Friday, September 26, 2008

Clarion Playing Hardball

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers,

Friday, WOW, TGIF...and, I'm speaking on behalf of those in the Chicago area, it looks to be an absolutely sunny warm, wonderful day weather wise. I hope you enjoy the start of your weekend.

As a source of inspiration for my reflection today, I want to share a story from NPR:

Morning Edition, September 26, 2008 · Just after the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, a small charity group flooded campaign battleground states with an inflammatory DVD on radical Islam. Critics say the charity is trying to influence the presidential race.

Earlier this month, subscribers to 70 newspapers in 14 states got a little something extra: A DVD that argues the same hard, militaristic line on terrorism that John McCain takes in his presidential campaign.

It's called Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West. The DVD was made in 2006, before this presidential contest began, and it doesn't even allude to electoral politics.

But, filled with dire warnings about Islamic terrorists, it hit doorsteps seven weeks before Election Day. And critics say it fuels the false whisper campaign that Barack Obama is secretly a Muslim.

Madaline Muir of Montgomery County, Pa., got the DVD in her Philadelphia Inquirer. She called it propaganda.

"It's to influence people. Sent out now. Whenever it was made, 2006, but it's really to influence people in the election and scare people," she said.

Obsession was produced by the Clarion Fund, a 501(c)(3) charity, which cannot get involved in campaign politics.

But its spokesman has said the newspaper distribution had one purpose: to make terrorism a presidential campaign issue where it counts — in the battleground states. He said Clarion did this with a half-million dollar grant from a secret donor.

And others have been promoting Obsession in other ways. Joe Wierzbicki, a political consultant, offered free copies of the DVD to listeners on a talk show in Detriot last month. He was promoting a free screening of Obsession on Sept. 11 in Dearborn, a city with a large Arab population.

Who paid for the screening? And who hired Wierzbicki to handle it? Wierzbicki wouldn't tell local reporters. On Thursday, he didn't respond to NPR's interview requests, and neither did the Clarion Fund.

It's illegal for a 501(c)(3) to advocate expressly for or against a candidate. None of Clarion's three directors have any record of contributing to the candidates. But some political connections do emerge.

Wierzbicki, the movie promoter, also works for two political organizations. He's an organizer for Move America Forward, a political action committee that just produced an ad accusing Obama of playing politics with soldiers' lives.

He also is the PAC coordinator for the Our Country Deserves Better PAC. Its Web site says it has one objective: to defeat Obama.

A multi-faith coalition called Hate Hurts America has launched a Web site to counter allegations made in the DVD. And an Arab rights group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, has asked the Federal Election Commission to investigate Clarion for possible violations of campaign finance law.

"Where is that money coming from? And what is the agenda of those behind this campaign? And who is behind this campaign ultimately?" Ibrahim Hooper, the council's spokesman, asked, regarding the DVD.

Those kinds of questions are often asked at the height of campaign season. But even if the election commission decides to investigate the Clarion Fund, the answers would likely be months away.


It's a troubling piece to read because it shows Clarion, a non-profit group that isn't supposed to play politics, is trying to stir up fear about extremists and terrorism right before the election. I would really like to watch this DVD and see what this group is doing. It's unsettling what Clarion is doing. This is how unjust stereotypes arise. This is how we make a river out of what may just be a gentle stream of difference of opinion. This is why the United States gets a bad rap from so much of the rest of the world. We're not living out the tenants our country was founded on when groups like Clarion go on the attack. It makes all of us, the U.S. as a whole, look like the bully who doesn't want to take the time to understand the complexity or actuality of a situation or a group of people. Groups like Clarion need to be condemned for the unrest they bring to civilians and to our world at large. The kind of message Clarion delivers is the kind of message that gets our country, our world into problems, disasters, wars.

I hope that U.S. citizens will look beyond the paranoid message Clarion proposes and instead turn toward taking a more professional, peaceful, people-centered message when confronting complicated world issues.

peace and have a great weekend all my friends!

with love,

your friend bob.

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