What I Like about the Film “Obsession”

An evil word is like a rotten tree, uprooted from the surface of the earth, with no power to endure. (Qur’an 14:26)

Let’s be very honest here.  “Obsession” is not going to win any Oscars, unless a new category is opened for the worst Islamphobic film, in which case it might have a chance.

There is, however, something about this film that I cannot help but like… a lot.  While there are several rebuttals of this film on the web, and decent people of all faith traditions are justifiably upset about its xenophobic portrayal of Islam and Muslims, I feel that “Obsession” is one of those rare works of propaganda that ultimately needs no external critique.  It stands condemned by itself.

To say that “Obsession” needs no external critique is to argue that it is so fraught with internal contradictions that, in effect, the film acts as its own worst enemy; with each frame, the film digs itself in an ever deepening grave.  Or, to use a different metaphor, with each frame it hammers yet another nail in its own coffin.  If we watch the film without suspending our critical faculties, “Obsession” is perfectly willing to deconstruct itself.  The film is clearly on a suicide mission.

The basic premise of the film remains unstated and unacknowledged, which is precisely why we should pay careful attention to it.  The subtitle says it most clearly: “Radical Islam’s War against the West.”  The following points are implied:

1. There are two entities: one is called “Radical Islam” and the other is known as “the West.”  There is nothing common between the two; they are diametrically opposite and mutually exclusive.

2. The entity called “Radical Islam” has launched a war against the entity known as “the West.” It’s their fault.  They have started the whole thing.

3. Why?  The answer is found in the title of the film: “Obsession.”  The entity called “Radical Islam” is obsessed, which is precisely why it is at war.  That’s it.  No further explanation is required.

4. Because the entity called “Radical Islam” is suffering from “obsession,” it is by definition irrational; there is no need to pay any attention to historical forces, social contexts, or economic and political realities; and there is definitely no need to take into account their complaints and concerns.

5.  Even though “Radical Islam” is at war against “the West” (that is to say, against “us”), the latter remains unaware of the danger it is facing.  Two things are required: Increased awareness of the threat and increased willingness to respond to the threat in the appropriate manner (i.e., counter-war).

Taken together, these six steps constitute the main argument presented by “Obsession.”  The full argument is very simple and elegant, and from a logical viewpoint one cannot help but admire both its simplicity and its elegance.

The argument of the film “Obsession,” while simple and elegant, is also very precarious.  In effect, the whole edifice rests upon a single premise: the assumption of the essential dichotomy  between “Radical Islam” and “the West.”  This premise is too insecure and wobbly to support all the weight that has been placed upon it.  Insofar as this assumption does not hold up to critical scrutiny, as we shall see, the message of “Obsession” crumbles and collapses as well.  To use a Qur’anic metaphor, it’s an evil word… a rotten and rootless tree, with no capacity to stand on its own.

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