Intimidation and censorship are no answer to the inflammatory film “Fitna”

Posted on April 11, 2008


A Dutch politician’s alarmist anti-Islam polemic needs to be taken apart and calmly answered

Timothy Garton Ash, The Guardian, Thursday April 10 2008

At the time of this writing, the dissemination on the worldwide web of the deliberately provocative anti-Islam film Fitna, made by the Dutch populist MP Geert Wilders, has not provoked violent protest on the scale of the Rushdie affair or the Danish cartoons. If things remain this way, that is progress of a kind.

In the meantime, three questions need to be asked about the film, which anyone can find by googling “wilders” and “fitna”. The first is “Should Mr Wilders be murdered for making it?” That’s what some demonstrators outside the Dutch embassy in Indonesia called for, waving banners saying “Kill Geert Wilders”. Theirs is an attitude that the British writer Douglas Murray has sharply characterised as “say my religion is peaceful or I will kill you”. More seriously, even before the movie was released, al-Qaida issued a fatwa calling Muslims everywhere to assassinate Wilders, thus further increasing the threat to a man who is already under 24-hour protection.

Now, that Wilders should not be murdered for making a film may seem so obvious that it hardly needs saying. But it does need saying, again and again; in truth, it’s the first thing that needs to be said. For one of the most deeply corrosive realities of our time is that not just one but many people across the world are living under death threats, in hiding or with round-the-clock security, simply because they have said, drawn or done something that is alleged to “insult Islam”.

Too many Dutch and international leaders have leapt to deplore Wilders’ film without first excoriating those who threaten him with death. Particularly egregious is a statement by the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, which, in explicitly condemning the film (but not the death threats), actually says “the right of free expression is not at stake here”. That’s a truly idiotic claim. Mr Ban has no right to make it on our behalf.

The second question is whether Fitna should be banned by law, as the ambassadors of 26 Islamic countries have recently urged the Dutch government to do. Unlike the murder issue, I accept that this is a matter for legitimate debate in a democracy, but my answer remains an unequivocal “no”. The film is inflammatory but not, I think, across the line to incitement – and so far, the Dutch justice ministry seems to agree. Wilders’ own position here is ludicrously self-contradictory. Last year, he called for the Qur’an to be banned “like Mein Kampf”. So he wants the holy book of 1.4 billion people to be banned, but his own film to be seen by everyone. That’s his idea of free speech. Who does he think he is? The true prophet? [more]

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