Hateful New Year

Not long ago, Miami Herald readers were greeted with an unexpected insert in their Sunday editions: DVDs of a movie that offended many folks who popped it into their Toshibas. No, not Mr. Woodcock. The film was Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West, a controversial documentary decried as anti-Islam propaganda, funded and distributed by shadowy pro-Israel group The Clarion Fund. The film, which features scenes of Muslim children being recruited for terror and makes comparisons to Nazism, didn't differentiate enough between mainstream believers of Islam and violent extremists, critics claimed.

Now members of the South Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), an Islamic advocacy group, are fighting back. They've spent $60,000 on bus ads in Miami-Dade and Broward bearing the slogan "Islam. Got Questions? Get Answers." The listed number — 800-662-Islam — is for a hotline where experts on the religion answer questions callers have about Islam. CAIR was already running similar campaigns in Chicago and New York; South Florida was chosen after the inflammatory documentary's wide distribution here.

"You could say it's a very humble response in regards to Obsession," says Altaf Ali, executive director of the South Florida chapter. "We thought there's a lot of misconceptions about Islam. We wanted to create an avenue for our fellow Americans to learn the truth about our religion."

Riptide gave the number a call and was greeted by Ahmed, a soft-spoken operator who handled even the most inane questions (so it turns out Barack Obama isn't Muslim!) with patience and expertise.

By far, the most common question the hotline gets is whether Islam promotes terrorism, and that showed in the operator's practiced reply. In fact, the Koran teaches the "killing of one innocent person is like the killing of all of humanity," he said, adding that the word Islam is Arabic for peace. And that 72-virgins-for-martyrs thing? That's an "allegorical" passage that has been ripped from its context, Ahmed said: "Our greatest reward in the afterlife is peace and to be close to God."

After receiving a gentle conversion pitch, Riptide hung up, impressed by the dialogue. But not all the hotline conversations go so smoothly. Ali played Riptide one of the taped tirades in his collection, from a caller who makes Michael Richards look like the Dalai Lama. "There's no misconception," the voice booms. "Islam is a terrorist militant [sic]. Who gives a fuck what you say? You're a bunch of fucking liars and Islamists. Fuck you and fuck your religion."