PBS — exercising its taxpayer-funded powers — perpetrated unethical censorship when they pulled “Islam vs. Islamists: Voices from the Muslim Center ,” from their lineup last month. In a time of turbulent debate about our ability to coexist with the Muslim faith, the publicly-owned network shelved the $675,000 taxpayer-funded film that answers a question many Americans have continually posed since 9/11: where are the moderate Muslims?
Dubbed, “the film PBS doesn’t want you to see,” the production premiered privately to an invitation-only group at The U.S. Navy Memorial’s Burke Theatre on Tuesday. It was initially slated for the “America at a Crossroads” series — documentaries aimed to reveal alternative perspectives of post-9/11 America. The network often features controversial (mostly liberal) viewpoints, so suspicion rose when network executives earmarked the film “biased” and “unfair.” Worse still, PBS even hired a confidant to the Nation of Islam — a main target of the documentary — as an advisor to the film, which is a clear conflict of interest.
Producer Martyn Burke, along with co-Executive Producers Frank Gaffney and Alex Alexiev, refused to edit the film to meet the oppressive PBS “standards” that would have undermined the main objective of exposing the everyday challenges faced by anti-radical Muslims. One primary opposition, said Burke at the screening, was that PBS felt the moderates in the films were “not authentic representatives of Islam because they were Westernized.”
PBS Crossroads series Producer Leo Eaton said the film, “creates a one-sided narrative…it fails the most basic Journalism 101 test.” But the remark is contradicted by film scenes featuring Muslims from both extreme and moderate ideologies, including the profile of Shaykh Muhammad Hisham Kabbanni, who denounces terror spread in the name of Islam and preaches peace and tolerance. Also shown — voicing the opposite view quite loudly — were imams from several U.S. and European mosques who lauded the idea of a parallel Islamic society worldwide, with one advocating also that “most Muslims don’t agree with American philosophy on foreign policy because it is against Islam.”
In almost every instance, the moderate, democracy-embracing Muslims were labeled “extreme” by the Islamist subjects who expressed a desire for what filmmakers labeled a “theo-totalitarianism” ideology where Islam reigns as a strict religious political system. The anti-Islamists profiled disagreed and became brutal targets for the local Islamists — in each of the featured countries: The United States, Canada, Denmark, Holland, and France. As one subject put it, “They can’t call me Islamphobic, because I am Muslim.”
Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AFID), an organization whose web site promotes an “understanding of Islam which…is in complete harmony with the U.S. Constitution…,” was targeted by an Arab newspaper in his Arizona town when they characterized him as a rabid dog devouring a Muslim Imam after he produced a “Muslims against Terror” rally. Almost every mosque and local Muslim organization found a reason not to participate in the rally. When the newspaper’s editor is interviewed about the cartoon assault, he weakly dodges the question.
The film also profiles Canadian Pakistani immigrant and moderate Muslim Tarek Fatah, the host of a talk show covering Islamic issues and misunderstandings. He receives threats regularly and local Muslim leaders despise him, but he courageously continues his fight for understanding. Similarly, French-Algerian journalist and Muslim Mohamed Sifaoui requires security 24 hours a day due to his bravery in going undercover to expose Islamic terrorism..
These are a few of the voices from the Muslim center, but most are overwhelmingly silenced by threats echoing from radical Islamic regimes, here and abroad. Organizations like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and The Muslim Student Union both harbor intimate ties to extremist groups that fund Wahhabi mosques and promote terrorism worldwide. And now they’ve leashed in an American broadcasting company to do their dirty work. PBS fell in line, a broadcast version of dhimmitude.
After the film viewing, a Muslim spokeswoman for Shaykh Kabbani said, “This government doesn’t seem to be willing to hear about the battle of ideas and that trickles into public broadcasting and it may come to roost in a very dangerous way.”
The moderate Muslims of the film want to present “the essence of our faith versus that of those who’ve attacked it for political reasons,” said Jasser, who has received threatening notes from CAIR telling him to “stop airing our dirty laundry.”
Danish lawyer and moderate Muslim Naser Khader spoke after the screening, highlighting the Danish cartoon crisis as the eye opening occurrence that prompted him to create the Muslim Democratic Forum. According to Khader, the cartoons went published and unnoticed for months in Denmark, until a small group of imams made it their prerogative to instigate controversy — and that is how an international outrage began. These extremists tarnish the name of every Muslim and the moderates bravely sought this film as a place for their voices to resound.
Unfortunately, as Gaffney said at the premier, “PBS showed the side aligned with our enemies.” In place of the Burke film, the station aired a sloppy documentary about American Muslims who have experienced discrimination and racial profiling in their communities — making no mention of extremism. It is PBS’s style of self-censorship that will bring the radical Islamists to their first success: the suppression of free speech in the United States.