A Palestinian man whose face is covered with a kefeyya emblazoned with Arabic writing points his Kalashnikov at the viewer. Images of crescents, red stars, Kalashnikov rifles, al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah move across the screen. A quote from conservative philosopher Edmund Burke proclaims: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” So begins the film Obsession: Radical Islam’s Threat to the West, which warns of the threat of a global Jihad arrayed against western, liberal values, and reports that Islam is the “most dangerous force since the rise of Nazism.”
I first encountered Obsession in 2008, when 26 million copies were inserted in seventy different newspapers, including the New York Times, and dropped on doorsteps in political swing states, timed to coincide with the seventh anniversary of the September 2001 attacks, and the Republican National Convention. The video was followed by Third Jihad: Radical Islam’s Vision for America, and Iranium.[i]
When I first saw these videos they reminded me of The Gay Agenda, a 20-minute video that produced and distributed by the Washington, DC-based Family Research Council, which I saw in the early 1990s—when the Oregon Citizens Alliance distributed the video, as part of their campaign for Ballot Measure 9, which charged that a stealth movement was seeking “special rights” for gays and lesbians.
The notion that gays and lesbians are seeking “special rights”—rather than the same rights and privileges as everyone else—has recently been invoked by Florida Senator Marco Rubio. When asked about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill to make discrimination against LGBT individuals illegal across the country, Rubio said, “I’m not for any special protections based on orientation.” This rhetoric first emerged twenty years ago, as part of a Christian right strategy to portray gays and lesbians as undeserving of legal protections.
The Gay Agenda featured a series of clips of male, leather-clad sadomasochists and drag queens flaunting “perverse” sexuality in public. A series of “experts”—psychotherapists, doctors, lawyers, and former members of the gay subculture, all white men–comment on different aspects of the threat posed by homosexuality, such as harmful sexual activities (such as “rimming”) which have dangerous public health consequences, including increased rates of syphilis.
The video warned viewers that the most ominous threat gay men pose is to children, dramatized through clips of a NAMBLA contingent marching in a parade, juxtaposed against “expert” talking heads. Interviews with reformed ex-gays declared that homosexuality is a choice: individuals can exercise control over their desires and ultimately leave the subculture behind. Though ostensibly differentiating between “good gays” and “bad gays,” the film, in effect, blurred the two, suggesting that gays cannot be trusted, and that the only “good gay” is an “ex-gay.” It conjured a dystopic vision of an American culture where homosexuality is normalized, and homosexuals (defined primarily as hypermasculine gay men) are bent upon aggressively destroying America.
Much like homophobic videos before them, Islamophobic media such as Obsession and The Third Jihad are “pseudo-documentaries” which utilize some of the conventions of the documentary genre–the claim to “fairness and accuracy,” the use of “experts,” and the incorporation of news footage, testimonies and “facts” — and are expressly made to persuade and mobilize through distortion.
(thanks to Zakia Salime, with whom I’m collaborating on a larger analysis of these videos)