Geert Wilders criminally prosecuted

The Amsterdan Court of Appeal has ordered the criminal prosecution of Dutch MP Geert Wilders (you know, the Fitna guy). I do not have time to elaborate on this right now, but I thought the Court’s argumentation (see first link) makes for some nice debating material. Two snippets:

The Court of Appeal has considered that the contested views of Wilders (also as shown in his movie Fitna) constitute a criminal offence according to Dutch law as seen in connection with each other, both because of their contents and the method of presentation. This method of presentation is characterized by biased, strongly generalizing phrasings with a radical meaning, ongoing reiteration and an increasing intensity, as a result of which hate is created. According to the Court of Appeal most statements are insulting as well since these statements substantially harm the religious esteem of the Islamic worshippers. According to the Court of Appeal Wilders has indeed insulted the Islamic worshippers themselves by affecting the symbols of the Islamic belief as well.

And Godwin is in there too:

However, the Court of Appeal makes an exception as regards insulting statements in which a connection with Nazism is made (for instance by comparing the Koran with “Mein Kampf”). The Court of Appeal considers this insulting to such a degree for a community of Islamic worshippers that a general interest is deemed to be present in order to prosecute Wilders because of this.

BBC News article here. Maybe more later.

Fitna is out

Okay, Geert Wilders’ movie Fitna is finally online. It was posted sometime yesterday and the English version has already been viewed over two million times. As I write this the Dutch version is at 2.5 million views. Talk about word-to-mouth!

First, the good news. Wilders did not do anything really stupid and really irresponsible like tear up or otherwise damage or deface the Koran. In other words, there is no reason whatsoever why someone should want to kill him or anybody else over this*. Besides, it turns out there already has been more than enough ado about nothing.

The sixteen minute movie is essentially a copy-and-paste job with verses of the Koran followed by images and speeches of violence and hate in the name of Islam. A good thing about the film is that, at the end, Wilders addresses the Muslim community, or his vision of this community, to tackle the problem of Islam-inspired violence. He does not advocate non-Muslim violence against Islam. The problem with Fitna is that its vision of Islam is terribly one-sided and limited. The movie, basically, could have been made by your average blogger. There is some truth in it, but it gets mixed up with a great number of simplified associations and generalizations.

Anyway, these are my first thoughts. I am writing this in the middle of the night and I think I should have another look at the movie when my mind is well-rested. In the meantime I am looking forward to comments from our readers. You can view Fitna at LiveLeak.com (or here in case of high traffic) and embedded below. Francophone readers can click here. For the time being, I’ll post any updates in the comments section.

*Disclaimer: I do not believe anybody should ever be killed or hurt over an expressed opinion. I wrote this with some of the death threats that Wilders has received in mind.

UPDATE: LiveLeak apparently had to nix the flick but you can still watch it HERE or HERE. Threats suck and are so pre-internets. Plus, they give the movie more credit than it deserves. I am providing the mirror links because now it really has become an issue of freedom of speech. And sadly so.

UPDATE2: Dutch anthropologist Martijn dissects Fitna. He concludes his in-depth and fact-based analysis with:

Astonishing therefore that people are really seeing this film as soft. Are we used already to all the violence that is depicted, don’t we think that using lies, distortions and so on is a problem? It is an irresponsible form of abusing the freedom of speech, not only towards Muslims but also with regard to the people who voted for Wilders. I have spoken to some of them in the past and they have put their faith in him as the one who perhaps could solve the problems they experience. What Wilders has done know is behaving like a charlatan who sells rubbish, nonsense and a pack of lies and something that probably will not solve any problem.

Geert Wilders: much ado about an unscreened movie

Two weeks ago Denmark was in turmoil because Danish newspapers decided to reprint the infamous cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad after one of their authors had received death threats. And there is another Islam-related crisis brewing. This time in The Netherlands. I’ll give our readers a brief update on the situation.

Yesterday, Dutch Minister for Developing Cooperation Bert Koenders cancelled a working trip to Somalia because his delegation had received “direct threats”. The reason? Dutch MP Geert Wilders is about to release a fifteen minute self-made movie, called Fitna or ‘tribulation’, in which he will attempt to demonstrate that the Koran is “a terrible and fascist book that inspires people to horrible actions and violence.” The release date should be some time this March.

No-one has seen the movie yet, but Wilders already seems to have collected a few death threats himself and yesterday, in a rather unusual move, the Dutch Cabinet officially distanced itself from the movie and thereby from Wilders’ actions. The official stance is that the movie threatens the security of Dutch citizens and the military abroad. Wilders subsequently accused the Cabinet of capitulating to Islam. Minister of Foreign Affairs Maxime Verhagen and CDA PM Pieter van Geel even called on Wilders not to broadcast his movie because “it could affect security and the Dutch economy”. His alleged response: “They can go and screw themselves.” Employers’ organizations have also called on Wilders not to broadcast Fitna. Wientjes, president of the organization VNO-NCW, apparently stated that the business community benefits from a tolerant climate and that Wilders is not contributing to that. There are stories circulating that Dutch airhostesses are now afraid to fly to certain countries, that the Taliban in Afghanistan have announced to take actions against Dutch people and that a number of international business fairs are refusing Dutch entries.

At the same time several parties and MPs are, albeit cautiously, stressing the importance of freedom of expression. More precisely, Femke Halsema from GroenLinks (Left Greens) and Socialist Party leader Jan Marijnissen. They do point out, however, that Wilders has the moral responsibility to consider if the goal in this case really does justify the means. And both the Justice Minister and the Minister of Domestic Affairs have talked to Wilders warning him about the risks the movie poses to himself and the country.

Personally, I am really getting fed up with people issuing death threats, or worse, just because somebody expressed an opinion they find offensive even when I understand that some people, like Wilders, really seem to be ‘begging for it’. Consciously stirring up resentment under the guise of freedom of expression, by asking to ban the Koran in The Netherlands for example, is idiotic and makes a mockery of that very same freedom. There is a grain of truth in that the Koran is used by some Muslims factions and individuals as an inspiration/excuse for violence, but these problems are extremely complex and are not going to be solved by a simple, cinematographic book burning session. On the contrary. Still, Wilders is no Hitler and as far as I know he has not been inciting violence against Muslims. And, more importantly, the movie has not even been shown yet.

PS: The Dutch phrase “nobody zit echt te wachten op this movie” in this mock trailer means “nobody really cares about this movie”. I also found a fairly recent interview, in two parts, on YouTube in which Wilders talks to FoxNews about his upcoming movie and his views on the Koran and Islam.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Anyway, we’ll see what happens next.

Hopefully, NOT developing…

Update: Last Sunday some eight hundred people took to the streets in the Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif to protest “the Danish and Dutch insults against Islam”. The demonstrators, mainly students, shouted “death to Denmark” and “death to The Netherlands”, burned flags from both countries and demanded apologies and the punishment (in court) of those who insulted Islam.

There is also a ‘nice’ statement from Iran (for domestic use, though):

“Recently some Dutch and Danish media, influenced by usurping Zionists, have distorted and insulted Islamic sanctities,” said a statement read out in parliament on behalf of lawmakers which was broadcast on state radio.

I suppose “usurping Zionists” is the Iranian version of our “dirty terrorists”? Anyway, for an interesting, and more refreshing, debate among Muslims about this issue and the matter of freedom of speech, you can visit ShiaChat.com. A few quotes:

They are misusing the freedom of expression. They don’t understand the sensitiveness of issues relating to Islam. They have the right to criticise Islam and its Prophet with academic integrity but insulting and caricaturing is utterly disgusting. Danish cartoons and the film by Theo van Gogh was more of an insult than criticism. I don’t know how insulting the new film is but I should also mention one thing – The Muslim reaction on cartoons and film was out of proportion and very childish.

Well, instead of whining, why don’t you make a documentary refuting what was raised on the film – that is the best revenge. Why go about rioting and proving every possible negative stereotype when a educated critique of the film in terms of a point by point refuting of themes in the movie, or a creation of a counter film pointing out inaccuracies.

You will alwyas find these kind of people rioting, burning and creating nuisance and mayhem. It is because they have no way to vent out their accumulated frustrations. I don’t blame them altogether. Those who are above them have the responsibility . They don’t understand that the Frankenstein’s Monster they have created will swallow their own fellow Muslims.

Update 2 (March 5th): Geert Wilders has apparently registered a website for the broadcast of his movie. It – the site but not yet the movie – can be found right here. And we keep on updating. I have removed some text referring to Wilders’ site being hosted in Canada. It turns out the content is officially in the US. And just now I found out that Dutch PM Balkenende, on a visit to Paris today, has asked Sarkozy for support – diplomatic or otherwise – in case all hell breaks loose… just to be on the safe side. The movie’s release appears to be scheduled for March 28th. What is going on here?

Secularism confronts Islam by Olivier Roy

When I look at contemporary public discourse, no day seems to go by without at least someone mentioning the threat of Islam. Last week Dutch MP Geert Wilders even went as far as to call for a ban on the Koran itself, comparing it in true Godwin style to Hitler’s Mein Kampf, because “it incites violence in the name of a fascist ideology”. His idea was widely condemned, even by people who would normally sympathize with at least some of his views, but the fact that he was confident enough to put this idea to the test is very telling. Islam is a hot topic and the threat of Islam, the Islamic monster as it were, either perceived or real, sells.

At the same time there has been real violence in the name of Islam. 9-11 and the bombings in London and Madrid are obvious examples but, the scope of the inflicted destruction notwithstanding, they could be placed in a wider geopolitical context. Far more telling, for me, was the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh. He was killed in the name of Islam by a young, Dutch Muslim extremist of Moroccan descent called Mohammed Bouyeri. This particular murder has been as devastating as the aforementioned bombings, not in scope but in psychological impact. He brought the threat of Islam home… from the inside out. His religious radicalization leading up to his murder of Theo van Gogh cannot be explained merely by geopolitical events or by what some people, like Wilders, would call inherent traits of the Islamic religion. The prosecutor in his murder trial formulated it like this: “The defendant rejects our democracy. He even wants to bring down our democracy.”

The murder of Theo van Gogh was seen as proof of the failure of multiculturalism and, much more important, a direct link was established, in the public mind, between Muslim immigrants and religious violence. What had thus far been a sociological problem, the cultural integration of immigrants who had, by the way, been around for decades, turned into a debate on the position of, in this case Islamist, religion in Western society. Islam, in short, had become a subversive force in Western society threatening traditional values and democracy. Islam was no longer just another religion, it had become a political, assertive and proactive force. Again, in the public mind. I remember fifteen odd years ago there already were lively debates on the position of immigrants in Western society. But those debates hardly ever considered religion. What exactly happened between then and now? Why did some young Western Muslims radicalize and how did they, arguably a minority within a minority, manage to have such an impact on Western public opinion?

With these introductory questions I can finally introduce world renowned expert on Islam Olivier Roy and his excellent new book Secularism confronts Islam, published by Columbia University Press. As far as the body of the book goes, Columbia University Press already did a great job summarizing this online:

Analyzing the French case in particular, in which the tension between Islam and the conception of Western secularism is exacerbated, Roy makes important distinctions between Arab and non-Arab Muslims, hegemony and tolerance, and the role of the umma and the sharia in Muslim religious life. He pits Muslim religious revivalism against similar movements in the West, such as evangelical Protestantism and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and refutes the myth of a single “Muslim community” by detailing different groups and their inability to overcome their differences.

The great value of Secularism confronts Islam, which should make it a lasting classic, is that it recognizes the complexity of the issues at hand and that it offers us, by revealing their diverse and often surprising underlying dynamics, the tools to understand them better. Olivier Roy hands his readers a wealth of material that will allow them to interpret past, ongoing and future developments in a more objective and different manner. And, maybe most important of all, he reduces “the Islamic threat” to its just proportions and, in doing so, gives us the means to deal, both intellectually and emotionally, in a more appropriate and effective way with that very same threat. One example to illustrate this:

Laïcité creates religion by making it a category apart that has to be isolated and circumscribed. It reinforces religious identities rather than allowing them to dissolve in more diversified practices and identities.

In other words, by fighting a monster the wrong way, you can actually make that monster stronger.

Olivier Roy does not necessarily provide conclusive, foolproof all-encompassing answers to the questions I asked in my introduction, but he does provide a wealth of insights that may help us understand not only what is going on, but how things have developed and how they should be seen in a wider context. To rephrase it using my monster metaphor: Who is the Frankenstein behind the monster and how tall and threatening is that monster really?

It is here that Olivier Roy excels. Instead of focusing on the monster itself, I am of course talking about the public perception in the West of Islam, he takes a hard look at the surroundings and circumstances in which it was created. In the preface to Secularism confronts Islam, which can be found online on this page of the Columbia University Press website, he states:

The redefinition of the relations between religion and politics is a new challenge for the West, and not only because of Islam. Islam is a mirror in which the West projects its own identity crisis. We live in a postculturalist society, and this postculturalism is the very foundation of the contemporary religious revival.

With this observation Olivier Roy takes his readers on an intellectual, yet fact-based, journey that ends with another remarkable observation:

What I have attempted to show here is that even fundamentalism has at bottom incorporated the religious space of the West (individualism, separation between politics and religion) and is striving to promote its conservative, indeed reactionary, values in a discourse and practice that mirror those of Christian and Jewish conservatives. The problem is not Islam but religion or, rather, the contemporary forms of the revival of religion.

Olivier Roy comes to this conclusion by analyzing the true meaning and origin of the French laïcité policy and by contrasting laïcité with secularism, by exploring the different attitudes different countries in the West have adopted to Islam and immigration, by comparing neofundamentalist doctrines (and finding too many similarities for comfort), by explaining the political dimension of religion, by pointing out the importance of and quest for identity, etcetera. In the end it all comes together nicely and clearly and the reader is left, not necessarily with clear-cut answers to the (re)integration of religion, and notably Islam, in Western societies, but with a clearer vision of all the different elements that are working together in (re)shaping our societies.

In short, even when Secularism confronts Islam focusses on the confrontation between Islam and secularist values, which, as Olivier Roy demonstrates, are not necessarily exclusively Western, it is most of all a work that, by its sheer depth, inspires readers to think about many other concepts. It inspires readers to even rethink some of those concepts in order to gain a better understanding of all the dynamics at play. As we all know, the first step in solving a problem is understanding that problem. Or, to pick up my silly monster metaphor again, if you are afraid of something, the best thing to do is to confront the scary monster by trying to understand it. More often than not you will find it to be much less threatening than you initially thought it would be. The monster may even confront you with yourself… Or, in this case, with the dynamics of our own societies.

So, if you feel the need to chase some monsters, imagined or real, from under your beds, go and read Olivier Roy’s Secularism confronts Islam. As he himself states this is:

…an invitation to think about Islam in the same framework as we think about other religions and about the religious phenomenon itself. This is true respect for the other and the true criticial spirit.

Pride (In the Name of Love)

After my earlier post/can of worms on secularism I have been a bit hesitant to stir up more religious trouble. Until I saw this little beauty:

The Vatican has asked Israel to ban a gay pride parade due to take place tomorrow in Jerusalem. Thousands of gay activists are expected to march in Jerusalem even though violence is expected.

This, in and of itself, is not such a big deal. The Holy See has always claimed that the catholic Church has the right, the duty even, to interfere with other people’s lives. If you have some time, you can go and read the official social doctrine of the Holy See. No, the really interesting part in the article is this:

“The Holy See has reiterated on many occasions that the right to freedom of expression … is subject to just limits, in particular when the exercise of this right would offend the religious sentiments of believers,” the Vatican said.

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Europe and secularism

Via DJ Nozem I was directed to a very interesting and very important article on Eurozine about European secularism and its role in shaping European identities. The text contains many useful insights and provides a wealth of discussion material. I’ll give one quote for our readers to consider and debate, emphasis mine, but please do and go read everything.

Internal differences notwithstanding, western European societies are deeply secular societies, shaped by the hegemonic knowledge regime of secularism. As liberal democratic societies they tolerate and respect individual religious freedom. But due to the pressure towards the privatization of religion, which among European societies has become a taken-for-granted characteristic of the self-definition of a modern secular society, those societies have a much greater difficulty in recognizing some legitimate role for religion in public life and in the organization and mobilization of collective group identities. Muslim organized collective identities and their public representations become a source of anxiety not only because of their religious otherness as a non-Christian and non-European religion, but more importantly because of their religiousness itself as the other of European secularity. In this context, the temptation to identify Islam and fundamentalism becomes the more pronounced. Islam, by definition, becomes the other of Western secular modernity. Therefore, the problems posed by the incorporation of Muslim immigrants become consciously or unconsciously associated with seemingly related and vexatious issues concerning the role of religion in the public sphere, which European societies assumed they had already solved according to the liberal secular norm of privatization of religion.

The sentence in bold goes to the heart of what I personally feel to be one of the main issues we are dealing with. Sure, Muslim fundamentalists who are ready to throw bombs and cause physical damage are a real threat and get plenty of media attention, deservedly or not. However, I believe the issues are much larger and much more complex. Terrorists, for better or for worse, are still a minority within a minority. There are bigger forces and trends at play here, as Eurozine points out:

The final and more responsible option would be to face the difficult and polemical task of defining through open and public debate the political identity of the new European Union: Who are we? Where do we come from? What constitutes our spiritual and moral heritage and the boundaries of our collective identities? How flexible internally and how open externally should those boundaries be? This would be under any circumstance an enormously complex task that would entail addressing and coming to terms with the many problematic and contradictory aspects of the European heritage in its intra-national, inter-European, and global-colonial dimensions. But such a complex task is made the more difficult by secularist prejudices that preclude not only a critical yet honest and reflexive assessment of the Judeo-Christian heritage, but even any public official reference to such a heritage, on the grounds that any reference to religion could be divisive and counterproductive, or simply violates secular postulates.

Al-Qaeda Recruits in Egypt

The first in our series of anniversary guest posts comes from the great Praktike, who normally writes for American Footprints.

The number two man in al-Qaeda, the Egyptian doctor Ayman al-Zawahiri, made waves when he announced on August 5th via a taped statement that five members of the Egyptian Islamic Group (EIG) had joined al-Qaeda. Ominously, he implied that they were just the tip of the iceberg. The revelation seemed to confirm what many terrorism analysts have been saying for some time: that the American response to September 11th has radicalized the region and made recruiting an easy task for al-Qaeda. Excerpts of the video, in which Al-Zawahiri appeared with the little-known Mohamed Khalil al-Hekayema, originally aired on the Al-Jazeera satellite channel.
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Somalia: As if the West’s lack of concern could be plainer

So now, according to CNN, the US and various others are now talking about paying for an African Union peacekeeping force for Somaila. They just had some wanker on talking about how Somalia is a place where children don’t got to school, they join militias, where there’s no law and order, where “there’s been too much chaos for too long.”

Gee, fifteen years of it and only now they notice.

Of course, this “Islamic Court Union” seems to be the cause of all this new concern. As long as Somalia was a non-sectarian disaster area, or as long as it was merely unpleasant warlords in charge, it was just too hard to try to fix any of the country’s problems. But if an organization that claims adherence to a religion takes over, well, then we have to do something.

There’s a reasonable case for saying that outside intervention in Somalia is a bad idea – it hasn’t worked really well in the past. And, there’s a reasonable case for intervening on humanitarian grounds – the country really is an awful mess. But I really don’t see how there’s more of an argument for intervention today than there was a year ago. If anything, there’s a better argument against inteverntion. This “Islamic Court Union” seems to be relatively competent at reinstalling law and order, and has not so far (at least to the best of my knowledge) started chopping off hands or forcing women to wear burkas. In that part of the world, that may well be the best realizable outcome. The locals seem to prefer it to the US-backed association of local warlords the ICU displaced.

Liesl Prokop: Intellectually Dishonest

No doubt the usual suspects will be hugely enjoying the claim by Austria’s hard-right interior minister Elisabeth (Liesl) Prokop that 45 per cent of Muslims are “unwilling to integrate”. In fact, it’s more than a claim – as well as rhetoric, she’s got a “study” to support her election positioning. Unfortunately, the study still isn’t complete – its leader, one Prof. Matthias Rohe, has yet to draw conclusions from the data. Not only that, there are some serious concerns regarding the methodology – at the link, it turns out that the study included, as well as a mixture of questionnaires and focus groups, a “consideration of media reports”.

Ah. I think I get it. Someone like the emetic FPÖ goon Andreas Mölzer has his pet newspaper (Zur Zeit) rant about TEH TERRORISTS, and this is duly marked off by the responsible minister’s pet academics as evidence for Mölzer’s policy. But there is much, much worse.

According to her spokesman, “20 per cent of Muslims had difficulties with integration for religious reasons and 25 per cent with the cultural background”. So, obviously 45 per cent of them REFUSE TO INTEGRATE AND MUST BE ELIMINATED! Errr..well. Perhaps if religious and cultural differences were mutually exclusive, that might approach the truth or something akin to it.

But of course they are not. In fact, I’d argue that in this case they are barely distinguishable, which implies epic double counting and a truly mendacious misuse of statistics. After all, I suspect that not far off 100 per cent of them agree with me that the current Austrian government is a bunch of racists and cheap-arsed hacks with their fingers in the till, and using the same class of mathematics, we can therefore conclude that 145 per cent of Muslims in Austria are dangerous non-integrators.

Updated: Well, the study was eventually presented, and it doesn’t contain either the phrase “unwilling to integrate” or the figure of 45 per cent. How strange. It’s almost as if someone was lying.

The liberalism of fools?

I cannot recommend highly enough Ken Macleod’s post (found via Crooked Timber) on how the “socialism of fools” – Engels’ description of anti-semitism – was accompanied by a sort of “liberalism of fools”, to wit, the anti-Catholicism of the pre-WWII era. Macleod, acknowledging that anti-Catholicism is rather passé these days, wonders if hatred of something else, perhaps another sect, might fill the roll as a modern liberalism of fools.

And, on a not entirely separate topic, French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo (no website, not that kind of paper) is republishing the images, along with one on its cover of Mohammed crying “It’s hard to be loved by fools”. An effort by the Conseil français du culte musulman to stop publication through the French courts was rejected on a technicality.

Chirac, however, has demonstrated that he is not, contrary to widespread belief, the biggest fool in Europe. Unlike the Danish Prime Minister, he has “condemned all manifest provocations that are liable to dangerously arouse passions.” Alas, he has only retreated to the number two slot in European political idiocy. He also said, “Anything susceptible to harm the convictions of others, particularly religious convictions, should be avoided. Freedom of expression should be exercised with a sense of responsibility.” Right on count two, wrong on count one. Responsible freedom of expression means that when you go out to offend people, you can’t claim to be surprised when they are offended. But there is little point in free speech if it is forbidden from trying to change convictions.

And round and round this totally avoidable fiasco goes.
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