City of Brass

City of Brass

Review of Obsession by David Shasha

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

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.

I Voted

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

I cast my vote for Barack Obama in Wisconsin today. I am excited and proud, not just because I support Obama, but because the very act of voting – for McCain, Obama, or anyone else – is a reminder of the freedom we hold dear and the amazing miracle that is American democracy. Our system works, and we all have a stake in it, and even our disagreements are vital to its continuation.

The GOP war on muslims: Rima Sinclair

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

I’ve praised president Bush for emphasizing that the war on Terror should not be construed as a war against Islam, but the Republican Party has been enthusiastically waging a war against muslims.Even muslims who are members of the Republican Party are potential targets – consider the case of Rima Sinclair, a Republican in Colorado who ran in the primary for Colorado House District 6. Ms. Sinclair wrote the following editorial about her experience with her own party, and has graciously given me permission to publish it here on City of Brass.

“This Is Not The Way We Should Be Doing It In America” Colin Powell

By: Rima B. Sinclair

For twenty-first century America, election 2008 has brought back to the
surface issues that many believed to be things of the past. Once again,
the color of one’s skin, or one’s faith, have been misguidedly
presented as considerations to use when evaluating a citizen’s
eligibility to take part in the highest endeavors of our society. Here
is my story:

On  March 1, 2008, the Republican Party Assembly elected me to run for
the Colorado House of Representatives. I felt honored by this chance to
give back and appreciated the great responsibility I just committed to
uphold. I believe in the basic values that made this nation great:
upholding the Constitution, individual freedom with responsibility, and
small government with prudent tax and spending policies. An integral
part of my beliefs are values like equality, justice, freedom of
religion, the sanctity of human life and that our responsibility toward
 children does not end at birth. It means giving the young a fair
chance at becoming contributing members of society.

Soon after my nomination, a certain segment of the Republican party
made it known that they rejected the nomination due to my ethnic and
faith background. They claimed that I was not a “Real” Republican and
launched an intensive “character assassination” campaign, in which I
was labeled a “radical” and “terror apologist.” My Republican opponent
claimed that my intentions “may not always have been so benign towards
America.” He invited volunteers to join him to defend the “home front
in the War on Islamist Terror.”

Regrettably, the Republican leadership refused to address the problem.
The Colorado Republican Chairman, dismissed the claims as the usual
“campaign business.” The Republican US Senate Candidate announced  his
unqualified endorsement of the abuser. Others, like the Colorado former
Speaker of the House went so far as to circulate e-mails that accused
me of being an “Islamist mole” and a “strong threat” to Western
civilization. My attackers were invited to bring forth any evidence to
sustain their charges, but none did.

“She should be jailed for treason” and “The wombs of Arab women are
bomb factories,” said the letters in multiple media outlets. To no
avail, I pleaded with party officers to urge a minimum standard of
decency and truthfulness in campaign politics. The response was that
the attacks had not reached the “extreme or outrageous” level which
would warrant action to “arbitrate campaign rhetoric.” Instead, I was
warned to drop out of the race or face a scandal that would so
completely ruin my reputation that I “won’t find anyone in town ” to
talk to me. Needless to say, I felt relief when the so-called “real”
Republican won the Primary election. Only God knows what other
trumped-up claims they would have made, if I had won.

The onslaught of ethnic and faith attacks for political gain have
marked election 2008 as the dirtiest that I have witnessed. It is not a
surprise that similar Machiavellian rhetoric is now being employed
against Barack Obama. The agents of hate have been successful in
whipping-up enough anger to precipitate calls of “traitor”, and “kill
him.” Recent history has demonstrated the horrible consequences of such
irresponsible agitations. The late Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak
Rabin, was repeatedly labeled “a traitor” just before he was murdered
by a right-wing Jewish zealot.

Nonetheless, Sarah Palin found it defensible to brand certain parts of
the country as not “Pro-America.” The wholesale labeling of a large
segment of Americans as harboring “questionable” patriotism was another
abominable example of this year’s gutter politics. No wonder some
Republicans are in need of the services of a Savior Plumber. The drains
have backed-up and they hope that “Joe” can snake out the Grime.

I grew up in a country where I could not vote and where women are often
treated as second class citizens. Twenty years ago, I came to America
inspired by the ideals of freedom, equality and the rule of law. In
Colorado, I have built a business, I married a wonderful husband of my
own choosing, I do not have to fear repressive authority and can seek
to participate in government. Immediately after becoming a naturalized
citizen, I joined the Republican Party because I felt that it best
safeguards these blessings of liberty that exist in America and nowhere

Sadly for America, the right-wing demagogues remain largely
unchallenged despite the personal and destructive tactics they have
used against Americans who do not fit to their definition of the
“Ideal” citizen. Perhaps next, they will up the ante, with charges of
treason that targets whole groups of Americans. For the sake of
 Freedom and Democracy, this treacherous campaign must be stopped.

Rima Barakat-Sinclair is Denver resident and an American-Arab Muslim
citizen. She is a frequent speaker and an advocate for greater
participation in civic affairs and interfaith dialogue.

I think Ms. Sinclair’s story speaks for itself. I applaud her for her courage and desire to serve her country, and her party. More information about Ms. Sinclair is at her campaign website. I for one hope she decides to run to represent her district again in the future – and I hope she stays a Republican, because it’s people like her who will reclaim her party from the madness that infects it today. Perhaps, ironically, Obama’s victory next Wednesday will pave the way.

Barack Obama is not Hitler

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

I don’t subscribe to the view that any invocation of Hitler in a debate is an automatic defeat (the so-called “Godwin’s Law“) but it is definitely true that equating various people to Hitler appears to be a national pastime in election silly season. Case in point: the Republican Jewish Conference has declared Obama’s presidency would usher in a new Holocaust:

Pennsylvania Democrats are calling on U.S. Sen. John McCain’s campaign to disavow the letter from the state Republican Party’s “Victory 2008″ committee.
The letter, which reportedly was sent to 75,000 Jews, was signed by
three prominent Jewish Republicans, including Sandra Schultz Newman, a
former state Supreme Court justice, and I. Michael Coslov, the campaign
chairman of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

The e-mail, after extolling McCain’s record and questioning U.S.
Sen. Barack Obama’s commitment to Israel — as well as his associations
with William Ayers and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright — says that “Jewish
Americans cannot afford to make the wrong decision on Tuesday, November
4th, 2008. Many of our ancestors ignored the warning signs in the 1930s
and 1940s and made a tragic mistake. Let’s not make a similar one this

Both Coslov and Newman are distancing themselves from the letter,
saying they hadn’t actually read its contents before signing on.

Of course the signatories are now back-pedaling; after all, they hadn’t expected anyone to find out what they were doing, now, did they? The official reaction from the Republican Party in PA is typically unrepentant:

Michael Barley, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Republican Party, told
The New York Times that the e-mail “definitely went a little bit
farther than the facts would support” and that the political operative
who composed it had been fired.

“a little bit farther” ? How about a mile beyond? Disgusting that they can’t even bring themselves to – ahem – condemn

I’d like to praise my fellow Beliefnet blogger Rabbi Hirschfield, who took exceptional umbrage to the invocation of the Holocaust, pointing out correctly that doing so defames the memory of the Holocaust itself and trivializes it for mere political posturing:

How can the same people who pride themselves on maintaining the
importance of Holocaust memory invoke the real horrors of the past as a
political tool? Ironically, mobilizing that kind of fear and memory of
past defeat was used by early Nazis to mobilize Germans in support of
National Socialism in its early stages.

… do they not
see that the comparison itself denigrates all that they value about the
strength of this country and the accomplishments attained by Jews
precisely because this is not Weimar Germany? America now is not
Germany then, and it shows a profound lack of appreciation for American
Jewish experience to miss that point.

I’d only add that the repeated invocation of the Holocaust has already diluted it’s impact as a great moral warning. It’s almost the corollary of Godwin’s Law – by equating minor political disagreements with something so enormous as the Holocaust, it is the Holocaust that is trivialized, not the other way around. This tendency to analogize everything to Hitler and the Holocaust is what feeds the crazies’ Holocaust-denial and further anti-Semitism. 

I also note that John Kerry did not come under this kind of attack from right-wing Jewish groups. Could that be because Kerry was white, and had a non-foreign sounding name? I think it’s clear that the signatories of this email – their lame protestations aside – were banking on tapping into the fear of Obama’s Otherness and the latent muslim smear to amplify their message of fear.

Also note that this is not an isolated incident. In Florida, for example, the following sign was displayed at a McCain campaign field office in Pompano Beach:

Again, note the emphasis on Obama’s middle name – intended to highlight his Otherness, as well as link him to the worst dictators of the 20th Century. The GOP county chair condemned the sign and ordered it removed, but the sign’s creator was unrepentant.

In other ODS news, here’s a few more gems courtesy of Kevin Drum.

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