South Florida Muslims use bus ads, hotline to counter "Obsession" DVD campaign

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chicagobus.jpgRemember when a copy of the DVD Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West -- a film decried as Christian propaganda that seems to suggest Islam leads to terrorism -- was included in a Sunday Herald? And we ripped the daily a new one for not initially explaining the controversial inclusion -- and then later ran an ad for the DVD ourselves (oops, our bad)?

Well, South Floridian Muslims sure do. And the local chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has launched a campaign to counter the propaganda. Perhaps you've noticed buses in Miami-Dade and Broward counties with ads reading, "Islam. Got Questions? Get Answers."

The listed number is for a hotline where experts on the religion answer any question a caller might have about Islam. CAIR has already run similar campaigns in Chicago and New York -- the above photo is of a Chicago bus -- and South Florida was chosen after Obsession was widely distributed here.

"You could say it's a very humble response in regards to Obsession," Altaf Ali, executive director of South Florida's CAIR chapter, told us this morning. The producers of that DVD spent $100 million distributing it nationwide, he says, but CAIR has used only $60,000, the majority of it from South Floridian donors, plastering this region's buses. "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."

The single most-asked question? "Does Islam promote violence?" says Ali. "And of course, we make emphatically clear that there is not a single sentence in the Koran that promotes killing of people."

Not shockingly, not every caller has greeted CAIR's operators with grace and tolerance. "So far, two callers have been very, very vocal in opposition to the campaign," Ali says in something of an understatement.

And he plays us a taped tirade. A caller booms: "There's no misconception. 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."

Ali says the voice has become quite familiar. Turns out he's a serial harrasser with CAIR on speed dial. But the campaign hasn't been met only with hate. "For the most part, I thought we were going to get more prank calls," Ali says. "We get more calls from people who are genuinely interested."

-- Gus Garcia-Roberts

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