The main points made in the movie (from memory) are:
- There exists a hard-line strain of Islam which would like to impose strict Sharia law on the traditionally Muslim countries, and even take over the Western democracies as well. These people are, in fact, engaged in a war with the West -- a war we do not yet recognize, because it is so unlike any war we have fought before.
- The radicals are estimated to comprise about 10 to 15% of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims. That's a worrisomely large number of fanatics.
- They hold unbelievers in contempt: we infidel ultimately must convert or die.
- Their ideology teaches that to die a martyr while striking a blow against the enemies of Islam is glorious; it is the highest honour to which any Muslim can aspire (and gets you front-of-line admission to Paradise, the 72 virgins, etc.)
- In some places in the Middle East (notably Palestine), an entire generation of Muslim children is being raised and educated to hate infidels (especially Jews and Americans), and to aspire to martyrdom in the cause. One of the film's talking heads termed this indoctrination (and I agree that it is a monstrous thing) "the worst possible kind of child abuse".
- The Blood Libel against the Jews is still openly taught in many Arab countries, generations after most of the West gave up such malicious stupidity.
- The roots of Radical Islam go back to the Nazi era. A great deal of time is spent describing the friendly connection between Hitler and the then Grand Mufti of Jerusalem (a large part of what they had in common was, of course, a dislike of Jews). Even more time is spent trying to draw parallels between the 1930s (when the world took far too long to wake up to the threat represented by Nazism), and today when allegedly the West is again ignoring an expansionist totalitarian threat, this time in the form of "Islamofascism".
The entire historical background of the situation is reduced to The Nazi Connection. That's it: no mention of a century or so of British, American and Russian meddling in the geopolitics of the region (granted the Ottoman Empire was there first, with its own record of mucking things up) ; no mention of propping up corrupt tyrannies (eg: the Shah of Iran, Saddam Hussein before he fell into disfavour); and -- remarkably -- the word "oil" was never used even once. No discussion of whether the interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq have made things better or worse. The issue of Western complicity in creating the milieu in which Radical Islam could flourish was raised only to be dismissed -- "some academics" blamed 9/11 on American foreign policy; shot of Michael Moore saying there was no terrorist threat -- then back to the mantra: "No, it's the ideology, stupid".
In the discussion afterwards, someone pointed out that the US has been screwing over Latin America for a long time, too, but they haven't dispatched any terrorists northwards. This is a valid point, to which my partial answer is: the ideology is not irrelevant, but it does not exist in a vacuum either. The socioeconomic situation interacts with a culture's foundational memes to produce the response. Both Christianity and Islam have martyrdom traditions, but in Islam (as I understand it) it's the martyrdom of a warrior who dies in battle. Christian martyrdom, however, takes its model from Christ and the early saints -- innocent victims who go meekly to their unjust deaths, with their dying words blessing their tormentors. Thus, from the Muslim East we get suicide bombers; while from Catholic Latin America we get Liberation Theology. (And of course, we have also seen Christian terrorism: the IRA bomb-planters arose from a history of national oppression which divided along Catholic/Protestant lines, and they were aided and abetted by the local Catholic clergy.)
The message of "It's the [religious] ideology that causes all the problems" obviously goes over well with a bunch of atheists, but the more I reflect on it, the more I am of the view that whole movie is written in a kind of code -- one likely to go over the heads of a bunch of Canadian freethinkers, but which resonates with a large segment of the American public. Consider:
- There are a lot of clips of mobs stomping or burning American flags (or maybe the same clips inserted several times). Now, flag desecration doesn't bother me much -- I believe in getting upset over substance, not symbols. But we know there are many Americans who take it very personally.
- There is a longish segment about how the Islamists hate Christians and Jews (and incidentally also Hindus and others), and also a couple of scenes of bombed and desecrated churches in the Middle East (somehow, it's the "desecration" angle that seems to bother the filmmakers, more than the simple destruction of property). Fine, I think hating people and bombing their buildings because you don't like their religious opinions is stupid and evil -- but the harping on Christians and Jews as the target tells me something about the audience the filmmakers want to reach (and a certain segment of American Christendom already has a carefully nurtured persecution complex).
- There are a number of clips of clerics and their mobs proclaiming Jihad on the West and promising all sorts of mayhem. Many of the segments appear to have been shot in England, which seems cursed with a ridiculous number of these sociopaths. But quite a few were Iranian in origin -- the third leg in Bush's "Axis of Evil".
- As part of the Nazi Connection, the Chamberlain theme receives extensive play: just as we failed to take Hitler's threat seriously (despite his clearly stated intentions in Mein Kampf) until it was too late to avert catastrophe, we are now failing to take the Islamofascist threat seriously. "History repeats" we are reminded by one interviewee. However, it is never quite explained just how the Islamofascists plan to take over the West. We are told: "It is a war. It’s just not like any we’ve encountered before." Well then, what is it like? Yes, there are places like Iran that are run by Islamist nutjobs, and you can see how they might directly conquer some of their neighbours, and engineer coups in a few more (all of which is bad). But, aside from occasionally blowing up something (also bad, but hardly likely to lead to an Islamist takeover), exactly how do they propagate that to Europe and the Americas -- to a nuclear-armed USA or Russia? Don't make me guess, tell me! Leaving it all vague (while shouting "Chamberlainism!" repeatedly) creates a pervasive sense of threat, about which We Must Do Something, Quick! -- but what?
Towards the end, having scared us all half to death, Obsession gets around to discussing what to do about this calamity. The answer is a bit of a letdown: the moderate Muslims must stand up and denounce the extremists, and isolate them from their community. Um, yeah that's important, but what am I as a non-Muslim supposed to do? Badger my Muslim neighbours and colleagues to Do Their Duty? Accuse them of being enablers? Apparently, I'm supposed to tell everyone about this film (OK, did that, for all four regular readers of this blog) and urge them to see it. (Meh. Decide for yourself.) But suppose you do all see it on my recommendation, and all your friends and relations to the Nth degree -- surely we're supposed to do something more concrete than tell yet more people to watch a movie?
The FAQ is barely more helpful:
OK, suppose we're now all writing to our elected representatives, asking them to do....what exactly? Nuke Tehran? Intern all the Muslims in the country until they rat out the terrorists among them?
QUESTION: What are you hoping people will walk away with, after they see this film?We hope the film will inspire people to spend some time thinking about their beliefs, and commit to them, and fight for them.We’re also hoping people will speak out against what is happening. We hope people will start writing letters to congressmen, letters to editors. We hope people we start fighting ignorance and bias when they see it. They will lead marches and demonstrations, petitions and activism on college campuses. We hope moderate Muslims will continue creating watchdog groups for whatever enters their mosques and their schools, and ensuring that the values important to them are taught, if they see they are not.
That part is left dangling, and I think dangerously so. Obsession is clearly designed to scare the pants off its target audience, and people who are frightened are prime material for manipulation by anyone who promises to Do Something About The Problem. I don't know what the filmmakers have in mind, but the obvious immediate beneficiary of this state of affairs is the Bush administration, who have spent the past six years eroding civil liberties and banging the drums in the name of the War On Terror (and it's an open secret that they would like to take on Iran). If the film simply stated boldly that the American public should acquiesce in the growth of their home-made police state and support expansion of the Iraq war into surrounding countries, no one would listen to it. But by raising the alarm and leaving them hanging, they open the way for someone like Bush (or his successor -- I've been hearing nasty things about Hillary) to obtain a mandate to do exactly that.