8:25 am September 23rd, 2008

Tim: I am troubled by Muslims.

There. We’re even..

— Mike
9:28 am September 23rd, 2008

The reality of Islamic terrorism should be shown to all people. Islamic demonstrators in England carry signs that say these things, “The Real Holocaust is coming”. “Islam will conquer England”. “Israel will be destroyed.” Islamic leaders have already bragged that they will conquer Europe starting with England. The Post-Dispatch is not being brave, they fear the repercussions from terrorists who will retaliate violently. The media has lost its courage.

9:31 am September 23rd, 2008

If the ad was offensive to Christians - you’d not only run it, you’d give them a break on the price. Just saying.

Is it any wonder that the newspaper business is going down the tubes?

Muslims should stop being offended and start being outraged about what is being done in the name of their so-called religion of peace. End of story. Until they do, their cries of victimhood ring hollow and should not be used as an excuse to suppress the truth.

— Dinah Lord
9:50 am September 23rd, 2008

“Muslims who attended were “still experiencing physical and emotional distress primarily due to the positive reaction of the audience — including applause and standing ovations — and to some of the hateful comments we overheard from individuals sitting around us.”

Oddly enough, friends and family of 9/11 victims are still experiencing physical and emotional distress due to the positive reaction of muslims worldwide to the hateful, violent, horrific attacks of 9/11 (and say about 11915 other deadly attacks since).


— n0mad
9:50 am September 23rd, 2008

This is why newspapers are becoming an endangered species.

I’m just wondering why muslims would be offended by the contents of this DVD. I’m offend they’re not doing anything to reform this religion of murder, terror and mayhem. If they truly care why don’t they offer an oppossing documentary addressing all the issues in Obsession.

— janice
10:48 am September 23rd, 2008

I saw the movie. It explicitly makes the point that the radical Islamist terrorists have actually killed more innocent Muslims than non-Muslims. In some countries, moderate Muslims who speak out or oppose the Islamist radicals and terrorists are themselves targeted for assassination, along with their families.

To claim that this movie is “hate speech” against Muslims would be like claiming that a movie that presents Jewish gangsters Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel in a negative light is “hate speech” against Jews.

Actually, when they used to broadcast “The Godfather” on TV, they used to need to put a disclaimer on it that it’s not supposed to be representative of Italian-Americans–as if we didn’t know that already!

It’s all political correctness run amok. There actually were Italian-American gangsters and murderers, there actually were Jewish gangsters and murderers, and there actually are Muslim terrorists. It’s political correctness to dodge this.

— sinz52
11:13 am September 23rd, 2008

Tim, I respect the newspaper’s right to make a decision as to whether to include the DVD or not. But I think one of the roles newspapers have is to educate and foster intellectual debate. The complaints I have heard raised against this film is that it is “divisive” and “controversial” - but so are most things worth discussing. I’ve not heard anyone complain that it is inaccurate.

— David
11:53 am September 23rd, 2008

The author may think the St. Louis Post-Dispatch “took an ethical stand” by refusing to distribute this DVD. I don’t. I’ve seen “Obsession” in its entirety - twice. The movie’s disclaimer does make clear they are not attributing murderous intent on all Muslims, but apparently that isn’t enough for some. But given that over 11,000 attacks have taken place in the name of Islam since 9/11 - yes, that number is correct - excuse those of us who don’t join those ever sensitive to the “feelings” of Muslims. They’d rather hide their heads in the sand than face the very real war being waged against the West. I should add that “Obsession” only deals with the “hard” jihad of violence; it does not deal with the “soft” jihad being waged by the radicals of ISNA, CAIR, MSA and other such “mainstream” Islamic groups. But it’s a start.

— Raymond in DC
12:22 pm September 23rd, 2008

The decision of the Post-Dispatch is a wise one. Demonizing any group by mixing together unrelated events and creating a message of fear is what propoganda and ultimately holocausts are all about. While ordinary Americans are consumed by terror, our nation collectively is ignoring other critical issues such as financial market regulation. Our own biggest worry should be ourselves.

— OverEmphasisOnTerror
12:28 pm September 23rd, 2008

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