Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Florida State Officials Under Fire Over Anti-Muslim Film, Promoting Christianity

by Jason Leopold

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum agreed to establish a Muslim community advisory group late last week after his office came under fire for directing state officials to watch "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West," a controversial film featuring one of three alleged ex-terrorists promoting fundamentalist Christianity and vilifying Muslims as terrorists and Islam as "evil."

McCollum's office said the attorney general sent an email to about 500 state employees last month urging them to attend a screening of the film "Obsession" in order to better understand "the terrorist threat to Florida and the West by radical Islam." The attorney general said he still believes the film has "value" and has refused to "dissasociate" himself from a decision to ask members of his staff to view it.

The film was produced and financed by HonestReporting, a media watchdog group based in New York and Jerusalem that says its mission is to "defend Israel from prejudice."

The Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles and the Council of American Islamic Relations said "Obsession" is an "anti-Muslim propaganda film."

"We are gravely alarmed that a respectable, high-level official such as yourself would be promoting such inflammatory anti-Muslim propaganda through your office," MPAC executive director Salam Al Marayati wrote to in a January 23 letter to McCollom." The office that hate crime victims turn to for legal aid and justice is itself igniting the fire of bias and fear through such events."

Jack Shaheen, an Oxford University research scholar and author of four books on racism, stereotyping and propaganda, agreed. He told the St. Petersburg Times in an interview February 12 that the film was "very convincing."

"Goebbels would be proud. This film has a place in cinema history with the racist film Birth of a Nation and the Nazi film Triumph of the Will because it so cleverly advances lies to vilify a people," Shaheen said.

Daniel Pipes, the director of Middle East Forum, is interviewed in the film saying, "Islamists hate everything other than what they are themselves." In 2001, Pipes claimed the "presence" and "enfranchisement" of American Muslims present "true dangers to American Jews." Pipes once wrote on his website: "Yes, I do support the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II."

The film features Walid Shoebat, who claims he is a former terrorist and was once affiliated with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Two weeks ago, Shoebat, and two other alleged ex-terrorists he works closely with were invited to speak to cadets at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs about radical Islam. However, their discussion centered on fundamentalist Christianity and how turning oneself over to Jesus Christ is crucial to winning the war on terror.

Collectively, the alleged ex-terrorists claim responsibility for the deaths of at least 223 Arabs. They have all denounced Islam. One of the alleged ex-terrorists became a preacher in the 1990s.

Last September, Shoebat told the Missouri Springfield News-Leader that he sees "many parallels between the Antichrist and Islam" and "Islam is not the religion of God -- Islam is the devil."

Mikey Weinstein, a graduate of the US Air Force Academy and the founder and president of the watchdog group The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said the academy invited the men to speak to cadets and staff in hopes of capitalizing off the alleged terrorists' conversion to fundamentialist Christianity as a way to proselytize and convert the "unchurched."

Weinstein said their appearance at the academy just another example of the school's long documented history of using "unconstitutional, propaganda, fear, and military command influence to promote fundamentalist Christianity to its cadets and staff."

"In the four years that our Military Religious Freedom Foundation has been fighting this invasion of fundamentalist Christianity in the US military absolutely nothing has been as surreal as this event," Weinstein said in an interview a day before the ex-terrorists' appearance. "The US Air Force Academy has either invited Osama Bin Laden and his buddies or Las Vegas Elvis impersonators to come to speak. No matter which category this falls into to this represents a scandalous outrage that is off the scale of repugnancy and duplicity. These three frauds are as much Islamic terrorists as Arnold Schwarzenegger is a real Terminator. Our foundation will immediately include this entire sordid matter as part of our federal lawsuit against the Pentagon currently being litigated in Kansas City."

Shoebat claims he volunteered for the PLO as a child. At 16, Shoebat said the PLO ordered him to bomb a Jewish-owned bank in Bethlehem with a device he smuggled from Jerusalem inside a loaf of bread. He was supposed to plant it near the bank’s door, but Palestinian children played nearby. He decided to throw it onto the roof of a nearby building instead, where it exploded without harming anyone, he said.

Later that year during a riot in Bethlehem, Shoebat led youths in an attempt to lynch an Israeli solider. Shoebat and a friend beat the solider bloody with clubs before other Israeli soldiers arrived.

He claims he was imprisoned in the Russian Compound, Jerusalem's central prison for incitement and violence against Israel. Officials at the Israeli consulate said they did not have immediate comment on Shoebat's claims. Shoebat says he discovered Christianity when he was 18-years-old when he arrived in the US.

The outcry from the Muslim community over the screening of "Obsession" led to a hastily arranged community meeting last week in Tallahassee, Florida with state and national Islamic leaders and McCollom and members of his staff.

During the meeting with representatives of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), the ACLU of Florida, and the Florida Muslim Bar Association, McCollum also agreed to offer educational programs on Islam and Muslims to his staff and to help build better relations between the Muslim community and law enforcement agencies.

"The challenge for all state and federal law enforcement agencies is to treat Muslim Americans as partners in keeping our country safe," said MPAC Executive Director Salam al-Marayati, who attended the meeting last week. "Reliance on propagandistic films like "Obsession" is an obstacle to that objective."

Rabbi Steven Jacobs, who works with the Los Angeles County Sherriff's Department on hate crimes, traveled to Tallahassee specifically for the meeting.

"We ought to be obsessed with the truth, not distortions that lead to demonization and hatred of any group," Jacobs said.

Separately, while some members of the Muslim community met with McCollom and his staff, Brigitte Gabriel, who says she is a Lebanese Christian, was in Palm Beach County speaking to the Women's division of the Jewish Federation speaking critically about Muslims and Islam. Gabriel and Shoebat have appeared together at various events and Gabriel was once a guest speaker for an event sponsored by Shoebat's foundation.

Gabriel founded the American Congress for Truth (ACT), an organization that says it is dedicated to motivating Americans to take action against terrorism. Her biography on the website for ACT says she worked in the Middle East as news anchor for “World News,” an evening Arabic news broadcast, and covered the Israeli security zone in Lebanon and the Palestinian uprising in the West Bank. She immigrated to the United States in 1989 and started a television production and advertising company.

Her website contains a recommended reading list which includes the book "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam" underscoring what appears to be her deep disdain for the Islamic faith.

In June 2007, Gabriel was invited to speak to the Joint Forces Staff College (JFSC) as part of the school's Islam elective studies program. According to its website, the JFSC "educates military officers and other national security leaders in joint, multinational, and interagency operational-level planning and war fighting."

Her appearance at the prestigious military college was carried by C-Span. Her lecture was controversial to say the least. International, allied officers were not permitted to participate in Gabriel's lecture.

During a question and answer session, Gabriel said that Muslims should be prohibited from holding political office in the U.S.

"If a Muslim who has -- who is -- a practicing Muslim who believes the word of the Koran to be the word of Allah, who abides by Islam, who goes to mosque and prays every Friday, who prays five times a day -- this practicing Muslim, who believes in the teachings of the Koran, cannot be a loyal citizen to the United States of America," she said.

Gabriel added that because Muslim's are permitted to lie "under any situation to make Islam, or for the benefit of Islam in the long run" their promise to uphold US laws while holding public office is meaningless.

"A Muslm sworn to office can lay his hand on the Koran and say 'I swear that I'm telling the truth and nothing but the truth,' fully knowing that he is lying because the same Koran that he is swearing on justifies his lying in order to advance the cause of Islam," she told students last year. "What is worrisome about that is when we are faced with war and a Muslim political official in office has to make a decision either in the interest of the United States, which is considered infidel according to the teachings of Islam, and our Constitution is uncompatible [sic] with Islam -- not compatible -- that Muslim in office will always have his loyalty to Islam."

Weinstein said he was familiar with Gabriel's "bigoted work." He said the Military Religious Freedom Foundation intended to take legal action against the Pentagon because Gabriel's invitation to speak at high-level military events is "yet another example of the pernicious and pervasive pattern and practice of unconstitutional rape being visited upon our military members by the draconian specter of overwhelming fundamentalist Christian command influence."

"This woman is a putrescent example of a clear proponent of ethnic cleansing and the fact that she would be invited as an honored, paid guest into the hallowed halls of one of the nation's most prestigious military officers' staff colleges represents unconstitutional complicity that cries out for only one word: treason," Weinstein said.

Jason Leopold is the author of the National Bestseller, News Junkie, a memoir. Mr. Leopold is also a two-time winner of the Project Censored award, most recently, in 2007, for an investigative story related to Halliburton's work in Iran.

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