The other day, I watched the film Fitna on YouTube, a film about Islam by Dutch right wing politician Geert Wilders.  I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I had read some interesting reviews by Skepticlawyer at Catallaxy, Pommygranate at Australian Libertarian Society Blog and Saint at Dogfight At Bankstown.

I must say that I felt considerable ambivalence about it. I’ve waited over a week to write on it.

On the one hand, I support freedom of speech. Furthermore, there is no denying the fact that there are extremist Muslims who in the world who advocate terrorism or jihad (as I’ve argued previously). I think this kind of behaviour is unacceptable from anyone of any religion, and should be condemned.

But on the other hand, I wonder what this film will really achieve other than deepening the divide between the West and Islam. Among other things, it extracts news, film and photographs of all the worst instances of Islamist extremism and terrorism, and juxtaposes them against sura from the Qu’ran. It has a scaremongering feel which I do not like at all – it makes broadbrush generalisations and depicts the worst of a particular group. As I have said in a previous post, I find scaremongering propaganda to be problematic, regardless of whether it is on the Left or the Right, or from the West or Islam. It makes people behave in an irrational manner.

As Pommygranate noted in a post at the Australian Libertarian Society Blog, there is a rather odd dichotomy in this film – Wilders preaches Western values of tolerance and free speech, but he is essentially calling for intolerance of a certain religion. Pommy says:

He [Wilders] is essentially a hypocrite as on the one hand he champions Holland’s proud history of tolerance and freedom, yet on the other, seeks to introduce discrimination back into the Constitution (by banning further immigration of Muslims), wishes to ban the Koran as a fascist book comparable to Mein Kampf, and wants a complete ban on the wearing of the headscarf. 

The ironic thing, as with the Danish cartoons, is the way in which various Islamic groups and countries are claiming that the film is offensive and inaccurate for saying their religion is intrinsically violent and intolerant, but radical Muslims are also making death threats against LiveLeaks for posting the video… Don’t those guys who make the death threats have any sense of irony whatsoever? Any violent retaliation against Wilders will prove his point rather nicely.

The film makes me think of a book by Chester Porter called The Gentle Art of Persuasion. He argues that using fear to get your point across is not an intelligent way to put an argument. I concur. The central message I got from the film was “Muslims are terrorists, intolerant people, anti-Semites, bashers of homosexuals, genital mutilators and oppressors of women’s freedom.” But I am still wondering: what was the point? How are people (Muslim, Dutch and others) meant to respond to that message? How does this film fix anything?

If this film’s central message is that Muslims need to rethink the violent and unpleasant aspects of their religion, which is one of the film’s claims, then I don’t think a vehicle such as this would be the way to achieve it. It would immediately make even a moderate Muslim defensive of his or her religion, rather than open to reasonable criticism.

I suspect there were two responses Wilders wanted – to provoke a backlash among Dutch people to Islam (or at least, some extreme practices of some Islamic groups), and to make a point that the response to films or writings which criticise Islam is often violence (although I note that the Dutch Muslim population seems to have sensibly decided that the best response is to be moderate).

I’ve noticed in blog comments threads that a common response to the film is that “Christianity is just as bad” (see for example the comment thread which has developed at Iain Hall’s post). Yes, one could do the same with Christianity and find some nutbag Bible bashers who wanted to stone homosexuals or whatever, and intersperse it with Biblical quotes (particularly chapters like Leviticus). But I think that misses the point of the film. As Skepticlawyer has indicated in her post at Catallaxy, I think one of the particular concerns Wilders is focussing on is the interaction between Muslim immigrants in Holland and the mainstream Dutch culture, which is tolerant of homosexuality, prostitution, drug-use etc. Thus, it’s obviously not relevant for him to make a film on the shortcomings of Christianity, because the Dutch Christian attitude is generally tolerant; or at least, most Dutch Christians turn a blind eye to those things in Dutch culture which they disagree with. If a whole slew of US Southern Baptists emigrated to Holland and started questioning Dutch values, it would obviously be relevant to question Christianity, but that’s not the particular conflict he has in mind.

And ultimately, so what if you can do the same with Christianity? It doesn’t make the conduct of Islamists who espouse the same views right. It cannot be denied that there are a proportion of radical Islamists who believe many or all of the things in this movie. A plague on all the houses of those who seek to convert by the sword, kill and persecute those of different religions or oppress and use religion to justify violence towards women and homosexuals.

What is the best thing to do about Islamist terrorism and intolerance? I’m just not sure that this movie is a constructive solution to the problem: it may just make things worse. Yes, it is important to be honest about the problems of Islamist extremism, but it is also important to find ways to solve those problems rather than to inflame them.


Incidentally, I heartly agree with Skepticlawyer that many Muslim commentators, politicians and imams need to get over calling anyone who disagrees with Islam’s tenets “Zionist”. A Jordanian media coalition described Wilders as “extremist and Zionist deputy Geert Wilders” in a press release. Wilders is not Jewish, and I don’t know if he supports the establishment and/or expansion of the State of Israel or not. Even if he does, that wasn’t the point of the film anyway. As soon as I hear insane frothing at the mouth about Zionists such as this, I start to doubt the credibility and sanity of the source.



Filed under blasphemy, christianity, freedom of speech, islam, judaism, politics, racism, society, terrorism, tolerance

9 responses to “Fitna

  1. Here is a review of film and reactions in the “Certain Ideas of Europe” online column of The Economist. Below is a cut-and-paste of the column (trimmed a little), but you’ll need to visit The Economist site to view links, and the comments to the post:

    ONLY A couple of days ago, it seemed hard to imagine that the cause of rationality was going to be greatly advanced by a short film attacking the Koran, … released on the internet on Thursday night, amid lurid predictions of riots and violence. And, so far, at time of posting this… nothing much has happened.

    … A leading German-Turkish politician has said the film is trying to cause trouble, but should still not be censored, and various prominent Dutch imams have said, well, not very much.

    For the moment, it all seems unexpectedly encouraging…. It had the potential to be a thoroughly depressing affair: one of those occasions where defending free speech was going to involve standing by a man determined to cause offence. But this has not really happened, which is a good thing. The film clearly sets out to shock and provoke and generate media coverage. And so far, European residents of all stripes and creeds have chosen not to be provoked.

  2. Reform Islam

    Wilders is essentially champions Holland’s proud history of tolerance for tolerance and intolerance for intolerance. This is a key point regarding radical (not moderate or liberal) Islam.

    Since the majority of liberal and moderate Muslims do not speak out against radical Islam (for fear or otherwise), Wilder has stepped up to the plate. Granted, his approach is slanted but may prove effective in the long run.

    Fitna of course puts moderate, liberal and non practicing Muslims in an interesting
    situation where they have to defend themselves and makes it very difficult for the
    radicals to respond with violence… since it would only further validate Fitna through
    their own propaganda used in the making of Fitna. That is a neat catch 22 and I’m hoping
    was Wilder’s true intention.

    Regarding freedom of speech, sharia has begun rearing its ugly head in the UN. “For the past eleven years the organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), representing the 57 Islamic States, has been tightening its grip on the throat of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On 28 March 2008, they finally killed it.”

    “The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression will now be required to report on the “abuse” of this most cherished freedom by anyone who, for example, dares speak out against Sharia laws that require women to be stoned to death for adultery or young men to be hanged for being gay, or against the marriage of girls as young as nine, as in Iran.”

    Regarding the Koran, the following verses promote divisiveness and religious hatred, bigotry and discrimination. They must be either removed from the Koran or declared outdated and invalid, and marked as such.

    I think it’s time we woke up.

  3. I study the conflict between Zionists and Palestinians on a daily basis. I can cull about 5,000 news stories from which offers news from Google News on a daily basis, so it doesn’t take me very long to have 300 suitable articles. The site is called “Jew Watch”, and, for some unknown reason (probably propaganda), the news media always calls it anti-Semitic. I’m Jewish, and I never found it that way. It is fair for Jews and Moslems and Christians, and it is loaded with archives that I cannot find anywhere but there. Jew Watch has taught thousands of people that Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are polymorpheus movements that contain doubters, believers, thinkers, skeptics, so that no one can make blanket statements. Each Muslum is an individual with a unique point of view, and few of these people are terrorists. In fact, terrorism is the new McCarthyism in America.

  4. Good write-up, LE. The benefit of a nicely considered response. It seems there are two things to fall out of this (and as Dave says, the fall-out on both fronts may well be positive).

    1. We are not going to be able to turn most Muslims into liberals in the ‘perfectionist’ Dutch sense. That’s very different from Muslims being able to live in liberal countries, which is entirely possible. Expecting Muslims to to ditch great swathes of their values (eg attitudes to homosexuals etc) is just unreasonable. It’s the same as expecting the Catholic Church to come over all Rainbow Coalition. We may as well face up to this.

    2. Similarly, Muslims are going to have to face up to the fact that the anti-semitism widespread among their coreligionists is going to see them ignored as people of reason and good will until they drop it. This also means they’re going to have to drop their demands with regard to a Palestinian ‘right of return’ etc. They may as well face up to this.

    If Fitna has had the effect of forcing all this stuff into the open, then it’s actually been for more positive than I thought it would be.

  5. “ReformIslam” said:

    They must be either removed from the Koran or declared outdated and invalid, and marked as such.

    “SkepticLawyer” said:

    We are not going to be able to turn most Muslims into liberals in the ‘perfectionist’ Dutch sense.

    IMHO, if people must have a faith, then there is a role for states to promote more rigorous theological thinking, as this destroys the credibility of extremist interpretations.

    First, I find the Koran less “nasty” than much of the Old Testament and the Paulean epistles, but I agree that reform is needed in interpretation, arguing here that extremist Islam resembles pre-Lutheran Catholicism, granting indulgences and heaven, although for murder rather than money.

    Second, there have been many essays by learned Islamic theologians (I discuss one from the 1880s here) that rail against the Shariat as moving away from a proper interpretation of the Koran, often for political motives, and shows that in the Koran, “jihad” meant the struggle within oneself to be a better, more compassionate and merciful person.

    Now, the author of the Hedaya and other writers on the Common Law quote only those few passages from the Koran which are absolute or unconditional, and shut their eyes against those many conditional verses, and general scope and tenor of the Koran… Then only they commit the unpardonable blunder of citing isolated parts of solitary verses of the Koran, which are neither expressive enough nor are in general terms. In doing so, they avoid the many other conditional and more explicit verses on the same subject. – Moulavi Gerágh Ali

    In that article, I also quote the work of a modern Judaic theologian (part available here) that reviews such works advocating tolerance, and criticizes those modern-day polemicists who twist theologies for political purposes.

    West-Wing fans might remember the “Isaac and Ishmael” episode in response to the Sep 11 bombing, where Toby pointed out that the Christian equivalent of the Islamic fundamentalists is “Klu Klux Klan”: both are lunatic, both should be held up as hypocrites untrue to the tenets of the prophets they claim to follow.

    The imperative of law is to cling to use logic and evidence (the opposites of faith) to foster remediation and rehabilitation (the polar opposites of vengeful dogmatists). Legal philosophers and practitioners have their work cut out for them making politicians and the untutored masses understand this.

    Part of the solution is inclusion of comparative theology as part of the compulsory curriculum of all registered schools – something seeming at first counter-intuitive from an unbeliever like myself. I count myself lucky to have been at a school where a Christian Prof-Emeritus of a theological college introduced Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam as compulsory subjects in years 9 thru 11.

  6. Omar

    As a muslim who doesn’t support extremists who kill innocents or blow up buildings, I found this “film” to be disgusting and insulting. I couldn’t even watch more than a few minutes of it. There are just too many people like this politician who seem to enjoy taking the opportunity that extremists give them to openly trash a religion they don’t like.
    In fact, this guy and the extremists who would threaten to kill him are essentially on the same side. Both want to further divide the west from Islam because doing so makes them both happy. So I see this Dutch politician as being in league with Al Qaeda. Their ultimate goal is a holy war between christians and muslims.

  7. LDU

    Wilders film was a nice cut and paste job.

    I don’t see any problem with the verses he quoted, they’re all justified and make sense when read in their revealed context and with the commentary every translation of the Quran provides.

    Wilders has visited Israel about 40 times and claims to be connected to Mossad, that’s why he might be labelled a Zionist.

    Wilders should have also mentioned that one reason for Muslim immigration to Europe is because European colonial powers had occupied many parts of Africa and the Middle East with large Muslim populations and didn’t leave the place all too well upon their departure.

    “What is the best thing to do about Islamist terrorism and intolerance?” I’d assume withdrawing our forces would be a good first step? Ron Paul summarises this really well, if our intervention in their affairs is minimal they won’t be terrorising us. I don’t think there was much “Islamist” terrorism prior to colonising the ME a few decades ago.

    I find the West’s stance on Muslims really funny. I’m sure if the ‘West’ were to hold a referendum tomorrow asking for the expulsion of its Muslim population, the answer would be an overwhelming ‘Yes’ vote. Yet when a marxist like group like Hizb Tahrir proposes a model to unite all Muslim countries under one caliphate, our government’s are all up in arms and the group is black listed.

  8. LDU, your point about Muslim immigration to Europe is a good one. It is true that many European countries colonised the Middle East, Africa and Asia, including Muslim countries. When I visited France and saw people complaining about African immigrants, I thought privately that it was a case of reaping what you sow.

    I didn’t know Wilders claimed to be linked to Mossad – sounds he’s spouting a load of rubbish to me.

    I certainly wouldn’t support an referendum to expel all Muslims from the West. I would be vehemnently against it. Nor do I think most people I know would support it: I think that one gets a lopsided portrait through the media. I think that there has to be mutual tolerance, and that both sides can learn from one another.

    It is interesting to note that the heyday of the Muslim era was when there was tolerance of Judaism and Christianity in the Middle East. Everyone learned from each other, and Islam was known for its erudition and technology. I think that if Islam wants to go back to a great golden age, Wahhabism and other strict Islamic streams of thought are not the answer. Fundamentalism is certainly not the answer. To my mind, the answer is being open to learning and different cultures.

    The same warning applies to the West: if we close our minds and judge people just by the religious faith they follow, rather than their actions, then we are inevitably poorer for that. That is what worries me about this film – it draws a broad brush picture which is inaccurate, and may create reactions against Muslims generally. What is more, like Omar, I tend to regard this as being exactly the kind of film Al Qa’eda would love – the kind that promotes dissent between faiths rather than tolerance.

  9. Pingback: Political and blog roundup « Floating Life

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