A decision by The Charlotte Observer and other newspapers to distribute as paid advertising a DVD about Islamic fundamentalism brought objections Friday from Muslims, who condemned the documentary as “hate speech.”
The DVD – called “Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West” – was inserted in about 200,000 copies of today's Observer.
More than 70 other U.S. newspapers, including two other McClatchy newspapers, The (Raleigh) News & Observer and Miami Herald, also are including the DVD in their deliveries.
According to reports in the Huffington Post, 28 million copies of the film are being delivered this week. The DVD has already been inserted into copies of The New York Times distributed in Midwestern states. This weekend and next, it is slated to be distributed in many newspapers in the electoral battleground states of Ohio, Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania and Colorado, in addition to North Carolina.
Muslims interviewed by the Observer charged that the distribution, less than two months before Election Day, is a ploy by the New York-based Clarion Fund to assist GOP presidential candidate John McCain, who leads Democrat Barack Obama in polling on national security issues.
“This is political maneuvering by those who believe noise is more important than clear thought,” said Ahmed Rehab, spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil rights and advocacy group. “It is a shoddy and pathetic attempt to scare people into voting a certain way.”
The one-hour DVD opens with a written message: “It is important to remember that most Muslims are peaceful and do not support terror.”
But the filmmakers use the Islamic symbol of a crescent moon and star to spell out “Obsession.” And the DVD offers mostly frightening images of Muslim leaders and crowds, comparing them to Hitler and the Nazis. Its on-screen pundits include anti-Muslim figures, including Walid Shoebat, who has said that “Islam is not the religion of God – Islam is the devil.”
Also included: A grisly excerpt from an anti-Semitic TV show in which the execution of a young boy is dramatized.
Local Muslims criticized the Observer for agreeing to distribute the DVD.
“That film definitely is something that would be considered hate speech,” said Rose Hamid, president of Muslim Women of the Carolinas. “What if somebody put an (advertising) insert in saying Hitler was right? Would you carry that? … This is unacceptable.”
Observer publisher Ann Caulkins said paid ads represent the client's opinions, not the newspaper's.
She said the DVD met Observer guidelines: “We're all for freedom of expression, freedom of speech. This is in no way reflecting our opinions, but it is something we allow.”
What wouldn't be allowed, she said, is material that's racist or contains profanity or offers graphic images of body parts.
Caulkins would not disclose how much the Observer was paid to distribute the DVD, saying that's considered confidential information.
Gregory Ross, spokesman for the Clarion Fund, the nonprofit that is paying to distribute the DVD, told the News & Observer that it's timed to coincide with the seventh anniversary of the terrorist strikes of Sept. 11, 2001. Asked if he was aware that September this year is also the holy Islamic month of Ramadan, Ross said that was “purely coincidental.”
“There is no greater threat than radical Islam,” Ross said. “It needs to be pushed to the forefront of the political discussion.”
But Kathryn Johnson, a Muslim who directs Islamic Studies at UNC Charlotte and serves as a Democratic precinct vice chair in Mecklenburg County, said she's convinced Ross's group wants to help elect McCain.
Said Johnson: “My political heart says, ‘Isn't this a convenient time to get back on track with the security issue?'”