The Making of a Documentary

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Adventure of a Rational Monotheist in Atlanta, New York, Vancouver and Los Angeles

Edip Yuksel

June 2011

Edip and Dr. David Silverman, President of American Atheists, at the headquarter, New Jersey, warming up for a heated debate on God.

 

(See more pictures under the page) 

 

About ten years ago, several months after the chickens of Arabia came to roost in America; I contacted dozens of literary agents regarding my autobiography. Few of them expressed interest in my story. One of them was enthusiastic. The owner of the literary agency had already talked to publishing houses and was expecting to get around 700,000 US dollars as down payment. He had also contacts in Hollywood and they too were interested in making a feature film based on my life story. That was way too much money and potential deals for me, and still is. At the time, I had given up from the practice of law since I could not work for the partners of a law firm who expected me to participate in legal decisions I deemed unethical; they would take frivolous cases to the court thereby milking more money from their long-term client, a municipality in Arizona. At the age forty-four, I was unemployed and had no clear idea what to do with my law degree. So, even a few thousand dollars would be a life-saver for my family.

However, after a few phone conversations with the literary agent and a Hollywood film producer, I learned that their interest in my life story was not within my interest. They wanted me to depict my life story as a thriller. I had a few chapters that had all the elements of a thriller such as confrontations with police and political rivals, assassination of my brother and my mentor, several assassination attempts against me, scuffles and riots in prisons, plan to hijack an airplane to join Afghani mujahids, secret meetings with leaders of the Iranian revolution, etc., but I did not want my life story become an ordinary thriller. Though I am an ordinary man, my life was an extra-ordinary adventure of philosophical and theological transformation. Knowing the quality of thrillers made by Hollywood, I knew that the intellectual and spiritual aspect of my story and its message would be squandered and get lost among special effects, explosions, bloody scenes and fast-paced chases. I could not let the main message of my life get lost among some generic Hollywood scenes: There is no god but the God. Put your full trust in God, do not follow anything blindly. Stand for peace, justice, and liberty without fear. Accept the truth so that the truth will set you free. Thus, my response to the literary agent and the Hollywood producer was a simple “no.”

I was thrilled when Aslbek, the owner of Asitana Productions, a non-profit foundation from Kazakhstan, contacted me regarding their intention to produce two documentary films on two of my books, Manifesto for Islamic Reform, and NINETEEN: God’s Signature in Nature and Scripture. Last year, they had already filmed numerous lectures and interviews at our annual Critical Thinkers for Islamic Reform Conference at Oxford University, but they were not happy with the quality of the recordings. This time they had a professional team. They asked me to provide them with a list of interviewees and guide the crew for the shootings. I came up with the names of people and we planned a two-week schedule on the corners of a big trapezoid, starting from Tucson, Los Angeles, Atlanta, New York, New Jersey, Vancouver, Los Angeles and back to Tucson. The experience was fascinating and occasionally extra-ordinary.

  • June 11-16, 2011, Tucson, AZ. (Submitters, Edip, Scenes)
  • June 16-17, 2011, Los Angeles, CA (Dr. Michael Shermer)
  • June 18-21, 2011, Atlanta, GA (Prof. Ali Fazely, Prof. Abdullahi an-Naim, Fereydoun Taslimi, Melissa Robinson)
  • June 21-25, 2011, New York, NY (Imam Shamsi Ali, Dr. David Silverman, Edip on Ground Zero)
  • June 26-29, 2011, Vancouver CA (Raymond Catton, Sophie Catton, …)
  • June 29-30, 2001, Los Angeles, CA (Dr. Ali Bahzadnia, Imam Yassir Fazaga, Matthew Capiello, Souran Musin)

Though our schedule did not allow us to interview Prof. Aisha Musa, Prof. Martha Schulte-Nafeh, Dr. Reza Aslan, Dr. T.O. Shanavas, Dr. Mahmoud Sabbahi, and a few other affiliates, we are planning to record their interviews separately before the end of this year. Of course, we have another list from Europe and Asia, such as Layth Saleh al-Shaiban, Arnold Mole, Yeşim Cansu, Mustafa Akyol, Prof. Caner Taslaman, Prof. Yaşar Nuri Öztürk, Chris and Linda Moore.

Hugging Cacti in Tucson and chasing Numbers on the Highways

The film crew, consisting the producer Aslbek Mussin, director Alan Shaikhin and camera operator Tom O’brady, was excited to shoot in Tucson. Unfortunately, we did not have a better word than “shooting” which when it is juxtaposed with Tucson usually invokes the bloody shootings of the wild west in cowboy movies. It was a good start, since the discoverer of the prophetic number had a masjid here and he was stabbed to death by a gang of Sunni group affiliated with the terrorist organization, al-Qaida.

I contacted numerous people from Masjid Tucson or International Community of Submitters, who had the opportunity to meet Rashad and were frequent to the Quranic studies and sermons on Fridays. We were united until an idol-carving gang split the group. I called Abdullah Arik and wanted to set up a time for the interview. Though Abdullah sided with the gang, he tried to put a calculated distance between himself and their claims, such as infallibility of Rashad Khalifa. Like many of the early supporters of Rashad, Abdullah too has been dancing on the sensitive theological border that separates the love of messenger from the worship of messenger. Abdullah is a dignified leader who likes vanilla flavor. I have in the past accused him of by-standing while Rashad’s message was polluted and distorted by a gang of ignorant idol-carvers.

I should have expected. Abdullah was not interested in the project. He declined my invitation without providing an explanation. I contacted several members of the congregation in Tucson: Kathrin, Linda, Mahmoud, and even Lydia. Kathryn had to work and could not spare even an hour. Linda claimed to be shy for cameras. Mahmoud had an important business to take care. Lydia was on vacation. I contacted a few old friends residing in other states and cities. Dr. John Spooner who is still a good friend of mine, articulated some excuses. I had a few close friends from Phoenix. One was scared from the Iranian government. The other, Dr. Douglas Brown, responded with enthusiasm and set up a time for an interview. But, he later called me and cancelled the meeting. He told me that he consulted Abdullah and received no permission. Ironically, he did not ask Abdullah’s permission when he was promoting the doomed May 19 doomsday prophecy soon after Rashad’s assassination. I should have expected such an evasive attitude. We would later interview several of those who met Rashad in person, such as Ray and Sophie Catton, Eric Thornwall, Fereydoun Taslimi, and Ali Fazely. Aslbek was disappointed by the response in Tucson. He could not understand how these people would miss an opportunity to be witnesses for truth. We both remembered the divine law:

47:38   Here you are being invited to spend in the cause of God, but some among you turn stingy. Whoever is stingy is only being stingy on himself. God is the Rich, while you are the poor. If you turn away, He will substitute another people instead of you, then they will not be like you.

To satisfy Aslbek’s curiosity, I arranged a meeting between the crew and Sam(ih) Khalifa, Rashad’s son, who has been aloof and ignored within the community. Sam was once a successful baseball player in major league, playing for Pittsburg Pirates. Though Sam lacks intellectual acumen and scholarship, he has a good heart. We reminisced our days together at Masjid Tucson.

Masjid Tucson is located in the corner of 6th Str and Euclid Avenue and Euclid is the most famous Egyptian mathematician (Rashad was Egyptian). Another very famous Egyptian mathematician Hypatia was declared heretic by Catholic clergymen and was stabbed to death by fanatic Christians 1575 years before Rashad was declared heretic by Sunni and Shiite clergymen and was stabbed to death.

Sam was and still is resentful of people in the Submitters community. After his father’s assassination, Sam was enticed by a few flattering troublemakers to play for leadership. Since he lacked the emotional and intellectual capacity to lead, the small community of submitters chose Abdullah’s leadership and was forced to abandon the original location of Masjid Tucson at Euclid and Sixth Street. We had lunch together at the corner of University Blvd and Euclid where I noticed that he had forgotten some memories that I remember very clearly.

Unable to interview a “living sahaba” in the “holy dessert” of Tucson, Aslbek and his crew decided to shoot dessert scenes, interview living cacti, and chase numbers in the wilderness. I let the child in me come out and I spoiled him. I talked while hugging a cactus in the Saguaro National forest. Posing before Biosphere 2, I talked about evolution and the engineering marvels and environmental troubles of a plastic bottle. And the most strangely, I joined the crew in chasing the number 19 on the highway. Aslbek and Alan had already learned the following curious “coincidences”:

  • Tucson’s zip code number: 57
  • Masjid Tucson’s zone number: 19
  • Masjid Tucson’s land parcel number: 114
  • The year Masjid Tucson was constructed: 1919. See
  • The only highway in the USA with the metric system connecting Tucson to Nogales: Highway 19

They wanted to see the highway 19 with their own eyes. We stopped at the triangle shoulder in front of the traffic sign where Highway 19 was written. They gave me the microphone and wanted me to say something in front of the Highway 19 sign. I felt like a strange storm chaser, or weatherman or traffic reporter. Well, even stranger. With a big smile on my face, I started like this: “There is a fine line between genius and crazy, between sanity and insanity; and I believe that here we might have passed that line…” I know that if this scene is included in the documentary film, it will be cherry-picked by bigots and will be used as distraction as a straw man to punch. Ingrates need a few silly excuses to blind themselves to divine signs and I could not resist providing them a few.

 “Ambush” at Skeptic Society in Altadena, Los Angeles

An American Iranian Armenian (yes, three qualifications) taxi driver took me and Alan from Los Angeles airport to Pasadena Inn. Matthew Capiello was already there waiting for us. The morning of June 17, Laleh, the American Iranian Jew camera operator showed up at the hotel. Then, Sauren, Aslbek’s brother, joined us there with a huge van. We helped Laleh to move her camera, tripad, lights and other gears to the van. We were ready to interview Michael Shermer, the president of Skeptic Society and the chief editor and publisher of the Skeptic magazine.

Before five of us headed towards the Skeptic Society in Altadena, a few miles North, Matthew learned from Internet that the cover story of The Skeptic magazine’s June issue was on Islam and Quran. That was a big surprise. We rushed to Barns Noble and purchased two copies of the magazine.

Michael was first interviewed by Matthew. Matthew was not in the scene; he was directing his questions behind the scene and Michael was answering each after repeating them. It was very successful. Questions were open-ended and direct. Almost no follow up or difficult questions. Michael was comfortable, articulate and had big smile on his face. After Matthew was done with his interview, it was my turn. I was not going to pitch soft balls; I was there for cross-examination and Socratic dialogue.

I had to inform Michael that I was not the usual religious guy that he was accustomed to deal with. In order to prevent him from hasty generalization and wasting our time on his criticism directed to wrong address, I inform him about my philosophy. Then, I challenged his atheistic dogmas and his claims about the Quran with philosophical arguments supported by verifiable/falsifiable evidences. As a prominent skeptic and atheist, what did he do? He acted like a religious bigot with no interest in philosophical debate. He acted as if he had seen a lion (or a WWF wrestler!) in the open. I was surprised when I provided some examples of numero-semantical system in the Quran, such as the frequency of the word Month being 12, and the frequency of the word Day, as he expected, being 365, even so he still did not demonstrate any interest in the subject matter. He acted as if he was sitting on a bunch of nails with sacks of potato chips on his shoulders. He knew that he was being subjected to a Socratic cross-examination and the person next to him was not a religious piñata, a believer of dogmas and contradictory stories whom he could easily punch to death and declare another cheap victory. It was too late when he realized that he made a remark that he regrets making. Interestingly, he repeated that remark at least twice.

He lost the debate. No, it was not he who lost. It was his prejudices and arrogant claims about God and the Quran that lost. Instead of considering it as a victory for truth and for himself, instead of asking me to meet him another time after he study our arguments more carefully, he acted like the prototype ingrate described in 74:16-25 and 7:146 and chose to stay in Saqar, which is described in 74:26-30.

Fearing that the video recording of him with self-incriminating confessions of idiocy may be released to the public, he calculated the risks and decided to pre-emptively react, by any means possible. The evasive, the “not-knowing-anything,” the “looking-like-an-idiot” atheist against me in June 17th 2011 somehow turned into a skeptic hero who was “ambushed” by a lunatic man who had escaped from a Turkish prison! A nice Hollywood movie!

For my response to Shermer and Randi, see:

http://19.org/randi/

http://19.org/shermer/

Meeting with muslim reformists at my friend’s mansion in Atlanta

Aslbek needed to go overseas to take care of his business and would later join us in New York. So, Alan was the only one who accompanied me in Atlanta. We hired three professional camera operators for the two-day shootings there.

Fereydoun and Nahid were hospitable as usual. We have known each other for more than twenty years.  They opened their house to the film crew, to the guests whom we have invited for the interviews. They live on top of a hill in Sandy Springs in a huge mansion with three stories that had dozens of rooms. The house is surrounded by tall trees. Each time I am hosted in one of the wings of the house, I still get lost finding my way. The house has central control systems for lights, curtains, AC, etc. One of the rooms which I stayed had a high- tech seat in the restroom that had a complicated control panel on the wall, which allowed me to adjusting the heat of the toilet seat and other sorts of things related to end of my digestive assembly line.  During one of my stays there I saw a walkie-talkie in Fereydoun’s hand communicating with his wife. At one point I heard him saying, “Where are you Nahid?” Though obtaining and maintaining such a huge house is beyond my American dream, sometimes playing hide-and-seek with my wife would be an interesting experience.

Nahid and Fereydoun, both are activists for peace, justice and freedom. They have supported the Critical Thinkers for Islamic Reform conferences and they are involved in charity work through Noor Foundation. Though I have some political and theological disagreement with Fereydoun, I respect his intellectual independence and expressing them without fear.

Prof. Ali Fazely was already there when I arrived. I had not seen him for years. I had met first met him during our conference in 1988 when Rashad was among us. He was a good lecturer. Later he became more involved in the relationship of prime and composite numbers and their indices with the numbers in the Quran, which he calls the Ultimate Mathematics. I do appreciate some of his observations, but I find most to be disconnected or anecdotal examples lacking a system. Perhaps, in the future those fragmented observations might be combined by a unified formula.

Melissa Robinson of American Islamic Fellowship foundation played piano after being interviewed. Tough I am musically challenged I still could appreciate the tune of Ey Iran Marze Pur Gohar.  Her collogue Kelly Wentworth could not make it due to personal engagement. Trina Scott was a passionate feminist yet was promoting co-existence.

Prof. Abdullahi An-Naim was there, yet he was in rush since it was father’s day. We had time to interview him. He joined us for a group discussion, but the technician responsible for the audio confused the connections and delayed the meeting for more than half an hour. Witnessing the tangled microphone lines on the floor with a confused man made me appreciate the children puzzles where you follow the lines to find which object belongs to which child. Because of that technical mishap we lost Abdullahi and Nahid. Abdullahi went to meet his children and Nahid went upstairs, perhaps to the kitchen. Yet, the panel consisting of Melissa, Fereydoun, Trina, Ali and I had a good conversation on various issues involving Muslims.

President of American Atheists Organization, Sunni imam and Speech at Ground Zero

We reserved 3 rooms, one double, at Affinia Hotel in Manhattan on 3rd Avenue and Lengston. I asked Mrahil to bring the boxes containing about 200 copies of the Quran: a Reformist Translation to the hotel.

The morning of June 24th, I met the film crew at the headquarter of American Atheist Organization. It had a big room and a stage for TV programs. David Silverman was a young and energetic atheist, a proud activist in the cause of fighting religious dogmas and bigotry. After the interview with me he would be joining other atheists to protest Harrisburg Mayor’s ‘Prayer to Fix the Financial Crisis.’  He was enthusiastic about his jihaad.

Before the interview I requested him to print two copies of the release form, which he did. Before the recording started I found him happy and ready for the debate. Unlike Michael Shermer who was way too serious and reserved, David was jubilant and humorous. If I invited him to my balancing game, he would gladly accept. Perhaps, he would even take his chance in an oil-wrestling challenge…

June 24, 7:00 pm

Today afternoon we had appointment with, Shamsi Ali, the imam of the biggest mosque in New York at 3rd Avenue and 96th street. He could not keep his composure after a few rounds of cross examination. This smiling, moderate, window-dressing imam suddenly got mad and start yelling at me… He left the debate after 15 min, virtually running from me, leaving his mosque to me and the film crew. Everything is on HD video!

June 24, 9:41 pm

We are too very excited about the debates so far I had, both with leading atheists and religious scholars. As I have been saying for long time: the best way to expose ignorant people, liars and imposters is to subject them in Socratic grilling sessions. I am not the best griller, but my honesty in seeking the truth, this by itself is a great threat to any debaters who have vested interested in falsehood.

June 25, 5:14 am

Dear Mohran, I call the moderate Hadith and Sunna peddlers to be worse, since with their smooth talking, nice look, and smiling faces, they keep their followers in the darkness of polytheism, ignorance, backwardness, superstitions, and injustice. They are window-dressers of teachings that have doomed their followers to a hellish life on earth and perhaps in the hereafter. Thus, they might cause more harm than the “ugly and angry” Sunni or Shiite clergymen. They have traded their integritiy and eternity with cheap worldly gains.

June 25, 5:37 am

Brother Recep, I do not know your religion, ideology, but if you are going to argue against rational monotheism, you are doomed to lose. When I was a young Sunni author, I lost the debate against a monotheist, and it was the best loss in my entire life.

June 25, 7:52 am

RECEP: “Edip has the courage to stand up to a pagan imam why does not he have the same courage to stand up to these corrupted officials who are shedding blood all over the world?”

EDIP: Recep, my book Peacemaker’s Guide to Warmongers, with its 400+ pages and cover, and hundreds of articles and comments I have written testifies that you are either have no clue about the person you are accusing of or you are a liar! I am tired of people like you who act like provocateurs! If you are brave do something about what you are saying. Go and engage in some activities against the American government.

June 25; 4:59 pm

I was in Ground Zero challenging Americans and telling them the naked truth. Inshallah you will see some segments on you tube and in the upcoming video. Peace.

June 25, 11:48 pm.

Today, with the loudest voice that I could produce, I lectured the crowd near the Ground Zero and challenged them to engage a 3 minute conversation. My political statements were provocative. The crowd literally froze during each lecture. It was a powerful event. Inshallah some segments will be posted on youtube.

Edip Yüksel Challenges Fellow Americans at Ground Zero

I challenged fellow Americans at Ground Zero on 25 June 2011:

Peacefully engage in an intellectual/philosophical debate with me. Criticize my assertions regarding the politics and religion for three minutes. Randomly pick three Americans from the street as referees.

If after three minutes they decide that you are right, you will get:

1. $100 with no further questions asked.

If the three referees decide that you lost the debate, then you may choose any of the following two options for free:

2. A copy of the QURAN: a Reformist Translation; 

If you are scared of the Quran or if you are illiterate, then:

3. A can of soda and a bag of potato chips!

You have nothing to lose. You may learn something, or you may win 100 dollars or gain a little weight.

In four sessions (about 30 minutes), I asserted that: 

  • the USA government is no more the government of the people, by the people, for the people; it is an oligarchy. It has become the USA-Inc: the government of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations.
  • that the filthy rich has declared war against working class, condemning the bottom fifth to prisons, the next fifth to military service so that with the wave of a flag could use the children of the poor people to kill the children of poor in other countries to make bloody profits for corporations.
  • that capitalism or consumerism is neither fair nor sustainable. Greed and materialism is destroying and poisoning the land, the sea, the air, while exploiting the working people.
  • that the USA Constitution needs amendments for the separation of corporations and state, for public financing of political campaigns, for reducing corporate control and monopoly over the media, and for protection of environment. Another amendment is needed to ban making profits from health care, manufacturing and sales of arms, and wars.
  • that the USA Constitution needs an amendment to create another house to monitor the financial ties and transactions of the U.S. Congress through lottery elections (See the details at Peacemakers Constitution drafted by Edip Yuksel and his colleagues).
  • that the USA-Inc is addicted with wars; fulfilling Eisenhower ‘s prophetic warning, the Military Industrial Complex, with its bloody appetite for wars, has grown monstrous.
  • that those who live by sword die by sword.
  • that the USA is cutting from education, health care, infrastructure to feed the military beast and the top one percent.
  • that the USA-Inc has been supporting dictators and fascist regimes like Saudi Arabia and Israel.
  • that the USA-Inc is now forced to replace its puppet dictators with puppet democratic (!) governments.
  • that the Al-Qaida and similar terrorist organizations are the byproduct of the USA-Inc’s imperialism, overt and covert operations, occupations, terror, tortures, rape and plunder of resources of poor countries.
  • that the wrong-wing-warmongering Christians are hypocrites; they sing peace in their churches while they vote for bigger military, for more weapons, warmongers, the torturers, and the mass murderers.
  • that the biggest terrorist organizations are states, the global arms producers and merchants
  • that the USA terrorists just killed more than a million people in Iraq alone, a country that never attacked to the USA and never supported al-Qaida.
  • that if Muslims are terrorists then, Christians are terrorists 666 times.
  • that it is imperative for peacemakers of the world to stand as a united force against warmongers, big corporations, banks, Wall Street, and Zionist organizations.

“Descartes said ‘I think therefore I am.’ I say I think twice; therefore I do not believe.”

“Discover the truth so that it will set you free.”

On June 27, 12:58 am,  I posted the following note on my Facebook page.

I am having the worst ordeal in airports. I have not slept for two days. Presently, I am stuck in Calgary, Canada airport and waiting for another flight to Vancouver. The airline error, and my wrong choices and forgetfulness due to sleep deprivation and tiredness have so far created a long nightmare for me. I hope that I do not fall asleep on the bench or get lost in Internet and miss the 7 am flight too :)

June 27, 3:03 pm:

Thank God, I am now at a beautiful house with a fantastic view in Vancouver. I have learned some lessons.

June 28, 8:47 am:

Thank you for your care. I did post an update. Now I am in a luxurious home with a fantastic view. My long-time friends Ray and Sophia are hosting me much better than a six star hotel. So, I am grateful to God for relieving me from a two-night and three-day ordeal. I learned some good lessons.

We are shooting for the documentary film now and inshallah I will leave here to LA this Wednesday. We have two more interviews there.

June 28, 5:53 pm:

Lesson ONE: This world is not heaven. Must expect errors, accidents, and injustices. (Orbitz had sold me a multiple-city destination ticket through three airlines. United, Continental and Alaska Airlines. Alaska Airline’s ticket from Newark,… N.J. to Seattle/Billingham was deleted by Continental Airline staff when I changed my time of flight to Atlanta. Thus, stopped from boarding the plane.)

Lesson TWO: Do not get angry when things go wrong. Anger will make the things even worse, since you will not be able to think properly and you will make wrong choices. (Disappointed for being stopped from boarding the flight that I had on my itinerary, I forgot to ask my luggage to be pulled back from the plane. My luggage ended up in Billingham without me)

Lesson THREE: Do not get distracted when distraction could be too costly. Do not go on Internet, even if you are sitting by the Gate of your next flight. (Without my awareness, they had changed the gate of my departure. This cost me one more night of delay)

Lesson FOUR: ….

**

New York

  • Del Frisco’s (Shawn Spolski, one of the managers) 1221 Avenue of the Americas, NY
  • Ali Baba, Turkish Cuisine, 2121 East 34th Street, (between 2nd and 3rd str).
  • Gazihan Alankus, PhD Candidate, Computer Science, Washington University in St. Louis, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
  • Habibur Rahman, MD,

Vancouver

  • Ray Catton, All Season Tree Servic Ltd.
  • Raziya Sattar, Lawyer
  • Los Angeles
  • Sh. Yassir Fazaga, Religious Director, Orange County Islamic Foundation, Mission Viejo, CA,

Edip and Dr. Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im of Emory Law School, Atlanta

 

Edip and Dr. Ali Fazely, Professor of Physics at Southern Universit, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

 

Edip and Kelly Wentworth, the ‎ co-director for the American Islamic Fellowship at Atlanta

 

Edip and Shamsi Ali,  the imam of the mosque at 1711 Third Avenue, between East 96th and 97th Streets. In order not to scare him and thereby jeopardize the interview/debate, I am covering the www.19.org on my shirt before the interview.

 

In order to blend in the crowd and make it easy for the imam to sit, Edip even tried Pakistani attire at Islamic Cultural Center, New York. But, since  the weather was too hot and the attire was too ugly, he gave up the accomodation.

 

 

Alan Shahin, the director of the film and Matthew, the reporter. As Alan is folically challenged, by putting that silly hat on his had Matthew is aesthetically challenged.

 

Edip Yuksel at Ground Zero Challenging Americans