Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum agreed to establish a Muslim community advisory group late last week after his office came under fire for directing state officials to watch "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West," a controversial film featuring one of three alleged ex-terrorists promoting fundamentalist Christianity and vilifying Muslims as terrorists and Islam as "evil."
McCollum's office said the attorney general sent an email to about 500 state employees last month urging them to attend a screening of the film "Obsession" in order to better understand "the terrorist threat to Florida and the West by radical Islam." The attorney general said he still believes the film has "value" and has refused to "dissasociate" himself from a decision to ask members of his staff to view it.
The film was produced and financed by HonestReporting, a media watchdog group based in New York and Jerusalem that says its mission is to "defend Israel from prejudice."
The Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles and the Council of American Islamic Relations said "Obsession" is an "anti-Muslim propaganda film."
Jack Shaheen, an Oxford University research scholar and author of four books on racism, stereotyping and propaganda, agreed. He told the St. Petersburg Times in an interview February 12 that the film was "very convincing."
"Goebbels would be proud. This film has a place in cinema history with the racist film Birth of a Nation and the Nazi film Triumph of the Will because it so cleverly advances lies to vilify a people," Shaheen said.
The film features Walid Shoebat, who claims he is a former terrorist and was once affiliated with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Two weeks ago, Shoebat, and two other alleged ex-terrorists he works closely with were invited to speak to cadets at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs about radical Islam. However, their discussion centered on fundamentalist Christianity and how turning oneself over to Jesus Christ is crucial to winning the war on terror.
Collectively, the alleged ex-terrorists claim responsibility for the deaths of at least 223 Arabs. They have all denounced Islam. One of the alleged ex-terrorists became a preacher in the 1990s.
Last September, Shoebat told the Missouri Springfield News-Leader that he sees "many parallels between the Antichrist and Islam" and "Islam is not the religion of God -- Islam is the devil."
Mikey Weinstein, a graduate of the US Air Force Academy and the founder and president of the watchdog group The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said the academy invited the men to speak to cadets and staff in hopes of capitalizing off the alleged terrorists' conversion to fundamentialist Christianity as a way to proselytize and convert the "unchurched."
Weinstein said their appearance at the academy just another example of the school's long documented history of using "unconstitutional, propaganda, fear, and military command influence to promote fundamentalist Christianity to its cadets and staff."
"In the four years that our Military Religious Freedom Foundation has been fighting this invasion of fundamentalist Christianity in the US military absolutely nothing has been as surreal as this event," Weinstein said in an interview a day before the ex-terrorists' appearance. "The US Air Force Academy has either invited Osama Bin Laden and his buddies or Las Vegas Elvis impersonators to come to speak. No matter which category this falls into to this represents a scandalous outrage that is off the scale of repugnancy and duplicity. These three frauds are as much Islamic terrorists as Arnold Schwarzenegger is a real Terminator. Our foundation will immediately include this entire sordid matter as part of our federal lawsuit against the Pentagon currently being litigated in Kansas City."
Shoebat claims he volunteered for the PLO as a child. At 16, Shoebat said the PLO ordered him to bomb a Jewish-owned bank in Bethlehem with a device he smuggled from Jerusalem inside a loaf of bread. He was supposed to plant it near the bank’s door, but Palestinian children played nearby. He decided to throw it onto the roof of a nearby building instead, where it exploded without harming anyone, he said.