A still of refugees in "Faithkeepers." Screenshot from "Faithkeepers" trailer

'Faithkeepers' film is a not-so-subtle attack on Islam

(RNS) As a Maronite Catholic with family and friends in the Middle East, a Ph.D in comparative religion and more than 40 years of work experience throughout the Arab world, I take a deep interest in issues of religious freedom.

There is no question that in many parts of the world, including the Middle East, vulnerable religious communities are facing threats to their very survival. In other instances, there are states that favor one religion over others and/or impose restrictions on the religious practices or beliefs of others, creating serious problems of discrimination and dispossession.

RELATED: Christian genocide: Blame Israel?

This matter was dramatically brought to a U.S. audience three years ago by eight patriarchs of the Eastern Christian churches — representing the majority of the Middle East's Christians — who appeared together before a conference in Washington, D.C. Their message was poignant and direct: We need your help, but the help we need is not for you to vilify Muslims. Demonizing Islam may generate applause in some circles in Washington, but it does not help Christians in the Middle East.

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That simple message was clearly not heard by the makers of the film "Faithkeepers," which is to be screened nationally May 23. While purporting to be in defense of Christians in the Middle East, "Faithkeepers" is a not-so-subtle attack on Islam. The film mixes real stories of Christians and others who have suffered at the hands of ISIS with the insidious insinuation that such persecution is at the heart of the Muslim faith.

Adding insult to injury, the film falsely conflates disparate historical events — the Armenian genocide, the Jewish exodus from Iraq and other Arab countries, and the atrocities committed by ISIS — as if they were all the result of Islam's "inherent" desire to purge all non-Muslims from the region.

What "Faithkeepers" ignores is the fact that the Armenian genocide was perpetrated by a secular movement in Turkey that attacked all non-Turks, including Muslim Kurds; and the horrific anti-Jewish pogroms in Arab countries that followed the 1948 war were in reaction to Israel's horrific "ethnic cleansing" of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Christians and Muslims from what became the "Jewish state."

A young boy describes being a displaced Christian in Iraq. Screenshot from "Faithkeepers" trailer

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When "Faithkeepers" looks at the situation of Christians in Iraq and Syria, it fails to mention that, historically, Christians fared well in both countries. It was the civil war in Syria, the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the resulting disruption of life and the empowering of extremist sectarian movements in both countries that put Christians and the entire population of both countries at risk.

And when speaking of the Christian exodus from Arab countries over the past century, "Faithkeepers" fails to understand that it was not Islam, but several other factors, that led Christians and other elites to leave the Middle East. Christians had connections through their churches with the West — for those seeking opportunity, the U.S. and Western Europe were obvious desirable destinations. (Note: Many Muslims left as well for similar reasons, but often found the Arab Gulf countries or Africa to be more promising and hospitable destinations.)

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But none of this matters for the "Faithkeepers," since its central purpose is to demonize Islam. It is not a stretch to make such a claim when we look more closely at the production team that made the film, its funders and those who are promoting it, most of whom have a disturbing record of disseminating anti-Muslim propaganda films and supporting anti-Muslim organizations.

The lineup of individuals and organizations behind "Faithkeepers" reads like a "who's who" collection of the Southern Poverty Law Center's list of Islamophobic "hate groups."

The film itself is a product of the Clarion Project, which has been involved in the production, direction and distribution of other films, including "Obsession" and "The Third Jihad" — both of which have been discredited as works of notorious anti-Muslim propaganda. Clarion's funding also comes from the same sources that have funded anti-Muslim campaigners like Pamela Geller, David Horowitz, Robert Spencer and Brigitte Gabriel.

It is worth noting that, according to NPR, Clarion was founded by employees of Aish HaTorah — a pro-Israel group with offices in Israel and the U.S. — and shared offices with that group.

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Finally, if there were any question as to the intent of "Faithkeepers," that matter is resolved in the film's credits, which note that the film itself was based on an article written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an anti-Muslim activist who has described Islam in the most offensive terms.

The bottom line is that vulnerable Christian communities do need protection and support. What they do not need is to be exploited as pawns in a disgraceful effort to demonize another religion. By using the plight of Christians for no other purpose than to further an anti-Muslim agenda, "Faithkeepers" has broken faith with those it claims to be helping.

(James Zogby is president of the Arab American Institute)

(Note: A version of this commentary has also been published by the National Catholic Reporter)


  1. I hope that the same Christian reviewers who panned the movie Noah a couple of years back will also encourage their readers to stay away from this film.

  2. very well said,Dr Zogby. I am sure all educated, enlightened Arab christians, share the same view,as expressed by Dr Zogby. The Islamophobes are trying their best to exploit any sufferings of Christians in the Middle East on Islam itself, regardless of the source of suffering, whether it is Israel , in the case of PAlestinian christians, Western invasion and disruption in the case of Iraqi christians, or civil war , foreign interventions in the case of Syrian christians.

  3. If Madame Roland was alive today, she might well say, “O Islam, what crimes are committed in thy name!” And that is the problem that we face today. Those who slam Islam might well have another agenda, or be rabidly Islamophobic. Nevertheless, we cannot ignore or gloss over the atrocities that they make use of, for these atrocities really are atrocious,

    Islam is one of the great religions of the world. However, some of the teachings of Classical Islam are simply unacceptable in the modern world, just as some traditional Christian teachings (like slaughtering witches or believing that epilepsy was caused by demons) are similarly repugnant today. Abuses remain abuses, even if the messenger is a bigot or does not come with clean hands.

    It is important not to assume that all Muslims are closed-minded. When the UK Parliament voted on same sex marriage, a majority of Muslim members of Parliament voted for it – and at least one of them received death threats from extremist zealots. http://freethinker.co.uk/2013/02/18/muslim-mp-declared-an-apostate-for-voting-for-gay-marriage/ When it comes to the atrocities it is important to target the extremists and not Muslims in general.

  4. Points well taken. I wonder how many years – if any Zogby has lived in an Islamic country. I have lived in one for over 20 years and would tend to believe that your comments are closer to reality than his – especially true: Abuses remain abuses, even if the messenger is a bigot or does not come with clean hands.

  5. I have several extremely educated enlightened Arab Christian friend who would strongly disagree with Mr Zogby – my point being that Arabs or any other group are not some monolithic group that marches in full agreement with each other. That is a rather simplistic attitude of a complex situation.

  6. But it is very useful for propaganda and rabble rousing, and there is so much rabble to rouse, and takes so little effort to do so.

    My husband works with a lot of Muslims, and as far as we know, each and every one of them has no issue with our relationship and our marriage.

  7. Many of the current practices implemented in some Muslim majority need to be attacked and challenged. My fellow Liberals have no problem calling out the Christian Right over same-sex marriage, abortion, gay and trans rights, opposition to female clergy and their attempts to force their agenda (sharia) on the rest of us. I have witnessed nasty and heated exchanges here and in the media. There is no Christianaphobe term applied to this hatred. Yet criticizing Islam is automatically labeled as hate – with it’s own term – and is generally avoided by the Left. Are we hypocrites? I say yes.

  8. From the review: ” insidious insinuation that such persecution is at the heart of the Muslim faith.”

    From the Koran, the heart of the Muslim faith:

    o “Believers, take neither Jews nor Christians for your friends.” (Surah 5:51)
    “Believers, when you encounter the infidels on the march, do not turn your backs to them in flight. If anyone on that day turns his back to them, except it be for tactical reasons…he shall incur the wrath of God and Hell shall be his home…” (Surah 8:12-)

    “Make war on them until idolatry shall cease and God’s religion shall reign supreme.” (Surah 8:36-)

    “…make war on the leaders of unbelief…Make war on them: God will chastise them at your hands and humble them. He will grant you victory over them…” (Surah 9:12-)

    “Fight against such as those to whom the Scriptures were given [Jews and Christians]…until they pay tribute out of hand and are utterly subdued.” (Surah 9:29-)

    “It is He who has sent forth His apostle with guidance and the true Faith [Islam] to make it triumphant over all religions, however much the idolaters [non-Muslims] may dislike it.” (Surah 9:31-)

    “If you do not fight, He will punish you sternly, and replace you by other men.” (Surah 9:37-)

    “Prophet make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites and deal rigorously with them. Hell shall be their home.” (Surah 9:73)

    “Believers, make war on the infidels who dwell around you. Deal firmly with them.” (Surah 9:121-)

    “Say: ‘Praise be to God who has never begotten a son; who has no partner in His Kingdom…” (Surah 17:111)

    “‘How shall I bear a child,’ she [Mary] answered, ‘when I am a virgin…?’ ‘Such is the will of the Lord,’ he replied. ‘That is no difficult thing for Him…God forbid that He [God[ Himself should beget a son!…Those who say: ‘The Lord of Mercy has begotten a son,’ preach a monstrous falsehood…” (Surah 19:12-, 29-, 88)

    “Fight for the cause of God with the devotion due to Him…He has given you the name of Muslims…” (Surah 22:78-)

    “Blessed are the believers…who restrain their carnal desires (except with their wives and slave-girls, for these are lawful to them)…These are the heirs of Paradise…” (Surah 23:1-5-)

    “Muhammad is God’s apostle. Those who follow him are ruthless to the unbelievers but merciful to one another.” (Surah 48:29)

    “Shall the reward of goodness be anything but good?…Dark-eyed virgins sheltered in their tents…They shall recline on green cushions and fine carpets…Blessed be the name of your Lord…” (Surah 55:52-66-)

    Quran (8:12) – “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them”

    Quran (9:5) – “So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captive and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them.”

    Insidious? More like horrific!!!

  9. I feel ok in making comments related to Christian theology and its interpretation. I have studied it and it is what I grew up with. I am comfortable with my faith but believe that some of my fellow Christians are off the mark at times. On the other hand, I try to respect differences and I try not to slam other Christian perspectives being held. I agree that Muslim practices need to be challenged when it comes to respecting human rights but that is not a religious perspective but comes from living in a democracy. (Which is also a dilemma for some of those mentioned topics given the democratic ideal of equal human rights for all.) But I can not, in good and honest faith, say what the bulk of Muslims believe – and even Jewish people. There certainly have been articles on this site demonstrating that people of all of these faiths, even in the Middle East, can live as neighbours. There have also been articles here that suggest some commonalities. Citing specific verses from the Qu’ran to condemn a major faith is Islamophobic. The people who do have full entitlement to criticize the Islamic faith (or simply human rights oppression justified by the Qu’ran) are those within the Muslim community. And I believe comments that are Islamophobic in nature are not helpful. And while this might be judgemental, I am pretty sure that Qu’ranic verse citers really have minimal interest in hearing interpretation and context from a Muslim or would simply tell the Muslim they were wrong (seen it done unfortunately).

  10. It would be one thing to say followers of Islam bastardized the teaches of Mohammad and introduced violence and jihad into Islam, but it was Mohammad who taught violence and jihad as an integral part of Islam.

  11. Stunning examples of bizarre and weird religious sounding words of hate.
    Civilization doesn’t need that kind of stuff.
    Peace and love are needed and there’s non in that list.

  12. The author doesn’t realize it, but she’s essentially playing the Meeseeks blame part from Rick and Morty.

  13. Of course some Muslims are fanatical, but most just want a quiet life and are shocked and appalled by the zealots. Those Muslim MPs who voted for same sex marriage defied the zealots and faced death threats. That’s pretty courageous!

    It’s both wrong and stupid to paint all Muslims with the same brush. The information that enables the authorities to stop most terrorist plots comes from within the Muslim community. As with any other group there are moderates and reformers who stand up to the zealots far more effectively than non-Muslims can.

    People of good will in all communities need to work together to keep the peace. Targeting the fanatics is smart; stirring up hatred against a whole community is counterproductive.

  14. I agree that people of different faiths and of no faith at all can live together in peace. However, I believe that it is right to challenge the passages from religious sources when they need challenging. This certainly applies to the bloodthirsty texts in the Bible and the Koran.

    However, we need to do it with common sense. Despite what their scriptures might allow, most Muslims and Christians do not keep slaves and there is a range of opinions on every topic in every community.

  15. Ilpalazzo, I agree that concept of zero was a key contribution of Islamic scholarship to mathematics. Arabic numerals and algebra were also a contribution of Arabic civilisation to the West. So was the preservation of much of the learning of the ancient world during the Dark Ages.

    You state that Islam and Democracy cannot coexist in the same place at the same time, but a Muslim was recently voted in as Lord Mayor of London despite a vicious anti-Muslim campaign against him. Zealots were able to override the protest movements in the Arab Spring in Egypt, but the fact that there was an Arab Spring shows that the desire for democracy and freedom is present in Islamic countries, too. Just recently in Iran the more moderate of the two candidates standing for election won the ballot.

    You say that Muslims must be separated and limited to their own nations. Apartheid and ethnic cleansing are cruel, undemocratic and impractical. Think what happened in the break-up of Yugoslavia, or Ferdinand and Isabella’s expulsion of the Moors and Jews from Spain and the Inquisition that followed. We will therefore have to learn to live with Muslims.

    Of course there are worrying aspects of classical Islam, but the beliefs of Muslims are not monolithic and vary from country to country. Even with sharia law, many Muslims support it for Muslims (but not for others), but when it comes to applying specific punishments, such as amputating the hands of thieves, the support varies between countries. See http://www.pewforum.org/2013/04/30/the-worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society-beliefs-about-sharia/

    Times change and people’s ideas also change. As Churchill said, to jaw-jaw is better than to war-war. Yes, it is of concern that such a large proportion of Muslims hold opinions that are beyond the pale for most Western people. However, opinions, even in Muslim countries, can and do change.

    Here are examples of social change: Wearing the hijab has become far more common, but female genital cutting is under attack. Radical Muslim scholars are challenging ancient interpretations of the Koran. Even more radical, there is a movement of ex-Muslims who are defying the taboo against leaving Islam and making their presence felt. These movements are a tiny minority, but they exist, and for that reason alone it’s important not to tar all supposed Muslims with the same brush.

  16. Here’s some points for you to consider:
    * Zero was a key development of Arab mathematical scholarship. It helped to transform mathematics.
    * The numerals we use came via the Arabs. That’s why they are called Arabic numerals.
    * Muslims account for 12 per cent of the population of London. To win, the Lord Mayor must have won the votes of a lot of non-Muslims.
    * The Dark Ages followed the fall of the Roman Empire. Barbarians from the north had more to do with this than the Muslims, who came later.
    * It was your words that Muslims must be separated and limited. That is apartheid talk and amounts to ethnic cleansing. My point stands.
    * You say that it would be impractical to check what each Muslim believes. You are right.
    * Therefore, instead of dreaming of apartheid and ethnic cleansing, challenge the Islamic teachings you oppose and the zealots who try to enforce them and support the moderates, the reformers and the ex-Muslims who oppose them.

  17. James Zogby, you are wrong about Iraqi Jews. Their exodus from Iraq began BEFORE 1948. Iraqi Jews call it the Farhud. It was the Iraqi equivalent of Kristallnacht and it happened in 1941. You don’t know anything about Jewish history.

    “Farhud (Arabic: الفرهود‎‎) refers to the pogrom or “violent dispossession” carried out against the Jewish population of Baghdad, Iraq, on June 1–2, 1941, immediately following the British victory in the Anglo-Iraqi War. The riots occurred in a power vacuum following the collapse of the pro-Nazi government of Rashid Ali, while the city was in a state of instability. The violence came immediately after the rapid defeat by the British of Rashid Ali, whose earlier coup had generated a short period of national euphoria, and was charged by allegations that Iraqi Jews had aided the British.[3] Over 180 Jews were killed and 1,000 injured, and up to 300-400 non-Jewish rioters were killed in the attempt to quell the violence.[4] Looting of Jewish property took place and 900 Jewish homes were destroyed.[1]

    The Farhud took place during the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. Because of rioters lamenting the losses of the outgoing regime of Rashid Ali al-Gaylani, who was an ally of Hitler’s, it has been referred to as a pogrom which was part of the Holocaust, although such comparison has been disputed.[5][6] It has also been called “the beginning of the end of the Jewish community of Iraq”,[7] propagating the migration of Iraqi Jews out of the country, although a direct connection to the 1951-2 Jewish exodus from Iraq is disputed.[8][9][10] as many Jews who left Iraq immediately following the Farhud returned to the country and permanent emigration did not accelerate significantly until 1950-51.[8][11] According to Hayyim Cohen, the Farhud “was the only [such event] known to the Jews of Iraq, at least during their last hundred years of life there”.”

  18. Gilbert Martin wrote a book called “In Ishmael’s House”. While there were times of less direct violence against Jews and Christians during the 1400 years of Islam, any capricious bureaucrat in any Islamic controlled area had the right to persecute or kill them with very little cause. Yes, history records some time of less persecution, and even times where Jews were placed in high positions, but those were rare and usually only ever for the time of the reigning ruler; once he was gone so was the non-Muslim.

    Islams history according to “Impact of Islam” has been one of almost consistent expansion, fighting, killing and pillaging. It its wake it leaves nothing but destitution for its own people and any they area they invaded.

  19. It is the accepted fact regime in Turkey explains holy war against the Armenians

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