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Movie Review: Islam – What the West Needs to Know

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Do Islamic terrorists pervert and blaspheme a fundamentally tolerant religion, as continually asserted by Western politicians? The makers of Islam: What the West Needs to Know, a documentary recently released on DVD after a very limited theatrical release, argues that Islam not only excuses but mandates intolerance and violence against "non-believers" for the benefit of spreading the faith. It's a very provocative thesis that the filmmakers, unfortunately, present in a dry, pedestrian manner.

Islam: What the West Needs to Know consists almost entirely of filmed interviews with five writers – Abdullah al-Araby, Walid Shoebat, Robert Spencer (who maintains the popular Jihad Watch weblog), Serge Trifkovic, and Bat Ye’or – who respond to the most common arguments in favor of the Muslim faith being peaceful and tolerant. They argue that several verses in the Koran and the hadiths (contemporary accounts of the Prophet Mohammed’s life) openly encourage the killing and submission of non-Muslims, and that verses allegedly showing the peaceful nature of Islam are superseded by later passages, or include major loopholes.

They also point out that Mohammed himself spread his faith through battle and conquest, and that his successors and followers violently extended the Islamic empire even further. The Christian Crusades were meant to retake the Holy Land from Muslims, notes one of the authorities interviewed for the film, but how did Muslims come into possession of the Holy Land in the first place?

The Crusades, and other bloody battles and conquests carried out in the name of Christianity, always come up in discussions and debates about whether Islam is inherently violent or malicious – and not without reason. There probably isn’t a belief system on earth with perfectly clean hands, so is the Muslim faith really inherently worse? Islam: What the West Needs to Know does not adequately answer this question. (Spencer, at least, has dealt with it in some of his writings.)

There's no law which says a documentary must be "unbiased" or "impartial" – on the contrary, most documentaries are specifically meant to promote the filmmakers' points of view. But even Michael Moore features his political opponents in his movies, if for no other reason than to make them look as bad as possible. Islam: What the West Needs to Know would have been a stronger film had practicing Muslims, or experts more sympathetic to the religion, been given a chance to reply.

It would have been a much stronger film had co-directors Gregory M. Davis and Bryan Daly included more material, aside from their interviews with Spencer, Shoebat, and the other writers noted above. There is surprisingly little footage of Islamist demagogues and extremists in action, and much of what is shown is not described or placed into context. Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West, another documentary dealing with similar subject matter, is much more compelling. (To their credit, Davis and Daly make effective use of filmed speeches and interviews with prominent politicians – George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Bill Clinton, Harry Reid – proclaiming their undying faith and respect for the Islamic religion. Sure you read and understand the Koran, Mr. Blair.)

The interviews with Walid Shoebat, a former PLO terrorist who converted to Christianity and renounced his bloody past, are by far the most interesting parts of the film. His story deserves its own movie. But while some of the arguments in Islam: What the West Needs to Know are intriguing and disturbing, the film is a disappointingly dull treatment of an explosive topic.

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About Damian P.

  • Billy

    I say nuke the entire middle east from orbit, its the only way to be sure.

  • Nancy

    Yeah, I’ve come to that conclusion too, except that you’d also have to include Indonesia if you wanted to make any serious inroads into eradicating Islam & establishing some sort of tolerance & peace globally.

  • usabikes

    The DVD is factually as accurate as it gets. As a post-grad student of Islam everything in the film lines up with all that I’ve read in my studies. Yes, the film is slow, but I suspect this is to avoid any allegations of emotionalism.

    They use the traditons concerning the Prophet (the Hadiths) of Bukhari which of the 4 main Hadiths are acknowledged by the Muslim community as being the most historically trustworthy.

    The film doesn’t in any way seek to defame Muslims as persons of worth, it merely tells us that if all Muslims were to follow their faith as it was originally intended to be – as do the 15% who can be accurately termed “Jihadist” – then the rest of us are in a great deal of trouble.

    If the viewer is in doubt as to the claims of the film it is only necessary to examine the human rights records of those countries or areas which consider themselves to be as close to authentic Islam as possible – the Taliban regime for example; or the way Pakistan has degenerated over the last 30 years or so; or the laws of Saudi Arabia that prohibit a building or minister of any other religion. Even more “moderate” regimes such as Indonesia, Turkey and Malaysia don’t bear up well under scrutiny from a human rights point of view.

    None of these are hamstrung by any problems of interpreting Islam or of not understanding its context. Certainly there as the peaceful Sufis and other liberal Muslim but they are a small minority with most Muslims capable of going either way.

    Personally, I believe that we need to befriend as many Muslims as we can, bearing in mind the often painful past experiences many of them have had, often at the hands of fellow Muslims or “Christians”. But we also need to be competently aware of their faith no matter how unpleasant that reality is.

  • kat

    I want to second the comments of usbikers, he is absolutely correct. i have also seen this film and its presentation is deliberately sober and methodical, presumably to avoid any hint of propagandizing the issue. And yet I found the film extremely disturbing and powerful. we need more works like this.

  • Mohamed


    I am a Muslim and love the Islamic way of life. i can’t imagine hurting another human being and i believe that this is what Islam teaches. Read the Qur’an and you will see that the only time anger or violence is mentioned is in response to gross injustice. i think Muslims are pretty descent folks on the whole. Hope you guys don’t decide to nuke us all. May the CREATOR of us all guide us to a state of respect and kindness to each other.

    Kind regards

  • Seems like it’s smarter to ‘turn the other cheek’ or even be murdered than to slap our fellow man or murder him. If mutual respect towards tolerance fails to enable co-existance, naturally, we are ALL bound to fail! I stay outta Rome with the Pope, outta Israel with the Rabi, outta the Middle East with the Muslims, outta Tiebet with the Buddists, outta Latin America with the Santanagreas, outta Africa with the VooDoo & even outta Utah with the Mormons. What’s left for a Christian with too few supporters is merely belief that our Saviour WILL indeed awaken ALL of us, whether we like it or not!

  • Matt Songeh


    I’ve a question for all the commentators here which I sincerely hope they will asked themselves.

    There are thousands upon thousands of people in the West, especially in America who have recently converted to Islam. Were their conversion made with a jihadist’s sword at their throat?

  • ces

    To Know Islam is to undo Islam. My question is — If you are taking over the world by hatred, Anger and Violence what is left if you win? Where will humanity go then? I will tell you. To Christ. Seeking our Divine nature through love not hate and violence. Think about it Muslims and God Bless us all.

  • Sam

    One of the historical dilemmas in this issue lies in the fact that societies are ruled by their power-hungry elements rather than their plain folks. Translation: 90 to 95% of moslems may well be moderate. It’s the hard-liner 5 to 10% that usually seeks to rule. And, if successful, they stand the best chance to rally the support of the moderate moslems. As a result of the gradual implementation of their fundamentalist agenda, non moslems stand to pay the price. Add to that the fact that, much as Western Christianity has behaved until the Renaissance, Islam is much more than just a personal religion. It is indeed a governing ideology, a set of non-negotiable rules and regulations designed to dictate the “do’s” and “don’ts” of everyday’s life – usually as interpreted by the rulers. Again, it is non-negotiable and quite incompatible with today’s life in terms of personal liberties regardless of gender. Far from debasing the humane tenets of Islam, the hard and fast rules of Shari’a may have been adequate for the societies of much earlier centuries in terms of demographics, intellectual limitations and complexity of daily life. By analogy, the definition and implications of “fundamentalism” would have sounded less alarming as we go back in history. Today, the sheer gap size between the implications of fundamentalism and our way of life raises a lot of understandible anxiety, especially in the mind of non-Moslems.

  • Assalamualaikum! I need to watch the documentory. Thanks for the good review and of course thanks for the information.