On Monday's Newsroom, CNN's Don Lemon helped film director Qasim Basir promote his new film "Mooz-lum," which he hopes will "clear up some of this ignorance" about Muslims and their religion. Basir, whose last project "aimed at supporting presidential candidate Barack Obama," claimed that "in an average person's mind, who does not know anybody that's Muslim, it's like you see Muslim, you think terrorist."
Anchor Suzanne Malveaux introduced Lemon's segment, which ran 39 minutes into the 12 pm Eastern hour, as part of her network's "What Matters" series, which is a partnership with Essence magazine. Malveaux played up the film's "strong African-American cast and director," and stated that her colleague "sat down with the director Qasim Basir to talk about the movie, and the state of Muslims in America." An on-screen graphic signaled the primary focus of Lemon's interview: "Religion + Intolerance: Don Lemon, Qasim Bair discuss 'Mooz-lum.'"
Basir's "average person" claim led the segment and he continued with how he hoped to combat this supposed viewpoint:
BASIR: In an average person's mind, who does not know anybody that's Muslim, it's like you see Muslim, you think terrorist. You hear terrorist, you think Muslim, and what we're trying to do with this film is separate the two, and get people to realize there are Muslims and there are terrorists. There are extremists. There are people that do horrible things, and then there are Muslims.
Instead of asking why many people might think that way, or citing examples of Islamist terrorism, the CNN correspondent followed up by asking, "Why should I see this movie?" The director answered by making his first claim about "ignorance" about Islam and Muslims:
BASIR: Because, most likely, it is a view that you have not seen before of Muslims in America, and given what we're facing today, the amount of ignorance surrounding Muslims and Islam, I feel it's necessary for people to see this, and for people to say, like, you know, I've never looked at it that way before.
After playing a brief clip from the movie, where two veiled Muslim women are cornered by a mob armed with hockey sticks (part of the same scene is shown 22 seconds into the teaser trailer for the film), Basir continued that "this ignorance is what creates fear, and fear, there's so much more that happens when that is in the picture. So, we're just trying to erase, clear up some of this ignorance."
Lemon threw a softball at a director in his final question: "So Tariq is a character. Is he kind of like you? Is it semi-autobiographical? Did you experience some of the things that he does?" After he gave his answer, Malveaux came back and complimented the movie: "Looks like a great film."
Basir's own personal website notes his strong support of Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign and the amount of effort he took to get him elected:
Next Qasim went on to create a short film series aimed at supporting Presidential candidate Barack Obama. The series, The Inspiration of Barack: "Yes We Can" Film Series, is a compilation of seven short films all dealing with different people who become inspired by Obama to take essential steps forward in their lives...he took the series to theaters around the country, urging attendees to get involved with the Obama campaign. "My whole purpose is to help change the world. Obama getting in office will be a huge step in that direction."
Besides this film series, the director voiced his support for Obama on Huffington Post. In a November 3, 2008 post, Basir went so far to claim that the Democrat needed to be elected because Republican candidate John McCain would become a second Ronald Reagan:
All you have to do is look back forty years ago....There were movements ranging from anti-war, black power, women's rights, sexual revolution, etc. It was a time when the American people realized that it was not only OK to question government, but it was our right. Those who lived it can speak on it much better. But for those of us who didn't, all we have to compare it to is the movement of now....The protests, marches, sit in's, etc. got us very far in terms of this countries progress, but they scared the right & center so much that they also got us Reagan. We won't let this happen again. This time we are not scared, more people than ever understand exactly what has to happen. That we cannot afford to let the progression of this movement end with another Reagan, or in this case, McCain.
As you might expect, CNN didn't mention any of this about Basir during the segment, and the director helped them revisit their months-old charge that Islamophobia is now "mainstream" in America.
— Matthew Balan is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.