The distribution of 28 million copies of the controversial documentary "Obsession" this month has raised flags among Muslim groups and those concerned over the main areas of distribution – swing states in this year's presidential elections.
"The Interfaith Alliance is profoundly disturbed to hear that 28 million copies of the three-year old film 'Obsession' are being distributed via special advertising inserts into newspapers through September," expressed the Rev. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, in a statement last week. "The film's targeted distribution is focused on presidential battleground states, and the sponsor, the Clarion Fund a non-profit 501(c)(3), offers no public information on their sources of funding, board of directors, or membership."
While Gaddy affirmed his group's belief that everyone has a right to an opinion, the interfaith leader said "when a cynical attempt is made to influence our nation's presidential election by stoking fear of one religious group we believe the media along with public officials, such as the Federal Election Commission, must establish who is trying to influence our politics through religious bigotry."
"And," he added, "if these individuals are indeed propagating Islamophobia to influence our election, we should establish this well before, not after, the election."
Since the distribution of the pre-release edition, "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West" has generated intense public interest. Fox News ran a one-hour prime time special on the film nine times in two weeks due to the high ratings it received. It has been the talk of several radio shows, including CNN News, The Glenn Beck program, Fox News' Hannity and Colmes, BBC/PBS, and many others.
The New York Times, NY Post and other newspapers also covered the recent controversy when administrators from Pace University attempted to prevent the screening of "Obsession," fearing Muslim opposition.
Produced around two years ago, Obsession uses footage from Arabic TV rarely seen in the West and interviews with former terrorists to inform viewers of the calls for world domination and global jihad that are made by Islamic leaders daily. The undercover footage shows suicide bomber initiations, the indoctrination of young children into hate and violence, secret jihad meetings and public celebrations of 9/11.
"Image after image, example after example... ["Obsession"] is shocking beyond belief..." stated Fox News' Sean Hannity in a published endorsement.
According to its promoters, the documentary "shows that what the West perceives as seemingly isolated acts of terrorism are actually viewed by radical Islamists as integral parts of the global war they are waging against us."
"You do not have to read between the lines here – their message is loud and clear," they added, referring to the calls made by Islamic leaders as featured in the documentary.
But critics say "Obsession" does not clearly distinguish between radical Islam and mainstream Islam.
"Few would disagree that Al Qaeda and its imitators are ruthless enemies that the United States must deal with forcefully," Ahmed Rehab, strategic communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), wrote in a column appearing in The American Muslim.
"But 'Obsession' is not an honest critique of violent radicalism," he continued. "Instead, it is a propaganda piece that seeks to cast a wide net of suspicion against Muslims by blurring the line between violent radicalism and mainstream Islam."
Critics are also wary of the timing of the documentary's Sept. 18 re-release, which came less than two months before the upcoming presidential elections.
Gregory Ross, director of communications for the Clarion Fund, said the timing of re-releasing the movie is meant to coincide with the 9/11 anniversary and that the intention was not to sway voters to either candidate.
But some think otherwise.
"It was a political ploy," Nadeem Salem, a financial adviser and member of the Muslim community in the city of Toledo, Ohio, told the Toledo Blade.
"[The aim is] to create hatred and fear of Islam and Muslims, making them a false national security threat among the general public."
According to reports, around 70 major newspaper publications participated in the 28 million-copy distribution of "Obsession" this month. The New York Times alone distributed some 145,000 copies of "Obsession" to 11 markets, including Denver, Colo.; Miami, Tampa, and Orlando in Florida; Detroit, Mich.; Kansas City and St. Louis in Missouri; Philadelphia, Penn.; and Milwaukee, Wis., according to Times spokesperson Diane McNulty. Other newspapers that took part include the Miami Herald, Sun-Sentinel, or Palm Beach Post.
The DVDs were also distributed at both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions this summer.
In his column, CAIR's Rehab urged for an investigation of the source of funding behind the Clarion Fund's "gargantuan" distribution.
"28 million free copies distributed via 70 major daily newspapers. That could cost tens of millions of dollars if we assume even conservative advertising rates," he noted.
"[W]ho exactly is this Clarion Fund and what is its source of funding? The public has a right to know and reporters have a responsibility to investigate."
Rehab also said the distribution "should automatically put the burden on both candidates to speak out and clearly communicate their positions on this film and its distribution tactics."
"Voters have a right to know where the candidates stand and journalists have a responsibility to ask," he wrote.
To date, "Obsession" has been awarded Best Feature Film at the Liberty Film Festival and a Special Jury Award at the WorldFest Houston. It was also an Official Selection for the Newport Beach Film Festival, the Great Lakes Film Festival, the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival and the Beloit International Film Festival.
In addition to "Obsession," the group behind the documentary also runs the Web site Radicalislam.org – an educational site which implores its readers to "take action against radical Islam" by exploring its resources under four headings: "fueling terror," "Sharia law," "vote 2008," and "radical Islam overview."