Australia has joined the chorus of disapproval for Geert Wilders’ film Fitna with foreign minister Stephen Smith calling the film “highly offensive” last week. He joins UN chief Ban Ki-Moon who said it was "offensively anti-Islamic.” He said there was no justification for hate speech or incitement to violence. "I acknowledge the efforts of the Dutch Government to stop the broadcast of this film and appeal for calm to those understandably offended by it,” he said. “Freedom must always be accompanied by social responsibility."
Muslim countries have been particularly outraged with Iran and Bangladesh warning the film could have “grave consequences” and Pakistan protesting to the Dutch ambassador. In Indonesia, the government sponsored a student protest in Central Java demanding authorities shut down websites that show the video. A senior Iranian cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami claimed that “Zionists” were behind the video. Khatami said Wilders has made 40 trips to Israel and is close with a number of Israeli officials. He called Wilders “a Zionist puppet” who “has made this outrageous film to win favour with his masters”.
“Fitna” was released on the Internet to a storm of publicity on 27 March 2008. Wilders’ film is a superficial litany of Koranic verses that apparently condone violence against unbelievers, mixed with propaganda message from radical Islamic clerics all interspersed with images of violence and terrorism carried out in the name of Islam. The film has opened up a new faultline in Western-Islamic relations still badly scarred after the 2006 debate on the Danish cartoons about Mohammad.
As well as objecting to the violence, some Muslims have also complained that Wilders’ film implies that the Koran was torn up and burned. While apparently this was Wilders’ initial intention it was omitted from the version released last week. The film explicitly states it was a telephone book that was torn not the sacred book as the narrator says “it is not up to me, but to Muslims to tear out the hateful verses of the Koran”.
The Netherlands has long been on the frontline of the debate between Western permissiveness and Islamic sensitivities. Filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered after making a film critical of violence against Islamic women. Ayaan Hirsi Ali who scripted the film was forced to flee the country. Now there is a threat of a “jihad” against Wilders himself and anyone associated with his video. Liveleak.com pulled the video from its site last week following threats to its staff. Many Dutch people eager to dissociate themselves from the sentiments of the film have taken to the web to apologise for the controversial video.
“Fitna” is an Arabic word which has proven notoriously difficult to translate. It can mean schism, secession, upheaval or anarchy depending on context. The term originated as the process of refining metal to remove dirt and was first used to describe militant Arabic Wahhabism as fitna an Najdiyyah or "the trouble out of Nejd.” Geert Wilders sees today's Fitna as the trouble out of the Arab Middle East.
Wilders is a right wing parliamentarian who in the past has called the Koran a "fascist" book that "incites violence". Fitna quotes four passages from the Koran which have been quoted by radicals to justify terrorist attacks. He opens with Sura 8 Verse 60 which leads into footage of the 9/11 and Madrid attacks . The film says this verse is “prepare to destroy them with all force, terrorise Allah’s enemy and your enemy.” However the text for 8:60 at Submission.org reads “You shall prepare for them all the power you can muster, and all the equipment you can mobilise, that you may frighten the enemies of God [and] your enemies”. The emotive words “destroy” and “terrorise” are missing from Submission’s version.
The second verse quoted is Sura 4 Verse 56 “Those who are disbelievers will be burned in fire and when their skin is crispy like a turkey’s, we will replace it with another skin so they will know their punishment”. Submission.org has this one as “those who disbelieve in our revelations, we will condemn them to the hellfire. Whenever their skins are burnt, we will give them new skins. Thus, they will suffer continuously.” The vividness of the crispy turkey image is absent.
The third verse quoted is Sura 47 verse 4. Fitna says this verse reads “when you have an encounter with a disbeliever, cut their throats with a sword and spill their blood” whereas Submission says 47:4 is “If you encounter (in war) those who disbelieve, you may strike the necks. If you take them as captives you may set them free or ransom them, until the war ends”. Again the nastiness of Wilders’ image is not present in the authorised version.
The final passage quoted in Fitna is 4:89 which Wilders has as “they would like to see you become disbelievers, don’t trust these people as they don’t follow Allah, when they escape kill them wherever you find them, don’t trust them it will be your grave”. Submission has this verse as “They wish that you disbelieve as they have disbelieved, then you become equal. Do not consider them friends, unless they mobilize along with you in the cause of God. If they turn against you, you shall fight them, and you may kill them when you encounter them in war.” While the threat of violence is there, it is only invoked in the case of revenge.
Wilders concludes his film with a call to defend Western freedoms saying “it’s up to the Muslims to cut the hate sowing parts out of the Koran”. But the Koran is really not the problem. A billion people worship the book, most of whom don’t resort to violence. While there is no doubt that the Koran contains hostile anti-Muslim passages, it is no worse than the Christian Bible which has over 800 cruel or violent passages. Fitna is a simplistic text which is likely to fan hatred and does nothing to advance the debate about why violent acts occur as a result of fundamentalism. The 10 minute Youtube version of Fitna is available at Prodos.