Getting over fitna

I recently watched the new short film by the Dutch right-wing MP Geert Wilders, Fitna. It’s not like I was expecting anything but racist drivel, but I was particularly underwhelmed by this effort, which essentially consists of quotes of the Quran super-imposed with pictures of veiled women “taking over our streets” and much complaining of how many mosques are being built in Holland. In other words, it’s the usual pretty thin racist crap about how foreigners are coming to our country to steal our jobs and seduce our women, and how they look different, thus breaking the harmonious landscapes of the nation’s streets. For some reason, I was actually expecting something a bit more high-minded. I think Theo van Gogh would have delivered something better, this looks like the ad campaign for something like Vlaams Belang (the racist Flemish party in Belgium, which I am more familiar with having spent much time there — I remember as a kid in the 1980s seeing its predecessor, the Vlaams Blok, putting up stickers with the charming inscription “all Moroccan women are whores” on street lamps.)

I suppose the low artistic and intellectual merit of fitna largely explained why it has been ignored aside from the media’s desperate search for an angry reaction of the kind we had over the Danish cartoons (a reaction driven largely by governments for their own purposes, as in Syria). You could have had a film looking at some of the real problems with Islam as it has been practiced for centuries, or how many Islamists advocate it should be practiced now. The issue of uneven rights for women is a real problem, and just like there is atrocious racism in Western societies against non-whites, there is scandalous discrimination in many Islamic countries against non-Muslims. I don’t care how many hadiths you pull out of your hats to show the prophet ‘s best friend was a Christian or whatever else. The proof is in the practice, and particularly in Arab patriarchal societies, the practice hasn’t exactly been great and the moral leadership, with some notable exceptions, has been even poorer.

The word “fitna” is Arabic for “discord” and is usually the term used to refer to the fight over the succession of the caliphate that led to the split into Shia and Sunni Islam. It’s an odd title for the movie, which never quite explains what it means or why it was chosen, but perhaps an apt one to describe the media-driven hullabaloo over its coverage. Sure, Wilders may get threats from some idiots, and could even get killed. This is profoundly regrettable, as is the fact that Ayaan Hirsi Ali and others are driven into hiding or have to live under constant guard. But beyond this you can’t quite shake the feeling that this story is part of a larger meme of civilizational conflict editors have decided to run with, no matter what the actual reaction on the street is, the quality of the debate, and the desire by the people writing these books and making these movies to get their 15 minutes of fame by being “courageous contrarians.”

I suspect that, mostly, we don’t really care about these movies, cartoons and books. I’d rather reserve my energy to defend the likes of Salman Rushdie, an author of considerable talent whose Satanic Verses had real artistic merit, or focus on the real problems with the way police handle urban Arab immigrant youths in Western Europe, than spend my time playing “clash of civilisations” over silly cartoons in provincial Danish newspapers or the crappy home movie of a Dutch politician with silly hair. This stuff is fitna for the sake of fitna, or really, fitna without a cause.

0 thoughts on “Getting over fitna”

  1. I was a kid in the 80s in Flanders, but I can’t remember having ever seen anything like the sticker you describe. I’ve got some old political propaganda from several parties, including stickers from the Vlaams Blok, and they are indeed often not of very good taste, but I really can’t imagine that they ever sank so low as to use slogans like “all Moroccan women are whores”.

  2. In an important judgement on a case dealing with religious freedom of speech in the High Court on 23rd July 1999, Lord Justice Sedley quoted Socrates and two famous Quakers when he declared: “The irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and provocative have a right to be heard.�

    The corporate and state organs have no right to decide on our behalf what we should read, watch, or hear, even if we find the material objectionable.

    The removal of Fitna from various webhosts was nothing but pre-emptive censorship!

  3. The film I want to see is the one reputed to be shown by Dutch immigration to prospective immigrants – it supposedly starts with a map of NL showing what parts are due to be flooded by global warming then moves on to naked people on the beach and guys kissing (don’t know whether there are naked guys kissing on the beach).

    The version of Fitna that I saw was 10 minutes of bits of the Quran badly translated and juxtaposed with pics of 9/11 and London and so on. This is no more clash of civilizations than Bum Fights is the Rumble in the Jungle. Can someone post a link to the full version? Or would this force unbearable costs for extra security on the folks at Arabist?

    The Dutch do have valid concerns mind. You’re talking about a small country that has largely grown out of taking religion too seriously having to deal with significant new groups of people who haven’t. Wilders may be a clown — and make crap movies — but he’s speaking to real questions, whatever we think of his answers.

  4. “You’re talking about a small country that has largely grown out of taking religion too seriously having to deal with significant new groups of people who haven’t.”

    From the polls and surveys I’ve read, the percentage of conservative Muslims among Dutch immigrants is extremely low, and the practice of things like FGM limited to a very tiny percentage among them. As for the Dutch and their virginal shock at religious nutters, they’ve got their homegrown ones too, and kind of invented some of this stuff:

    And more on the Dutch Bible belt here:

  5. […] fugaz aparición del seudodocumental “Fitna”, obra del diputado ultraderechista holandés Geert Wilders, podría haber causado una tormenta […]

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The comment’s server IP ( doesn’t match the comment’s URL host IP () and so is spam.

  6. “It’s not like I was expecting anything but racist drivel”

    At what point was race mentioned?

    “The version of Fitna that I saw was 10 minutes of bits of the Quran badly translated “

    No they were correctly translated. It’s interesting that some Muslims always play the “langauge” card but never reveal their more accurate translations.

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