Fitna, Much ado about nothing?

Reactions to the early release of Dutch MP Geert Wilders' anti-Islam movie, Fitna, have so far been muted in the Muslim world. But it may be too early to tell how the Arab street will react. MENASSAT reports from Beirut, Cairo and The Netherlands.
Dutch MP Geert Wilders is known among other things for his crazy hairdo. R.R.

Also read:

- BEIRUT: 'The West should fear the reactions'
- CAIRO: Egypt's Grand Imam warns of severe consequences

- THE NETHERLANDS: About Fitna, Explaining Geert Wilders to the world

[Editor's Note: Because many sites carrying Fitna have crashed due to high demand there is no point in linking directly to the movie. People wishing to see it can easily find it by typing 'fitna' and/or 'wilders' into any search engine.]

BEIRUT/CAIRO, March 28, 2008 (MENASSAT) – Perhaps the worst thing the Muslim world could to Geert Wilders and his anti-Islam movie, Fitna, is to simply ignore him and it.

That seemed to be the main reaction to the early release of Fitna, the movie.

The Dutch government condemned the film, saying "it hurts the feelings of  the Muslims." The European Union went further, saying that Fitna "incites hatred," which unlike hurting feelings is actually punishable by law.

In The Netherlands, most people had expected the movie to be much worse.

Yes, Fitna once again shows the Danish cartoon of the Prophet with a bomb for a turban. But even Arab newspapers have published it.

Fitna does use a bit of animation in which the original bomb is seen with a lit fuse, accompanied by a ticking sound. But it doesn't show an actual explosion; just an image of lightning striking.

Fitna shows the Quran accompanied by a sound of tearing paper. But it comes with a voice-over of Wilders saying, "What you are hearing is a page being ripped from the phone book. It is not up to me to tear the hateful verses from the Quran; it is up to the Muslims themselves."

Other than that, Fitna seems to be meant mostly for internal Dutch consumption. Statistics showing the rise of Muslims in The Netherlands, or "Greetings from Holland" postcards featuring mosques, may be frightening to a segment of the Dutch population but they are hardly offensive to the Muslim world at large.

In the end, Fitna looks like any amateurish YouTube movie that some troubled teenager might have cooked up in his bedroom.


So amateurish indeed that Wilders mistakingly used a picture of Dutch-Moroccan rapper Salah Edin instead of Mohammed Bouyeri's, the murderer of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh. Salah Edin has threatened to sue.

Initial reactions to the movie's early release in the Muslim world have been tame compared to the hype that preceded Fitna's release.

An overview:

- The Netherlands raised its national terroristic threat level from "limited " to "substantial" on March 6.

- The European Union alerted its diplomatic missions around the world to expect a reaction to the release of the film.

- Public protest took place in Afghanistan ahead of the film's release where a Wilders lookalike doll was burned. (The Dutch have troops in Afghanistan.)

- NATO expressed fears that the film could lead to increased attacks on Western troops in Afghanistan after the Taliban's Zabihullah Mujahid said as much.

- Al-Qaeda allegedly issued a fatwa calling upon Muslims to kill Wilders.

- Wilders is under police protection in The Netherlands.

- Network Solutions, Wilders' U.S. hosting company, suspended the Fitna site pending an investigation as to whether "the site's content is in violation of the Network Solutions Acceptable Use Policy." The movie was eventually released on the British video sharing website

- In Lebanon, there was a brief controversy over the absence of the flag at the Dutch embassy. A spokesman said the embassy was closed for unrelated reasons. On Friday, the Dutch embassy was proudly flying the flag, and security appeared minimal. (It was in Beirut that angry Sunni Muslims burned down the Danish embassy during the 2006 cartoons riots.)

- Last month, Pakistan pulled the plug on YouTube because of what the authorities referred to as a "highly blasphemous" and "anti-Quranic" video which turned out to be a trailer for Fitna. In trying to block the trailer, Pakistan accidentally caused a worldwide blackout of YouTube that lasted several hours.

- On Monday, Amsterdam-based cultural organization Mediamatic called on Dutch citizens "to make their own version of Fitna in which they apologize for Wilders' embarrassing behavior". "If everybody joins in it will be hard to find the video by Wilders without finding lots of movies apologizing for it," said a statement released by the organization.

- Attempts by Muslim organizations to forbid Fitna's release through the courts failed.

Of course, many people feared – and Wilders probably hoped – that Muslims would react to the movie in the way they did in 2006 over the Danish cartoons of the Prophet, i.e. violently, thereby proving the point that Islam is indeed a violent religion.

So far they haven't but as MENASSAT's interview with Lebanese Sunni cleric Bassam Tarraf shows, it may be too early too tell.

Interestingly, the initial reaction of Dutch Muslims was one of relief because Wilders had not burned the Quran or used the name of the Prophet in vain; he had only justapoxed verses from the Quran with images of 9/11 and Iraq that everybody is all too familiar with by now.

'Our own worst enemy'

This in turn led a number of Dutch people to comment on news websites that it is a sad state of affairs indeed when Muslims express relief over the fact that Wilders "only" showed images of innocent people being murdered in the name of Islam, as if to say that this is OK.

The underlying message is that Muslims as a whole are too uncritical of what is being done in the name of Islam.

However, people do speak out.

Al-Hayat, the U.K.-based Saudi paper, ran an editorial by Jihad El-Khazen on March 26 which went into the Wilders controversy. El-Khazen became interested in Wilders after reading an interview with him in The Observer. He consequently sent letters to Wilders' private address and his address at the Dutch parliament on three occasions, asking him to arrange a dialogue. Wilders never replied.

El Khazen wrote, "The enemies of Muslims exist in Israel, in the Israel lobby in America, among the neo-nazis of Europe, and elsewhere. However, the most dangerous enemies of Islam and Muslims are terrorists who have emerged from our ranks and have overpowered Muslims - or almost did!"

"I can curse Wilders' mother and father", El-Khazen continued, "but the worst mistake one can make is to be provoked into saying something [one] might regret later. What we need is to face Wilders in an open debate to uncover his ignorance, or racism and prejudice."

Similarly, Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian columnist currently living in the U.S., recently wrote a column on March 12, "Our Own Worst Enemy," in which she advises Muslims to disregard the Danish cartoons and the Wilders movie and to concentrate instead on the Muslim-on-Muslim violence that kills hundreds every week in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"For this Muslim, no number of Danish cartoons or Dutch films will ever be more offensive than the seven suicide attacks that have killed at least 100 in Pakistan in the past three weeks alone. No slur is as horrible as the 600 people dying in violence in Pakistan since the start of the year."


"And yet, topping the agenda of the summit in Senegal this week of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) is Islamophobia.

"Denial? Not just a river in my Egyptian homeland, but blindness to rivers of shed blood Muslim blood.

"I don't expect any enlightened self-criticism from the OIC. It was at a meeting in 2005, after the Danish cartoons were published, that the manufactured outrage against Denmark was cooked up and delivered across the Muslim world -- a perfect distraction from domestic pressures for every opportunistic Muslim dictator -- and for Islamist groups looking to claim the banner of Islam."

Are people like El-Khazen and Eltahawy representative of the majority of Muslims?

Perhaps not.

"I pause here to say that my defense of Islam may not satisfy many Muslims, but I am not asking any Muslim to accept what I am saying", El-Khazen wrote. "Muslims have to follow Sheikh Al-Azhar or their country's Mufti. I do not want to open this debate in view of convincing Muslims. For they are already convinced and satisfied with their faith; I rather need to prove that Wilders is an ass (sorry for using this word), or perhaps worse, a racist, spiteful, and ignorant man who dyed his hair platinum blond like women and is seeking a cheap popularity provided by terror and people like Osama Bin Laden.

Personally though, El-Khazen continued, "I condemn terror regardless of its source and causes (...) I condemn terrorists who, like Osama Bin Laden, 'have defended' Islam although it was not accused, then put it in the dock and deprived us of the argument we can use in defending this faith."

In the same vein, Eltahawy concluded,
"When I read that a Muslim killed 68 pilgrims, I confess I question if I can continue to claim the same faith as such a barbarian. But with a keen eye on the values of my religion that I hold dear -- compassion, social justice, and taking care of the weakest and neediest -- I fiercely claim it. I will not leave Islam to the barbarians."

'Severe consequences'

Of course, the usual suspects have obliged Wilders by reacting furiously to the movie.

Mohammad Al-Hosseini, spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry, "strongly condemned" the release of "what he called an "anti-Islamic and insulting movie." (True enough.) Al-Hosseini said it was "a dirty act" on the part of Wilders and

According to Iran's official press agency, IRNA, Al-Hosseini warned against consequences of such "provocative acts" and asked the Dutch and British governments as well as the European Union to put an end to [the] showing of such "[an] insulting, anti-Islamic and anti-cultural" film.

Iran had earlier threatened to severe economic relations with The Netherlands over the film.

In Egypt, reactions were diverse.

After meeting with the Dutch ambassador, the "Sheikh Al-Azhar" or the Grand Imam of the Al-Azhar Mosque, Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi, warned of "severe consequences."

The Muslim Brotherhood was more reserved.

Speaking to MENASSAT ahead of the film's release, the Muslim Brotherhood's Ibrahim El-Houdaiby said that while he is against banning the film, Fitna might be hard to accept for many Muslims and chances are high that its release will have dangerous repercussions.

"I am against hate speech but I'm also against banning it. It's ethically incorrect to ban a piece of work. I welcome criticism and dialogue. But this film creates an unbalanced view of things. It will only increase mutual religious hatred," said El-Houdaiby, who belongs to the Brotherhood's moderates.

Nevertheless, El-Houdaiby emphasized that the best response to works like that of Wilders might be to ignore them and not violence. He also suggested that the time might be right for the introduction of a code of ethics against insulting works.

He also had a rather original proposal: let the Muslims produce their own video responses to Wilders' movie.

"It is important to not resort to violence in answer to nobodies like Wilders who only want to provoke. Respond not to the movie, but to the content itself by producing a similar piece."

Watch out for an avalanche of Muslim Brotherhood movies on YouTube.

(Amira Al-Tahawy contributed to this report from Cairo, Alexandra Sandels, Rita Barotta and Gert Van Langendonck reported from Beirut.)