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McCollumn and Muslims to discuss the showing of Obcession the Film.
By Meg Laughlin, Times Staff Writer
Published February 12, 2008
Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum and Muslim leaders will meet today to
address concerns that McCollum showed the controversial film Obsession to
his staff during work hours in state buildings.
Through an assistant, McCollum sent an e-mail to his 500 employees in
January, urging them to attend one of three screenings of the film in order
to understand “the terrorist threat to Florida and the West by radical
Islam.” Employees taped up posters of the crescent moon and star of Islam
imposed over the wreckage of the World Trade Center.
Muslim leaders from the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles and the
Council of American Islamic Relations describe the film as an “anti-Muslim
“We are gravely alarmed that a respectable, high-level official such as
yourself would be promoting such inflammatory anti-Muslim propaganda through
your office, ” wrote MPAC executive director Salam Al Marayati on Jan. 23.
“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.”
McCollum’s spokeswoman Sandi Copes responded in an e-mail a few days later:
“At no time was any state employee required to view (the film). Attorney
General McCollum welcomes input from all communities … including the
Muslim community, as we work to encourage understanding.”
A month before offering the film to employees, McCollum blasted a University
of Florida administrator for asking organizers of an Obsessionscreening on
campus to apologize for a poster that said “Radical Islam Wants You Dead.”
The administrator said the poster “reinforced a negative stereotype.” She
also questioned the accuracy of parts of the film.
McCollum said the UF administrator “has chilled free speech on the UF
“It’s one thing for Bill McCollum to defend free speech at a university
campus. But it’s another for him to endorse this anti-Muslim film and make
it available during work, on taxpayer money,” said Ahmed Bedier, executive
director of Tampa’s Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“Staff asked for it,” said Bill Stewart, assistant deputy chief of staff for
McCollum. But the e-mail to the staff about the film said McCollum had
presented the film to private groups. In August, McCollum praised the film
at a screening for about 200 people in government and business which
included Adam Hasner, now the majority leader in the state House, and
Orlando lawyer Jonathan Kilman, counsel to Charlie Crist during his
The film begins with a disclaimer: “It is important to remember most Muslims
are peaceful and do not support terror.”
Next, men in traditional Middle Eastern dress burn an American flag while
Middle Eastern music plays. The planes fly into the twin towers. Bleeding
people run from the train station in Madrid and from the subway bombings in
London. Peaceful scenes of Muslims at market and prayer are interspersed
with violent scenes and fanatical speeches of extremists advocating
“The teaching is this religion will destroy all other religions. It is Islam
against the other religions,”says Itamar Marcus, identified as a
representative of Palestinian Media Watch.
“Islamists hate everything other than what they are themselves,” says Daniel
Pipes, identified as director, Middle East Forum.
“Yes, there is some selective editing,”said Obsession distributor Tom
Trento, a Lake Worth businessman. “But Obsession still alerts people to a
very dangerous ideology.”
Obsession was made by HonestReporting, a New York and Jerusalem media
watchdog that says its purpose is to “defend Israel from prejudice.”
Jack Shaheen, an Oxford University research scholar and author of four books
on racism, stereotyping and propaganda, describes the film as “very
“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.”
Copes, the spokeswoman for McCollum: “With this film, you don’t get the
best, most complete information on terrorism, but it’s probably more than
you started with.”
About midway through Obsession, Pipes estimates that “some 10 to 15 percent
of Muslims worldwide support militant Islam.” Walid Shobar, identified as a
former PLO terrorist, says, “1.2-billion Muslims out there with 15 percent –
this is a huge number … as big as the United States of America – spread
The source of the numbers is not given.
Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat professor at the University of Maryland,
directs polls and attitude surveys for the Program on International Public
Attitudes. He says the results show that “about 6 percent of about
300-million people in the Arab world support al-Qaida’s message of
confronting the United States.”
Survey data of the entire Muslim world is not available, but polling by the
Pew Global Attitudes Project in 2007 shows that support for attacks against
civilians varies widely from 70 percent in the Palestinian territories to 34
percent in Lebanon to 8 percent in Egypt. Overall, says the study, “wide
majorities (of Muslims) say such attacks are, at most, rarely acceptable.”
It’s important, Telhami said, to consider what the word “support” means:
“Support is often a reflection of anger rather than ideology. It’s far
different from joining groups or being prepared to conduct terrorism,” he
McCollum’s assistant deputy chief of staff Stewart: “You don’t have to
accept everything in the film as fact.”
But how would an employee of the office know what to accept and what to
“That’s not for us to divine,” Stewart said.
<em>Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.</em>
¬© Copyright 2002-2008, St. Petersburg Times