(Journal of Brave Minds # 20-21/July 2008)
One of the most worrisome recent public controversies regarding political Islam centred round the short film by the Dutch politician Geert Wilders. The Arabic word 'fitna' means "disagreement and division among people" or a "test of faith in times of trial." Indeed, the title turned out to be more than appropriate and the public fuss that surrounded the release of the film proves Wilders' case beyond reasonable doubt.
Needless to say, it makes you especially worried when a film is strongly condemned before anyone has seen it. This happened in the case of Fitna. Because Geert Wilders is considered a far-right wing populist politician, due to his anti-immigration views, many people - e.g. those in charge of the content of the Dutch TV broadcasting and Dutch government - wouldn't want him to make this movie at all, not to say anything about releasing it.
Moreover, the censorship only added to the controversy and gave extra publicity and moral victory to Wilders - even though he seems to be quite ignorant of religious sensibilities and certainly doesn't have any as far as provoking Muslims is concerned.
In a modern Western society, whoever gets censored because of her or his critique of religion, is almost automatically a moral winner; except in the minds of those who actively promote censorship. But Wilders probably got what he wanted and as he's already guarded 24-hours a day, he had nothing to lose. But one might ask, why does he need to be guarded in the first place?
After the 17-minute film was posted on the video-sharing website LiveLeak, anyone could see that it contained nothing especially insulting. But it serves some Muslims to get insulted for almost anything critical of Islam or showing how easy it is to use some of it's tenets to justify immoral acts, so it was obvious even before the release of the film that they would be insulted because of Fitna. It was ever so easy, since the Dutch government, among others, had already in advance strongly denounced Fitna and Wilders.
Does Islam have anything to do with violence and terrorism?
The point Wilders wanted to make is that Islam is a religion prone to inciting violent behaviour and terrorism. Did he make this point? I think he did. The opening scenes of Fitna showed the Koran, followed by TV footage of the terrorist attacks on the USA on 11 September 2001.
After this, Wilders presented lots of evidence of Islamist hate-speech against the West, sexual minorities and women, linking these to certain passages from the Koran. There is no doubt that with these barbaric dictates any Muslim can justify her or his immoral acts. No wonder, then, that planned release of Fitna had sparked angry and noisy protests in Muslim countries, as well as in the Netherlands.
What should we think about the fact that showing that the religion of peace and tolerance in fact is a religion of hate and violence almost always sparks hate and violence? If Islam really were a religion of peace and tolerance, you could call it the most awful and dangerous thing on the face of the earth, and everyone - Muslims included - would laugh or at least smile at you. You see, everyone would think you're only joking. Besides, if Islam really were a religion of peace and tolerance, Muslims would peacefully tolerate any criticism towards it.
This is definitely the case with Irshad Manji and her courageous Project Ijtihad, but unfortunately Manji and her peace-loving friends represent only a small fraction of Muslims and indeed are self-proclaimed reformists. Manji's laudatory efforts notwithstanding, everyone who knows about Islamist theology understands that it is practically impossible for a woman to make any difference whatsoever in the theology of Islam. Islam is a patriarchal religion par excellence.
The case proved beyond reasonable doubt
After the release of Fitna on LiveLeak, the website had to pull it, since their staff received so many death threats. At the same time, the so-called democratic Dutch government, hand in hand with the theocratic government of Iran, publicly condemned Fitna. They obviously missed or ignored the end of the film, where Wilders constructively and symbolically suggest to Muslims that they should miss or ignore those parts of their holy book that incite them to violence and terrorism against infidels and other Muslims. After doing this, even Wilders and his party would welcome Muslims to the West.
It goes without saying that showing quite graphic images from the terrorist bombing in London in July 2005 and Madrid in March 2004 would provoke anger and hostility in the Muslim population and their sympathizers and apologists all over the world.
Wilders also presented images of a woman being stoned, scenes from a brutal beheading and material of the Dutch director Theo van Gogh, who was cold-bloodedly murdered by a radical Islamist in 2004. Wilders included pictures showing Muslim demonstrators with placards that say "God bless Hitler" and "Freedom go to hell". Moreover, Fitna shows a very young and pretty girl in a Muslim headscarf making extremely derogatory comments about Jews.
So, let's get back to the evidence. As already mentioned, on the day following the release of Fitna on their website, LiveLeak said that it decided to remove the film "following threats to our staff of a very serious nature." In the light of this fact it is almost funny that at the same time the Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkanende said the Dutch government was very concerned that Geert Wilders' film could provoke a violent backlash. Why on earth, if Islam has nothing to do with violence and hatred?
Freedom of Expression is continuously attacked
The case of Fitna isn't the first and very likely it isn't the last either. The basic right of freedom of expression is continuously attacked from a certain direction. What direction? Who doesn't like that the violence-inciting passages in their holy book are shown in public? Who can't take almost any criticism of their religion? Who wants to kill or censor those who don't agree with their religious views? Who tries to get clauses making "defamation of religion" a criminal act into authoritative documents of the EU and UN?
Yes, the answer to all my rhetorical questions is the same: radical Muslims and their sympathizers. Islamist fundamentalism seems to be the threat number one to liberal values of the West and we are living in the times of the ultimate trial, testing which side in the end is stronger, the liberal or anti-liberal side. Organisation of the Islamic Conference is most certainly on the anti-liberal side, wanting the "defamation of religion" criminalised all over the world.
Freedom is at stake here, nothing less, nothing more. It includes freedom of and from religion and this makes one worried indeed. You see, in orthodox Islam there are no human rights for freethinkers and atheists. This the Muslim theocracies and average as well as fundamentalist Muslims have proven over and over again.
And what is the most troubling is the fact that now the uncritical Islam sympathizers and apologists in the West have pretty much joined the ranks of the aforementioned enemies of freedom of expression and freedom of religion. At the same time populist nationalism gains support with the help of free and easy Brownie points they get from getting censored, making it all-too-easy for them to invoke freedom of speech and other noble Enlightenment values to support their dubious cause. So we freethinkers need to stay alert as ever.