Headlines, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, North America, Religion

POLITICS-US: Bigger, Badder Jihad Plot in 'Obsession' Rebooted

Ali Gharib and Eli Clifton

WASHINGTON, May 19 2009 (IPS) - A new documentary from a shadowy non-profit, the Clarion Fund, has ties to groups widely accused of Islamophobia.

"The Third Jihad" purports to educate U.S. citizens about the threat of a "cultural Jihad" by the country's own Muslim-American population. The film goes to great lengths to define itself as an expose of radical Muslim elements, not the faith at large.

But a group called the International Free Press Society (IFPS), which attended the Washington premiere of the film and documented the screening on behalf of the production company on a social media website, has some dubious affiliations.

Two months ago, IFPS heavily promoted Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders, a widely-known Islamophobe who has been tied to far-right European political parties.

An IPS investigation linked both Wilders and some of his U.S. and international supporters, including members of IFPS, with the Vlaams Belang (VB), or Flemish Interest. Vlaams Belang is a nationalist Flemish party that has demanded amnesty for Nazi collaborators in Belgium.

Wilders is known for campaigning to ban the Koran, Islamic attire and Islamic schools from the Netherlands, and for proclaiming that "moderate Islam does not exist". His views have even drawn fire from the strongly pro-Israel Anti-Defamation League, which described Wilders's rhetoric as "inflammatory, divisive and antithetical to American democratic ideals".

Wilders has been brought up on charges in the Netherlands and banned from Britain on the grounds that he incites hate.

That view doesn’t jibe with the slickly produced "Third Jihad" film.

The movie starts with a disclaimer that it is not an assault on all Muslims: "This is not a film about Islam. It is about the threat of radical Islam. Only a small percentage of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims are radicals. This film is about them."

The narrative of the movie is strung together with commentary from a "moderate" Muslim, Zuhdi Jasser, a physician from Arizona who heads the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD).

AIFD, according to its website, is a non-profit which seeks to "intellectually stand against the religious fanatics who exploit the religion of Islam for a nihilistic, anti-American anti-Western war."

Unlike most commentators who regularly use the term "Islamofascist", Jasser is a practicing and devoted Muslim. But he thinks the faith has no role in politics or government. He derides political Islam as part of the subversive, quiet Jihad being waged within the boundaries of the West, a central tenet of the movie.

Radical Muslims, by having children, spreading their faith, and ensuring their ability to practice Islam as they see fit, are working a 'demographic jihad' in which they see themselves emerging as a majority and making Islam the dominant religion of the U.S. – eventually to take over the nation altogether – contend Jasser and the films creators.

But that prospect seems unlikely in the U.S., where Muslim Americans are generally regarded as well-assimilated and not radicalised.

The film itself also contains inconsistencies in terms of differentiating between Islam and radical Islam.

For example, the graphic that the film used to demonstrate the spread of an Islamic state across the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe used a tiled picture of a green crescent with a star between its points. The crescent and star are the symbol of Islam in general.

The documentary was produced by the Clarion Fund, a U.S.-based non-profit that was embroiled in controversy last year when it distributed its last movie, "Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West," to nearly 30 million homes in the ‘swing states’ that normally decide U.S. presidential elections.

Its 501(c)(3) status as non-profit means the group is legally exempt from paying taxes and is prohibited from involvement in electoral politics.

IPS investigations also tied the production and distribution of "Obsession" to right-wing Israeli groups and U.S.-based neoconservatives.

In addition to an endorsement of Republican presidential candidate John McCain posted on Clarion’s website, questions were raised about Clarion’s ties to foreign groups, such as Aish Hatorah, an Israeli-based organisation dedicated to educating young Jews about their heritage.

The Clarion Fund and Aish Hatorah are headed by Israeli-Canadian twin brothers Raphael and Ephraim Shore, respectively. The two groups appear to be connected as Clarion is incorporated in Delaware to the New York offices of Aish Hatorah.

Federal law prohibits campaigns and political candidates from taking money from foreign organisations.

Last September, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) asking that Clarion be investigated for allegedly violating their tax-exempt apolitical status and using foreign funds in an electoral push.

Last week, the FEC ruled that there was "no reason to believe Respondents [Clarion Fund] violated the Act, because the DVD failed to identify a federal candidate, lacked express advocacy, and there was no evidence the DVD was distributed in connection with a federal election."

Still, the group strikes back at CAIR in the new film, accusing it of being part of a grand Muslim conspiracy to take over the West and the United States.

"The Third Jihad" is largely based on a document the producers say the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) discovered in 2003. The film’s creators purport the document is a "’Grand Jihad Manifesto’ authored by the Muslim Brotherhood in North America, according to the promotional materials.

"The 15-page document outlines goals and strategies for the infiltration and domination of America from within," says the release. "Among the strategies discussed is the establishment of ‘moderate’ groups, mosques and Islamic centers across North America in an effort to strategically position Islam so that it might weaken western culture and promote the implementation of Sharia Law."

Sharia, or Islamic law, has come into the spotlight as one of the principal goals of radical Islamists.

"Sharia is no different than Jewish law or Christian law," said CAIR communications director Ibrahim Hooper. "When he prays, Jasser is following Sharia; when he doesn't drink alcohol, he's following Sharia."

In the film, Clarion says that the Islamic Association of Palestine (IAP) was one of several Muslim organisations listed in the document as potential allies. The film claims that IAP helped form CAIR.

Despite its alleged nefarious ties, CAIR was invited to screenings of the film, insisted Clarion executive director Peter Connors. "Our invitations were declined," he said.

In protest of a screening of "the Third Jihad" in Los Angeles’s Simon Wiesenthal Centre on Saturday night, CAIR sent a letter to the centre’s dean and founder, Rabbi Marvin Hier.

"The film disingenuously claims it is only targeting ‘radical Islam,’ yet a Twitter account of the Washington, D.C., screening on Wednesday night stated: …‘The 1400-hundred year war" clash has been going on since the beginning of Islam’," CAIR wrote.

Indeed, a member of IFPS was authoring the Twitter feed, which allows someone to post short updates to the web in real time.

"Thanks to the Clarion Fund for the opportunity to twitter tonight. Be sure to visit the International Free Press Society online!" said the last post charting the press conference and screening.

"Clarion thanks the International Free Press Society…for their Twitter mastery at last night's event," said the next post, from the following morning, which included a shortcut link to IFPS’s website.

Both Tweets, as the short messages are called, came from "No2RadicalIslam", which is Clarion’s name on Twitter.

Some of Clarion’s supporters, including Jewish groups that have promoted its films as well as "moderate" Muslims like Jasser, appear unaware of IFPS’s association with the nationalist Flemish party Vlaams Belang, which has been deemed neo-Nazi and neo-fascist by critics.

In December 2008, senior VB leader Roeland Raes was convicted on charges of Holocaust denial.

But Jasser, who didn’t know about VB, said he wasn’t concerned about potential connections with Wilders, debating the characterisation of Wilders as an Islamophobe.

"I do think the test of the West, and the test of us Muslims in the West, is whether we will defend Mr. Wilders and his right to say whatever he wants to say," he told IPS. "At AIFP we endorse their free speech, and the aspect of free speech is important to the war of ideas. But we disagree with their view of Islam."

"I think as a Muslim, the test of our character is how we respond to people that may not hold opinions of our faith that we agree with," he said. "And I truly think that the cartoons… demonstrated many Muslims didn't give groups the right to criticise our faith."

Jasser was referring to an incendiary cartoon published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten that portrayed the Muslim prophet Mohammed's head-covering as a bomb inscribed with the Islamic declaration of faith, which set off worldwide protests in 2005.

The IFPS website sells "exclusive cop[ies] of the famous Mohammed cartoon" for 250 dollars a piece.

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