By Otto Spijkers
The Dutch Member of Parliament, Mr. Geert Wilders, published his Fitna-film (see also my previous post ). Somewhat surprisingly, the two most effective objections to the movie so far were made, not against the message of the movie, but rather against the unauthorized use in that movie of other people’s material. First, the author of a cartoon ordered Wilders to remove footage of his cartoon from the film (which was done), and today a rapper was awarded financial compensation, to be paid by Mr. Wilders, for immaterial damages caused by the use of a picture of the rapper posing as the murderer of Van Gogh. This picture was presented in Fitna as a picture of that murderer. Mr. Wilders used that picture without the photographer’s permission, and thus Mr. Wilders also had to pay that photographer. But I want to focus on the message of Fitna, not the copyright stuff. More specifically, I want to share with our readers the reaction of our Minister for Development Cooperation. On 11 April, Mr. Bert Koenders, our Minister for Development Cooperation, visited the Brookings Institution in the United States of America, and presented there a Dutch perspective on freedom, religion and democracy in the age of the 24/7 news cycle, addressing also the Fitna-movie and the responses it triggered all over the world. I believe the speech is really interesting, and that is why I would like to share with our readers the most interesting parts. It starts as follows:
These days my country, the Netherlands, is less and less portrayed as a country of relative calm, liberal and tolerant attitudes, tulips and wooden shoes. More and more often we make the headlines because of discussions on stigma, Islam and Islamophobia, political upheaval or by the political murder of a politician and filmmaker who stood up for freedom of speech against illiberal Islamic voices. Both images – as always – are caricatures. But caricatures always have an element of truth in them. And what is true about this caricature is paradoxically not different from what happens all over the world, namely a fierce debate on the right of self-definition of nations and social and religious groups in a time of migration, globalisation, and the increased sense of risk that these developments create for all of us, including the risk of a restriction of civil liberties. This issue is important for me as minister for development cooperation. Major trends and dilemmas become real when fundamental principals are at stake: freedom of expression, freedom of religion – now so hotly debated in our society, in our parliament and among citizens in rich and poor countries alike. One of our Dutch MP’s recently made a movie called Fitna, depicting the horrors of terrorism in New York, in Madrid and elsewhere, linking them in direct and digital terms to the Qu’ran and indirectly to migration in the Netherlands. Naturally, such a film became subject of fierce debate in the Netherlands and elsewhere. My government had to take its responsibility by standing for the freedom of expression, but at the same time reconciling it with the need to warn for the repercussions the announcement of this film and its showing could have on our society and those elsewhere in the world. When the film was released Prime Minister Balkenende made it very clear he condemns the depicted acts of terrorism, carried out in the name of the Islam or otherwise. And he added that the vast majority of Muslims do reject extremism and violence. In fact, victims of terrorism are often Muslims as well. 93% of Muslims worldwide wants more freedom and rejects any acts of violence, according to a recent Gallup poll. We should form an alliance with that majority rather than stigmatising and therewith isolating the Muslims as has been done in the movie Fitna. This message was clearly distributed and broadcast around the world. Let me continue by sharing an extended quote with you, one of the reactions to the film.
[Quote] "Dutch MP Geert Wilders released his movie Fitna, attacking Muslims and the Qur’an, amidst wide international worries that airing the movie would only lead to further cross-cultural tensions, and perhaps violence. Influential Muslim figures, including some Salafi Saudi scholars, had threatened to boycott the Netherlands while official figures in Iran threatened to review diplomatic relations with the country if the film was aired. Once again, the overall cross-cultural scene seemed less than promising. Thankfully, the reaction of Dutch Muslims was sedate. Moderates of both sides should make a quick move to prevent radicals from determining the course of events surrounding this debate. The Dutch Constitution prevents the government from banning the movie, and I am personally sceptical towards any attempt to silence an idea. Such subjective decisions open the door for totalitarian regimes to restrict the freedom of expression of their opposition. Boycotts are the red flags that send alarm signals when things seem to be getting out of control. They also signal the failure of sustaining a constructive dialogue that is based on mutual respect and appreciation of diversity. A successful dialogue never takes place over a few days or weeks. In fact, it would be impossible for such a discourse to cover the wide range of contentious cross-cultural issues in a few sessions, especially with mounting frustration and mutual mistrust. It should therefore be ongoing and take different forms, including student exchange programmes, seminars, lectures, conferences and exhibits, while building self-sustaining institutions that scrutinise cross-cultural issues and would guarantee continuous interaction. Freedom of expression has been increasingly manipulated over the past few years, and has been used as a pretext for insult, one that contributes to widening the gap between different cultures and civilisations. To ensure this freedom is not compromised, moderates on both sides should step in and find a sustainable mechanism to bridge the divides in our increasingly globalised world, in which racism and radicalism have a devastating effect on everyone." [End of quote]
Ladies and gentlemen, This quote did not come from a Western liberal philosopher. In fact, it is an excerpt from an article by Ibrahim el Houdaiby, a prominent member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. I found it to be a promising quote, as it shows a chance for dialogue and debate by – in this particular case – a group with an at least ambiguous position towards democratic principles.. […]
To read the rest of the speech, please click here, and continue where you find the heading The freedom of expression & the image of freedom. The article quoted by the Minister can be found here. The speech is quite lengthy. The Minister’s conclusions on freedom of expression and freedom of religion are as follows:
Freedom of expression and freedom of religion are two sides of the same coin. Freedom of speech is, in my view, a precondition for all Muslims to assert their rights in Europe, in the US and elsewhere in the world. This is the path to reciprocity and a common purpose. However, freedom of speech does not imply a right to insult; I feel no sympathy whatsoever for a liberal jihad. But on the flipside, people do not have the right not to be insulted, not to be hurt, and not to be disrespected. Democracy doesn’t only require wisdom and responsibility in exercising its freedoms. It presupposes respect of the view of the minority; it assures that the voice of the weak is also heard. But democracy cannot force respect, only teach it. It cannot force listening, but presupposes a real dialogue.