geert’s fitna

Geert Wilders Dutch MP has released his 15 minute film Fitna (“strife”) over the internet today. It is a controversial film, incendiary in nature (whatever one’s opinion of the view expressed therein). It contains graphic graphic imagery–including footage of severed heads and executions.

I had to think long and hard about whether to link to it or not and if so how. On the one hand I support free speech, and believe people should make up their own minds. On the other, I found it to be like a number of other films in this new genre, highly suspect methodologically–before even the question about politics.

My decision is to link to this BBC Article which gives some background and explains how to view the movie (i.e. where to find it on the web). Again warning: it is extremely graphic in nature.

There is a lot that could be said about the film. I’ll just focus on a few themes.

The movie uses Qu’ranic citations interspliced with scenes from al-Qaeda attacks (Twin Towers, Madrid Bombings), Arab Satellite imams preaching vile hatred of infidels, shots of children being indoctrinated into an ideology. Plus the requisite Islam is the new fascism meme. Then statistics about how many Muslims are in Europe and how they are growing at a fast rate.

The clear message of course is which all European Muslims are suspect, are part of this trend, and what to install Sharia which I find patently disgusting. No images or the voices of Muslims who respect rule of law and free society in Europe. If there is violence as a response, it is not to blamed on Wilders–no one has a right to respond in violence. Still I have to question the decision to make and produce. As St. Paul said what is valid or able to be done is not necessarily what should be done–not everything allowed builds up.

I find it interesting (though not that surprising) that Wilders’ exegesis of the Quran is exactly that of al-Qaeda. That is citations from the Quran free float; there is no background to the text, nor to any of the specific chapters mentioned. Just like the Wahabis, the Quran then exists as this timeless command for all places and beings rather than a specific set of pronouncements for a certain time, a certain place, and a certain community.

It is a completely modernist form of reading the scriptures. Fundamentalism (like Wahabism/Salafist Islam) is a completely modern phenomenon. It is the attempt to turn stories, ways of life, into a set of eternal precepts and propositions that are either believed (Wahabis) or not (Wilders)–but either way neither is traditional and both assume the same ground.

Everything Wilders shows that is evil is Islamist: persecution of religious minorities & gays, subjugation of women, glorification of violence and militarism, and so on and so forth. And even within Islamism, the large majority seek to enact their version of sharia through democratic, representative forms.

It is the pathological form of patriarchy that served humanity in certain respects as a move upwards 1400 years ago, but is now regressive and destructive as compared to modern free liberal societies.

I point that out because at the end of the film there are a series of lines that to the effect of Islam wants to dominate you….Islam will not let you be free.

When what he really is describing is Islamism. To be fair, even the term Islamism is a poor one because for many Muslims (not without reason) Islamism simply means rule by the principles of their faith.

But in the sense in which it has come to be used in both scholarly and popular circles, i.e. the imposition of a rigid tyrannical form of law based on an understanding (a misunderstanding in my book) of the scripture and tradition, that is enforced on all regardless of their belief in said system or not.

That ideology particularly in the West which has a tradition of toleration, separation of religion and state, secularism, and free thought, must be fought. But it must be done so in a way that invites Muslims to enter society on their terms as both a Muslim and a free citizen.

Too many right-wing Americans (and some right-wing Europeans) lament the secular state of European affairs, the exclusion of religious discourse from the public square. vs.. the US where religious faith can be discussed so long as the government does not endorse any view and the individual is willing to have his or her faith questioned or possibly critiqued in public.

When it comes to Islam however these same right-wingers often to my mind want to reinforce secularism. So at the nub, it looks like the talk of wanting to bring religion back into consciousness and the public square really means Christianity (and perhaps Judaism). They will make some general point about moderate Islam. Moderate Islam is not what is needed and when it appears (if it ever does) these same individuals are not usually supportive of it. An Islam that is both rooted in the tradition and open to pluralistic society is what is required.

Published in: on March 27, 2008 at 3:27 pm  Comments (3)  
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  1. CJ, just my observation

    The hysteria that is sweeping across Europe in regards to Islam is for some of the following reasons:

    1. The birth rate of Europe is declining, whereas within Europe, Muslims are increasing due to birth rate, immigration and conversation.
    2. The purposeful marginalization of Christianity in Europe, and Islamic revivalism in not only in the Muslim word but also Muslims in western countries.
    3. This world-wide phenomenon of Islamic revivalism is an unprecedented theistic movement by any religion in this contemporary age to overturn the secular mind-set of excessive materialism and marginalization of God from governance and from the public sector.
    4. There are those who see this phenomenon and try to capitalize on it for their own twisted ideologies and try to speed the movement up, by proclaiming it and then violate most of its most sacred tenants. Others see the phenomenon and try to capitalize by spewing its rhetoric but true agenda is to mobilize people for territorial gains.

    CJ, I submit this current phenomenon is a reformation or reassertion but is not taking the direction taking by the Christians. This phenomenon is by no mean monolithic, premeditated, or planned. Extreme Muslims and Moderate Muslims, Middle Eastern Muslims, and Western Muslims are playing a role in it. I remember a speech by Malcolm X in which he described how he was responsible for giving Martin Luther King legitimacy, simply because the U.S. eschewed what he ( Malcolm X) was saying in preference for a more moderate voice. From the European’s perspective this is what is playing out so they don’t even want to give legitimacy to Moderate Muslims.

    We have seen Islamic gov’t experiments pop up here and there and for the most part not in the Middle East itself. We see Iran, Afghanistan, Northern provinces of Nigeria, and Sudan experiment with Sharia, we see increasingly the ability of so-called Islamist to win popular votes or huge segments of the people like in Algeria, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Palestine, we see movements in the wings waiting for its opportunity Muslims Brotherhood in Egypt. In the west we see the popping up of Mosque and the making of incremental and gradual gains, to the extent the Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken of the inevitability of some forms of Sharia.

    So if I was a non-muslim western analyst observing this current course, then rightly so I would feel somewhat intimidated by all of this and want to stop the tide, however, its hard to do that when our sophisticated and enlighten culture, has spoken of freedom of religion, freedom of speech for so long, and purposely allowed immigrants from this culture to come into your countries simply to take advantage of them in the work force and of course do the job, our people are just too sophisticated to do. When the U.S. try to stop so-called “Radical Islam” by dropping bombs but only succeed in making it a rallying cry and actually exacerbate the situation on every level.

    If you examine this, you will see that so-called “Islamist” are the backbone of the movement, more so than any sheikh, Mullah, Ulema, or Madrassa, simply because so-called Islamist have adopted and modified their rhetoric and explained the compatibility of traditional Islamic principles with contemporary western ideals of human rights and freedom of speech. Which in my opinion is highly compatible, but the sheikhs, Ulema, and Mullah are only limited to or restrict themselves solely to Islamic tradition, as if worldly ideals can be reached on a rational level, which I reject.

    This is essentially a battle of ideas and ideologies, and the so-called “Islamist” has adjusted, where as Western Civilization has not yet adjusted. Western civilization has to walk a fine line of not violating its own exalted ideals and not attacking religion, which it has failed to do thus far. This is why you see pieces like your highlighting now.

    Due to the fact the western governments have been impotent in this battle of ideas, we have seen the movement of the Christian right, as they are not handicapped by respecting religion and speech.

  2. e,

    thank you for the thoughtful comment.

    i agree that a key element is the desire for the ummah and community instead of Western secular individualism.

    The question is how that (valid spiritual) desire plays out politically. And no doubt in the Muslim world, something like what Feldman talked about is going to happen (is already happening) in fits and starts.

    The autocrats of the Muslim world destroyed any liberal positions. The only choice is either dictators of Islamism (of whatever variety).

    That being said, I think for Muslims living in the West, the call has to increase for bridging Islam with a secular pluralistic society. It can a personally very conservative form of Islam if that is what people choose. Especially in Europe. But obviously the Wilders way is to just demonize Muslims.

    I think there is a meeting ground between those positions, that has not yet been found.

    peace. cj

  3. Yes, in Europe “the age of faith” or the rule of the Church were oppressive years filled with in-fighting and stagnation, plunging Europe into the ‘Dark Ages.” By virtue of this period in history and the failure of the Church to govern, it ultimately culminated into the “Enlightenment” which attacked religion in preference of “reason” and secular thought. This transformation was bought on through internal factors, and lead to the highest period in Western Civilization and the West comes in the contemporary era warring against Christian governance, hence the current obsession of secularism

    Ironically, enough the Dark Ages for Europe were golden years for Islamic Governance. In this era, although religion was the governing factor, the civilization reached its heights in Scientific, Medicinal and Mathematic achievement. Nor was is limited to religious study, this is also the period in which Muslim translated the work of the Plato, Aristotle etc..etc. It is also in this period, which we see Andalusia, an Islamic state emerges. Although, this is an Islamic state it was pluralistic, and its called the golden years of Jewish literature, in fact Jews were integrated into the society. In my opinion, this has been history’s best example of a pluralistic religious society integrated together.

    The decline of Muslim societies came not due to internal degradation, in which it can learn and naturally progress, instead the decline came through external factors colonization of the Muslim World, by the West, and this is how Muslim come into the contemporary era, hence the current obsession with the West.

    So the paradox is this, the West has reach its heights by moving further away from Christianity, whereas the further Muslims have moved from Islam, the more pathetic their societies have become, with the glory years being when Islam governed.

    The misconception come, when the injustices we see around the Muslim World is
    somehow associated with Shariah. So now cultural garbage like female circumcision, honor killings, oppression of women, slavery, beheadings, terror/bombing etc.. etc.. has all been ignorantly linked to Shariah. In the same way Muslim ignorantly link all the negative aspects of Western societies to Christianity.

    These respective histories have lead to different realities for these civilizations. For me personally, what both civilizations can agree on is that one time or another, the Jews were a chosen people and if we examine how God has traditionally dealt with them is thus: the closer there were to God upholding his laws, the more they prospered, the more they left the traditions and laws the more pathetic they became and ultimately bought down through external factors, namely through the Babylonians, Assyrians, and Roman. You may think I’m too literal or a fundamentalist but whose civilizations mirror best how God has traditionally dealt with so-called chosen people.

    Its because of these respective histories, the adherents to Judaism and Christianity, are not brazen enough to do what Muslims societies are experimented with around the globe, namely a contemporary theist response to secular governance and this theistic governance showing the flexibility to meet contemporary society of a global village. Mixing religion and the national policy, has vexed even the Prophets (peace be upon all them).

    This is on summed up when I heard the Rev Calvin Butts in NYC, speaking about George Bush’s faith based initiatives, saying it should be in the hands of the federal gov’t because the church has historically been oppressive and biased, but me, I refuse to accept that adherents to a religion like Christianity which emphases love and compassion are incapable of being just to those in need. Call me idealistic.

    Forgive my mental ramblings. I promise to make subsequent comments shorter.

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