Kevin Mooney | Staff Writer | Thursday, August 30, 2007
Burke, also a Hollywood producer, collaborated with some conservative national security experts to produce a documentary on moderate Muslims, entitled, "Islam versus Islamists: Voices from the Muslim Center."
WETA, the Washington, D.C., affiliate of the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) declined to air the film as part of the "America at a Crossroads Series" earlier this year. ( )
The objections WETA-PBS officials had to the film were outlined in a series of notes "Crossroads Series" producer Leo Eaton addressed to Burke and his partners at ABG Films.
The documentary "created a one-sided narrative," wrote Eaton. "You present the ongoing struggle between your chosen 'moderates' and 'extremists' in very subjective and very claustrophobic terms," he continued. This sentiment was apparently shared by other top officials connected with the series.
For instance, Robert MacNeil, formerly of "MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour," who served as a host for the series, described the film as being unbalanced and "highly alarmist" during an appearance on National Public Radio this past April. MacNeil's own film, "The Muslim Americans," was inserted as a replacement for the ABG documentary.
This arrangement does not sit well with Frank Gaffney, president and CEO of the conservative Center for Security Policy (CSP), who collaborated with Burke in producing the documentary.
"Not only did they [PBS] suppress our film, but they put in MacNeil's film, which was unmistakably pro-Islamist," said Gaffney. "It's hard to dispute the idea that there was an agenda here hostile in the extreme toward the idea of courageous anti-Islamist Muslims telling their story."
But the WETA-PBS team responsible for overseeing the "Crossroads" series insists the film did not live up to editorial specifications.
In a letter addressed to Gaffney explaining their rejection of the film, Jeff Bieber, WETA's executive producer, cited "serious structural problems" that proceed from "incomplete storytelling" and a "limited focus" that raise questions of fairness.
This sentiment was also conveyed through Eaton in his correspondence with AGB Films.
In their response to WETA-PBS officials, Burke and his colleagues claim the criticisms proceeded from a "distorted understanding" of radical Islam. The notes were characterized in AGB's response as "a hatchet-job based on a serious, perhaps willful, misinterpretation of both the message and method of the film."
In an interview with Cybercast News Service, Burke said: "We encountered a mindset that we thought was more than a little predisposed toward portraying the extremists attacking the moderates as being more sympathetic than what we thought was warranted. We were asked to portray their actions in way that would give them more legitimacy and understanding than what we thought conformed with reality. Context was always the word they used as a Trojan horse for watering down our point of view."
A "transparent bias" stood out in Eaton's notes that weighed in favor of the "Islamist interpretation" of sharia law, the ABG team declared. At one point in his notes Eaton insisted the film offer "objective clarity" on the question of whether or not "sharia' law can co-exist within Western society side-by-side with a democratic judicial system," they wrote.
The suggestion was "truly preposterous, since the basic tenets of sharia by definition cannot operate simultaneously within a democratic system," stated ABG.
Some of the more problematic features of Islamic law that Burke and Gaffney noted included the following:
- A Muslim man is allowed to beat his wife.
- A woman needs four male witnesses to prove rape or adultery and could be stoned to death for adultery if she fails to find them.
- A Muslim cannot be condemned to death for the murder of an infidel.
- Judges in an Islamic state could only be Muslim. A non-Muslim judge can only adjudicate for infidels.
Nation of Islam Allowed to Review PBS Documentary on Moderate Muslims (Aug. 30, 2007)
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