How Geert Wilders’ anti-Qur’an film can be made to benefit the Muslim community (updated 3/28/08)

How Geert Wilders’ anti-Qur’an film can be made to benefit the Muslim community

by Sheila Musaji

First posted in January, last updated 3/28/08

Geert Wilders is a Dutch politician who has made a 10 minute film on the Qur’an.  He says that he wants to “expose” the Qur’an, and his previous statements about the Qur’an and Islam seem to show a commitment to provocation and bigotry that make it clear that this will not be a balanced or honest film.

“The maverick politician’s remarks about Islam have become increasingly radical. In February last year he said that if Muslims wanted to stay in the Netherlands, they should tear out half of the Koran and throw it away. In parliament he then called for the Koran and Hitler’s Mein Kampf to be banned, a proposal that was rejected.” Jason Burke, The Observer 1/20/08

“Wilders has a less-than-stellar record when it comes to cultural sensitivity on the issue of Islam. He has demanded an outright ban on Islam’s holiest book, which he calls a “fascist” text. And he means it when he says ban, according to his website:  “Not only the sale, but also the use in mosques and ownership in a household context should be punishable. If the current legislation does not allow that, then a new law on banning the book should be introduced. This book incites hate and murder, and therefore does not fit in with our rule of law. If Muslims want to participate, they must distance themselves from the Koran. I know that is asking a great deal, but we have to stop making concessions.”“  Borzou Daragahi, L.A. Times 1/22/08

There is some question as to whether or not the film will be shown on Dutch television.

”... Up until now public radio and television stations have not appeared prepared to show this film. ... If however it decides to boycott the film, Wilders can still hope to have it broadcast Nederland1 which grants political parties airtime. In this sort of programme, the party is master of the contents for three minutes. Thus, on Friday, at 5.50 pm., it will be the PVV’s turn.” Courrier International 1/22/08

“While a state-funded TV station has already recalled its promise to air the movie, Wilders, the most prominent member of the far-right Freedom Party, or VVD, has vowed to broadcast his film—on a smaller TV station or on the Internet via YouTube—whatever the pressure may be.”  Stefan Nicola, Middle East Times 1/22/08

So, one way or the other Wilders seems determined to continue stirring up controversy.

Alaeddin Borujerdi, the Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee Chairman in Iran has expressed his concerns: “We expect the Dutch government to prevent screening of such a film. Otherwise, the Majlis MPs will call on the Iranian government to review its relations with Holland.”  Tehran Times 1/22/08

Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende of the Netherlands has diplomatically expressed the Dutch Governments’ concerns:  “The Netherlands has a tradition of freedom of expression and freedom of religion but also a tradition of mutual respect, and provocations do not fit into that. I call on everybody to take their individual responsibility.”  Agence-France Press 1/20/08

“Dutch diplomats in Islamic nations are making clear that while the government strongly disagrees with Wilders’ extreme views, it cannot stop him expressing them. Cities across the Netherlands also are on alert for possible protests.”  Associated Press 1/20/08 

“The government is trying to get the message across abroad that while the famed Dutch tolerance guarantees Wilders the freedom of expression, The Hague does not support his opinions.”  ...  “In November Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen met with Wilders personally “to point out the risks in making such a movie for himself and his entourage, and for the Netherlands and the Dutch interests abroad,” Verhagen’s spokesman Bart Rijs said.”  Agence-France Press 1/18/08 

Ordinary Dutch citizens have expressed their concern and disapproval of Wilders’ film.  “Small and peaceful protests have already started in the Netherlands, with several activists arrested last weekend in Amsterdam for carrying placards fashioned after health warnings on a cigarette pack calling Wilders an extremist and «harmful to Dutch society.” Associated Press 1/20/08 

All of this comes at the same time as a Gallup poll for the World Economic Forum (WEF) was released suggesting that most Europeans thought more interaction with Islam would be a threat.  “WEF chairman Klaus Schwab said the poll pointed to “an alarmingly low level of optimism” over dialogue.  ...  “Although some might expect the United States, Israel and the Middle East to be more likely than Europe to be threatened by the ‘other’, the opposite is the case,” the report said. “  BBC News 1/21/08 

“The World Economic Forum believes that like all other global challenges, it will take the collaborative effort of all stakeholders from government, business, religion, media, academia and civil society to pre-empt any crisis, create alliances and find solutions,” said Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum.” The Peninsula, Qatar 1/22/08 

Surprisingly with all of this going on the same poll showed that “The Netherlands is the Western country scoring highest on the Muslim-West Dialogue Index.”  Dutch News 1/22/08

In fact:  “In the Netherlands, one in three residents believe relations between Muslim and western communities are improving. According to the survey, the Dutch also emerge as those who believe most strongly that the western world is committed to improve relations with Muslim societies.”  James Blitz, Financial Times 1/21/08

And this controversy if it turns violent will only further erode any positive relations between Muslims and their neighbors.

“De Volkskrant writes that the Dutch woman of Turkish origin was surprised how well-informed Egyptians were about Wilders. Now his plans to make a film about the Qu’ran have led to even more attention in the Egyptian media. She says much of the image of the Netherlands is being formed by the Freedom Party leader. “While many Dutch people have an extreme image of the Muslim world, many Egyptians have the same kind of image of the Netherlands. They think it must be really awful for Muslims to live in the midst of people such as Wilders.”  Frank Scimone, Radio Netherlands 1/22/08

We might consider the reasonable message of Tim Footman:  “By seeking to ban the Qur’an, Wilders is aping the intolerance of the Muslim fundamentalists he seeks to oppose; by sticking to the banal mantra that if you’ve nothing nice to say, say nothing, Verhagen is in turn acting as a pale imitation of Wilders.  The answer to intolerance, whether from Islamists or from western bigots with daft haircuts, is to allow them to speak, then to dismantle their arguments. Any other tactic is craven surrender, which tends to make for a lousy movie.”  Tim Footman, The Guardian 1/22/08 

Whether Wilders is simply a bigot or Islamophobe, or whether he is cleverly playing on the fears and insecurities existing between Europeans and their predominantly Muslim immigrant communities to promote himself and his film - the result is that he is increasing existing tensions.  He has certainly succeeded in making this film which no one has seen yet into a key topic of discussion.

What can be done?

Because of Wilders’ determination to show this film one way or the other by Friday, we have very little time to avoid having this turn into another crisis with violent demonstrations and riots.  Any such possible reaction from the Muslim street anywhere in the world will only add fuel to the fire that individuals like Wilders are attempting to stoke.

We know that if the film is as aggressively hostile to the Qur’an as it appears it will be, there is the very real possibility of some hotheads somewhere reacting violently.  This would only play into the hands of those like Wilders who seem determined to spark a clash of civilizations, and would undermine all the very encouraging moves towards dialogue.  We also know that if we can’t control the reaction to this provocation, instead of discussing the issues as to why many Muslims became upset - always seeing Islam slandered, exposed to threats, and having their Mosques vandalised - this affair will be made to seem like a “simple” matter of freedom of speech.

We have been down this road in the past with the Danish “cartoon incident”.

“An underlying assumption, often repeated by many westerners, is that it was all about freedom of press. I beg to differ with such an assertion. The cartoon controversy has little to do with freedom. Even the most diehard fanatic of freedom would agree that there is a limit to everything, including freedom. With freedom comes responsibility. So when my fist hits someone, it becomes violence and not freedom. In a civil society, Government essentially enacts laws to stop such violence.”  Habib Siddiqui, The American Muslim 2/17/06 

“Freedom of press is not absolute, and must be used responsibly by those who claim it. Those who appreciate the importance of free speech for maintaining free and open society must ensure that it is not used by bigots to insult, insinuate, and marginalize. Rather than expanding the critical space to talk about religion in general, and the integration of Islam to Danish society in particular, Jyllands-Poten has irresponsibly used free speech to encourage hate-mongering. Such reckless use of a cherished freedom would only make an open discussion more complicated, and could practically make Danish people less free to address critical issues for social interaction and cooperation.”  Louay Safi, The American Muslim 2/9/06

“There are no legal limits to free speech, but there are civic limits. In any society, there is a civic understanding that free speech should be used wisely so not as to provoke sensitivities, particularly in hybrid, multicultural societies we see in the world today. It is a matter of civic responsibility and wisdom, not a question of legality or rights. In that context, I think it was unwise to publish these cartoons because it is the wrong way to start a debate about integration. Such a move inflames emotions; it does not court reason. It is a useless provocation.” Tariq Ramadan, The American Muslim, 2/6/06

What can be done?

Every Muslim organization needs to do their best to ask Imams to give Khutbas on Friday asking for calm and giving sound Qur’anic logic for diplomatic, and peaceful responses.  We need to follow the prophet’s example in dealing with hostility.

Every Muslim needs to attempt to contact as many Imams as they know and request that they do the same.  We need to focus particularly on reaching Imams overseas, particularly in Europe. 

If we can respond to this provocation calmly and focus our efforts on responding to the actual film with facts, and mobilizing peaceful vigils instead of angry demonstrations, then it is possible that we can turn this situation around so that it is Mister Wilders who is embarrassed, not the worldwide Muslim community.

SEE ALSO:

The use and abuse of scriptures http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/the_use_and_abuse_of_scriptures/

throwing stones at the Qur’an from a glass house http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/throwing_stones_at_the_quran_from_a_glass_house/0013466

Muslim voices against terrorism and extremism http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/muslim_voices_against_extremism_and_terrorism_2/

UPDATES (Originally posted 1-23-08 - updated 2-6-08, 3-19-08)

POSITIVE:

1/23/08 Tariq Ramadan article: Silence Would Be the Best Response http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/geer_wilders_anti_quran_film_silence_will_be_the_best_response/0015519

1/24/08 Dr. Robert D. Crane article Challenge and Response: The Case of Islamophobic Wilding http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/challenge_and_response_the_case_of_islamophobic_wilding/0015526

1/24/08 Dutch Muslims Urge Calm Over Film http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5iRNrh5evdVm8foSujGBiC4WNnyWgD8UCFP4G0

1/24/08 According to Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant, leaders of the Moroccan community in Holland announced today that on the day that Wilders’ anti-Islam movie is released, they will be having an “open house” rally to welcome everyone, including non-Mulims at mosques around the country.  Their main goal is to help keep things calm and peaceful.  A community spokesperson says: “We’re not going to let Mr. Wilders fool us.  We would have preferred to wait and see the movie first, but knowing him, we better get a head start.  We don’t want any flag burning so that Wilders can break out the champagne.  We would rather have him over for Moroccan tea.”  http://www.volkskrant.nl/binnenland/article496848.ece/Moskeeen_zetten_deuren_open

Dutch Social Affairs State Secretary Ahmed Aboutaleb believes. In this respect, he sees positive effects from the politics of Party for Freedom (PVV) leader Geert Wilders. “The tough and often offensive debate of recent years has brought an awakening” among Muslims, said Aboutaleb. “It has accelerated emancipation in these groups. (...) Everything that has happened has made people think: where does this hatred for Islam come from? What can we do about it ourselves. These youngsters know very well that it is they themselves who have made Wilders and others important.”  http://www.nisnews.nl/public/050208_2.htm

2/6/08 A Dutch Muslim site has begun a “Hug Geert Wilders” site where folks can log in to send a hug to Geert Wilders who, they say, is simply hungry for attention.  http://knuffelgeert.marokko.nl/index.php?nav=front

2/7/08 Malaysia, The Netherlands, and The Fear of Holy Books, By Farish A. Noor - “Yet the question remains: If Muslims can get so worked up by the fact that some right-wing Dutch politician hungering for publicity can stir up a debate by demeaning the Quran, why is it that so many Muslims remain indifferent to how their fellow Muslims treat the holy texts of other faiths and belief-systems?”

Amsterdam author Abdelkader Benali reports:  “While some Muslim representatives warned of an unprecedented uproar, other Muslims launched a campaign against it using parody, with their ‘Cuddle Geert’ action. They invited the Dutch to counter Geert Wilders’ polemic with testimonies of friendship, quite in keeping with the Muslim style. ... The Muslims have learned from the past and have recognised that they must respond to anti-Islamic attacks only with dialogue, engagement and a wise media offensive. So Wilders’ film is involuntarily supporting the integration of Muslims in the Dutch tradition of dealing with religion publicly.”  http://europe.courrierinternational.com/eurotopics/article.asp?langue=uk&publication=05/02/2008&cat=REFLECTIONS&pi=0

2/14/08 Inayat Bunglawala wroteMuslim organisations should announce that despite the increasingly shrill Europe-wide efforts designed to vilify and bait Muslims, they will refuse to be provoked and instead they will come together to print hundreds of thousands of copies of the Qur’an translated into various European languages for free distribution. Oh, and they will also be giving out free biographies of the Prophet Muhammad - arguably the most influential man who ever lived - too.  That seems to be a far more productive use of our freedoms. Let Wilders choke in his rage.

3/16/08 Ingrid Mattson in an article Respecting the Qur’an gives an excellent overview of the controversy.

3/17/08 Dutch-Jewish television producer Harry de Winter placed on the front page of de Volkskrant newspaper objecting to the showing of Geert Wilders film.  The ad was also signed by two Dutch Jewish organizations.  “If Geert Wilders had said the same things about Jews (and the Old Testament) as he has now reeled off about Muslims (and the Qur’an), then he would have been ostracised a long time ago and accused of anti-Semitism.”

3/18/08 Tariq Ramadan wants Muslims to ignore far-right Dutch film on Koran. “My position is they have the right to do it and we don’t need new laws to prevent them from doing it,” Ramadan said. “But not everything which is legal is intelligent. Sometimes you have to think about a sense of decency and to live together. ...  “My advice (to Muslims) is take an intellectual critical distance towards this. Say ‘we don’t like it’ but go ahead and just ignore it.”

3/19/08 Farish Noor called for an intelligent response to such Islamophobia.  “Can this dilemma be resolved in time before we witness yet another round of Muslim-West antagonism as we did in the wake of the Muhammad cartoon controversy of 2004-2005? One will only know the answer to that question when the controversy has passed and the dust has settled. But one thing is for certain at this juncture: No resolution to the perennial problem of Islamophobia and Muslim-bashing can be reached as long as we react to such slander and bigotry with slander and bigotry of our own. One does not fight hate with hate; and an intelligent, universal, inclusive reaction to the problem of Islamophobia is perhaps the first step to finding a solution. Let us hope that Muslims will keep their cool this time round.”


NEGATIVE:

1/31/08 Wilders still pursuing a bill to ban the burqa in Holland http://www.cordweekly.com/cordweekly/myweb.php?hls=10034&news_id=1414

1/31/08 Some facebook users have posted threats against Wilders.  http://studentpa.info/spip.php?article375

Some misguided Turkish hackers have hacked the Dutch soccer club site in protest of the upcoming film.  This is the kind of pointless response that only plays into Wilders’ hands.  http://myrtus.typepad.com/myrtus/2008/01/dutch-soccer-cl.html

March 28, 2008 UPDATE:


Wilders has posted his film on the internet.  I watched it this morning on Live Leak, but since then it has been taken down.
 
The film opens and closes with the cartoon that sparked the most controversy and emotion - which was probably calculated on Wilders’ part, but not well enough calculated because he forgot to request permission to use this cartoon.  He may now be sued by all sorts of folks for using copyright material without permission.  Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, who depicted the Prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban, says he will sue, as does Dutch director Rob Muntz whose clip of an interview he conducted with Theo van Gogh was used without his permission.  And, Dutch rapper Salah Edin is seeking legal recourse for his picture appearing in the film mistaking him for the man who murdered Dutch film director Theo van Gogh.

After the cartoon image, a digital clock starts ticking down, a clip of a translation of Qur’an 8:30 appears on the screen, and then newsclips from 9/11 and the Madrid bombing.  Interspersed are clips of unidentified Muslims (Arabs and Iranians) saying terrible things (for example, “What makes Allah happy?  Allah is happy when non-Muslims get killed ...” and “Annihilate the infidels and the polytheists ... Allah, count them and kill them to the last one.”)  Throughout the short film, the same format is followed - interspersed with violent images are other translated verses from the Qur’an, including 4: 56 (translated as “Those who have disbelieved our signs, we shall roast them in fire”); 47:4 (translated as “Therefore, when ye meet the unbelievers, smite at their necks ...”); and 8:39 (translated as “Fight them until there is no dissension and the religion is entirely Allah’s”). 

Also interspersed are scenes of Shia children with blood on them (from Ashura rituals as best I can make out from the scenes, not from terrorism) and for some odd reason newspaper headlines that range from the tragic murder of Theo Van Gogh to a headline reading “School closes on Muslim holiday” and another about a halal fund for investments - as if somehow these all are equivalent.  The focus is clearly on the rising Muslim population of the Netherlands and Wilders’ belief that this can’t be good for the country.

Some reviews refer to “Islamic leaders” shown in the film, however,  except for identifying President Ahmedinejad of Iran, none of the other speakers are identified and I have no idea who they are. 

I would question the translations chosen and the fact that they are snippets, out of context.  I would also question the films theme that the Qur’an and Islam are the source of the violence of such groups as al Qaeda.

As a Muslim I stand with him against the rantings of whoever these folks are in his film, and against the terrorist acts shown (e.g. the 9/11 attacks, London and Madrid attacks, etc.).  I am disgusted by the hateful statements made by the individuals in the film.  These people do not represent anything I understand as Islam and should be ashamed of themselves for bringing disgrace to the name of Muslims.  Sadly, their hateful speech is also covered by the principle of free speech.  Such words need to be objected to just as strongly as Wilders’ distortions of Islam.  I also stand with him in my condemnation of every one of the violent acts he depicted and whoever carried them out - they are criminals and deserve to be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

I absolutely disagree with him that these vicious and cowardly acts or these despicable statements are the result of following the teachings of the Qur’an.  And, I further believe that the only way to counter the message of extremists who attempt to justify such acts by abusing the Qur’an with faulty interpretations and commentaries is to counter them with the traditional teachings of Islam. 

It’s a shame that he wasted so much time and free publicity on a film that won’t do anything to change the minds of the Islamists and will only alienate the rest of the Muslims, and perhaps “prove” to some gullible souls that Muslims really are sub-human.  There are millions of Muslims who would stand with him against the perversion of Islam carried out by these folks, but few that would stand with him in agreeing that their perversion is caused by the Qur’an.

The Dutch Government as well as the EU have expressed their condemnation of the film and the Dutch Prime Minister has released a thoughtful statement

So far Muslims continue to call for restraint and calm.  Mohamed Rabbae, the head of the Dutch Moroccan National Council, spoke at a joint press conference of Muslim community leaders at an Amsterdam mosque.  ‘An attack on the Netherlands is an attack on us. We feel offended by the link between violence and Islam but (...) the best response is a response in a responsible manner,’ Rabbae said. 

As a Muslim I pray that there is no over-reaction on anyone’s part (either of Muslims towards non-Muslims, or of non-Muslims towards Muslims) over this actually pretty trivial and boring propoganda film. 



 


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