The reaction of Muslim moderates to Geert Wilders’s film Fitna is in many ways just as illuminating as that of their fiercer coreligionists. In “The Fitna farce” in The Guardian‘s “Comment Is Free” blog, Ali Eteraz, with whom I’ve had several exchanges in the past, and whom I have not found to be a completely forthright or honest debater, yawns at the film, complains superciliously about “Islamophobia” and approvingly quotes a friend’s conclusion that in the fifteen minutes it took to watch Fitna, he could have — well, I’ve always thought that, at least in his interaction with me, Ali has been kind of a jerk, and now…this.
In The Guardian, he says:
…My initial reaction is a yawn. I blame production. The soundtrack is Tchaikovsky’s mellow classical piece called “Arab Dance”. Quick tip to future demagogues: when trying to incite riots, try not to use musical pieces that are based on Georgian lullabies. Quick tip to future Islamophobes: when trying to demonise Islam, try not to use elements of western culture that are inspired by Arabs and Muslims as that reveals that Muslims have contributed positively to the world.
Uh, maybe that was the point? I.e., look how far we have descended, from “Arab Dance” to the Twin Towers?
To his credit, unlike many other commentators — indeed, virtually every other commentator on the film — Eteraz doesn’t pretend that the connection between the Qur’an and violence was invented ex nihilo by Wilders, and acknowledges that some Muslims have been responsible for this connection:
Anyone who has seen terrorist propaganda films is familiar with most of the scenes and most of the disgusting conflations of the Quran with acts of violence, murder, kidnapping and antisemitism. Such behaviour has been condemned resoundingly among Muslims. Those that use the Quran for illegitimate and criminal ends should be punished by the fullest extent of the law. […]
But then a bit later on we get this:
One of the things the film did was to try and link some verses from the Quran to acts of violence. Most people familiar with the Quran, including Christian polemicists I’ve debated, accept that you can have the Quran say pretty much whatever you want. For example, there is among Muslims a pretty hefty industry of “scientists” who are constantly “proving” that various Quranic verses predicted the marvels of modern science. I once saw a presentation by one of these guys. It was, in a way, very similar to what Wilders has done. First there would be a slide with a Quranic verse. Then there would be a bunch of images of some modern scientific marvel. Apparently, everything from the space-time continuum, modern meteorology and congenital biology are supported by verses from the Quran. Like I said, when put into the hands of fanatics and fools, the Quran – like any book of religious scripture – can say anything. If suicide bombers wanted, they could even go into the Old Testament, cite to Sampson, and justify their heinous acts.
Yes, and if the moon were made of green cheese, I’d take a big bite, or if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. But in reality, suicide bombers aren’t invoking Samson, but the Qur’an, and Wilders wasn’t attempting to link the Qur’an to acts of violence, but was merely reporting on how the Qur’an has been linked to violence and supremacism by jihadists themselves. Eteraz says above that “those that use the Quran for illegitimate and criminal ends should be punished by the fullest extent of the law.” If among those “illegitimate and criminal ends” he would include violence against non-Muslims and an openly supremacist agenda involving the imposition of Islamic law in the West, then why is he upset with Wilders for opposing these things?
Of course, his answer would be, “Because Wilders says these things come from Islam itself, whereas I myself am a Muslim and I oppose these things also.” Very well. Eteraz then might more effectively discredit Wilders by directing his efforts within the Islamic community, against the jihadists and jihadism, rather than against those who hear the jihadists say repeatedly that they represent pure Islam, and don’t see any large-scale significant countermovement opposing them among Muslims. It doesn’t help that Eteraz links to a page entitled, “Muslims Condemn Terrorist Attacks,” which features condemnations of terrorism by such luminaries as Sheikh Qaradawi, who has endorsed suicide attacks against Israeli civilians; Sheikh Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi, who has also endorsed such attacks; Mohamed Elmasry, who has limited the legitimacy of such attacks to Israelis over the age of 18; CAIR, which has been named an unindicted co-conspirator in a Hamas terror funding case and has had several of its officials convicted on various terror-related charges; and Siraj Wahhaj, who testified as a character witness for the jihadist Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, mastermind of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993.
Is it too much to ask that Muslims who condemn terrorism not be involved with it themselves, or approving of it in other contexts?
What the film really shows to me is that Wilders doesn’t know the difference between Islam and Islamism – and when it comes to the latter he is completely lost. This is his major attack against Islamism? He reminds me of those socially-awkward, marginalised, introverted children in a schoolyard whose solution to persecution at the hands of a bully is to write the bully’s name in his notebook and then rip up the page.
Eteraz does not consider, characteristically enough, the possibility that — as Hasan Al-Banna and others insisted — “Islamism” was merely a reassertion of traditional political Islam. I would think that would be a point well worth exploring. But in Eteraz’s world, who created “Islamism”? Why, the West, of course. Who else? But surprisingly enough, it wasn’t the Zionists (that would be the “Islamist” line, and Ali Eteraz is not an “Islamist”), but the French and the Americans:
If Wilders really wanted to expose Islamism – the entire legacy of 20th century ideological Islam – he would start with how the French Suez Canal Company funded the Muslim Brotherhood’s first mosque. That fact is casually mentioned in Hasan al-Banna’s autobiography (which I am certain Wilders never bothered to consult). Or Wilders would have tried to begin some criminal proceeding in the international criminal courts against those men who came up with the genius idea of encouraging disaffected Arab youth into going into Afghanistan and then gave them $1 billion in machine guns, bombs and stinger missiles to play with. Or Wilders could have expressed some outrage over the drafters of the new Iraqi constitution – drafted in consultation with western lawyers – which makes sharia the law of the land (a fact bemoaned by Iraqi feminists, among others). Had he bothered to show some serious thinking he would have even found support among the millions of Muslims around the world who oppose Islamists.
About sharia in Iraq he is certainly right. Thanks, Noah Feldman!
Anyway, then comes Eteraz’s inspiring peroration:
In terms of sheer originality, though, the best response to this film came from a friend of mine who watched the film – and calling it a film is to abuse both the English language and the legacy of cinema – on my computer with me:
“I could have masturbated in that time.”
High level analysis indeed!