Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A documentary billed as “the film PBS doesn’t want you to see” found an audience yesterday. Producers who say their movie was shelved by the nation’s Public Broadcasting Service for political reasons screened the production privately at a theater a few blocks from the White House.

About 60 people watched “Islam vs. Islamists,” a provocative and often disturbing account of threats faced by moderate American Muslims at the hands of their more radical brethren and the growing “parallel Islamic society” within the borders of Western nations, including the United States, Canada, France and Denmark.

A dozen members of Congress will view the 52-minute film on Capitol Hill today.

Produced by a team that included conservative columnist and Center for Security Policy founder Frank Gaffney Jr., the film includes compelling interviews plus disquieting, gritty footage of a shrouded figure being stoned to death at an unnamed location in the Middle East. It is stark and brooding at times, though the audience chuckled when critics categorized Westernized Muslims as “extremists.”

Moderate Muslims are “courageous, heroic and often alone,” Mr. Gaffney told the assembly, which included moderate Muslims from four countries and reporters from the Chicago Tribune, Danish Television and U.S. News & World Report, among other news organizations.

The documentary, however, did not pass muster at PBS or the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which put up $675,000 in taxpayer funds for the production. It originally was intended to be broadcast during “America at a Crossroads,”a series that aired last week depicting a post-September 11 nation.

The broadcasters said the film has been delayed, not shelved. In an interview last week, CPB spokesman Michael Levy categorized it as “a work in progress,” adding that the film still stands a chance to be aired as an independent feature.

Mr. Gaffney contends that the broadcasters aired their own take on American Muslims, emphasizing their problems with racial profiling at airports and discrimination on these shores.

“Should imams be spouting off about foreign policy?” asked Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, an Arizona physician who is chairman of the moderate group American Islamic Forum for Democracy, and is featured in the film.

“That is not a spiritual message. The mainstream media has not brought up this issue, which is putting ideology into the guise of a religion,” Dr. Jasser told the audience at the close of the presentation.

The production team, which includes Martyn Burke and Alex Alexiev, said PBS criticism included accusations that their film “demonizes Islam.” During the production process, sample footage was viewed, Mr. Burke said, by members of the Nation of Islam.

“The team at [PBS affiliate] WETA thought that was OK. I just don’t understand that from a journalistic standpoint,” Mr. Burke said, adding that he had gotten “very noisy” about the situation.

Meanwhile, the film is still without a broadcast date, though the producers are determined that the film will be seen by the American people, “who paid for it,” Mr. Burke said.

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