A Debate Over "Obsession"

by Jerry Gordon (Nov. 2008)

OSaturday, October 18th, a panel discussion about the film “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War against the West” at the newly opened Marshall Center of the University of South Florida (USF) in Tampa established a new low in ‘dialogue’ between proponents and opponents of Political Islam. The event was sponsored by the USF Muslim Students Association at the urging of Imam Mohammed Al-Darsani of the Ft. Myers Islamic Center for PEACE  (ICP). PEACE stands for Progression, Education, Awareness Cooperation and Enlightenment.  Sami al- Arian, a convicted felon and supporter of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, is a former Computer Science Professor at USF. The USF MSA chapter has a “Free Sami al-Arian” website.

The audience of less than 50 was largely divided between MSA students, including a number of women in Hijabs, members of the local CAIR chapter and a small contingent of interested non-Muslims. The program had to compete for attention with an USF homecoming football game with Syracuse University (USF won 45 to 13) and a Tampa Bay Devil Rays playoff game for the American League Championship against the Boston Red Sox (BoSox won 4 to 2). The event was filmed by Jeffrey George, a professing Muslim and Independent Candidate for the 14th Florida Congressional District, and by one of the panelists, Tom Trento, executive director of the Florida Security Council (FSC) and Watch Obsession.org. You may watch the raw footage of the panel debate here.

Why “Obsession” was shown at USF

This program was ostensibly to rebut the showings of “Obsession” on the USF campus on April 6th and April 13th by the Young Israel Jewish Students Center (YIJSC) led by Nachman Susson, a Political Science and pre-law student. Susson had been approached by Trento to screen the film before a student audience.

I asked Susson why he endeavored to show the controversial film given a significant Muslim minority student presence among the total population of 36,000 on the main Tampa campus. 

The reason I showed “Obsession” on campus was to bring awareness to USF of the real and present problem of extremists. There was little to no Jewish voice on campus. There was no one willing to confront the radicals on campus or in the Tampa area. I felt I had to step up. The response was overwhelmingly negative and hostile.

Note these comments in The Oracle by an USF Muslim student who had seen “Obsession.”

Shoaib Khan, 25, is a Muslim graduate student studying mathematics at USF. Khan, the only Muslim student in the audience, spoke out against the way Obsession was similar to much of the anti-American propaganda he has seen in the Middle East.

“It falls victim to its own verdict,” Khan said. “It’s equivalent. It’s just a mirror image of what happens there (the Middle East) to create fear.”

Khan, who is from Lahore, Pakistan, has been in the United States just under a year pursuing his master’s degree.

“I came here because I wanted to learn more about American culture so that when I go back to Pakistan, I can tell them they are wrong,” he said.

Susson noted that the film was shown as part of Israel’s 60th anniversary. According to him it generated heated protests and debates including signs on campus that read, “60 Years of Occupation.” At one point he was surrounded by 30 Muslim students shouting at him. He feared “several of them would take the protests to the next stage.”

Who are Imam Darsani and his son Mohammed T of ICP and what is their game?

Imam Darsani of the ICP has an interesting bio. A Syrian native, he came to America and took a B.S. in Computer Science at Louisiana Technical University. His Islamic education in Syria began at age 7 and developed under the tutelage of the Sunni Grand Mufti of Syria Sheikh Ahmad Kuftaro. Darsani was talented enough to be a scholarly lay preacher. He attended a civil engineering college in Damascus before leaving for the US at age 25. He became involved in several businesses including condominium development, was active in the H. Ross Perot United We Stand Presidential campaigns in 1992, before founding the first Mosque in South West Florida in 1996 in Fort Myers. He re-married an American convert to Islam and had four children.  Mohammed Al-Darsani or Mohammed T is the son by his previous wife, an American Christian woman. 

Mohammed T has an unusual background. He was born in Shreveport, Louisiana and moved to Florida at the age of seven. He entered the Florida National Guard at age 17 and subsequently served four years, including three at Fort Bragg in an intelligence unit, and one in Korea, where he married a Korean woman he met in Pusan. He was honorably discharged, and recently recalled by the Army to Active duty. He has filed for an exemption on a number of grounds. In this video, Mohammed T claims hardship because his wife, a Korean national, doesn’t speak adequate English and is the mother of their first child. Further, he views assignment to Iraq as morally offensive and serving no purpose. He also describes bizarre handling of Iraqi dead by a U.S. Army medical battalion unit. The allegations are reminiscent of the infamous Abu Ghraib affair.  Raised as a ‘conflicted’ Evangelical Christian because of his Muslim father, Mohammed T graduated from a Baptist College, Campbell University in North Carolina with a BS in Government/Social Sciences. Mohammed T endeavors to defend his father, but given his mixed background he is still searching for spiritual ‘truth.’ His performance in this USF panel is illustrative of that confusion. He is active in his father’s Mosque and the ICP.

The USF “Obsession” panel was not the first encounter between Imam Darsani and Trento. On April 5, 2008 at Edison College in Naples, Florida, Darsani and members of the ICP confronted Dr. M. Zhudi Jasser, head of the American Forum for Islamic Democracy (AFID), at an FSC sponsored event arranged by Trento. The topic of this event was: “Is the establishment of an Islamic state a clear and ideological threat to the United States?” Dr. Jasser was arguing the affirmative and Imam Al-Darsani the negative. It was billed as the first debate between an anti-Islamist Muslim, Jasser, and a purported pro-Islamist, Darsani.  ICP produced a voluminous diatribe excoriating Jasser’s anti-Islamist views about the dangers of Political Islam and Sharia in America: “Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser: Exposed, an overdue reality check”. Jasser is the narrator for a new film by the producers of “Obsession”, “The Third Jihad: Radical Islam’s Vision for America” that Trento and WatchObsession.org are currently premiering across America.


Here is Jasser’s recounting of the background leading to the clash with Darsani in Naples, Florida:

Recently on February 23, 2008, while I was participating in a panel on radical Islam’s threat to the West in Naples, Florida, a local imam, Mohamed Al-Darsani of the Islamic Center for Peace challenged my ideas and cast me out with little substantiation as being “outside the mainstream Muslim community.” It seemed that my orthodox adherence to traditional Sunni Muslim worship and spiritual devotion made little difference to him. His charge about my position in the Muslim community was made concerning my stand on terrorism and political Islam.

I immediately responded with an open challenge to engage him in a debate on the threat of Islamism (the desire to form an Islamic state) to American security. To my surprise (and thanks to the FSC), he agreed.

With the tenacity of the FSC, within six weeks I had an official debate with Imam Mohammed Al-Darsani, with Michael Cromartie of the
Center for Ethics and Public Policy moderating. We agreed to debate the question: “Is the Establishment of the Islamic State a Clear Ideological Threat to the United States?” I debated the affirmative and Mr. Al-Darsani the negative.

The two-plus hour long debate covered a lot of ground. Most poignantly, it highlighted the great chasm between the corruption of Islamist apologetics and the struggle to renew the moral truth of spiritual Islam separated from Islamist demagoguery. A review of the debate demonstrates the wide abyss which separates so many faithful anti-Islamist Muslims from Imam Al-Darsani and other similar Islamist apologists. One has to give the Imam credit for showing up and having the courage of his convictions. Sadly, it is those very convictions which are the primary fuel for terrorism worldwide. Once we understand the relationship of political Islam and its various permutations from Wahhabism to Salafism to Deobandism to militant Islamism and its terror, we will be able to effectuate and progress a global anti-Islamist movement.

The ICP paper author, Mohammed Tammam, derisively dismissed Jasser’s views.

Dr. Jasser’s article titled “The War of Ideas: Revealing the Moral Weakness and Hypocrisy of the Islamist Imam” is a humorous attempt to vilify an honorable and well respected man, Imam Mohamed Al-Darsani. He makes claims that imply Imam Al-Darsani gives political sermons and uses his pulpit to promote apologetic ideas that gives support to the killing of innocent civilians. All of which is completely fabricated. 

It’s interesting to note that if you read Dr. Jasser’s article, he quotes Imam Al-Darsani in an attempt to give credit to his preposterous claims. During the debate he seemed entirely concerned with bombarding Imam Al-Darsani with random and unrelated questions, while refusing to allow him time to answer any of them fully. One particular question was concerning the condemnation of the killing of innocent civilians. Imam Al-Darsani said “Anybody who targets innocent people, whoever they are, wherever they are, whether it’s from Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, or anybody who claims he’s acting within his faith and targets an innocent people, he is a terrorist.” Not happy with this answer Dr. Jasser attempted to twist the question repeatedly until the audience became fed up, and many people shouted, “He already answered it”. At that moment it became apparent that Dr. Jasser was not there to educate, or to have an exchange of ideas. He was there to promote an agenda, a very corrupt and misleading agenda. One which will manifest itself in the upcoming documentary film “The Third Jihad.”

With the distribution in September of more than 28 million copies of “Obsession” via inserts in Sunday newspapers in political swing states, including Florida,  by the Clarion Fund and the WatchObsesson.org premiering of the Jasser-narrated “The Third Jihad” film, Al-Darsani was looking for another debate opportunity. Hence, he instigated the USF MSA sponsored event at the new Marshall Center facility on the main campus in Tampa.

The United American Committee MSA/Darsani confrontation

Present at this “Obsession” debate forum were three members of the Central Florida Chapter of the United American Committee: Alan Kornman, Dan Fenter and J. Mark Campbell. They came, at the invitation of Trento, to set up a table near the entrance of the Marshall Center room for the debate. They were confronted by Imam Darsani and the student leaders of the USF MSA chapter who thought their materials and pamphlets were inflammatory. At one point a heated contretemps broke out between Fenter and the MSA chapter leader on whether the Prophet Mohammed’s consummation of a marriage with his 9 year old wife Aisha constituted an act of pedophilia. According to Campbell among the signs and pamphlet materials on the UAC table were those that read: ‘Radical Islam wants you dead’, and ‘Islamofascism Awareness.’ The UAC table also had a replica of the famed Danish cartoon with Mohammed’s turban in the shape of a bomb. There were also offensive anti-Semitic cartoons from Middle East Muslim publications. One sign that was especially provocative read “Sharia is Hate.”


When asked why the UAC team was there, Campbell responded:


We let them know that they were being watched. We wanted to challenge their Islamist views.


The UAC members were initially offered the option by Imam Darsani of entering the room to film the panel. Instead they elected to set up their table of materials outside the entrance to the USF Marshall Center. They were ultimately ejected by the facility manager, who called the USF police while they vigorously protested this violation of their first amendment rights. Kornman of the UAC indicated that they were ejected because of a technicality. The MSA chapter arranged for the facility for the debate and according to the facility manager could control who entered the forum. 


After the debate, the UAC team engaged some of the Muslim attendees in conversation as they were leaving the facility. The UAC team in turn was asked questions like: “Why do you spread this hate around?” “What do you think of Zhudi Jasser?”


The UAC team rejoined with “Why do you hate Jews and other non-believers? Out of the clutch of Muslims engaged in the torrent of questions came the chilling remark: “Hitler didn’t go far enough.”


Bishop had this observation regarding the number of Muslim student women wearing Hijabs, “Women’s rights under Islam have been stripped away.  Male dominated sexual purity is the norm with Muslim men who are women haters. This is pure sexism.” 


I asked Campbell, a USF graduate, if the thought things had changed in the decade since he graduated. He said: “Yes, tolerance has gone, and dogmatic hatred is flourishing.” Watch the UAC confrontation with Imam Darsani and MSA chapter leader here. Here is the complete suite of UAC USF videos.

The Obsession debate-it’s all about “Islamoscholarphobia”

The USF “Obsession” debate panelists included:

·         Imam Al-Darsani;

·         Mohammed T;

·         Dr. Khaleel Mohammed, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at San Diego State University, a fixture on the Muslim Jewish dialogue circuit;

·         Trento

·         David Gaubatz, former USAF Office of Special Investigations counter intelligence expert and senior leader of the Mapping Sharia Project. 


The moderator of this MSA forum was Rev. Wayne Robinson of the All Faiths Unitarian Church of Fort Myers, a veteran anti-war protest leader and peace advocate since Viet Nam days. He is a colleague of Imam Al-Darsani in such endeavors. Robinson, according to Trento, is a moral relativist and not a seeker after the truth. Trento believes that Robinson tends to side with the Islamists. Robinson apparently commented that “truth was an elusive evaporative concept.”

The USF panel on “Obsession” was a prop for the pro-Islamists to confront the anti-Islamists. Problem is that MSA students and CAIR representatives present in the audience didn’t buy either the views of the Darsanis, or that of Dr. Khaleel Mohammed. They also dismissed outright those of the two anti-Islamists, Trento and Gaubatz.

Knowing the hard science and engineering majors of the majority of MSA students at USF, Trento thought that he could jar them into facing reality with the tools of critical thinking that they were compelled to use in their classroom assignments. He was attempting to demonstrate a cognitive disconnect between rational Western empirical thought and rejectionist Islamist beliefs held by the MSA students. Trento pointed in his presentation to several factors. First was the Islamic Law Threat Doctrine developed for the US Military by Stephen Coughlin. Second, were the findings of the Mapping Sharia social science research project led by panelist David Gaubatz.  Third, was the evidence presented by the Justice Department in the current Federal retrial of the Holy Land Foundation. That information implicated many Muslim Brotherhood fronts, including CAIR,  ISNA, ICNA, and  AMC as unindicted co-conspirators in funneling funds to the Palestinian terror group, Hamas. Trento considers these as factual evidence indicative of a Grand Jihad in America.

According to Gaubatz, he and his colleagues in the Mapping Sharia project had developed over 62 metrics that would score each Mosque in terms of Sharia compliance and adherence. He said that there was a high correlation between the incidence of those metrics and presence of radical Salafist/Wahhabist, pro-Taliban and al Qaeda materials. Gaubatz and his colleagues have surveyed over 200 Mosques in the US and found that 75% of them fit the project’s definition of radical. 

Gaubatz, defines the problem as “Islamoscholarphobia,” a reference to the alleged Islamic scholars who form an Islamist cabal in America and supply Salafist/Wahhabist and pro-Taliban al Qaeda materials to radical Mosques in America. He illustrated this with the aid of a Power Point presentation and pamphlet materials obtained during a visit to a local Tampa area Mosque on Friday prior to the Saturday evening program. There, he found pamphlets by U.S. born Islamic scholar and convicted felon, Ali Al-Tamimi, now serving 16 consecutive terms for a total of 80 years in a Federal prison, for recruiting Islamic terrorists in America.

Gaubatz also found pamphlets by Abu Ala Maududi, founder of the extremist Islamic group Jamaat  e Islami (JI). He likened finding JI pamphlets by Maududi and  those by Tamimi as the moral equivalent of going into Christian churches and hypothetically finding pamphlets praising the violent extremist views of the late executed Timothy McVeigh, the perpetrator of the Oklahoma City terror bombing in 1995.

Note this news report following the conviction of Ali Al-Tamimi in 2005:

Prosecutors said the defendant — a native U.S. citizen who has an international following in some Muslim circles — wielded enormous influence among a group of young Muslim men in northern Virginia who played paintball games in 2000 and 2001 as a means of training for holy war around the globe.

Five days after Sept. 11, al-Tamimi addressed a small group of his followers in a secret meeting and warned that the attacks were a harbinger of a final apocalyptic battle between Muslims and non-believers. He said they were required as Muslims to defend the Taliban from a looming U.S. invasion, according to the government.

We noted earlier that the MSA students in the USF audience at the “Obsession “ panel debate were ‘disappointed’ that neither Mohammed T nor Dr. Khaleel Mohammed offered up Pure Islamic rebuttals in their presentations.

Mohammed T endeavored to refute the central thesis of “Obsession.”  He asserted that Islam was not radical, did not supporting terrorism against fellow Muslims or unbelievers, and was not fascist. Further, he said that American Muslims were loyal citizens. He used himself as an illustration having served as an intelligence specialist in the US Army, even though he opposes the Iraq war because it is a conflict against fellow Muslims in the ummah.  As a professing Muslim, Mohammed T acknowledged adherence to Sharia Law practices. While citing pictures from the film showing the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al Husseini, as Hitler’s Guest in Berlin during WWII, he  referenced Hitler’s acceptance speech as Chancellor in 1933 supporting Germany as a Christian nation. However, there is documented evidence of Hitler’s appreciation of Islamic Jihad and his interaction in the 1920’s with both the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan Al Banna, and Muhammad ‘Inayat  Allah Khan the head of the Indian Muslim radical separatist group. Mohammed skirted the issue of Muslim units like the Bosnian Hanschar (‘dagger’) Waffen SS division in ‘aktions’ against Jews and Serbs, as well as the Grand Mufti’s cheerleading the ‘final solution.’

Dr. Khaleel Mohammed is another case entirely. A Muslim from the South American Republic of Guyana, he studied at the Kulliyat al-Shariah, Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He completed an M.A. in religion (majoring in Judaism and Islam) at Concordia University, and then obtained his a PhD in Islamic law at Canada’s McGill University. He currently holds an Assistant Professorship in Religious Studies at San Diego State University in California. Mohammed proudly asserts his Canadian citizenship, when matters come up regarding American policies antithetical to the doctrine of multiculturalism. As Trento and I commiserated, Mohammed is an ‘item’ on the American Jewish-Muslim dialogue circuit. He commands large fees from events held at Jewish Community Centers and synagogues because of his spiel that the Koran decrees Israel belongs to the Jews. Here is his Quranic reference:

The Koran in Chapter 5: 20-21 states quite clearly: “Moses said to his people: O my people! Remember the bounty of God upon you when He bestowed prophets upon you, and made you kings and gave you that which had not been given to anyone before you amongst the nations. O my people! Enter the Holy Land which God has written for you, and do not turn tail, otherwise you will be losers.’’

Mohammed is not held in high esteem by fellow Islamic scholars who dispute his opinion that political violence is the wind behind Islamic terrorism, not the Islamic faith. These Islamic scholars believe him to be a disloyal apostate to their culture. Mohammed contends that he is a moderate Muslim. Scholars like Bat Ye’or, Robert Spencer and Andrew Bostom view as core Political Islamic beliefs: Jihad, anti-Semitism and fundamentalist  subjugation of the unbelievers or Dhimmitude . Mohammed calls these scholars “Islamophobes”, as he did in an acrimonious FrontPageMagazine symposium in 2004.

A friend, who is a Lebanese Christian professor of Arabic, knew Mohammed as a colleague at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts.  He made the following observation,  “Mohammed was unstinting to praise Jewish students for their support of Israel. However, Mohammed was a fixture at the luncheon gatherings of the Brandeis MSA chapter.”

Mohammed stated that he felt completely out of place at the MSA sponsored event. Normally he finds himself in Jewish or Christian groups. He told the audience that two of his daughters have Jewish names. He alleges that Jewish rabbis of yore permitted their brethren to pray in Mosques. He inveighs the name of Rabbi Moses Maimonides, the great Jewish philosopher and physician who thrived in the Egyptian Caliphate after being routed from his native Cordoba, Spain by rabid Almohod Muslims in the 12th Century. However, he does not mention Maimonides warning to his fellow Jews in Yemen who were forced into apostasy by Jihadi Muslims. Maimonides called Mohammed the Prophet, “meshugga,” (Hebrew for madman).

Mohammed’s presentation used as a prop a sign he picked up from the UAC table: ”Sharia is Hate.” He referred to it during his presentation citing Quranic Suras concerned with death to apostates, stoning of women and others. However, he indicated that much of Sharia is not hate. That to understand Sharia you must study it objectively. Then he posed the rhetorical question, “do you see me as a radical Muslim?” His answer is that he deems himself a moderate Muslim. He posed the question, “do we know who the radical Muslims are?” That was a riposte directed at the research findings of the Mapping Sharia project and its senior project leader, Gaubatz, a member of the panel. He referred to the Book of Revelations as representing extreme Christian theology-the eschatology of the last days. He read from an obscure text, “Our Country,” written by a Protestant clergyman in the 19th Century as reflective of Christian extremism.

During the Q+A, Mohammed opined that the film “Obsession” tries to equate Islam with Nazism. He viewed as disconcerting that a Jewish organization that produced the film, would try to demonize Muslims as the “Other.” That Muslims were vermin, subversive, and wanted to overthrow our way of life. He noted his role in rallying Jews and Christians in San Diego to prevent the showing of “Obsession.” What Mohammed views as hate are the fire and brimstone sermons which pour from Evangelical Christian Pastors and preachers on Sunday TV programs.

The Q+A

Many of the MSA student attendees commented that they felt the presentation was atrocious, because, let’s face it, they are fervent believers in Political Islam and any deviation from ‘pure Islam’ constitutes apostasy. Muslims view Mohammed’s words as perfection. Everything else offered as rebuttal is simply a distortion, including the Judeo-Christian sacred texts.

Trento and Gaubatz were besieged by MSA students and CAIR representatives in the audience. They were badgered with questions about their qualifications, meaning that they are neither Muslims nor scholars. Muslim women in Hijabs commented that perhaps the war on terror is a war against Arabs, and that the greater Jihad, the purported internal struggle, outweighs the lesser Jihad, armed struggle against the kafirs in Dar el Harb. There was a defining moment when a Muslim attired in Sharia compliant clothing, stepped to the microphone and asked a question of Gaubatz,  “Do you think I’m a radical Muslim?” To which Gaubatz replied, that by his attire he appears to be Shariah compliant. However, he doesn’t know if the questioner reads the radical tracts by Al Tamimi or Maududi placed at his Mosque or believes the Imam who preaches radical sermons at Friday services.

During the Q+A, a local Jewish doctor stood up and offered $10,000 to stake a further dialogue to see if “common ground on basic values” could be reached. Trento asked the doctor if that grant was a possibility, because  he might endeavor to create a study group to accomplish those goals. USF student Nachman Susson said about this offer, “I wouldn’t put much stock in it.”

What this “Obsession” panel episode at USF proved is that dialogue with Political Islamists is difficult. It requires presenting factual evidence and subjecting it to rigorous critical analysis. At the end, Gaubatz is right; this debate is all about Islamoscholarphobia.

There is one ironic note. The object of all this sound and fury, the film “Obsession,” could not be shown that Saturday evening at USF because of ‘technical difficulties.’



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