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Obsession Filmmaker Rips NY Times

Below
is the  response to the New York Times "article" about “Obsession” submitted by
director Wayne Kopping.

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Dear Editor,

I am the
Director of the film "Obsession" and I am writing in response to the February
26, 2007 article entitled "Film’s View of
Islam Stirs Anger on Campuses".

First of all, the headline of
the piece is terribly misleading – "Obsession" is not a film about Islam as a
whole, but rather it discusses the hijacking of Islam by Radical Muslims who
seek to foster terrorism against the West.

Second, it is erroneous to claim that "Obsession"
will incite Islamophobia or create an anti-Islamic backlash. In "Obsession", we
make a clear distinction between ‘radical’ and ‘moderate’ Muslims, and we
repeatedly declare that the majority of Muslims are not radicals. To date,
the film has already been seen by millions of people around the
world, and there has not been even one reported incident of
violent backlash as a result of ‘Obsession’. On the contrary, the film has
received acclaim and commendation from leaders, critics and
military experts alike, who have found the film to be fair and accurate in its
presentation [see http://obsessionthemovie.com/quotes.htm for quotes].  The film only seems to ‘stir
anger’ from those fringe quarters who share the agenda of defending groups with
radical tendencies.

To that end, it is with
regret that our film finds itself the victim of slanderous attacks from the
Muslim Student’s Association (MSA), et al, who have succeeded in shutting down
at least two screenings of the film on college campuses. Additionally, there
have been other reports of intimidation by the MSA, in their quest to stop
further screenings of the film.

Our aim is, and has always
been, to work together with those moderate Muslims who recognize the threat of
Radical Islam — which is why we were so surprised by the hostility of the MSA,
(who purport to be a moderate Muslim group). Moderate Muslims around the world
are often the first victims of the Radical Islamist ideology.  It is for this
reason that we had hoped that the MSA would stand as partners with "Obsession"
and declare themselves against the Radicals and the
terrorists.

And finally, we take exception to the fact that
Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller is quoted in the article as saying that the film was
propaganda and "a way to transfer the Middle East conflict to the campus, to
promote hostility."  The article fails to note that Rabbi Seidler-Felder has the
reputation of being an outspoken ‘leftist‘ who, earlier this year, admitted
to assaulting a pro-Isreali journalist at a rally in 2003 (go here ).

The failure of
mentioning Rabbi Seidler-Felder’s background provides a false impression since
it implies that the Rabbi speaks for the Jewish community at large, which he
certainly does not.

It is our hope that people will continue to view the
film, so that we can nurture an open dialogue and continue on the path of
education and understanding.

Wayne
Kopping
Director, Editor, "Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against The
West"

NEW YORK TIMES: Film’s View of
Islam Stirs Anger on Campuses

 

By KAREN
W. ARENSON

When “Obsession:
Radical Islam’s War Against the West,”
a documentary that shows Muslims
urging attacks on the United States and Europe, was screened recently at the University
of California
, Los Angeles, it drew an audience of more than 300 — and also
dozens of protesters.

Click to read the whole thing

At Pace
University
in New York, administrators pressured the Jewish student
organization Hillel to cancel a showing in November, arguing it could spur hate
crimes against Muslim students. A Jewish group at the State
University of New York at Stony Brook
also canceled the film last
semester.

The documentary has
become the latest flashpoint in the bitter campus debate over the Middle East,
not just because of its clips from Arab television rarely shown in the West,
including scenes of suicide bombers being recruited and inducted, but also
because of its pro-Israel distribution network.

When a Middle East
discussion group organized a showing at New
York University
recently, it found that the distributors of “Obsession”
were requiring those in attendance to register at IsraelActivism.com, and that digital pictures of the events be sent
to Hasbara Fellowships, a group set up to counter anti-Israel sentiment on
college campuses.

“If people have to
give their names over to Hasbara Fellowships at the door, that doesn’t have the
effect of stimulating open dialogue,” said Jordan J. Dunn, president of the
Middle East Dialogue Group of New York University, which mixes Jews and Muslims.
“Rather, it intimidates people and stifles dissent.”

The documentary’s
proponents say it provides an unvarnished look at Islamic militancy. “It’s an
urgent issue that is widely avoided by academia,” argued Michael Abdurakhmanov,
the Hillel president at Pace. Its critics call it
incendiary. Norah Sarsour, a Palestinian-American student at U.C.L.A., said it
was disheartening to see “a film like this that takes the people who have
hijacked the religion and focuses on them.”Certainly it is a
new element in the bitter campus battles over the Middle East that have
encompassed everything from the content and teaching of Middle East studies to
disputes over art exhibitions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to debates
over free speech.“The situation in
the Middle East has been a major issue on campus for decades, but the heat has
noticeably turned up lately,” said Greg Lukianoff, the president of the
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

At San Francisco
State University, for example, College Republicans
stomped on copies of the Hamas
and Hezbollah
flags last October at an “antiterrorism” rally. At the University of California,
Irvine, the Muslim Student Union drew criticism last year for a “Holocaust in
the Holy Land” program about Israel.

Brandeis University
officials pulled an exhibition of Palestinian children’s drawings, including
some of bloodied Palestinian children, designed to bring the Palestinian
viewpoint to the campus, half of whose students are Jewish.

Three years ago a
video produced by a pro-Israeli group featuring Jewish students’ complaints of
intimidation by Middle East studies professors at Columbia set off a campus-wide
debate over freedom of speech and academic freedom, prompting an investigation
that found some fault by one professor but “no evidence of any statements made
by the faculty that could reasonably be construed as anti-Semitic.”

into this milieu
stepped the producer of “Obsession,” Raphael Shore, a 45-year-old Canadian who
lives in Israel, with the documentary. It features scenes like the terrorist
attacks on the World Trade Center and Muslim children being encouraged to become
suicide bombers, interspersed with those of Nazi rallies.

The film was
directed by Wayne Kopping of South Africa, who had worked with Mr. Shore
previously on a documentary about the failure of the Oslo peace efforts in the
Middle East. Mr. Shore said in a recent interview that they had not set out to
make a film for college students but to spur action against Islamic terrorism.
“We want to spread this message to all people that will stand up and make a
difference in combating this threat,” he said.

When no traditional
film distributors picked it up, he said, colleges were an obvious outlet — it
was screened on 30 campuses last semester — along with DVD sales on the Internet
(ObsessionTheMovie.com), and showings at synagogues and other
locales, including conservative ones like the Heritage Foundation in Washington.
There were also repeated broadcasts of abbreviated versions or excerpts on Fox
News in November and again this month, and on other media outlets like CNN
Headline News.

“College students
have the power with their energy, resources, time and interest to make a
difference, often more than other individuals,” Mr. Shore said.

He hired a campus
coordinator, Karyn Leffel, who works out of the New York City office of the
Hasbara Fellowships program, which aims to train students “to be effective
pro-Israel activists on their campuses.” “ ‘Obsession’ is so important because
it shows what’s happening in Israel is not happening in a vacuum,” said Elliot
Mathias, director of the Hasbara Fellowships program, “and that it affects all
American students on campuses, not just Jewish students.”

Mr. Shore said that
despite the collaboration with Hasbara, the goal was to draw a wide
audience.

“The evangelical
Christians and the Jews tend to be the softest market, the most receptive to the
message of the film, so we have done lots with those groups,” he said. “But we
are trying very hard to expand beyond those groups, because we specifically
don’t want it to be seen as a film that has that connection.”

Mr. Shore describes
his film as nonpartisan and balanced, and many viewers agree with him. Traci
Ciepiela, who teaches criminal justice at Western Wyoming Community College in
Rock Springs and has a screening scheduled this week, says she learned from the
film and did not think that it was unfair or inflammatory.

But others see it as
biased. Arnold Leder, a political scientist at Texas State University, San
Marcos, decided not to use it for his course “The Politics of Extremism” because
of what he called “serious flaws,” including that it did not address Islam in
general, the history of Islam and the schisms within the faith.

“If it were used in
a class,” he said, “it would have to be treated as a polemic and placed in that
context.”Rabbi Chaim
Seidler-Feller, director of U.C.L.A. Hillel, called the documentary propaganda
and said it was “a way to transfer the Middle East conflict to the campus, to
promote hostility.”

While the film
carries cautions at the beginning and end that it is only about Islamist
extremists — and that most Muslims are peaceful and do not support terror —
Muslim students who have protested say they believe the documentary will still
fuel prejudice.

“The movie was so
well crafted and emotion manipulating that I felt myself thinking poorly of some
aspects of Islam,” said Adam Osman, president of Stony Brook’s Muslim Students’
Association, who asked that it not be shown.

While screenings
were canceled under pressure at Pace and Stony Brook, Ms. Leffel said that most
campus screening, like a recent one at Providence College in Rhode Island, had
taken place without incident. Students at New York University decided they
wanted to present it, despite misgivings by some Muslim students.

At the screening
there late last month, the viewers — many of them Muslims — ganged up on Robert
Friedman, a discussion leader who had been sent by the “Obsession” filmmakers.
(The event was sponsored by the Middle East Dialogue Group at N.Y.U., the
Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life, Arab Students United and the Pakistani
Students Association.)

Mr. Friedman told
the audience, “You have to understand a problem before you can solve
it.”

But most of the
viewers, including both a rabbi and a Muslim chaplain on a discussion panel put
together by the students, said the film did not foster
understanding.

“The question about
radical Islam and how do we fight it is unproductive,” said Yehuda Sarna, the
New York University rabbi on the panel. “The question is how to break down the
stereotypes facing the two religions.”

Steven I. Weiss,
editor and publisher of CampusJ.com, an Internet site that covers Jewish news on campuses,
said he was surprised by the Jewish skepticism to the film at N.Y.U. “Were a
Jewish leader from virtually any significant organization to walk in on that
discussion,” he said, “they’d be very surprised and displeased. This is the
opposite of the change they’ve been looking for in campus
rhetoric.”

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