Did anti-Muslim documentary spur Ohio mosque gassing?
In the wake of an alleged attack on a mosque in Ohio during a prayer session celebrating the final days of the holy month of Ramadan, questions are being raised about whether the distribution of millions of copies of an anti-Muslim documentary by supporters of the presidential campaign of John McCain may have contributed to the attack.
During Friday prayers at the Islamic Society of Greater Dayton, many of the 300 celebrants were suddenly overcome with fits of coughing and difficulty in breathing. Babies and children who were in a separate room were the most strongly affected, and according to the Dayton Daily News, one child told fire investigators of having seen two men spray something through the window of that room from a white can.
Chris Rodda, who serves as senior research director for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), has drawn attention to the attack and speculates that it may have been inspired by the distribution last week, through mailings and newspaper inserts, of millions of copies of a "fear-mongering, anti-Muslim documentary" called Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West.
Obsession was originally released in 2005 and was repeatedly broadcast by Fox News prior to the 2006 election. According to a description at NewsHounds, "The film was hosted by none other than Fox former morning chat show host, E.D. Hill ... After a short film clip of generic Jihadists shouting (translated, of course) 'bomb, bomb, USA, Death to America, and Kill the Jews,' E.D. explained that Islamic Radicals are the 'new Nazis and they want you dead.' ... The hour-long film was non-stop footage of various jihadist groups making anti-American and anti-Israeli statements."
Although there has been no direct link established between Obsession and the events in Ohio, the documentary is clearly having an effect. The founder of the Interfaith Youth Core received a call from a Lutheran pastor, who told him that "his congregation has been involved in several interfaith projects, including allowing a group of Muslims to use the church for worship on Friday evenings while their new mosque was being built. ... But recently, this pastor has fielded several angry phone calls from congregants condemning the decision to allow 'dangerous people' to use church space. Why these calls now ... Last week, his community received the film 'Obsession' in the Sunday newspaper."
Aziz Poonawalla, who blogs at BeliefNet, goes even further in his concerns, warning, "That DVD was intended to bring about precisely this kind of demonization. ... Incidentally, it doesn't stop here. There's a new Islamophobic film due to be released in early October, in time for Eid al Fitr: The Third Jihad. This is a 'tsunami of Islamophobia' that is clearly aimed at influencing the election in November."
Rodda has provided harrowing details of events in the mosque, quoting an email from a friend of one of the victims:
"She told me that the gas was sprayed into the room where the babies and children were being kept while their mothers prayed together their Ramadan prayers. 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. 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 paramedic said the young one was in shock, and gave her oxygen to help her breathe. The child couldn't stop sobbing. ...
She tells me that her daughters slept with her last night, the little one in her arms and sobbing throughout the night. She tells me she is afraid, and will never return to the mosque, and I wonder what kind of country is this where people have to fear attending their place of worship?
"The children come into the room, and tell me they want to leave America and return to Syria, where they had fled to from Iraq. They say they like me, ... , and other American friends -- but they are too afraid and want to leave. Should a 6 and 7 year old even have to contemplate the safety of their living situation?
Rodda notes, in her role with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, "The presidential campaign edition of the Obsession DVD, currently being distributed by the Clarion Fund, carries the endorsement of the chair of the counter-terrorism department of the U.S. Naval War College, using the name and authority of an official U.S. military institution not only to validate an attack the religion of Islam, but to influence a political campaign. For these reasons, this endorsement has been included in MRFF's second lawsuit against the Department of Defense, which was filed on September 25 in the Federal District Court in Kansas."
And she adds as a more personal comment, "John McCain has a moral obligation to publicly censure the Clarion Fund, the organization that produced Obsession and is distributing the DVDs; to denounce the inflammatory, anti-Muslim message of Obsession; and to do everything in his power to stop any further campaign activities by his supporters that have the potential to incite violence."