Monday, October 22, 2007

Fear, Terror and Obsession

This past Sunday night a dozen of the local Humanists gathered to watch and discuss the movie Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West. It's an alarming film, and justifiably so: there's a lot to be alarmed about in the rise of Islamic religio-political extremism. But at the same time I can't escape the feeling that at base, this film is deeply manipulative propaganda.

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".
I was aware of most of the above, to some extent (the notable exception being the historical Nazi connection), and it's probably mostly true as far as it goes. Very scarey, and we should be worried...but: there's a fair bit of manipulation going on, a lot of it concerned with what isn't said as much as what is.

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?
So if you want to know who the target audience of this film is, look no further than the list of people who praise the film (and how many of them are from Fox News). Obsession is aimed at American Christians and Jews, generally either right-leaning or persuadable, maybe still a bit traumatized by 9/11, and likely supportive of the Iraq War.

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:

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.
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? Kidnap Rendition a few random people for torture robust interrogation? Get out of/stay in Afghanistan/Iraq? Strip-search every airline passenger? X-ray every cargo container for nukes? The filmmakers found enough talking heads to tell us exactly how deep is the shit we are in -- surely they could have found a couple more to suggest practical ways to start digging ourselves out.

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.

1 comment:

Kagehi said...

Ok, maybe religion isn't the "cause", but it is always an "enabler". The people pushing this ideology in the ME are no more Muslim in the sense of following it accurately than Fundamentalists, who cherry pick the Bible to let them hate certain people and fight wars, are Christian in the sense that they then invariably insist they are. Mind you, Christians in general are not Christians, in that its not just hard, but impossible, to be one without cherry picking the Bible to reject the bits that don't fit your personal morals, while clinging to the bits that do. The truth is, we are dealing with disenfranchised people who are legitimately pissed of at the West for its idiotic dealings with them, which usually involved countering the actions of Russia, rather than actually dealing fairly with the ME, being led by a mixture of people that either a) even more revenge driven and hateful, b) power hungry and/or c) delusional, than the people following them. The film probably doesn't say anything about how they plan to take over because a) it obvious of you have been paying attention, and b) its via multiple avenues.

One method of taking over is the BS happening in Africa and other less stable places, where ironically hard line Christian wackos are being shoved out in favor of hard line Islamic wackos. And by hard line, I mean people pushing the idea that the radical forms are the true face of Islam. In other places like Australia they are confronting the state and its courts with the insane idea that special laws must be allowed for only the Islamic people, which means enforcing Shiria among themselves, with the state not being allowed to touch them, even if they commit acts that the state would otherwise consider illegal or murder. This is happening in a lot of places in Europe too. Its only a matter of time before that prong becomes a version of the same BS we get from Right Wing fundies, and they try to insists in some places where they get a majority that **their** laws should become the state laws, and not just some special category that they get to apply to themselves. Oh, wait.. They are already doing that, in cases where someone is stupid enough to deal with the wrong Muslim, and the Muslim in question starts insisting they be **tried** based on some trumped up BS charges under their Shiria courts. And, if honour killings and other similar things ever get pushed as "acceptable" in western countries, its not too hard to imagine them insisting some women be tried, charged and killed, who isn't Muslim, in their court, based on breaking some silly Islamic law, while in some Muslims store, or something. It hasn't gone "that" far yet, but they are pushing for it in a lot of countries.

The other aspect is just plain conquest. While Iran hasn't actually tried anything yet, they have over the last several years **literally** thumbed their noses at the Western world and said, "We intend to destroy Israel, try to stop us!" They have even gone as far as to claim that they will do the same thing that has happened in Iraq (wouldn't surprise me if their interference there isn't part of a *test* to see how bloody things need to get to force out the US, or make it less likely we occupy them later). These are not stupid people. What would happen if, having left Iraq finally, Iran made a move? Simple. We would either sit on our asses so as not to piss off the American people and Europe again, or we would move in, bomb some stuff, then pull out, having done "what was needed". Lots of people would be dead, possibly a lot of them in Israel, and we would have no choice *politically* but to leave before it became another Iraq. And Iran's leaders have **bragged** that they expect this and have plans in place to immediately come back, retake their country and then laugh at us, based on the fact that they can just drum up the hate from the people we kill going in there, to attack us and our allies more directly, while we accomplished **nothing**, and they get everything they intended.

This has been brushed off by everyone that doesn't believe they will do anything, or doesn't want to think of the long term implication of what they are nearly 100% sure would happen when/if they do act. Islam **has** attacked the West before, and with less reasons than they have now. Only a fool thinks it can't happen again. Sadly, only an even bigger fool thinks that kissing their ass and doing what some of them expect and want will succeed, or that charging ahead, full steam, with the same bullshit idiocy that started the mess in the first place, like Bush wants (i.e. sanctions, special treatment of the ones that give us short term gains, double crossing everyone else, etc.), is going to do anything but cause more problems too.

The irony is, at this point, weakness is probably the single stupidest thing to show. But we have two sides in the debate. One side wants to withdraw, but has no other plans past that, and certainly nothing that would encourage them to change their opinions, instead of just confirming the ones they already have. The other side... is even less $#@$#@$ clueless when it comes to winning converts to our side, can't even deal with predictable problems that they ***should*** have been able to plan for in either Afghanistan or Iraq, and ironically are this stupid **precisely** because they think only in terms of showing strength and flexing muscles.

If the movie is missing anything, its the complete lack of recognition that just waving a gun around won't get you any place, and that ***neither*** side has the slightest fracking clue how to solve the long term problem of changing the course of events, or defanging the lunatics, so their only real strategy amounts to one side wanting to throw the gun away, while the other side wants to wave it about and shoot randomly in the air, in hopes it will *scare* the madmen into submission. Until you come up with some long term solution, sadly, its probably better to have a delusional half wit waving a gun around. At least it keeps them from charging the fence immediately, but its a sad defense and a hopeless long term strategy.