New Films, Videos and Books on Islam, Israel-Palestine, and the Mideast

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New Films, Videos and Books on Islam, Israel-Palestine, and the Mideast

By Betsy Barlow

"On the Edge of Peace" is an Israeli-Palestinian co-production which chronicles the first year of the implementation of the Israeli-Palestinian accords as experienced by both Palestinians and Israelis from all walks of life. Three Palestinians and three Israelis were given video cameras to document over a period of six months their lives and the lives of their communities. What results is an extremely moving story of life during turbulent times: the signing of the peace accords, the delay of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, the Hebron massacre and finally the arrival of Yasser Arafat in Gaza. The film was directed by Ilan Ziv, an Israeli filmmaker who also has directed "Yellow Wasps," about ethnic cleansing in Eastern Bosnia, completed in 1995, "People Power," about nonviolence as a political strategy, "Consuming Hunger," about how the Ethiopian famine was portrayed on Western television, and "Shrine under Siege," a documentary exploring the conspiracy between Messianic Christians and militant Jews to build the Third Jewish Temple on the site of Islam's third holiest shrine.

"On the Edge of Peace" is available from Tamouz Media, 123 West 93rd Street, Suite 5B, New York, NY 10025; fax (212) 666-2686.

"The Fundamental Question," produced by Ahmad Jamal and edited by Andrew Mason for Channel 4 in England, is an excellent film. It soars beyond the puerile and silly PBS production by Stephen Emerson of "Jihad in America." This is not the only set of films on similar topics in which PBS comes out the loser. "The Fundamental Question," a 65-minute film, is divided into three parts, which makes it easier for classroom use. There also are some discussion questions provided.

The first section (28 minutes) concentrates on Muslim movements in Egypt. To set the context, the filmmakers explain the recruitment of young Muslim men after 1979 to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. This recruitment was encouraged by the governments of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, with U.S. blessing. Sheikh Omar Abdelrahman, suspected of involvement in the killing of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and later in the World Trade Center bombing, was released from detention in Egypt to go to Afghanistan to issue a fatwa to encourage Muslim resistance to the Soviets. At the end of the Afghan fighting, we learn that the Muslim fighters felt deceived. They had been told they were fighting for Islam, but it became apparent that they were simply being used for U.S. strategic purposes. As they drifted home to Algeria, Egypt and Sudan, or to conflicts in Lebanon, Bosnia and Kashmir, they infected others with their attitudes.

Islamists flourish when governments fail to deliver what people need.

In the second section (17 minutes) we see that fundamentalism flourishes also in secular states such as Iraq, Algeria, Syria and Libya. Terrorists have murdered over 4,000 people; victims have included government employees, intellectuals, foreigners, and women who were not wearing the chador.

Even in Turkey, perhaps the most secular country in the Muslim world, economic problems have stimulated a challenge to the Kemalist system. Writer Aziz Nesin, who survived an attempt on his life, criticizes the Islamist program. Georgetown University professor John Esposito points out that Islamists flourish when governments fail to deliver what people need.

The third section (20 minutes) highlights Jordan, where Islamists work within the parliamentary system. The Islamists get support by running good schools and distributing food and clothes. Yet appalling conditions, particularly in some Palestinian refugee camps, contribute to despair and extremism.

The video ends with a series of considered opinions about the nature of the conflict between fundamentalists and secularizers, and the probable future.

The video is now available from Landmark Media, 3450 Slade Run Drive, Falls Church, VA 22042; fax (703) 536-9540; email: landmrkmed@aol. …