The real Fitna

I’ve watched Geert Wilders’s new film Fitna. I am sure nobody expects a good write-up of it from me, but it’s a really poor piece of film. (More: HAhmed, Austrolabe, reproduced at Muslim Matters, CLOSER which examines the Dutch newspaper headlines reproduced in Fitna.)

The first part of Fitna consists of a series of recitations of Qur’anic verses, and translations into Dutch or English, which are commonly given violent interpretations, followed by footage of Muslims who interpret them this way, and commit senseless acts of violence. Occasionally, the footage is dragged out in order to tug the heart-strings (extended footage of the man falling out of one of the Twin Towers) and occasionally there is senseless violence, such as the mobile phone footage of a hostage being murdered in Iraq. Admittedly the moment of the killing is not shown, but a man is seen reading out a message in Arabic, the man is shown being attacked, the camera turns away from him but his cries are heard, and finally his bloodied head is shown being held up.

The second part is titled “The Netherlands under the spell of Islam”, and begins with a series of stills of various mosques, including one with pointy minarets against the sunset. In this part there are shots of housing blocks covered in satellite dishes (in one case, accompanied by a scene with two women in hijab walking by), footage of a woman in a “burqa” accompanied by a newspaper cutting headlined “no ban on the burqa”, and a graph showing the exponential growth of the Muslim population in the Netherlands, and in Europe.

The flaws are not hard to spot. This is basically Jihad Watch or Little Green Footballs as a film, and is not intended to try and convince anyone not of that mindset. For a start, only a small minority interpret the verses Wilders cites to justify the acts depicted; the majority of Muslims in the world simply do not behave like this and mainstream scholars reject such interpretations. The context of the verses’ revelation is simply not discussed in this film (there are no words, other than those written on the screen or those spoken by people in the footage). There are shots of demonstrations in London with offensive banners (behead those who insult Islam, etc) and similar shouted slogans, but the fact is that these demonstrations were tiny, organised by a well-known and disliked small group of Muslims, and widely condemned within the community. In the “under the spell” section, the future of various groups such as women, children and gays are speculated on, and in the section on women there are images of girls who have just undergone genital mutilation, which most Muslims do not practise.

In short, it is a montage of the most violent stereotypes of Muslims. Given that this came from the Netherlands, it is not surprising that there was a section on Theo van Gogh, which Wilders presumably thought would underline his “free speech martyr” status but actually makes him look even more pathetic than most people outside the Netherlands thought. When he was asked in an interview why he thought he would not be killed, he replied that his confidence was not in the goodness of man, but in his “own arrogance” which he supposed would mean that the bullet would not come for him. Doubtless Wilders will be hailed for his bravery in some quarters after this idiotic film, but really risking one’s life is only virtuous if it is for something good. If it is just to bad-mouth an entire religion and its adherents, there is no virtue to it; it is just stupid. (Wilders’ accomplice is identified only as “Scarlet Pimpernel”.)

I must say the title, Fitna, shows an inventiveness I might not have expected of someone capable of producing such a lacklustre film; one would have expected a title culled from an Islamophobic blog like, say, “Religon of Peace”. However, the real fitna here is on the Muslims, as it is a challenge to Muslims not to behave as a senseless mob, as some of us have done in the past in such situations, but to show some dignity. After all, any angry demonstration in which Muslims are shown calling for the head of Geert Wilders or anyone else found to be involved will closely resemble a scene from this film, and be seen to prove his point. I find no case for a boycott of Dutch goods either, as Wilders is not part of the government and leads a minority party; his film has already been condemned by the Dutch government.

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