Demonising the enemy

2009-03-02 00:00

A Dutch parliamentarian by the name of Geert Wilders was recently refused entry to the United Kingdom because of his particular stance against Islam. He recently produced a short film called Fitna which adopts a fairly extreme anti-Islam position.

The 15-minute film features disturbing images of terrorist acts superimposed over verses from the Qur’an, in order to paint Islam as a threat to Western society. After its release, the movie drew complaints from the European Union and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, as well as concern from the United States, which warned it could spark riots. Dutch authorities filed charges against Wilders last month, accusing him of inciting racial hatred in speeches and in the film.

Caroline Cox, a member of the British House of Lords, who is not affiliated with a political party, invited Wilders to screen his film at a private session in parliament, in order to “provoke discussion”.

A Home Office spokesperson defended the British government’s decision to bar Wilders from entering the country in the following way.

“The government opposes extremism in all its forms. It will stop those who want to spread extremism, hatred and violent messages in our communities from coming to our country.”

The film (which you can view on the Internet) opens with the controversial caricature of the Prophet Mohammed wearing a turban shaped like a bomb, followed by translated (selected) portions of the Qur’an, taken entirely out of context (and often quoted selectively within the passage itself). The passages are interspersed with sickening images of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States, juxtaposed with audio from 911 calls made by the victims trapped inside the World Trade Centre in New York.

The video includes images of other terror attacks, bloodied victims, beheadings of hostages, executions of women in hijab, the traditional full-body covering and footage, with subtitles, of Islamic leaders preaching inflammatory sermons against Jews and Christians.

Wilders’ views and motives for making the film are undoubtedly extreme. He claims, however, that he does not hate Muslims, but rather, opposes the “Islamisation” of the European continent. There are interviews with him saying things such as: “Our culture is better than a retarded Islamic culture.” “Multicultural societies”, he says, “are a mistake”. “Multi-culturalism has brought all the problems and the people we allow here are nurtured in a pampered society.”

What is even more astonishing is the majority of the online responses to the various interviews he gives. They are mostly savage, racist, ignorant and violent. And mostly posted by Christians.

I must admit, I was taken in by the argument, at first. Freedom of speech is a precious thing and needs to be guarded jealously. But then I thought about it for a moment longer.

Here is a man, who, on the face of it, looks entirely liberal. He is not arguing that Muslims should be exterminated, but rather that the Muslim culture cannot be allowed to encroach on Dutch culture to the point that it starts to overwhelm it because of (in his estimation) its inherent aggressiveness.

To make his argument, he collects together every horror image that he can find in the world, which is in any way associated with Islam and packages it in an entirely propagandistic way and presents it, through a lack of commentary, as objective.

But it is not. It ignores everything that is good about Islam in the face of everything that is bad. It ignores everything that is bad and horrific and terrifying in Christianity in order to set up a completely weighted picture of Islam as a religion. It is deeply offensive and extraordinarily hurtful. Its argument is binary.

All I can say is how happy I am to live in a country where Islam is respected in the same way as Christianity. The correct presumption of both is that their followers are not criminals and terrorists and murderers. Every day of my life — particularly in Cape Town — I see evidence of how wise and how true our Constitution is on this point. We are all the better for it.

And I speak as a gay man whose rights are fully protected against Muslim extremes and against Christian extremes.

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