Potent, powerful, and provocative. That’s what Nordstrom department stores have to say about Obsession, Calvin Klein’s cologne for men. These qualities are shared, no doubt, by another Obsession, a DVD currently being distributed by the Clarion Fund (http://clarionfund.org/), a nonprofit shell organization devoted to propagandizing against Islam. Subtitled “Radical Islam’s War Against the West,” copies of Obsession have been distributed as “paid advertising” in dozens of American newspapers, including the Charlotte Observer and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Desperate for cash, traditional print media are not very fussy about their advertisers these days. Ann Caulkins, the publisher of the Charlotte Observer, told the paper’s religion reporter that the DVD met the newspaper’s criteria for ads: “We’re all for freedom of expression, freedom of speech. This is in no way reflecting our opinions, but it is something we allow,” she said, adding that the newspaper would not allow material that is racist, profane, or “offers graphic images of body parts,” which at least distinguishes the paper from anything in the CSI television franchise.

One could argue that despite its disclaimers about the peacable nature of most Muslims, the film Obsession is indeed racist in intent, meant to scrape against the raw sensibilities of its non-Muslim audience until they are sore and bleeding. Perhaps Clarion also hopes, as a side benefit, that the film might create enough unhappiness in the American Muslim community that some wacko will act out in an antisocial way, demonstrating thereby the perfidy that Clarion wants illustrated. This was what the Danish cartoon contoversy was about. In the name of “national security education,” Clarion wants to bring Europe’s poor relationships with its Muslim communities here to the USA.

I doubt that the American Muslim community will fall for it, although that’s more than I can say about much of the anticipated non-Muslim audience for Obsession. Hardly a week goes by without news about an American mosque being vandalized, shot at, or burned to the ground; a dark-skinned convenience store clerk with a funny accent, a veiled woman out shopping, or a Muslim schoolchild being accosted, insulted, and sometimes beaten bloody or killed by the ignorant, the angry, and the bitter men who are part of the audience at which the film Obsession is aimed.

What interests me is why, in a period of hypervigilance and suspicion of Muslims, when the “mainstream media” are full of reports of war in the Muslim world and Muslim suicide bombers and radical Muslim madrasas and Muslim honor killings and swarthy Muslim men killing American troops, and endless other Muslim outrages around the globe, that anyone would think we need further “education” in the form of a DVD. Have we not heard enough about “Radical Islam’s War Against the West?” Of course not. Obsession‘s aims are practical rather than educational. A political ploy on behalf of the war candidate in the current election, a poke in the eye of civil discourse, a slap in the face of the millions of American Muslims now celebrating Ramadan. It’s all good, as they say.

What the rest of us need to work on is not really the Clarion Fund, whose organizers and financers are too cowardly to reveal their identities on their own website. What we need to work on is the “mainstream” media who were sold the “paid advertisement.” They should be reminded that in intent, if not in substance, the distribution of Obsession is hardly different from the distribution of copies of the anti-Semitic tract The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, or D.W. Griffith’s classic racist film Birth of a Nation. Ask them if they would distribute these for a price. Ask them if they would even distribute a scholarly pamphlet mildly critiquing the worst elements of Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank (an excerpt from President Jimmy Carter’s Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, for example).

My prediction is that the answer to these questions would be a resounding “No way!” And if that’s the case, the question becomes one of understanding why acts of anti-Muslim bigotry still fall under the umbrella of free speech, while equally despicable acts of anti-Semitism or classic racism have been judged rightly to fall outside the bounds of acceptability for our communities’ newspapers, which should be acting as foundational institutions of American democracy rather than as crack whores desperate for cash, regardless of the source or the moral consequences.