Muslim leaders in Dayton, Ohio, said they don’t know why anyone would disrupt a Friday night Ramadan service by spraying an unknown irritant into a mosque and forcing about 300 worshippers out of the building and into the street with burning eyes and throats. But the attack coincided with mass distribution in presidential swing states of a controversial DVD about Islamic terrorism.”
Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West” appeared as a advertising insert in more than 70 newspapers nationwide, including the Dayton Daily News, which is part of Cox Ohio Publishing.
Circulation of the two-year-old documentary on the threat of Muslim extremism was widely interpreted as a scare tactic by supporters of Sen. John McCain intended to sway voters in undecided electoral states.
The group handling the distribution denied the intent was to influence the elections. Gregory Ross, spokesman for the Clarion Fund, a New-York based nonprofit organization paying for the newspaper inserts, told the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., the campaign was timed to coincide with the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He called it “purely coincidental” that September is also the holy month of Ramadan.
Worshippers at the Islamic Society of Greater Dayton were celebrating the last 10 days of Ramadan with a dinner and prayer session when two unidentified white assailants reportedly sprayed an unknown chemical through a window into a room where babies and children were being kept while their mothers gathered nearby to say their Ramadan prayers.
At least one adult and one child were taken to the hospital, according to the Dayton Daily News, while emergency personnel treated an unknown number of people complaining of burning eyes and difficulty in breathing at the scene.
An e-mail posted on the Daily Kos reportedly from someone who talked to one of those involved described the scene. “Panicked mothers ran for their babies, crying for their children so they could flee from the gas that was burning their eyes and throats and lungs,” the e-mail reported. “She grabbed her youngest in her arms and grabbed the hand of her other daughter, moving with the others to exit the building and the irritating substance there.”
The report went on to say the mother will never return to the mosque and that her children want to leave America and return to Syria, where they previously fled from Iraq.
Dayton police were quoted as saying there is no evidence to indicate the incident was the result of a hate crime, but Islamic leaders in other communities had already expressed worry about how some Americans might react after seeing the “Obsession” film. It includes a disclaimer that most Muslims are peaceful, but then juxtaposes violent images with scenes of Muslim children being encouraged to become suicide bombers interspersed with pictures of Nazi rallies in a way that various reviews said leaves little doubt that Muslim fanatics are an immediate threat.
Interviewees include Walid Shoebat, a Palestinian American convert to Christianity and evangelist who has spoken to John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, and conservative writer and activist David Horowitz, who has been screening “Obsession” on college campuses since it aired on Fox News just before the 2006 mid-term elections.
Dr. Khaleel Mohammed, the only “Obsession” interviewee who is a professor of Islamic studies, said after seeing the film that he was duped into believing that comments he made for the film would be used objectively. He said the filmmakers instead used his whittled-down interview alongside alarmist statements by non-experts in a way to show the movie’s intent was “not to educate, but to mislead.” He called the finished product “a vile piece of propaganda.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations called the film an “anti-Muslim election gimmick” and filed a complaint about it with the Federal Election Commission.
The Hate Hurts America Multifaith Community Coalition launched a Web site to respond both to the film and a Clarion Fund Web site urging Americans to take action against “radical Islam.”
The Clarion Fund, organized in 2007, denies being a political organization. As a tax-exempt charity, the IRS prohibits it from engaging in partisan politics. Media reports, however, indicated that the Radical Islam Web site posted an article endorsing McCain that was removed after questions about it were raised.
Few details have been reported about who provides funding for the organization, but the St. Petersburg Times reported links to an international Jewish charity.
Not everyone panned the film. The conservative Web site World Net Daily, dubbed it “the movie Hollywood doesn’t want you to see” and for a limited time discounted its sale price from the normal $20 to “only $4.95.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.