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Documentary, Propaganda or Both?  You be the judge on this one
A Mystery Wrapped Inside an Enigma:
Islam: What the West Needs to Know
7-7-06 "Knight Thoughts" web exclusive
By Richard Knight, Jr.
I have been troubled since viewing the documentary Islam: What the West Needs to Know which opens today in just three
cities in America – Chicago, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C.  The source of the trouble is my ignorance about the religion under attack
in the film – I don’t pretend to have more than a modicum of knowledge about it and as such don't wish to tread in such a current
events hot zone.  I’ve read for years in the gay media about Islam's persecution of homosexuals and abuse toward women and
trust the sources of these reports.  But a lot of religions, in one way or another, follow these same practices.  So taking that out of
the equation (not the easiest thing to do, of course), is Islam a religion of peace as proclaimed by millions of its followers and many
world leaders?  Or is it instead, a horribly divisive faith bent on the destruction of those who refuse to follow its tenets?  Without at
least a working knowledge of Islam and its Muslim followers, how is it possible to review this movie with any kind of even-
handedness?  Is this a documentary?  Propaganda?  A combination of the two?

This movie, which has been dubbed “controversial” before it’s been screened, easily falls into that category but on what side of
controversy does it fall?  It’s obvious from that warning of a title and the film’s content where the moviemakers stand but where did
this polarized position originate?  The extreme right and the extreme left, as has been noted elsewhere, are seemingly so rigid in
their positions and so quick to resort to aggression that it’s often hard to tell the two apart.

It hasn’t helped that aside from an ignorance of the subject matter at issue, there hasn’t been much background information on the
two filmmakers, Bryan Daly and Gregory Davis, who are making their debut with the movie.  The film’s publicist provided the
information that the two started Quixotic Media, a small production/distribution company three years ago with the goal to “pursue
subjects the traditional media would not.”  The inspiration for
Islam: What the West Needs to Know, their first production, according to
their publicist was this: “After noticing the ubiquitous assertion that ‘Islam is a religion of peace’ they thought it would be publicly
useful and socially relevant to examine the issue from Islam’s own canonical sources” and that's what the movie does.

As the film begins clips of Western world leaders – Bush, Blair, Rice, et al – are shown one after the other decrying terrorists and
making the distinction between their barbarous acts and the Islam faith.  Islam is a religion of peace they are quick to assert and is
sullied by the horrific acts of these fanatics but a trio of self-described experts on Islam and a former terrorist quietly debunk this
idea throughout the rest of the movie.  As the film sees it, the opposite is true and followers of Islam won’t be happy until every non-
believer joins their ranks or failing that, is wiped off the face of the earth – and if that has to be achieved through extremely violent
means, so be it.  The movie methodically lays out this thesis in six chapters – via the talking heads, graphics, Islamic artwork, and
voice over readings from the Koran and other Islamic texts.

The film is quietly persuasive in its arguments and if half of what these experts assert is true, the world is in for decades of bloody
strife – whether through ignorance or manipulative design (one of the experts points out that terrorist acts have become the scare
tactic replacement for Fascism and Communism of days gone by).  This is a vision of the world that’s as terrifying as that envisioned
by Christian Fundamentalists after the Rapture, their Day of Reckoning occurs.  Calm and assured (though never smug),
Islam: What
the West Needs to Know
is a poison pill of a movie with a dreadful warning.  But are the filmmakers Cassandra’s, damned to predict
an accurate future that no one believes or the opposite?  

My unease about all of this comes not just from the fact that the first scenario is a possibility but also from the potential
consequences of writing about this controversial movie that exposes that possibility in the first place.  Then again, maybe that’s the
best reason for the movie to be seen in the first place.  Anything that can stimulate an audience into an intellectual, open and
emotional discussion and get them to wrestle with such disturbing questions no matter the viewer’s belief – as this movie sure can –
is worth seeing.  Isn’t it?