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City of Brass

Review of Obsession by David Shasha

Richard Silverstein has posted a review of the Islamophobic hate-film Obsession on his blog, written by David Shasha, one of the leaders of the American Sephardic Jewish community. It’s a powerful indictment, beginning with a list of basic facts about the muslim world that are not open to debate, but simply a matter of historical record – and all providing needed context that Obsession deliberately eschews.He points out clearly exactly why Obsession, despite its disingenuous claim otherwise, is indeed an attempt to delegitimize the entire faith of Islam itself and Otherize muslim-Americans as a whole. And it does so by using the same propaganda tactics that Arab anti-semites themselves use to fan the flames of hatred against israel and America! A few excerpts:


Using a canny mixture of incitement and factuality the producers of
the film bookend their movie with the admission that the film is not an
indictment of Islam itself, but just a certain part of it. When I use
the word “incitement” I mean to say that the film is completely
disingenuous as it offers the basic theme that it hammers over and over
again that Islam is akin to Nazism and that the Arab world is in the
grip of this Nazi-Islamic ideology.

Propaganda is a means to express an ideological viewpoint at the
expense of a plurality of views within the parameters of an open
debate. According to this definition we can see a ratiocination taking
shape which stacks the deck of argument. And to those living in the
Jewish community, the primary mechanism for the distribution of
“Obsession,” this “obsession” with Radical Islamic ideology is
something that we have become quite familiar with.


Embedded within this discourse are a deadening and repetitive array of
media clips of screaming, lunatic Jihadis and their minions. Again,
there is no need to deny that these people exist or to question the
danger they pose not only to Jews and the West, but to the well-being
of the Muslim world itself. Image after image is laced with stirringly
bombastic music that often resembles the propaganda that the film
decries. The rhetoric of the principles being interviewed eschews
subtlety and intellectual heft and hammers home in propagandistic
fashion that Arabs are Nazis and that’s all there is to the matter.

And we cannot forget while watching this execrable piece of
propaganda, a work that is as unhelpful pedagogically as it is
dangerous, that the dual logic of contradiction is continually at play:
we are TOLD that Islam is not like what is being shown on the screen
and yet this is what is being SHOWN to us with a relentlessness that
puts the rhetoric of Islam as a peaceful religion to the lie. After a
steady diet of one solid hour of seeing images of Muslims juxtaposed –
LITERALLY – with those of Hitler and other Nazis, I am not sure if it
takes a genius to figure out that we are being browbeaten into
capitulation to hate all Muslims.


And to make sure that we do not forget this fact, we are treated to
an extensive set of interview clips with an old man named Alfons Heck –
a now-reformed former member of the Hitler Youth!

The “obsession” of this film is to turn the current situation with
what are admittedly some very dangerous people – all of whom it must be
honestly stated are religious Muslim fanatics who twist the words of
their traditions and promote ideas of hate and violence that have
continually been spread throughout the world over the course of the
past century – and make it into a primordial battle being waged between
absolute good and absolute evil.

Now it is not at all necessary for us to demand that “Obsession” be
fair, or that it present the socio-political and historical contexts
that have created this mess. Having said this, it does seem more than
curious that the producers of “Obsession” make this demand of the
Muslims themselves. And indeed, the visual techniques used in the film
are eerily similar to those used by the Muslim fanatics themselves: the
endless repetitive barrage of flashy and shocking images presented in a
de-contextualized atmosphere smacks of what we might best call
hypocrisy. But I think we would more accurately understand the
rhetorical mechanisms of “Obsession” as a form of PILPUL; the attempt
to speak out of both sides of one’s mouth while not-so-subtly
railroading home a single, obsessive mono-causal point.


In essence, this is the very rhetorical means that is used against
Israel and the US by the Arab media which often inflames the masses to
hate Israel and the US
. When Israeli and American acts of violence are
stripped of their socio-political context, the Arab viewer’s feelings
are inflamed and the individual is left with a passionate hatred
bordering on the pathological.

This is essential reading. Click to read the whole thing over at Tikkun Olam. The only thing missing from Shasha’s analysis is a discussion of why the producers of Obsession have engaged in this propaganda exercise; the timing of the mass-mailing of the DVD, and the specific targeting of that mailing to specific swing states under contention in the Presidential election, make the answer rather obvious.

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Richard Silverstein

posted October 31, 2008 at 3:22 am

Thanks, Aziz for bringing needed attention to David Shasha’s review of Obsession. I should mention that his review was written after the film was first produced a few yrs ago. So David didn’t know at the time he wrote it that Clarion Fund/Aish Hatorah would use it in such a patently propagandistic way in terms of this election.

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Eli Clifton

posted November 3, 2008 at 4:30 am

JewsOnFirst, an organization dedicated to the protection of the separation of church and state under the First Amendment, has published Rebutting Obsession: Historical Facts Topple Film’s Premise that Violent Muslim Fundamentalists are Nazis’ Heirs, Expose its Fear-mongering , a devastating critique of Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West. Obsession, a 2005 film that, in the name of exposing violent fundamentalism, casts suspicion on all Muslims, experienced increased exposure this fall, when the mysterious Clarion Fund initiated the unsolicited distribution of millions of DVD inserts
inside swing state newspapers.
In support of the rebuttal, JewsOnFirst also offers a web-based slide presentation summarizing the key arguments, as well as profiles of the supposed experts interviewed in the film. (The slide presentation will soon be available for download as a PowerPoint presentation next week.)
Key arguments made in JewsOnFirst’s Rebutting Obsession are:
Obsession and the “expert” viewpoints presented in it represent the ideology of the far right wing within the Republican Party, which seeks to intervene in the Presidential election with a distraction from the current economic turmoil.
Obsession ignores the geopolitical environment in which radical Islam was cultured, and makes a baseless argument that such fundamentalism is the ideological descendant of Nazism.
Obsession seeks, at a time of economic pain and cultural division to permit the viewer to project all real or imaginary fears and anxieties onto Muslims, as an alien and externalized enemy. This propaganda mirrors the situation faced by Japanese Americans during World War II and non-Anglo-Saxon immigrants in the 20th century. Such divisiveness actually weakens America by threatening our principles of cultural coexistence and religious freedom.
The “experts” presented in Obsession have limited experience in the Middle East, few speak Arabic or Farsi and most have limited or no academic background in Islam or the Koran. They represent a fringe group of Middle East “specialists” who align themselves with the Likud party in Israel and Christian evangelical and pro-settler lobbies in the United States.
Finally, Obsession, despite its half-hearted disclaimer that radical Muslims are a small minority, seeks to promote the concept of a violent clash of civilizations instead of cultural coexistence and religious pluralism.
The full project can be viewed at
Best regards,
Eli Clifton

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