New Censors’ Obsession
The truth is out there. It may be suppressed.


George Bernard Shaw once wrote that assassination is the extreme form of censorship. Today, I wonder what he would say about the censorship of assassination as a political organizing principle. Sadly, one is forced to ask this question just now as we witness some of our nation’s newspapers refusing to accept a paid advertisement in the form of the documentary Obsession.

For those unfamiliar, Obsession was put together in the aftermath of 9/11/01 to help educate Americans and other English speakers about the roots and methods of terrorism, the uses of propaganda in the Middle East, and the tactics of recruitment — including the recruitment of children and suicide bombers (too often, the same thing). It was one of many civilian-distributed educational efforts that sprung up after 9/11 to help educate on a topic of obvious concern and too little knowledge. It was a heroic effort. Of late, that effort has been regenerated, with a campaign to have Obsession sent into homes and distributed in local newspapers.

But not all newspapers are accepting the advertisement. And in the quest to keep the DVD out of the hands of too many Americans, some journalists are betraying their own ignorance. Take Keith Olbermann of MSNBC. Olbermann recently said Obsession is “neocon pornography.” I can only imagine what Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz must have thought of this comment, he being one of the most prominently featured experts in the documentary. Professor Alan Dershowitz, a supporter of Al Gore, John Kerry, and Barack Obama, and an opponent of the Iraq war, would be just about the last person to think of himself as a neoconservative.

Other experts in the documentary include Egyptian-born Nonie Darwish, a public speaker who has denounced radical Islam and whose domestic politics are nowhere readily evident; Itamar Marcus, an Israeli who has established a media research center exposing Palestinian propaganda; Martin Gilbert, a British historian of impeccable credentials; Steve Emerson, one of the first journalists to learn and speak of terror cells within the United States; Daniel Pipes, one of the most respected scholars of Islam in the West; and others unrecognizable to any professional political fundraisers, whose politics is anybody’s guess. To be sure, some of these experts have become controversial, good experts often are. But so far as I can tell, in the case of Daniel Pipes for example, controversy about him results from his belief that political Islam is a threat to both the West and moderate Islam. He’s just that controversial.

Too bad such experts are denounced, silenced, and dismissed by shibboleths that explain nothing but are well received in the fever swamps of ideological rigidity. Ever since re-reading Daniel Pipes’ and Steve Emerson’s work in the 1990s, when they were predicting the destruction of the World Trade Center and worse, I’ve come to believe we have more to learn from them still, and that we ignore their scholarship at our own peril. Perhaps that is why Emerson is one of the first calls televised news organizations make whenever a terrorist event takes place anywhere in the world.

But we have a lot more to learn from all of the experts in Obsession, and denouncing them and the project seems something very close to banning books because the ideas found in them are uncomfortable or offensive to some. I will readily agree: terrorism and the recruiting of children as suicide bombers is offensive, to put it no worse. I think most would agree as well, we know nothing like enough about such tactics and problems so as to begin a campaign to silence documentaries about them. A campaign to silence is what we have, however, and Keith Olbermann is hardly alone.


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