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Friday, March 28, 2008

Fitna

The release of the Dutch film Fitna has provoked much reaction in the blogosphere, and not a huge amount yet worldwide.

If you haven't been following the story, Wikipedia describes it like this:
Fitna is a film by Dutch politician Geert Wilders, leader of the Party for Freedom (PVV) in the Dutch parliament. The movie offers his views on Islam and the Qur'an. The film's title comes from the Arabic word fitna which is used to describe "disagreement and division among people", or a "test of faith in times of trial". The movie was released to the Internet on 27 March 2008.

It was originally hosted on a video streaming site LiveLeak, but today LiveLeak removed the video in the face of very real death threats.

Here is a copy from Google Video, which may or may not stay up:


There are two issues to be dealt with here, and it is important not to mix them up. One is the message of the film, and the other is the entire idea of censoring media that offends a group of people.

The message seems to be that Islam is inherently evil, as Wilders takes Quranic verses and juxtaposes them with images of terror and hate speech by Muslim clerics. While there is plenty to criticize about Islam and how it is practiced by many today, this is a bit oversimplistic and smacks more of propaganda than a documentary. A much better example, in my opinion, was Obsession, a 12-minute version is here:


To judge Fitna as objectively more offensive than any number of rabidly anti-semitic videos that are allowed on YouTube is absurd, however. The fact that it is being censored is more troubling than any perceived offense it is guilty of, and really, it does not show anything more than Jihadi videos already do.

A possible Freudian slip by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon illustrates the problem well:
"I condemn in the strongest terms the airing of Geert Wilders' offensively anti-Islamic film," Ban said in a statement.

"There is no justification for hate speech or incitement to violence. The right of free speech is not at stake here."
Normally, when one says that something is an incitement to violence, it means that the people watching it would be moved to act violently against the players portrayed in the medium. In this case, though, the only people being incited to violence are the very violent people the film is about, not the viewers. Moon is, perhaps subconsciously, saying that the reason he is against the film is because it can cause Muslims to riot and kill. Ban is effectively giving Muslims veto power over any medium that they deem offensive - he is advocating censorship. Despite his protests, the right of free speech is exactly what is at stake here.

Whether he meant it or not, the vehemence of his reaction is way out of proportion to the objective amount of offensiveness that this video contains. It is well within the bounds of any reasonable definition of free speech and it does not come close to hate speech or incitement to violence, unlike any number of anti-semitic sermons that can be seen broadcast weekly on Islamist TV stations, like this recent example.

The only way to fight this obscene censorship - even if you disagree with the film's message, as many sober people do - is to make sure that it is uploaded and available to everyone who wants to find it, on video sharing sites large and small. It may be a tempest in a teapot but the symbolism of the Islamists managing to shut it down portends much worse things to come.