Geert Wilders’ film “Fitna”

Dutch Member of Parliament Geert Wilders’ film, “Fitna” (Arabic for “strife” or “challenge”), has been released, first on LiveLeak (from which it has been removed) and now on YouTube (below). The film depicts unethical statements from the Koran and by Muslim leaders, as well as photographs of terrorist atrocities committed by radical Islamists. The government of Indonesia has called for YouTube to remove the video, and it has provoked calls for boycotts of Dutch goods. This will no doubt serve to inflame Muslims, and to demonstrate once again that very few of them have the slightest comprehension of the secular concept of freedom of speech. Fortunately, there are some exceptions–a group of Arabs has called for a screening of the film in Saudi Arabia, followed by constructive dialogue about it.

What it will also demonstrate, I suspect, is hypocrisy on the part of some Christians who have criticized people like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens for emphasizing the negative aspects of religion (and more specifically Christianity) while ignoring or minimizing the positive aspects. I suspect many such Christians will laud this video as an accurate depiction of the dangers of Islam and why it must be opposed, without recognizing that the Bible contains similar verses to the Koran about such things as killing unbelievers.

Note that P.Z. Myers at Pharyngula has called Wilders’ film “dishonest,” and there is much back-and-forth in the comments on his blog about the particular excerpts from the Koran, what they actually mean, and the context in which they were written. I hope that Taner can provide us with further illumination.

UPDATE (April 15, 2008): Kieran Bennett takes me to task for my sentence about Muslims. While I should have explicitly said “*some* Muslims,” and perhaps my “very few” was an unwarranted exaggeration, I think I was clear that I wasn’t talking about all Muslims. I have seen numerous examples, however, of even moderate Muslims in western nations who have demonstrated a lack of understanding of free speech on a par with many Christians’ lack of understanding of the separation of church and state.

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  • Taner Edis

    “I hope that Taner can provide us with further illumination.”

    Well, I watched it. It seems calculated to piss people off.

    As to what the verses from the Quran actually mean, well, I think that’s the wrong question. What we should ask is how Muslims interpret them. And then, we find that there is no overwhelming consensus. Attempts to interpret violent verses in a less nasty manner are pretty popular, however.

  • Jim Lippard


    I find it interesting that you say that the film “seems calculated to piss people off”–a measure of filmmaker intent–and that “what the verses from the Quran actually mean” is “the wrong question.”

    I’m strongly inclined to interpret human communications based on determining, as best as possible, the authorial intent and meaning, rather than on reader response. Perhaps that’s part of why I find liberal religious traditions that seek to create new meaning while retaining old words so implausible and unappealing.

  • Taner Edis

    I should be clearer. I see the film primarily as a political exhortation, not as an argument concerning the meanings of Quran verses. In this political context, I think the important questions are what Muslims will tend to do, and how this is connected to how they interpret the Quran.

    Looking for a true meaning, whether the “authorial intent and meaning” or not, can be a distraction in this context. In another, perhaps more academic setting, we can enjoy an interesting debate about the historical meanings of the Quran. (My sympathies are with those who’d argue that the authorial intent is largely unknown and perhaps unrecoverable.) All this, however, would have very little relevance when discussing Fitna.

  • ned

    Here is Christopher Hitchens reading from his book. This part on the Koran and Islam.;=related

    He makes interpretation rather clear.

  • Keith Parsons

    Jesus Christ and Karl Marx had one thing (at least) in common: They both held that the way to test a doctrine was not to vet its epistemological credentials, but to look at the real-life consequences when people attempt to live by its precepts. Jesus said of the “false prophets,” “By their fruits shall ye know them.” In Theses on Feurerbach, Marx said “The point of philosophy is not to understand the world, but to change it.” Praxis, not theory, is the benchmark.

    A lawmaker should concur. Politicians are usually only embarrassing when they presume to pronounce on the truth or falsity of scientific or doctrinal claims. Think of Ronald Reagan fatuously saying that evolution is “only a theory,” or Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe’s crackpot denunciation of global warming. Politicians would look similarly silly if they tried their hand at Quranic scholarship. But those in political office should be expected to notice when something is taking us to hell in a handbasket.

    If immigration policy in the Netherlands has the result of bringing a significant number of militant Muslims into the country, then this, clearly, is a problem that Dutch politicians need to address. Filmmaker Theo van Gogh was brutally assassinated by a Muslim fanatic because he had directed a film allegedly critical of Islam. How many others of that fanatical ilk are now living in Holland? It is not racist, bigoted, intolerant, illiberal, or ethnocentric to raise this question and to sound the alarm. I have not seen “Fitna” yet, but perhaps its message needs to be heard. As Harris, Hitchens, and Dawkins have recently argued, perhaps liberal people and liberal societies need to be shaken out of their facile and anodyne notions of “sensitivity” and should get mad about ideologies that really are harmful.

  • Alex Dalton

    I find it very hard to believe that all of the hooplah about the evils of Islam is accurate. I find it hard to believe that this is what Islam is all about, as opposed to certain militant/violent sects. I know so many American muslims and they are some of the most peaceful and respectful people I have ever met in my life.

    I find Taner’s seemingly more neutral/restrained/objective approach to Islam refreshing.

    Maybe the Arabs, as a largely impoverished/oppressed dyadic honor-shame culture, are just really prone to violence. I’d say that their culture is more at the root of these sects’ interpretations or emphases with regards to the Koran.

    Jim – where does the Bible tell anyone, as a Christian, that they ought to a) kill anyone and b) do so on the basis of their lack of submission or adherence to Christian religion?

    Where does the Koran say that Muslims ought to do the same?

  • Jim Lippard

    Dalton: Your “as a Christian” qualifier is introducing something I didn’t say–the passages I have in mind are in the Old Testament, and many Christians consider OT rules to no longer be applicable, despite Jesus apparently saying quite the opposite in passages such as Matthew 5:17-19 (though other passages like Luke 16:16 seem to have opposite meaning).

    I specifically had in mind Old Testament passages such as those calling for the execution of those who would try to lead you into apostasy (Deuteronomy 13:6-9), as well as numerous calls for genocide against those who believe in other gods, say anything negative about the Jewish God, or simply happen to be living in the “Promised Land” (Exodus 22:20, 32:27, Leviticus 24:16, Numbers 31:7, 31:17-18, Joshua 6:21, 8:8, 10:40, etc.).

    The Koran appears to call for death for apostates (and is interpreted as such by many Muslims; many Islamic countries make apostasy a criminal act under the law, though most have ceased executions for such violations by the 20th century, leaving that to be done by zealous individuals instead). See Sura IV:89: “They desire that you should disbelieve as they have disbelieved, so that you might be (all) alike; therefore take not from among them friends until they fly (their homes) in Allah’s way; but if they turn back, then seize them and kill them wherever you find them, and take not from among them a friend or helper.” (This appears to be contradicted by Sura II:256. Contradiction is a common theme in religious texts.)