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‘Obsession’ panel stirs controversy

A panel discussion at NDSU on Oct. 30 entitled “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War against the West” brought together the topics of Islamophobia, or intolerance of Islamic people, and xenophobia, or intolerance of foreigners. After controversy created when The Forum inserted a 60 minute DVD advertisement entitled “Obsession” into its daily paper distribution, the event was organized.

The diverse audience of 45 settled into the Memorial Union at NDSU.

“The DVD doesn’t ask you to do anything like giving money or any sort of contribution. It does not condone any illegal activity or break any laws,” The Forum editor and panel member Matthew Von Pinnon said in response to a question about its distribution. “The DVD was an advertisement, and it’s selling you an idea that you can agree or disagree with.”

Despite this viewpoint, The Forum received both criticism and positive feedback.

“We were denounced at a news conference, and The Forum even covered this,” Von Pinnon said. “We were also complimented for distributing the DVD. People said it was good to see it, and now they feel more informed.”

Dr. Ahmed Afzaal, Concordia professor of Islamic religion and history and fellow panel member, had many opinions which differed from the other panelists.

“I think the contents of the DVD are more important than the decision to distribute it,” Afzaal said. “It is a propaganda film. If you watch it, it’s very easy to recognize that this film needs no outside criticism. It deconstructs itself.”

The DVD starts and ends with the same quote, and is solidified by various speakers throughout.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil…is for good men to do nothing,” Irish philospher Edmund Burke said in it.

One of the main problems Afzaal saw with the film was its title.

“If you start watching the DVD with the assumption that all Islam is radical and evil and that the West is the good, then this is not correct,” Afzaal said. “What you are saying then, based on this assumption, is that Radical Islam launched a war against the West, civilization versus barbarism.”

Another panel member, Scott Hennen, who is a radio talk-show host on AM 1100 the Flag, brought even another opinion.

“To draw a comparison between the moral equivalent between the United States of America, the greatest country on Earth, and Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda makes my stomach turn,” Hennen said. “It makes me sick. It is absolutely ridiculous.”

Hennen went on to criticize Afzaal’s statements.

“I am in shock and awe out of [Afzaal] teaching our kids,” Hennen said. “Last I heard, Concordia is very expensive, and I thought the teachers would be smarter than that.”

The audienced, which included many Concordia students, gasped. After a brief pause, a few audience members even picked up their things and left.

Dr. Jarret Brachman, NDSU professor and world-renowned expert on al-Qaeda was the next panelist to speak. The DVD is counterproductive to its intention, said Brachman

“Of course this will be provocative and create some fireworks,” he said. “I’m going to be academic in my analysis, and I am frustrated with the national security perspective.”

More attention needs to be paid to history, Afzaal added.

“Who created this monster, Radical Islam, in the first place? We have created and unleashed the monster in our own image,” he said. “We don’t want to think of ourselves as guilty, and then we get more tangled in the web of self-denial. Take the mask off Radical Islam and who will you see? Yourself.”

Hennen was quick to respond again, saying he agreed about paying more attention to history. He did, however, disagree with the statement about seeing oneself under the face of Radical Islam.

“[It’s] the most bizarre statement I’ve heard in my life. It is just absurd,” he said. “The DVD is a service for those who have forgotten about 9/11 or the other attacks.”

More audience members shook their heads and walked out. Von Pinnon agreed with the importance of remembering the 9/11 attack.

“[It] was an alarm clock to Islam to wake up the slumbering monster, if you will,” he said. “It was a very powerful megaphone. It is saying that they exist and they are here to dominate.”

Hennen spoke up again with a previous argument of his own.

“I don’t see any gray areas. It’s all black and white to me. My opinion is there are no moral equivalents,” he said. “It’s a disagreement with Dr. Afzaal. I thought that’s what you academic people lived for.”

After another brief moment of audience shock, Afzaal spoke to re-explain himself. If the DVD was just an advertisement, more explanation about what it was selling is needed, he said.

“Facts are never naked. They are dressed up to create a certain view. Do we know if the clips on the DVD from Arab TV are typical? No,” Afzaal said. “It’s given to us as if it’s typical. I don’t think it is.”

Audience questions ended the panel discussion. One frustrated audience member felt mostly ignorance on both sides of the argument.

“I didn’t feel enlightened during this session,” he said. “I don’t think I have a question you could answer.”

The last audience member waited patiently to voice his opinions until two minutes before the session finally ended.

“The radio man is full of hatred,” he said, aiming his words at Hennen. “I learned a lot from Afzaal.”

With these final words, the panel was called to a close. Clusters of people, however, stood in Memorial Union and the hallways, discussing what they had just heard. Mixed opinions and various thoughts continued still.

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