By Alan Nathan © 2007 Frontpagemag
The phrase “divergent views” does not do justice to the verbal gymnastics that followed the anti-terrorism event I was privileged to introduce at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virgnia. After my brief introduction to the movie, Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against The West, everyone settled in for a dialogue that would last longer than the film itself. A large number of Muslim participants objected – and we had sometimes heated discussion – but in the end, surprisingly, this film and the subsequent discussion hosted by the Terrorism Awareness Project helped bring some sense (and consensus) to the crowd and helped Muslims understand the film did not target their religion.
It was scheduled weeks in advance at universities around the country. Coincidentally around the same time, GMU and other campuses had vigils held for the victims of the Virginia Tech massacre, thus making it a surprise that the screening room became as busy as it did.
A local paper had reported that only seven people attended, but had their journalist not left early to catch a flight, she would have witnessed audience growth, spirited jesting, candor, and partial consensus.
The film included multiple Middle Eastern talk shows comprised of virulent hosts and guests propagating the benefits, promise and duty of jihad – or struggle. Offsetting fanatical jihadists wishing to massacre all who are not Muslim, also called kaffers, were others belonging to Islam but having the courage to demonstrate greater tolerance for those not of their faith.
These moderate Muslims, one of them a former PLO terrorist, stressed the need not to lump all of the faithful into the fanatical camp, while still warning that more and more of his fellow Muslims were proving vulnerable to the killers’ poisonous and atavistic brainwashing. Included also were heavy comparisons of Islamic-fanaticism to Hitler’s Nazi Germany.
Earlier in the film, multiple speakers emphasized that only 15 percent of the Muslim world is part of the terrorist agenda. Others equally underscored that such an amount still exceeds the population of the United States and should be understood as a greater threat than the West has thus far been willing to accept, but should.
Once the viewing was complete, I explained to this multi-ethnic and multi-religious audience (40 percent were self-described Muslims) that I was a centrist who was both a social progressive and a national defense hawk with no allegiance to either Republicans or Democrats. I further stipulated that I support the war in Iraq as well as the greater war against fanatical jihadists, and wanted to know if they found the film racist, or did they agree with its call for urgent solidarity against Islamic terrorists.
The most energetic participants were the Muslim students, whose wardrobes varied from traditional to modern apparel – especially the women. One of those wearing a hijab, or headscarf, softly stated that she was offended by the film, believing that it depicted Islam in a racist light. A male Iranian-American student in dungaree shorts, t-shirt and ball cap concurred and wanted to know why the documentary was so one-sided. A Palestinian student here on a visa wearing casual trousers and a short-sleeve shirt asked if perhaps these problems might disappear once Israel did.
I answered that the film was dominated by images of Muslims who hate the West because that footage focused on the minority in question, as opposed to the majority who do not. I further explained that if Muslim leaders from around the world are correct in saying that we shouldn’t think of the Bin Ladens, al-Zawahiris and Nasrallahs of the world as the face of Islam, then it naturally follows that attacking them and their followers cannot be an attack on Islam – once separated, always separated. In short, if it’s wrong to assume guilt based on religion, then it’s equally wrong to shield guilt based on religion.
To the Palestinian student who asked whether or not Israel’s demise would rectify everything, I answered, “Why would you want to remove the only place in the Middle East where Muslims enjoy the unencumbered right to speech, freedom to worship, entitlement to vote, and prerogative to run for public office?” No answer was given.
I further explained that I cannot recognize the sovereignty of any country that doesn’t recognize the sovereignty of its own individual citizens. If you’re not part of a society in which the leaders rule by the consent of the governed, then your nation is nothing more than an enslaved populace.
Continuing on the issue of Israel, I acknowledged where that country also carries some blame. However, I first gave the disclaimer that I am pro-Israel and support a two-state solution with the Palestinians.
Yes, Israel has done wrong. Whether you’re talking about continuing West Bank developments in disputed territories despite officially banning them, marginalizing Palestinian mineral rights and water rights; or, imposing draconian checkpoints and routes of travel that periodically and unnecessarily weaken already devolved accesses to markets and commerce.
However, all that notwithstanding, there’s still a difference between Palestinian terrorists who specifically target women and children for slaughter, versus Israeli soldiers who may accidentally kill the innocent while in pursuit of those same terrorists.
Not seeing a difference between these groups is unambiguously bizarre. It’s like saying that no moral gap exists between the motorist who deliberately mows down a pedestrian and the driver who inadvertently hits one after running a stoplight. Yes, both victims are equally dead – but no, they were not equally killed.
Another Muslim woman in more Western apparel, an American raised in both Saudi Arabia and the United States, conceded that a film scrutinizing a slim minority’s ugly fanaticism would naturally have to depict that same ugliness. However, she felt that it was a reminder of the mainstream media’s skewed portrayal of Muslims as people who condone and support terrorists. From the perspectives of her family and friends, Muslims who do speak out against terrorists aren’t credited enough for stepping up despite the ridicule to which they may be subjected by their own people.
A couple from Peru in their fifties was taken aback by those who didn’t recognize the fundamentally superior quality of life and freedom America offers to so many of the very same war protestors who denounce the U.S. more so than they do the terrorist-sponsoring states that oppose her.
The College Republicans and the Terrorism Awareness Project sponsoring the film’s screening, had members emphatically stating that these events weren’t meant to embarrass anyone, but rather were geared for better depicting the global threat and its actual source – a twisted minority view of Islam, not Islam itself.
After more than 90 minutes of active discourse and some lighthearted banter, there came a moment when all sides demonstrated varying degrees of willingness to disconnect themselves from assumptions based on media-hyped stereotypes, and focus more on what they found in one another’s expressed positions.
They exhibited an ability to interact based on the intent of each speaker vs. the perceived claims of the Politically Correct listener. Why? Because these students learned that perceptions are illegitimate without corresponding foundation. You cannot say, “I perceive; therefore it exists.” They came to understand that such tactics are weapons of the bad-faith debater who, because he’s unable to argue on point, must re-characterize the speaker’s position into something supposedly offensive, because there’s no other way he can appear competent. This is demonization posing as interaction.
Political correctness, at least for that evening, was kicked aside.