Mar 29, 2008

Anti-Islam film likely to provoke violence

When the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published the controversial cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist in September 2005, the Muslim world was in an uproar, to say the least. In the months that followed, Muslims from Islamabad to Jakarta participated in violent and sometimes deadly protests, embassies were set on fire and leaders from several Islamic countries condemned the publication of the cartoons.

Other past events have shown that criticism of Islam is usually met with violence from radical Muslims. Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for the murder of British author Salman Rushdie for his 1988 book, "The Satanic Verses." Director Theo Van Gogh was killed for his 2004 film "Submission," and the film's writer, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, receives death threats to this day.

And it is likely that we will see a similar replay of violence in the days to come. Yesterday, after months of trying to secure a media outlet to broadcast his controversial anti-Islam film "Fitna," far-right Dutch party leader and adamant critic of Islam Geert Wilders finally succeeded. The film was posted on the Internet and, according to the Europe Channel, was viewed by more than 200,000 people within the first two hours.

Among other things, the film likens the Quran to Hitler's "Mein Kampf," declaring that Islam is a form of fascism. Undeniably, Wilders' film presents offensive and intolerant material; arguably as extreme as the supposed Islam he criticizes. Wilders himself is a right-wing extremist. According to the Guardian, the Dutch leader said, "Islam is not a religion, it's an ideology … the ideology of a retarded culture."

While in office, Wilders has argued against immigration from Muslim countries and to have all Muslims stripped of their Dutch citizenship and deported. Wilders' goal with "Fitna" is to rescue his country from the supposed dangers of Islam, to spread awareness that Islam is the enemy.

The controversy surrounding Wilders' film is all too familiar. Should we, as free societies, encourage tolerance among people of different races and religions or encourage tolerance of intolerance by upholding the values of free expression?

Central to this issue is the battle between radical Islam and free speech. As the aforementioned events have clearly shown, the two are incompatible. Much of the Muslim world, from the Wahhabist regime in Saudi Arabia to the Taliban government that ruled Afghanistan until 2001, violently restricts free speech. Fundamentalist Islamic societies cannot tolerate free expression, least of all expression that involves blasphemy.

The actions and beliefs of these fundamental societies not only damage the name of Islam as a religion, leading to the misconception that Islam is inherently opposed to free expression, but they also hinder Islam's progression in today's modern world.

While moderate Muslims protested peacefully against the messages conveyed by the Danish cartoons, radical Muslims reacted violently. This is proof that in much of the Muslim world today, Islam - or rather, the Islam as invoked by fundamentalist regimes - is stuck in the past. These regimes are holding Islam back.

This is why "Fitna" should be broadcast to a wider audience. Though the film is insulting and inaccurate, and though spreading false and hateful information about Islam could lead to increased prejudice and strife in today's sensitive post-9/11 world, it still seems that not screening the film would be more irresponsible than screening it.

With Islamic terrorism on the rise across the world, major media outlets are exercising caution for fear of provoking violence and anger. Indeed, many Islamic governments have already threatened violence if the film is widely shown.

But rather than giving in to the radical Islamist regimes that misinterpret Islam and suppress their people, free societies across the world have the obligation to maintain the rights of free speech.

Radical Islam must be continually challenged in different ways with hopes that it will eventually disappear.

This is not to say that more and more people should create films like "Fitna." Rather, it means that when such films are created, or similar books are written, they should not, in any way, be censored for the sake of appeasing Islamists.

This article written vy Elham Khatami, originally published at E-mail Elham at

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