There's been a huge debate within the newspaper world -- and beyond -- about a fiery DVD targeting Islamic extremism called "Obsession" that over the last couple of weeks has been packaged in newspaper ads and distributed to hundreds of thousands of readers, especially in swing states. (The Philadelphia Inquirer was one of those papers.) Proponents say its an honest portrayal of anti-American jihadism, while critics said the video would stir up hatred toward decent God-fearing Muslims, not just those involved in or supporting terrorism. Some wonder if it's all just a big ploy to help John McCain and the GOP, who want to focus the campaign on the threat of Islamic extremists. Here's a review from the Orlando Sentinel, for example:
It's a complicated mess, but if you invoke Neville Chamberlain's "appeasement" of Hitler (not sure what anybody could have done, other than force a confrontation years before Germany or the Depression ridden, war-weary West were really "ready" for WWII ) often enough, show enough snippets of Michael Moore (yeah, I want HIM making Middle East policy about as much as the accident prone GOP) and reduce things to "the culture of hatred," you can certainly stir folks up. I stopped counting the historic Mein Kampf/Hitler comparisons at about the 50 minute mark.
This inflammatory video -- funded by a new and, I think it's fair to say, shadowy group called the Clarion Fund -- "Obsession" is the kind of controversial thing that newspapers tend to stay away from, but only a couple have turned the insert down so far. Understandably, without hard proof that the documentary contains major factual errors, many are concerned about the First Amendment issues and, let's be candid, given the battered state of the newspaper economy, some publishers NEED the money.
There's no more key battleground state in America than Ohio -- and sure enough thousands were delivered there on Monday in a number of newspapers, including the Dayton Daily News, which is in a hotly contested corner of the Buckeye State.
Four days later, this happened as Muslims in Dayton attempted to worship:
DAYTON — Baboucarr Njie was preparing for his prayer session Friday night, Sept. 26, when he heard children in the Islamic Society of Greater Dayton coughing. Soon, Njie himself was overcome with fits of coughing and, like the rest of those in the building, headed for the doors.
"I would stay outside for a minute, then go back in, there were a lot of kids," Njie said. "My throat is still itchy, I need to get some milk."
Njie was one of several affected when a suspected chemical irritant was sprayed into the mosque at 26 Josie St., bringing Dayton police, fire and hazardous material personnel to the building at 9:48 p.m.
Someone "sprayed an irritant into the mosque," Dayton fire District Chief Vince Wiley said, noting that fire investigators believe it was a hand-held spray can.
Many in Dayton are wondering if the mass distribution of "Obsession" has anything to do with this. It's unclear whether or not this was in the works before or after the attack on the mosque, but religious leaders were meeting in Dayton yesterday to talk about the DVD:
The Rev. Gary Percesepe, executive director of Greater Dayton Christian Connections, characterized the DVD as "fanning the flames of fear and prejudice against Muslims, with the potential to inspire hate crimes."
It should be noted that right now, until the police make more progress in investigating this, that the link is circumstantial based on the timing -- and sadly there've been many anti-Islamic hate crimes in this country before "Obsession" was so widely released. That said, I think that while the case is under investigation, any newspapers that were planning to distribute the DVD but haven't done so yet should call a time out, and wait until we know more about what happened in Dayton.
Is distributing "Obsession" a matter of pure free speech? Or is it yelling "fire" in a crowded theatre?
People need to make that call before someone gets killed.