Geert Wilder’s film “Fitna“
A calculated political provocation: politicians from both the Arab world and the EU have already protested against Wilders’ anti-Koran film For months, the information had been circulating that the Dutch right-wing populist politician, Geert Wilders, had made a film denouncing the Koran for its allegedly fascist character. Now the film has been made available on the internet – and, says Angela Schader, it largely tells us things we’ve read before.Geert Wilders’s “Fitna” was surrounded by mystery and argument until the last minute. No public broadcaster was prepared to show it; the website which was to have hosted it was suspended by its provider on March 22nd; a British internet portal copied the way “Fitna” was presented, and then declared the whole thing to be an April joke.
Last Thursday, the film was available for viewing briefly on http://www.liveleak.com, before the site’s operators took it off after they received threats. But the video is already being distributed from other websites.
Wilders restrains himself from carrying out provocations which could be seen by Muslims as open sacrilege. At the start and at the end of the film, he shows the cartoon of Mohammed with a bomb in his turban (ticking dangerously in this version). The cartoon has recently been reprinted frequently following death threats against the cartoonist. And when at the start of the final section a hand begins to rip out a page of the Koran, the screen is blacked out – and we are told that the sound we can hear is merely that of a page being torn out of the telephone book.
This manipulative way of dealing with the Koran is more subtle than obviously destructive gestures. Of course the same old suras are quoted in connection with jihad and intolerance – whereby, in two cases, it is instructive to compare the quotations with the original.
Verse 56 of the fourth Sura paints an unedifying picture of the tortures which await unbelievers in hell: “See, We will burn in fire those who deny Our signs. As often as their skin is cooked, We will give them another skin, so that they will taste the punishment.” In Wilders’ version, the words “we” and “our” are given without capital letters, so that, when the quotation from the Koran is shown on screen directly following pictures of charred and lacerated terror victims, the words cease to those of God, but are put in the mouth of the Muslims.
Is this just an insignificant detail? Not if one knows the warning given by God to the Prophet: “It is for you to preach, and for Us to draw up the reckoning.” (Sura 13, verse 40; there are similar formulation in Sura 3, verse 20 and Sura 64, verse 12).
By making these points, it is not intended to hide the aggressive potential which readers who are more used to the New Testament will identify in the Koran. But where just five verses are made to stand for the spirit of the entire text – as is the case with Wilders’ film – then nuances begin to matter.
But it does not seem that Wilders is interested in making distinctions in his approach to religious material, otherwise he would have not have spoken in an interview for the “Spectator” magazine of “Afghan or Sufi or Pakistani law.”
There never has been a Sufi justice system, and it is somewhat ironic that Wilders brings Sufism – the most open version of Islam, which is entirely directed towards the spiritual dimension – into connection with his much-criticised Sharia.
It’s also amusing when he says in the same interview: “It would be good if there could be a new Koran, as there is a New Testament” – as if the rabbis, dissatisfied with the hard line of their holy book, had sat together and magicked the Christian Saviour out of a hat.
In the same way, “Fitna” – the Arabic word has a relatively wide range of meanings, ranging from “discord”, and “dissension”, via “civil war”, to “conjuring” or “seduction” – cannot be seen as a serious attempt to deal with Islam, either on the religious or the social level.
None of the old polemical images are missing here – there’s the hate preacher and his fanaticised public; there are the video images of terror attacks, the beheading of a Western hostage or the shooting of an Afghan woman; there’s the poisonous polemic against the Jews; there’s a postcard montage featuring a collection of mosque buildings with the caption “Greetings from the Netherlands.”
What is missing (and what was not to be expected from Wilders) is contextualisation and differentiation. There is no mention of the fact that the majority of Muslim immigrants in Europe, whose increasing numbers are underlined with threatening statistics, take a position which is far distant from the kind of understanding of the their religion which is presented here.
A film which mixes together the nastiest excesses of Muslim fundamentalism and extremism cannot stand for “Islam” as a whole, as the film itself suggests it does. It deals with a phenomenon which, as every informed reader knows by now, is of relatively recent origin and is primarily fed by political and social grievances: a deep frustration which is turned disastrously into a fatally bigoted and reactionary way of reading the religious texts.
It goes of course without saying that this extremism has to be fought with all available effort. Whether all available means should be used: that is a debate which, if it were held seriously and with integrity, would be one way in which the West could demonstrate the values it says it upholds.