McCollumn and Muslims to discuss the showing of Obcession the Film.

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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

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, ” 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

all throughout.”

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


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