Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 6, 2007

PBS’s Islam Problem

On Tuesday evening the film Islam vs. Islamists: Voices from the Muslim Center, a documentary, was screened for a standing-room only audience in Lower Manhattan. Billed as “the film that PBS doesn’t want you to see,” it studies the intense friction between moderate Muslims and Wahhabi radicals. Profiles of Muslims in Denmark, France, Canada, Michigan, and Arizona demonstrate how moderate voices, devoted to the idea of integrating Islam with democracy, are threatened and marginalized by Islamists intent on establishing Islamic law (shari’a) in the West.

Although it deals with a topic of national importance, and offers a much-needed platform for moderate Muslim voices—such as the embattled Danish lawmaker Naser Kader; the head of the Arizona Medical Association, Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser; and the intrepid Parisian filmmaker Mohamed Sifaoui—PBS has decided to suppress the film.

Originally created for the America at the Crossroads documentary series currently airing on PBS, the film was nixed upon completion and kept off the air. Before the screening on Tuesday, Frank Gaffney and Alex Alexiev, two of the filmmakers behind Islam vs. Islamists, joked that theirs was one of the first films “roundly attacked by the people who commissioned it.” Gaffney added, “The nicest thing they [PBS] said about it was that it was ‘alarmist.’”

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On Tuesday evening the film Islam vs. Islamists: Voices from the Muslim Center, a documentary, was screened for a standing-room only audience in Lower Manhattan. Billed as “the film that PBS doesn’t want you to see,” it studies the intense friction between moderate Muslims and Wahhabi radicals. Profiles of Muslims in Denmark, France, Canada, Michigan, and Arizona demonstrate how moderate voices, devoted to the idea of integrating Islam with democracy, are threatened and marginalized by Islamists intent on establishing Islamic law (shari’a) in the West.

Although it deals with a topic of national importance, and offers a much-needed platform for moderate Muslim voices—such as the embattled Danish lawmaker Naser Kader; the head of the Arizona Medical Association, Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser; and the intrepid Parisian filmmaker Mohamed Sifaoui—PBS has decided to suppress the film.

Originally created for the America at the Crossroads documentary series currently airing on PBS, the film was nixed upon completion and kept off the air. Before the screening on Tuesday, Frank Gaffney and Alex Alexiev, two of the filmmakers behind Islam vs. Islamists, joked that theirs was one of the first films “roundly attacked by the people who commissioned it.” Gaffney added, “The nicest thing they [PBS] said about it was that it was ‘alarmist.’”

PBS was wrong about this: the film is not alarmist, but alarming. The footage of radical imams calling for sha’ria in Denmark and Arizona, the segment explaining how Saudi money enables the spread of Wahhabi Islam, and numerous other examples of the aggression directed against rational voices in the Muslim community are illuminating and disturbing.

The testimony of actual participants in this struggle makes up the core of the film; both sides are allowed to have their say. Abu Laban—the Danish imam largely responsible for inflaming the Arab world over the Jyllands-Posten cartoons—is accorded ample screen time to explain how the stoning of adulterers is a non-negotiable feature of the shari’a he endorses. Of course, Laban seems like little more than a thug when an undercover video (shot by Mohamed Sifaoui) shows a member of the imam’s entourage “joking” about murdering Naser Kader.

It wasn’t just the content of the film that PBS objected to. During filming, Gaffney was told to fire some of his colleagues because “they [were] conservative.” After Gaffney refused, PBS set up an advisory panel to oversee production—including a member of the Nation of Islam, who demanded the deletion of a portion of the film describing his own group’s efforts to build a Wahhabi mosque in Chicago using Saudi money. The replacement film PBS aired—The Muslim Americans—was so shoddy that even the New York Times called it “dull” and “misleading.”

Happily, Islam vs. Islamists is creating public-relations headaches for PBS. On April 25, a bipartisan group of lawmakers organized a private screening for members of the House and Senate. Perhaps they can do something about what Gaffney calls “the pocket of corruption” at PBS.

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