A month or so ago, I received a call from a distressed reader who told me about receiving a DVD called "Obsession," which was stuffed as an advertising insert to the New York Times, to which she subscribes.
I hadn't heard about this film until then, so I did a bit of investigating and mentioned my findings a time or two here on the blog.
Since then, "Obsession" has become a major national controversy because of its willingness to portray Islam as a essentially a religion that encourages terrorism. The film itself says the problem is not Islam itself but, rather, the religious extremists who support violence and who are Muslim -- and that, in fact, is the right position to take, as far as I'm concerned. So in no way do I want to minimize the danger posed by radicals who misuse Islam to justify terrorism. Those zeolots already have murdered my own nephew, a passenger on the first 9/11 plane to hit the World Trade Center. But clearly this film is not a balanced portrayal of Islam and was made, I believe, for propaganda purposes to influence the presidential election in the United States.
So today I want to link you to this essay by a Ph.D. student in Jewish history at the University of Chicago Divinity School. In it, the author explains why the DVD is so problematic and why all of us who are voters have a responsibility not to be influenced by such propaganda -- or at least to check out from many other sources whether what the DVD says makes sense and is fair.
As a Christian, I find it revolting that in our efforts to learn about other religious traditions we are bombarded (as I often am via e-mail) with twisted portrayals of people of other faiths, particularly Islam. I can only imagine how all of this must feel to Muslims in America.
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IS THIS REALLY DEFENDING ISLAM?
Speaking of Islam, eventually, it seems to me, leaders of that religion are going to have to understand that when government authorities arrest poets for insulting Islam, as Jordanian officials just did, it makes Islam look weak, at least to those of us in countries that cherish and enforce freedom of expression. Why does Islam need government law enforcement officials to defend it? That's the question such arrests make us ask. And an obvious implication of the question is that somehow Islam's religious leaders are not able to defend the religion well enough without such help. I understand that true Islam draws no distinction between religion and government because all aspects of life are to be governed by a religious understanding. That's a perfectly legitimate approach and in many ways quite admirable. But when the result is the appearance that Islam cannot defend itself without such foolish arrests I think the faith is made to appear sapped of internal strength.
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NOTE FROM BILL: I don't want to be a censor and I don't want to edit comments for content, but I am not going to publish comments that I judge to be personal attacks, especially on other readers of this blog, and are completely unrelated to the topics for the day. Thanks.
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