In an earlier post on Inside Islam, we introduced Senator John Kerry’s proposed series of hearings on “Engaging with Muslim Communities Around the World.” For the first in this series, Kerry invited prominent Muslim American leaders to be part of a council to inform the hearings in Washington DC. Council members included Eboo Patel and Dalia Mogahed. When news came that there would also be a screening of the Dutch Film Fitna before the US Senate on the same day, the greater Muslim community became involved as well.
Senator Jon Kyl (Republican from Arizona) sponsored the Fitna screening and invited the filmmaker and Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders to visit to Capitol Hill to speak. Wilders is well known now around the world for declaring that the Koran be banned from the Netherlands just “like Mein Kamph.” He now faces civil charges for allegedly breaking a Dutch law that states citizens cannot be insulted in public on the basis of religion or race.
In an op-ed column for The New York Times, author Ian Buruma frames the controversy quite well. Should Wilders be sentenced under this law or protected by free speech? Buruma explains that:
Comparing a book that billions hold sacred to Hitler’s murderous tract is more than an exercise in literary criticism; it suggests that those who believe in the Koran are like Nazis, and an all-out war against them would be justified. This kind of thinking, presumably, is what the Dutch law court is seeking to check.
Ultimately, as Buruma points out, it’s up to Dutch courts to decide if Wilders is guilty. However, the fact that Muslim communities in the Netherlands and in America have also been able to come up with productive and innovative responses is clear. A Muslim TV station in the Netherlands said they would produce the film in return for a live interview with Wilders, but he declined the offer. Instead, he produced the short film himself and posted it onto YouTube. In the US, many people responded with letters in support of Kerry’s efforts to create bridges with the Muslim world, and encouraged him to set additional hearings.
A report from the Islamic Information Center (IIC) says it’s most important to continue:
the meaningful dialoge [sic] and constructive work that is taking place between America’s elected leaders and Muslim American leadership.
Alongside other organizations and responders, the IIC helped to organize a democratic, community-led response to Fitna and inform others about the situation. Mainly, the new message was that radical Islam does not in fact represent the voice of all Muslims.
Films like Fitna or Obsession, released in the US last year, distort the real problems that exist in Islam today. They arguably play more on people’s fears of an Islamic threat than speak truth to real issues like terrorism or extremism. However, the main concern in this case was first and foremost that Fitna not overshadow the importance of dialogue and continuing the series of Senate hearings.
Have you seen the film Fitna? Did you watch Senator Kerry’s hearing in January? What are your thoughts? If you’d like to respond, leave a comment below or send it by email.
Update: According to the Guardian UK, Geert Wilders has plans to release a second film about Islam.