The Clarion Fund (now the “Clarion Project–#1 news site on the threat of Islamic extremism“) rides again. After producing three classic Islamophobic films, Obsession, Third Jihad and Iranium, T-H-E-Y’R-E B-A-C-K with a new one, Honor Diaries. The new project focuses on honor killings and Islam’s supposed hatred of women. One has to ask why a film about the purported abuse of Muslim women was produced by Jews, and ones with a distinct ideological agenda at that.
Honor Diaries calls itself a “woman’s film” (it was launched on March 8th, International Women’s Day) when its focus is decrying the alleged backwardness and misogyny of Islam. Here is the blurb from the film’s website in which you can see the sly manipulation of feminism for the purpose of Muslim-bashing:
The film gives a platform to exclusively female voices and seeks to expose the paralyzing political correctness that prevents many from identifying, understanding and addressing this international human rights disaster. Freedom of movement, the right to education, forced marriage, and female genital mutilation are some of the systematic abuses explored in depth.
Spurred by the Arab Spring, women who were once silent are starting to speak out about gender inequality and are bringing visibility to a long history of oppression. This project draws together leading women’s rights activists and provides a platform where their voices can be heard and serves as inspiration to motivate others to speak out.
More than a movie, Honor Diaries is a movement meant to inspire viewers to learn more about issues facing women in Muslim-majority societies, and to act for change.
The words “Arab Spring” above are the “hook” for the film. Its producers erroneously saw the Arab Spring as a revolt against Islam. So they devised this film as a wedge to further divide the mass of westerners against Islam. If the Arab Spring represented democracy, feminism, and turning toward western values, then it offered a perfect tool to discredit traditional Islam. Of course, this analysis of the Arab Spring is totally wrong. It did represent a turn toward populism and even democracy in some national contexts, but it in no way rejected Islam.
Another aspect of the marketing of this film is quite devious and sophisticated. Instead of taking on Islam head-on as it did so outlandishly in the previous three films, here the trash-talking is downplayed. It doesn’t preoccupy itself with terrorism or claim that all Muslims are terrorists as the earlier films did. Instead, it embraces a subject as American as apple pie: women’s rights. We all agree that oppression of women is wrong. So if Clarion can paint a picture of Islamic societies as oppressing women, then it’s achieved it’s goal of discrediting Islam, but done it through the back-door as it were.
Behind the film are the usual cast of characters including Rabbi Raphael Shore, formerly (according to him) of the settler-linked Aish HaTorah and Israel media-advocacy group, Honest Reporting. Alex Traiman, who wrote the previous films is back for another reprieve. But there are some intriguing new figures, Ayan Hirsi Ali, one of the early African female of assailants of Islam, who is a visiting fellow at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute. Another “expert” interviewed extensively is Dr. Qanta Ahmed, a Manhattan sleep disorder specialist, who’s transformed herself into a feminist Muslim and darling of the pro-Israel world. She celebrates Israel’s achievements as an unapologetic voice of Arab hasbara.
A member of the film’s advisory board is Christopher Boughey, a detective in the Peoria, AZ police department. Though his work involves investigating crimes against women, he has no particular expertise in Islam. His claim to fame is that he was the lead detective investigating an alleged honor killing. Which now makes him an expert in the entire field of women’s rights and Islam.
A writer and producer of the film, Paula Kweskin, has penned anti-Palestinian articles in the Jerusalem Post arguing that Israel does not occupy Gaza. Despite Kweskin’s claim of special interest in international humanitarian relief and the plight of Arab women, her NY Times wedding announcement proclaims that she is an employee of Clarion Fund (not just an independent producer of the film). She and her husband appear to be Orthodox Jews. So rather than a feminist filmmaker, she’s little more than a hasbara professional.
There may be genuine, sincere feminists involved with this film. There may even be some legitimacy to the issues offered. But under the auspices of an Islam-hating outfit like Clarion, whatever good might’ve been possible in this project has been completely undermined. The participants have either been used without their awareness, believing they were doing good; or they’ve participated out of sharing the values of Shore and Clarion.
One of the latter is one of the nine subjects of the film, Reza. Here is her spin on the matter:
“I thought this project was the most brilliant thing I’d ever heard of, and I say hats off to Clarion for having done this and allowing us to speak. We were not paid and it was not scripted,” Reza told Haaretz in a phone interview.
“The term Islamophobia is being used today to ward off any criticism of Islam and to silence people. Moreover, this is not really a film about Islam, it’s a film about human rights,” she said. “Those who are apologists will have an issue with that.”
I’ve got news for Reza, either she’s lying and she knows it; or she hasn’t seen any of the previous Clarion films and hasn’t reviewed Raphael Shore’s credits or bio. Clarion is an overtly anti-Muslim organization and all of its projects share that goal.
Clarion represents not just a pro-Israel agenda, but an Islamophobic one. Think Progress compiled a list of the group’s largest donors and they are some of the most pro-Israel, Islamophobic funders in the U.S. They include the Irving Moskowitz Foundation ($60,000), the San Francisco Jewish Federation ($75,000), the Jewish Communal Fund (NY, $30,000), and the William Rosenwald Fund ($25,000). Moskowitz is one of the most generous donors to the radical settler movement, the S.F. Jewish federation’s largest donor is the Islamophobic Koret Foundation. The Rosenwald Fund is controlled by Jewish Islamophobe, Nina Rosenwald.
Clarion’s board members and analysts like Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, Frank Gaffney and Ryan Mauro are frequent guests on FoxNews shows in which they decry the threat of Islam to U.S. society. Clarion is almost a wholly-owned subsidiary of the GOP, especially the Jewish neocon variety.
Clarion’s films are hyperbolic, histrioinic and senationalist. Tens of thousands of copies of Obsession were mailed to voters during a presidential election at a cost of $18-million, an expense secretly borne by a Chicago Jewish pro-Israel donor, Barre Seid. Before they removed it, one of the websites overtly championed the candidacy of John McCain. Clarion has paid GOP political consultants to promote its previous films.
The movie bills itself as “interfaith” in order to inoculate itself from claims that its sole target is Islam. But as near as I can tell the sole interfaith aspect of the project is that Jews funded a project to bash Muslims.
The producers have located nine women, only one of whom lives in the Arab world, and most of whom appear privileged, wealthy and secular. Some of the subjects haven’t lived in the Arab or Muslim world for decades. One of the interviewees is an Arab Christian, who would have a plethora of prejudices against Islam. Another is an Indian Sikh, who is neither Arab nor Muslim.
If the producers had wanted to make an honest film they would’ve created a project that explored the subjugation of women in the Third World, not just in Arab or Muslim lands. This would’ve enabled them to explore conditions for women throughout the world, rather than in one relatively small piece of it. But then, of course, they wouldn’t have fulfilled the agenda of the producers to bash Israel’s Arab and Muslim “enemies.”
Nor did I see in the movie trailer any commitment by any of them to engage in work in the Arab world to liberate women and girls from their alleged straits. The only call to action asks viewers to support the International Violence Against Women Act, which has failed to gather enough support in past Congresses to become law. It also offers a “Wall of Honor” to which you may nominate a respected man or woman.
The film does offer video clips of young girls speaking of their suffering. But the girls were rarely identified and it wasn’t clear what, if any, connection they had to the nine main subjects of the documentary.
The film’s style is agitprop. It juxtaposes a heartfelt girl-power session with numerous videos showing women who’ve been hung, whose faces have been disfigured by acid attacks, and who’ve been murdered in honor killings. There is little sociological analysis of the problem or suggestions about how to end it other than general consciousness raising. The only clear enemy suggested is Muslim men and society.
One example of the sloppiness of the film is the denunciation of female circumcision. This is not a rite of Islam. Nor is it a religious rite in the cultures where it is practiced. Though genital mutilation is a barbaric practice, it cannot be associated with Islam. This distinction is not made clear in the trailer I viewed. Another glaring distortion has an interviewer claiming honor killings are an alarming phenomenon even in the U.S. and “increasing” in occurrence. I’d challenge this claim, which is never buttressed with any evidence. In yet another segment, an Iranian-American woman says:
Muslim women are deprived of their humanity.
There are tens of millions of Muslim women who would disagree with this statement. A statement, I might add, which is never supported with any evidence other than news clips of U.S. honor killings. There is a presumption that the men who committed these heinous crimes did so out of some allegiance to Islam. Another unfounded assumption.
An example of the naivete of Paula Kweskin, the public face and producer of the film is that she closes the clip above by soliciting $10,000 to have the film translated into Arabic so it can be shown in Muslim countries like Egypt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Why in God’s name would any Muslim society be willing to screen a film that disparages virtually all of its adherents?
Though they would deny it, one of the end results of this film will be a spike in anti-Muslim hate crimes. The tone of this film encourages the acts of the imbalanced haters in our communities. It empowers them to engage in anti-social behavior like shooting into mosques (which occurred several days ago near Chicago). So instead of liberating women from the shackles of Islam, it’s liable to put Muslims in harm’s way.
What’s unprecedented for a Clarion film is the level of co-optation they’ve managed with the feminist and human rights community. Haaretz claims Amnesty hosted a London screening and that the UN Human Rights Commissioner received a copy of the film in Geneva. The film has been screened at film festivals all over the western world. Their stealth marketing strategy earned them a screening at the University of Michigan Dearborn, right in the heart of the Arab-American community. When asked by naive campus administrators to participate in a panel discussion both CAIR and the ADC refused wisely. They didn’t want to give the film any further credibility by appearing. Surely, their participation would’ve been used by the producers to claim even they saw it as a legitimate portrayal of Muslim attitudes toward women. I understand the screening was wisely “postponed” by campus officials.
If you are a feminist or human rights activist on campus or elsewhere, beware any attempt to bring this film into your organizations as a documentary worthy of screening. I am sure there are legitimate films that discuss this issue without the animus inherent in this one.
Another dubious development is that Haaretz liberal Zionist blogger, Ilene Prusher published a credulous profile of the film which actually treats it like a real documentary, rather than a piece of Islamophobic agitprop. I’ve noted here previously Prusher’s tendency to diminish or discredit the achievements of Israeli Palestinian cultural figures at the expense of Israeli Jewish artists. Now, Prusher champions an overtly Islamophobic film and propaganda outlet. She does so while barely acknowledging the reams of online published research exposing Clarion’s ideological biases. Haaretz too becomes a tool to promote these wares before its liberal Zionist audience.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.