Sunday, March 30, 2008

Fitna- how free should speech be ?

Last week saw the internet launch of a 15 minute film on Islam, Fitna, by the far right Dutch MP, Geert Wilders.

I am unconvinced on the merits of the film but it largely consists of a series of fairly horrific scenes interspersed with the rantings of muslim extremists and seemingly relevant verses from the Koran.

I don't think Mr. Wilders is claiming to be a theologian so I am not sure it is particularly clever to take verses from the Koran out of context and try to use to support the notion that Islam is inherently a dangerous religion.

Nonetheless, he does raise the question of how far major acts of terrorism from 9/11, the Madrid train bombings and the London bombings are supported by the Koran. Clearly those who committed those acts felt supported by their religion so it is a legimate question (if one asked many times before) whether that interpretation is correct.

What I find unnecessary about the film is its extremely graphic content. I cannot recall having seen a more horrific collection of scenes shown together ranging from the dead in the Madrid trains, beheadings of western hostages in Iraq and other Islamic based executions. It is clear Fitna is unlikely to make it to the cinema or be on anyone's present shopping list.

I feel the graphic content is unnecessary as it is so well known. Everyone knows about the horrors in Iraq and in worldwide terrorism.

I contrast apparently gratuitous use of violent images from Islamic terrorism with the recent images shown by some pro-Tibet groups. In the latter there is a point to be made that has far from universal acceptance therefore the shock value of extreme images showing that all is far from rosy is justified. In the former there is no disagreement that dreadful things have been done in the name of Islam.

In short I am a long way from praising Fitna.

However I do value free speech and free expression.

From that standpoint I find it regretable that websites hosting the film have been sufficiently intimidated to withdraw it.

First of all Network Solution a US based company hosting 7 million domain names decided to suspend its hosting of the movie on the basis that it violated its "acceptable use policy".

The film was hosted by British based Liveleak. However following serious threats to their staff they withdrew the film leaving the following message where the film had been:

"Following threats to our staff of a very serious nature, and some ill-informed report from certain corners of the British media that could seriously affect the safety of some staff members, LiveLeak 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 but we have to place the safety and well being of our staff above all else. We would like to thank the thousands of people from all backgrounds and religions who gave us their support. They realised that is a vehicle for many opinions and not just for the support of one.

Perhaps there is still hope that this situation may produce a discussion that could benefit and educate all of us as to how we can accept one anothers culture.

We stood for what we believed in, the ability to be heard, but in the end the price was too high."

I find this disappointing and concerning as it seems to show yet again that free speech is valued until someone is sufficiently intimidating. Whereas Christianity is the target of no end of criticism, mockery and abuse and even those who find it offensive accept it on the basis that free speech cannot and should not be challenged, the same increasingly does not apply to Islam.

Can anyone really imagine someone making an Islamic equivalent of "Life of Brian" or "Jerry Springer: The Opera" ? I very much doubt it and the reason is clear- the potential violent response to those who produced such material.

Holland is no stranger to such intimidation. In 2004, Theo van Gogh, the Film Producer and descendent of Vincent van Gogh was murdered by Dutch Moroccan Islamist, Mohammed Bouyeri. Van Gogh's "crime" was to have produced the film "Submission" which highlighted examples of Islamic based abuse of women.

Again, not a film likely to have mass appeal but a film worthy of critical debate in thinking circles. Holland is a country well-known for its liberalism, not all of which I am comfortable with.
However even in Holland it seems that Islamists are demanding special treatment on the basis of violent actions against those who are critical of Islam.

Therefore Wilders' "Fitna" should be seen in this context. It is not in my eyes a pleasant film and one that is easy to criticise. Nonetheless in a free Europe it should be allowed and be criticised or praised as Europeans see fit. While Wilders may not be above criticism he should have freedom of expression. His film ends with a newspaper headline :

"Al-Qaeda proclaims death penalty Jihad against Wilders"

Whether Wilders could suffer the same fate as Van Gogh remains to be seen. There are certainly Islamic extremists who want this.

It is a sad day when free speech is curtailed by violence but it seems that in Europe (and America ?) free speech about Islam is starting to have limits.

It seems Europe in the face of violence is moving away from its Englightenment ideals and the phrase commonly attributed to Voltaire:

" I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

* Fitna can still be found on the Internet despite the withdrawal of hosting by two companies named above. I found it on Youtube. I have decided not to post a link here as it is not a film I would particularly recommend. The images shown include some of dreadful violence. I am not commending it as a good film but I am defending the right to see it. For anyone wishing to see it I would advise looking first on Youtube and failing that Google.

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