Why Did Fitna Arouse So Much Attention?

Ali Eteraz, The Guardian
Publication Date: 
Sat, 2008-03-29 03:00

I just watched Dutch right-winger Geert Wilders’ film, Fitna, The Movie. He had promised it would be too shocking, too frightening, too disturbing — and much of the world was holding its breath in a morbid, anxious wait for its release. The media feared rabid violence by those Muslims.

My initial reaction is a yawn. I blame production. The soundtrack is Tchaikovsky’s mellow classical piece called “Arab Dance”. Quick tip to future demagogues: When trying to incite riots, try not to use musical pieces that are based on Georgian lullabies. Quick tip to future Islamophobes: When trying to demonize Islam, try not to use elements of Western culture that are inspired by Arabs and Muslims as that reveals that Muslims have contributed positively to the world.

Anyone who has seen terrorist propaganda films is familiar with most of the scenes and most of the disgusting conflations of the Qur’an with acts of violence, murder, kidnapping and anti-Semitism. Such behavior has been condemned resoundingly among Muslims. Those that use the Qur’an for illegitimate and criminal ends should be punished by the fullest extent of the law.

What I’m really wondering: Is Wilders protesting against Islam or the monopoly extremists already have over grainy, low-budget, YouTube videos? The only difference I see is that Wilders plays the best of Western classical music — an insult to the legacy of Grieg and Tchaikovsky — rather than death chants. I guess the thing he can be credited with is upping the sound quality. Also the transubstantiation of “Fitna” into “Fin” at the end was pretty cool.

The rest of the film is a mixture of conflating the most painful and heart-wrenching images from terror-strikes with extremist imams, in an effort to turn the entirety of Islam into a demonic edifice. This is neither new, nor interesting. It is a facile trick for facile minds. Cartoons show a more subtle grasp of the human condition. Focusing more specifically, the film appears to be nothing more than a screed by a nativist. Anti-immigrant demagogues exist in every society, from Arab to American. Their sole job is to belittle and antagonize the mostly poor immigrants and stultify and romanticize their country’s own history.

One of the things the film did was to try and link some verses from the Qur’an to acts of violence. Most people familiar with the Qur’an, including Christian polemicists I’ve debated, accept that you can have the Qur’an say pretty much whatever you want. For example, there is among Muslims a pretty hefty industry of “scientists” who are constantly “proving” that various Qur’anic verses predicted the marvels of modern science.

I once saw a presentation by one of these guys. It was, in a way, very similar to what Wilders has done. First there would be a slide with a Qur’anic verse. Then there would be a bunch of images of some modern scientific marvel. Apparently, everything from the space-time continuum, modern meteorology and congenital biology are supported by verses from the Qur’an. Like I said, when put into the hands of fanatics and fools, the Qur’an — like any book of religious scripture — can say anything. If suicide bombers wanted, they could even go into the Old Testament, cite to Sampson, and justify their heinous acts.

What the film really shows to me is that Wilders doesn’t know the difference between Islam and Islamism — and when it comes to the latter he is completely lost. This is his major attack against Islamism? He reminds me of those socially-awkward, marginalized, introverted children in a schoolyard whose solution to persecution at the hands of a bully is to write the bully’s name in his notebook and then rip up the page.

If Wilders really wanted to expose Islamism — the entire legacy of 20th century ideological Islam — he would start with how the French Suez Canal Company funded the Muslim Brotherhood’s first mosque. That fact is casually mentioned in Hasan Al-Banna’s autobiography (which I am certain Wilders never bothered to consult). Or Wilders would have tried to begin some criminal proceeding in the International Criminal Courts against those men who came up with the genius idea of encouraging disaffected Arab youth into going into Afghanistan and then gave them $1 billion in machine guns, bombs and Stinger missiles to play with. Or Wilders could have expressed some outrage over the drafters of the new Iraqi Constitution — drafted in consultation with Western lawyers — which makes Shariah the law of the land (a fact bemoaned by Iraqi feminists, among others). Had he bothered to show some serious thinking he would have even found support among the millions of Muslims around the world who oppose Islamists.

But Wilders isn’t actually serious about challenging Islamism. He is concerned only about multiplying the number of times his name is pinged on Google. Couldn’t he have taken solace in the fact that his name is pinged more than mine?

I can’t be sure how the Islamist demagogues will spin this film. Presumably some of them will consider this a kind of frontal assault against their idiocy — idiots recognize one another — and begin agitations which the media will be only too happy to cover. However, the fact is that a majority of Muslims are going to react to this film with the same kind of casual shrug of the shoulders that it deserves. If there are Muslims who wish to protest — and I really don’t see why it’s even necessary — my advice for them is to emulate Hossein Nouri. He is the paraplegic painter who, during the Danish cartoon fiasco, painted a portrait of the Virgin Mary in front of the Danish Embassy.

There is also the fact that the Dutch government has completely disavowed itself of the film, something the Danish government didn’t do with the cartoons. Ayaan Hirsi Ali had already dulled the film’s value when she said that all it was meant to do was provoke. Also, Wilders has been accused of thieving by the cartoonist Kurt Westergaard who said he did not authorize the use of his images in the film.

Finally, the image Wilders used to depict Theo Van Gogh’s killer is actually Moroccan rapper Salah El Din and not the killer, Mohammed Bouyeri. The only thing the two men have in common is that they are bald and bearded.

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