Is PBS now in the business of preventing Americans from learning about issues vital to our national well-being?
The Public Broadcasting Service aired an 11-part documentary series entitled "America at a Crossroads" from April 15-20. The series focused on themes and events related to 9/11, al-Qaeda, the war in Iraq, Muslims in America and radical Islam. But one of the films commissioned for the PBS series by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB)—and given $675,000 in funding—is being withheld from the public for highly questionable reasons. The name of the film is "Islam vs. Islamists: Voices from the Muslim Center."
PBS's refusal to air this powerful documentary about the threat Muslim supremacists present to moderate Muslims (and non-Muslims) is very troubling. Many terrorism experts believe a vital key to winning the war against Muslim radicals lies within Islam itself, that moderate Muslims must be supported and encouraged in challenging extremism in their own faith. "Islam vs. Islamists" shines a spotlight on the grave difficulties faced by moderate Muslims.
PBS did include in the Crossroads series an excellent film, "Faith Without Fear," about Irshad Manji, a moderate Muslim woman who speaks out against fundamentalist interpretations of Islam, but that film focused mainly on women's issues. "Islam vs Islamists" involves a broader range of issues.
PBS—and PBS affiliate WETA—executives refuse to broadcast "Islam vs. Islamists", claiming its thesis is "incendiary", "alarmist", and "inflammatory," even though the film's thesis had gone through numerous reviews throughout the competition to win CPB funding. CAMERA executives who viewed the film termed it "inspirational" in its presentation of courageous Muslims speaking out despite threats to themselves.
PBS claims that it will air the film in the future - if substantial changes are made. The filmmakers (ABG), Alex Alexiev, Martyn Burke and Frank Gaffney, say that the changes PBS demands would alter the entire thesis of the film and are unacceptable. Furthermore, according to Alex Alexiev, their contract with CPB gives the filmmakers complete editorial control and they consider the film to be completed.
The filmmakers charge PBS executives with suppressing the film on political grounds.
They cite numerous irregularities in the review process, including the enlisting of Professor Amina McCloud as an outside "advisor" to assess the film. McCloud, an admirer of the anti-Jewish, former Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan, presented a rough cut of the film to members of Nation of Islam to screen. Members of the group objected to the film’s criticism of some of the viewpoints of Nation of Islam members, and have since threatened to sue the filmmakers.
According to the filmmakers’ letter, the PBS "Crossroads" producers went behind their backs and commissioned another program, covering almost exactly the same ground as they were investigating. Suddenly, their interview subjects became "the subject of an embarrassing and unprofessional intra-PBS tug-of-war." Several key interviews were lost because of this. As the filmmakers complained, "It was about as destructive an act as can done to a team in the field."
This competing film, "Muslims in America," was produced in conjunction with MacNeil-Lehrer Productions, a company co-led by Robin (Robert) MacNeil, the host of the PBS "Crossroads in America" series. It did not go through the rigorous competition all the others did in order to receive funding and be on the short list for inclusion in the "America at a Crossroads" series. Rather, it was commissioned by Crossroad's producers and chosen OUTSIDE the long and grueling process set up by CPB, raising the question of whether this is a conflict of interest.
According to Alex Alexiev, "Muslims in America" is simply an apologia for Muslim extremists, and New York Times TV critic Virginia Heffernan writes, " 'Muslims in America' is little more than a handful of case studies in hate crimes and racism and a few ‘see, we’re all cool’ profiles, as well as another hagiography of Hamza Yusuf, an Islamic scholar based in California who briefly advised President Bush."
"Had 'The Muslim Americans’ put on display the complex warp and woof of Islamic life in the United States," the Times review continues, " it would not have been the public-service announcement that PBS, along with "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," was determined to produce." The Times critic aptly concludes:
"Muslims in America" is misleading—it is not a requirement of citizenship in the United States that one be good-natured, assimilated, patriotic, discreet or even a doctor or a lawyer. That is only a requirement for inclusion in a PBS documentary."
So, is PBS now in the business of preventing Americans from learning about issues vital to our national well-being? Judging from the above, the answer seems to be a "Yes."
For further details and updates, on "Islam vs.Islamists" see:
Free The Film
PBS at a Crossroads: Why is a film on moderate Islam being suppressed?
PBS shelves film on moderate Muslims
In praise of moderate Muslims
For reviews of the replacement film, "The Muslim Americans" see:
TV Review | 'America at a Crossroads': A Tour of Muslim-Americans’ America
PBS in Islamist Wonderland