Ilhan Omar’s notorious “Islamophobia” bill doesn’t ever get around to defining what “Islamophobia” actually is, and there is a reason for that: the word is used not just to refer to vigilante attacks against innocent Muslims, which are never justified, but to any and all criticism of Islam, including honest discussion of the motives and goals of jihad terrorists. The insidious aspect of her bill is that it could be used to shut down such discussion and leave us unable to speak publicly about a real threat. An indication of how this can happen has just come from last month’s Sundance Film Festival, which featured a documentary about jihadis getting rehabilitated and has had two staffers resign so far over its unpardonable “Islamophobia.”
The film, which The Wrap called a “hot-button documentary,” is called Jihad Rehab. The 2022 Sundance program says that it “film focuses on several men — detained in Guantanamo for years without charge by the United States — after they are placed in what’s billed as the world’s first rehabilitation center for extremists.” The reminder that they were “detained without charge,” with no mention of 9/11 or the global jihad, is the first tipoff that this is not exactly a “right-wing” presentation, which is how it got to Sundance in the first place. But that didn’t stop it from running afoul of the Thought Police.
The film description continues: “There, they undergo the center’s ‘deradicalization’ program, which includes therapy sessions and life skills classes, before they are permitted to be released into an unfamiliar society where they will face new challenges.” Director Meg Smaker explained that the whole idea was to make the audience sympathetic to these Guantanamo terrorists: “What we intended in the film was that these three guys’ personal journeys are going to challenge audiences’ stereotypes about who these men actually are. Hopefully it takes away the simplistic stereotyping and gives their lives value that they haven’t seemed to have before in our national narrative.”
Smaker added: “The film was crafted so that it’s not just a journey for these men. It was intended as a journey for the audiences who see it.” A journey to Leftism and anti-Americanism: “I knew that the alt-right in the U.S. were probably going to come after us, and I’m sure they still will.” She explained that the “horror” of Guantanamo was “essentially what the film is about.” The film uses the word “terrorist” of its subjects, but only in order to “invert its meaning.”
That means that the terrorists are the good guys, and those fighting the terrorists are the real terrorists. Smaker continued: “We knew that a swath of the audience in America would probably still believe these men in Guantanamo were ‘evil doers.’” Considering the fact that most of them were captured in Afghanistan fighting for the Taliban against the U.S. and were involved in extensive jihad terror activity, that is not an unjustified designation, but Smaker thinks it is: “That has been, unfortunately, a viewpoint for two decades now. This film seeks to challenge those stereotypes. American society has labeled these men this way and the film is intended as their chance to give their side.”
This sounds like a film that the Sundance audience would love, but it has “drawn fire on social media for the fact that the film calls the men ‘terrorists’ and because Smaker herself is not Muslim.” Also, “some Muslim critics noted that the use of the word ‘Jihad’ in the film’s title misappropriates the term despite its wider meaning in Islam.”
Now, if you ask one hundred Islamic terrorists what they call what they’re doing, one hundred of them will say “jihad.” But for non-Muslims to notice this is “Islamophobic” because some Muslims consider jihad to be an interior spiritual struggle, and apparently that means that we are not allowed to notice what term the terrorists use for their activities.
Accordingly, Meg Smaker and Jihad Rehab are in hot water. Brenda Coughlin, director of Impact, Engagement and Advocacy at the Sundance Institute, and Karim Ahmad, director of its Outreach & Inclusion Program, have both resigned over the film’s “Islamophobia.” The film is being raked over the coals by other Leftists as well; at IndieWire, Eric Kohn likened the controversy over Jihad Rehab to the Joe Rogan/Spotify imbroglio and went full fascist, calling for “forcing these powerful institutions to reconsider supporting these troubling works in the first place.”
The lesson Meg Smaker can learn from this is that no good deed goes unpunished. She wanted to make a good Leftist film about how jihad terrorists were really the heroes and America the villain, and she is still being charged with “Islamophobia.” The real lesson for her and others is that any presentation of any kind that gives the slightest hint that not everything about Islam is one hundred percent benign and is to be celebrated will be smeared with this label and silenced accordingly. And thanks to Ilhan Omar, the U.S. government itself, which Meg Smaker holds in such contempt, may soon be helping to punish “Islamophobic” transgressors such as…Meg Smaker.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is author of 23 books including many bestsellers, such as The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), The Truth About Muhammad and The History of Jihad. His latest book is The Critical Qur’an. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.