Dutch MP Geert Wilders' controversial short film Fitna briefly aired on online video site LiveLeak on Friday, March 28. Less than 24 hours later, LiveLeak pulled the film and replaced it with the following statement:
Following threats to our staff of a very serious nature, and some ill-informed reports from certain corners of the British media that could directly lead to the harm of some of our staff, LiveLeak.com has been left with no other choice but to remove 'Fitna' from our servers.
This is a sad day for freedom of speech on the net … We stood for what we believe in, the ability to be heard, but in the end the price was too high.
That the film was pulled due to death threats is indeed a sad state of affairs, yet many - including the UN Secretary General - have slammed the film, saying it is little more than an incitement to violence and that with "freedom of speech comes responsibility".
It is not my intention to discuss whether or not the removal of the film is contrary to freedom of speech. Rather, I wish to critique it as both a political commentary and as a film.
I saw Fitna last Friday. The film, which takes its name from an Arabic term loosely defined as "trouble" or "disturbance", is ostensibly concerned with what it calls the growing "Islamisation" of Europe. Wilders maintains that his intention is to raise awareness of the threat that Islam poses to modern Western civilisation.
The political situation in The Netherlands has been volatile, to say the least, and it is not the first time a Dutch MP has been embroiled in a controversy over the making of an anti-Islam film. The Somali-born (and former Muslim) female MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali went into hiding in 2004 following the assassination of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh on the streets of The Netherlands by a Muslim extremist. Hirsi Ali had written the script for Van Gogh's short film entitled Submission, which featured semi-naked women praying, with verses from the Koran written on their bodies. The verses were those which Hirsi Ali felt condoned the oppression of women. With a dagger to the heart, the murderer, Mohamed B, attached a letter to Van Gogh's body that called for the death of Hirsi Ali.
Coming just months after the Madrid train bombings, Van Gogh's murder lead to a long period of tension between non-Muslim and Muslim residents in Holland. Muslim immigration to The Netherlands had increased sharply in the decade preceding the incident with ultra-right politician Pim Fortuyn, another anti-Muslim crusader, gaining popularity in 2002 with his catchphrase that "Holland was full". This widespread anti-Muslim sentiment was the perfect breeding ground for the rise of Geert Wilders.
Like Hirsi Ali, Wilders is a far right conservative. A member of Parliament since 1998 with the liberal People's Party For Freedom and Democracy (VVD), he left in 2002 and formed the Party for Freedom (PVV). Wilders new Party called for a drop in immigration in general and a complete stop to Muslim immigration. Other PVV policies include stripping criminals with dual nationality of their Dutch citizenship and deporting them, paying Muslims to leave the country and refusing Turkey entrance into the European Union. Wilders also favours lower taxes, cutting welfare programs and tougher crime laws.
Wilders' anti-immigration stance won him many supporters in the wake of Van Gogh's murder, with the PVV winning nine of the 150 available seats in the Dutch Parliament in the 2006 elections. In December 2007 mainstream Dutch radio station NOS-radio named him Politician Of the Year due to his popularity with both the press and the general public.
Fitna is a 15-minute montage, with a classical soundtrack (featuring Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite also known as The Arabian Dance). It features pages of the Koran being turned and highlights certain passages, or Surahs. The Surahs it chooses are invariably ones featuring violence or the incitement of devotees to violence; the film then cuts to images of terror attacks committed by Muslim extremists, such as 9-11 and the Madrid train bombings. The obvious message is that the Koran leads to terrorism.
The film also features an interview with Theo Van Gogh and his murderer Mohammed B, various Muslim clerics giving rhetorical speeches denouncing the West, an interview with a three-year-old Muslim girl who claims the Koran says that all Jews are "pigs" and images of stonings, beheadings and hangings in Muslim countries. Wilders' stance is firm and unflinching: Islam hates freedom and the West and wishes to see it destroyed, for no other reason than that it exists.
Is this an accurate portrayal of Islam? There is no doubt that the terror attacks featured in the film were perpetrated by Muslims. However, Fitna does not take into consideration any of the political and social motivations behind the attacks.
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