Sunday, Oct 29, 2006
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THE SKINNY ON MOVIES LAWRENCE TOPPMAN

Hot-button film should provoke discussions now

The documentary came from Quixotic Media in a plain black wrapper with the title "Islam: What the West Needs to Know." I'd heard buzz pro and con about the DVD, which will get released nationally on Tuesday, so I checked it out.

Directors Bryan Daly and Gregory Davis don't pretend to be neutral. Commentators use the Quran and Hadiths (religious commentaries) to make some points I could accept and some I couldn't. But if their central thesis is true -- and it's worth considering -- then this is the most horrific film of the 21st century so far.

They argue that Islam can't be a private religion, like the Christianity or Judaism most of us know: The Quran is a system of commands passed directly from Allah to the prophet Muhammad via the angel Gabriel, and divine injunctions must be applied to all aspects of personal life.

More significantly, believers in a violent jihad are not lunatics or misinterpreters of scripture. They follow injunctions such as this, from the ninth chapter of the Quran: "Slay the idolators wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them and lie in ambush for them." (I quote from my copy, translated in 1990 by N.J. Dawood.)

The Quran has many verses about tolerance -- often in the same chapters as its exhortations to kill -- and many million Muslims live in peace with non-Muslims. But to do so, they must ignore sizable sections of holy text. (George Packer wrote about this in the Sept. 11 issue of The New Yorker, profiling slain Egyptian Mahmoud Taha in "The Moderate Martyr.")

So the film asks, "What would the world do if Islamic extremists intimidated moderates everywhere -- as they do already, in many countries -- and then acted on the Quran's harshest teachings with modern weapons?" This question demands honest contemplation. The Skinny on Movies

Lawrence Toppman