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encourage the killing and submission of non-Muslims, and that verses allegedly showing the peaceful nature of Islam are superseded by later passages, or include major loopholes.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.Powered by Sidelines