(Inter Press Service)
A new documentary film from a shadowy non-profit, the Clarion Fund, has ties to groups widely accused of Islamophobia.
The Third Jihad purports to educate U.S. citizens about the threat of a “cultural Jihad” by the country’s own Muslim-American population.
The film goes to great lengths to define itself as an expose of radical Muslim elements, not of Islam as a whole. But emerging facts about the Clarion Fund and associated groups make this claim suspect.
The Inter Press Service (IPS) has learned that a group called the International Free Press Society (IFPS), which attended the Washington premiere of the film and documented the screening on behalf of the production company on a social media website, has some dubious affiliations.
In March 2009, IFPS heavily promoted Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders, a widely-known Islamophobe who has been tied to far-right European political parties.
An IPS investigation linked both Wilders and some of his U.S. and international supporters, including IFPS members, with the Vlaams Belang (VB), or Flemish Interest. Vlaams Belang is a nationalist Flemish party that has demanded amnesty for Nazi collaborators in Belgium.
Wilders is known for campaigning to ban the Koran, Islamic attire, and Islamic schools from the Netherlands, and for proclaiming that “moderate Islam does not exist.” His views have even drawn fire from the strongly pro-Israel Anti-Defamation League, which described Wilders’s rhetoric as “inflammatory, divisive, and antithetical to American democratic ideals.”
Wilders has been brought up on charges in the Netherlands and banned from Britain on the grounds that he incites hate.
The slickly produced Third Jihad film opens with a preemptory disclaimer: “This is not a film about Islam. It is about the threat of radical Islam. Only a small percentage of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims are radicals. This film is about them.”
The narrative of the movie is strung together with commentary from a “moderate” Muslim, Zuhdi Jasser, a physician from Arizona who heads the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD).
According to its website, AIFD is a non-profit which seeks to “intellectually stand against the religious fanatics who exploit the religion of Islam for a nihilistic, anti-American, anti-Western war.”
Unlike most commentators who regularly use the term “Islamofascist,” narrator Jasser is a practicing and devoted Muslim. But he believes Islam has no role in politics or government. He derides political Islam as part of the subversive, quiet jihad being waged within the boundaries of the West, a central tenet of the movie.
Jasser and the film’s creators contend that by having children, spreading their faith, and ensuring they can practice Islam as they see fit, radical Muslims are working a ”demographic jihad.” The film also implies that the radicals not only want to make Islam the dominant religion of the United States, they also intend, eventually, to take over the nation.
These claims are extremely unlikely, if not ludicrous. For one thing, in the United States, unlike Europe, Muslims are generally well-assimilated and not radicalized.
The film itself also contains inconsistencies in terms of differentiating between Islam and radical Islam. For example, the graphic that the film uses to demonstrate the spread of an Islamic state across the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe shows a tiled picture of a green crescent with a star between its points. The crescent and star are the symbol of Islam in general.
The documentary was produced by the Clarion Fund, a U.S.-based non-profit that was embroiled in controversy last year when it distributed its last movie, Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West, to nearly 30 million homes in the swing states that often decide U.S. presidential elections.
Its 501(c)(3) status as non-profit means the group is legally exempt from paying taxes and is prohibited from involvement in electoral politics.
IPS was able to tied the production and distribution of Obsession to right-wing Israeli groups and U.S.-based neoconservatives.
In addition to an endorsement of former Republican presidential candidate John McCain posted on Clarion’s website, questions were raised about Clarion’s ties to foreign groups, such as Aish Hatorah, an Israeli-based organization dedicated to educating young Jews about their heritage.
The Clarion Fund and Aish Hatorah are headed by Israeli-Canadian twin brothers Raphael and Ephraim Shore. The two groups appear to be connected because Clarion is incorporated in Delaware to the New York offices of Aish Hatorah.
Federal law prohibits campaigns and political candidates from taking money from foreign organizations.
Last September, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) asking that Clarion be investigated for allegedly violating their tax-exempt status and using foreign funds in an electoral push.
But a CAIR representative recently told IPS that the FEC has not been in touch to follow up on its request for an investigation.
Clarion strikes back at CAIR in the new film, accusing it of being part of a grand Muslim conspiracy to take over the West and the United States.
The Third Jihad is largely based on a document the FBI allegedly discovered in 2003. According to promotional materials for the film, the document is a ”Grand Jihad Manifesto” authored by the Muslim Brotherhood in North America.
“The 15-page document outlines goals and strategies for the infiltration and domination of America from within,” says a press release. “Among the strategies discussed is the establishment of ‘moderate’ groups, mosques, and Islamic centers across North America in an effort to strategically position Islam so that it might weaken western culture and promote the implementation of Sharia Law.”
Sharia, or Islamic law, has come into the spotlight as one of the principal goals of radical Islamists.
As practiced by the Taliban and other extremists, Sharia permits such draconian practices as the execution of adulterous women and the obliteration of schools for girls. But in mainstream Islam, “Sharia is no different than Jewish law or Christian law,” said CAIR communications director Ibrahim Hooper. “When he prays, Jasser is following Sharia; when he doesn’t drink alcohol, he’s following Sharia.”
The film says the document reportedly found by the FBI lists the Islamic Association of Palestine (IAP) as one of several Muslim organizations allied with the radicals. The film also claims that IAP helped form CAIR.
Yet despite this alleged tie, Clarion executive director Peter Connors insists CAIR was invited to screenings of the film. “Our invitations were declined,” Conners said.
To protest a May 16 screening of The Third Jihad at Los Angeles’s Simon Wiesenthal Center, CAIR sent a letter to Rabbi Marvin Hier, the center’s founder and dean.
“The film disingenuously claims it is only targeting ‘radical Islam,’ yet a Twitter account of the Washington, D.C., screening on Wednesday night stated: …’The 1400-hundred year war … has been going on since the beginning of Islam,'” CAIR wrote.
Indeed, a member of IFPS authored the Twitter feed, which allows users to post short updates on the web in real time.
“Thanks to the Clarion Fund for the opportunity to Twitter tonight. Be sure to visit the International Free Press Society online!” said the last post charting the press conference and screening.
“Clarion thanks the International Free Press Society … for their Twitter mastery at last night’s event,” said a post the following morning with a shortcut link to IFPS’s website.
Both “Tweets,” as the short messages are called, came from “No2RadicalIslam,” Clarion’s name on Twitter.
Some of Clarion’s supporters, including Jewish groups that have promoted its films as well as “moderate” Muslims like Jasser, appear unaware of IFPS’s association with the nationalist Flemish party Vlaams Belang, which has been deemed neo-Nazi and neo-fascist by critics.
In December 2008, senior VB leader Roeland Raes was convicted on charges of Holocaust denial.
Jasser told IPS he is not concerned about Clarion’s possible connections with right-wing Dutch politician Geert Wilders because he questions the characterization of Wilders as an Islamophobe.
“I do think the test of the West, and the test of us Muslims in the West, is whether we will defend Mr. Wilders and his right to say whatever he wants to say,” Jasser said. “At AIFP we endorse their free speech, and the aspect of free speech is important to the war of ideas. But we disagree with their view of Islam.”
“I think as a Muslim, the test of our character is how we respond to people that may not hold opinions of our faith that we agree with,” he said. “And I truly think that the cartoons … demonstrated many Muslims didn’t give groups the right to criticize our faith.”
Jasser was referring to an incendiary cartoon published in 2005 in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten that portrayed the Muslim prophet Mohammed’s headdress as a bomb inscribed with the Islamic declaration of faith. The cartoons set off worldwide protests.
The IFPS website sells “exclusive cop[ies] of the famous Mohammed cartoon” for $250 each.
Ali Gharib and Eli Clifton write for the Inter Press Service and are contributors to PRA’s Right Web (http://rightweb.irc-online.org/).