If you have received a hair-raising “documentary” called Obsession in the mail this weekend, you are not a chosen surprise winner, or the recipient of a kind anonymous gift. You belong to a sought after group of people: the residents of a swing state estimated to be an undecided voter. The film is supposed to convince you that your country is at war with the majority of Muslims who are willing to conquer America, kill or convert you, and establish a fascist empire. If you watch the film by yourself, and have no way of evaluating its content, chances are you will be convinced. Rather, you will be terrified.
That 28 million free copies of Obsession is landing on doorsteps in swing states at this point in time, speaks for itself. Nonetheless, people are digging deep in search of the sources of financial support for this largest campaign of fear conducted to date. I’d say more power to them for their efforts to expose this campaign of emotional manipulation reminiscent of fascist like ideologies that have resulted in massive human tragedies. For now, however, there are easier and more practical ways of countering this scare attack. As a Muslim who has never been at war with anyone, I list five of them here.
First, the movie tells you that in a Muslim country, a non-Muslim is supposed to be killed or sold like an animal. Look, in your neighborhood or among colleague, relatives, and friends, for an ordinary fellow American who has travelled to a Muslim country in recent years. Ask if he or she felt the threat of being abducted, converted, sold, or killed at anytime during his or her stay in that country.
Second, the Movie claims that the Egyptian textbooks tell school children that Muslims should kill non-Muslims and take over the world. Egypt has millions of Coptic Christian inhabitants. In fact, they form 20% of the Egyptian population. Ask yourself how have they survived living in Egypt for thousands of years? Then, locate an Egyptian Copt through your local library, university, the internet, and/or friends. Ask that person if he or she ever saw such a statement in his or his children’s school books.
Third, invite a Persian speaking friend (of whom hundreds of thousands live in the U.S.) to watch the movie with you. When supposed scenes from the Iranian TV are shown, they will tell you that the actual language they hear is not Persian but Arabic. The documentary makers did not know what they were piecing together. They banked on the fact that the audience will not know that either.
Fourth, the film interviews supposed Muslim fundamentalists who have turned nice, loving, and truthful after conversion to Christianity. Ask yourself why you should trust them anymore now than when they were ruthless terrorists – if indeed they were terrorists. If not, why are they lying?
Fifth, when images of large and loud crowds in the film frighten you, imagine someone taking a few shots from the GOP convention’s loud chants, put a scary voice over, add a few shots of American soldiers breaking into Iraqi homes in the middle of the night, and throw a few statements from right wing shows into the mix. It could be sold to Muslim audiences as “The American War on Islam.”
Finally, please send this simple guide to a friend who has been terrified after watching Obsession and tell them to vote for Mr. McCain only if they like four more years of what they have experienced for the past eight years…not because Muslims are at war with America. They are not.
Fatemeh Keshavarz is Chair of the Department of Asian and Near Eastern Languages and Literature at Washington University and the author of Jasmine and Stars: Reading more than Lolita in Tehran.