Film sparks controversy across campuses

A film on radical Islam recently shown on college campuses across the United States has sparked controversy in its wake, causing some campuses to cancel future showings.

Director Wayne Kopping’s documentary “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West” has aired to crowds at such institutions as New York University and University of California, Los Angeles. Other schools such as Pace University and the State University of New York at Stony Brook have nixed showings, the New York Times reported.

Though much of the press surrounding the film has focused on campus showings, Kopping said that colleges were not the primary distribution focus. Kopping said his intention was to get the film seen by as wide an audience as possible.

Radical Islam “affects all of us no matter where we live,” Kopping said.

Kopping was adamant that his film distinguished between radical Islam and the faith practiced by a majority of the world’s Muslims. A disclaimer at the start of the film reads, “It’s important to remember, most Muslims are peaceful and do not support terror.”

He was especially critical of Muslim student associations that protested his film at colleges where showings were cancelled. “You can’t even discuss the topic because the first thing they do is scream Islamophobia,” Kopping said. “I defy anyone to go to the film tell us how and where we say anything defined as Islamophobia.”

Muslim Student Association officials could not be reached by phone or e-mail before the publication of this article

Kopping said that watching the film was the single most important thing a college administration considering a screening could do.

“They can’t make a blind decision,” he said.

Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, Manager of Religious Life at NYU’s Bronfman Center, attended the NYU showing and panel discussion of the film. He said about 100 students watched the film, the majority of whom were Muslim.

Sarna, whose second cousin was killed in a suicide bombing, said that the film put together some of the most frightening footage of recent years related to Islamic fundamentalism.

“As a supporter of Israel, the film resonated with me,” he said. Sarna felt it was very effective in installing fear and said that the film left him shaking.

He understood, however, why Muslim students in the audience weren’t as compelled. Based on their reactions after the film, Sarna said the imagery felt like propaganda to them and made them angry.

The film could have been more conducive to bridge building, Sarna said, if it had paid more attention to a current mainstream Muslim community in the United States. Sarna also wished it had been more nuanced, perhaps by differentiating between Arab Muslims and East Asian Muslims.

He encouraged schools showing the film to air it as part of a series alongside films “on the other end of the spectrum.” He also suggested a panel discussion afterwards similar to that held at NYU.

The panel discussion after the NYU showing “really showed students it’s okay to confront the real issues as long as you have the mechanism to unpack them,” Sarna said.

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