Conservative Documentary on 2009 Little Rock Recruiting Office Shooting

From the New York Times, February 2010:

When Monica Bledsoe spoke to her younger brother late last May, he seemed his old upbeat self… A week later, her brother, Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad [originally Carlos Bledsoe], opened fire with a semiautomatic rifle on a military recruiting center in Little Rock, killing one soldier and wounding another.

…A gentle, happy-go-lucky teenager, he had become a deeply observant Muslim in college, shunning gatherings where alcohol was served. He traveled to Yemen to study Arabic, married a Yemeni woman, was imprisoned and then deported for overstaying his visa. 

…In Mr. Muhammad’s case, the same F.B.I. agent interviewed him twice before the shootings: once while he was in prison in Yemen and then again in Nashville soon after he returned.

While the prosecution case concentrated on the facts of the murder, Bledsoe’s father Melvin called for a more wide-ranging investigation:

What he wants, Mr. Bledsoe says, is to understand how “evildoers” brainwashed his son, as he puts it. And he wants the F.B.I. held accountable for what he considers its negligence in preventing the attack.

“They didn’t pull the trigger, but they allowed this to happen,” Mr. Bledsoe said. “It is owed to the American people to know what happened. If it can happen to my son, it can happen to anyone’s son.”

Melvin Bledsoe has also made public appearances with Daris Long, the father of the soldier murdered by his son, and both men have given evidence at Peter King’s Muslim Radicalization Hearings (here and here).

The case and its aftermath are now the subject of a documentary, Losing Our Sons: An American Tragedy. The film’s website highlights endorsements from various conservative pundits, including Frank Gaffney, Brigitte Gabriel, and Daniel Pipes, and there is a video clip endorsement from Mike Hukabee. However, while this will doubtless help sell the film within conservative circles, it is likely to put anyone else off: Gaffney, Gabriel, and Pipes are known primarily as anti-Islam polemicists, and I’ve noted instances in which each has undermined his or her own credibility by making a statement of supposed fact that could not be supported (herehere, and here; in 2003, Christopher Hitchens described Pipes as a “poor if not useless ally” against Islamic extremism because of his misrepresentations).

An enthusiastic review from Rebecca Bynum at the New English Review has some discouraging background:

Losing Our Sons is the title of a brilliant and moving new documentary produced by A.R. Maezav and Ilya Feokt [sic – should be Ilya Feoktistov] of the Boston-based Americans for Peace and Tolerance led by Charles Jacobs, with financing and support by Andy Miller and the Tennessee Freedom Coalition. 

The TFC held the “world premiere” of the documentary at Maury Davis’s Cornerstone Church in Nashville last month, with Melvin Bledsoe and Daris Long in attendance; this was the location of last November’s anti-Islam “Preserving Freedom” Conference, which the TFC sponsored. In February, the TFC was in the news after arranging for local police to receive problematic training in Islam at an evangelical church in Murfreesboro. As I’ve noted previously, the TFC has close links with the English Defence League, and Miller has met both Tommy Robinson and British Freedom’s Paul Weston (the TFC also has links with the UK Christian Right group Christian Concern).

Background details for Americans for Peace and Tolerance appear in a blurb on the film’s website:

Americans for Peace and Tolerance is headed by Dr. Charles Jacobs, named by the Forward as one of America’s top 50 Jewish leaders…

The APT board of directors includes Dr. Dennis Hale and Sheikh Dr. Ahmed Mansour. Dr. Mansour is an Al Azhar-educated reformist Islamic scholar who fled his native Egypt after persecution by radical Islamists and imprisonment by Egyptian authorities. He is the spiritual leader of a reformist movement of Islam called the Quranists.

Of the film’s two co-directors, there are oddly no further details about “A. R. Maezav” anywhere. Feoktistov, meanwhile, is the APT’s research director, and he and Jacobs have launched attacks on the Anti-Defamation League for allegedly “allying with Muslim anti-Semites to fight ‘Islamophobia’ and then defaming legitimately concerned citizens”. The ADL responded last month, accusing Jacobs of “McCarthyism”.

Of course,  the biases of the documentary’s creators and supporters do not automatically mean  that the film is no good, and certainly do not mean that we should ignore a wider religious context for Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad’s actions. Indeed, the best way to ensure that the killing is not used for partisan ends is for the subject to receive wide critical attention.