donderdag 27 maart 2008

Wilders

(UPDATE: It seems Wilders' film has appeared. I'll have a look at it later).

(UPDATE OF UPDATE: LiveLeak removed the film because of threats. Still available though at http://www.fok.nl/mirror/fitna.html. Dutch version, at least. Otherwise check google videos.)

(UPDATE 2: I just saw Wilders' overhyped videoclip. First impressions: not unskilfully done, but the classical music is too soft. Would have needed something more ominous and martial, like Holst's "Mars, the Bringer of War". As it is, it makes me want to go to sleep. The film itself consists of gory footage of Islamists atrocities and footage of extremist preachers and politicians in the first half, coupled with manipulatively translated sections of the Quran - I seriously doubt the Quran has a word for "terrorize" with exactly the same implications we see in the word. In the second half, it switches to scare-mongering about Islamic mass immigrations, photographs of mosques sprouting up in the Netherlands, niqaab-clad women pushing prams, etc. The start is pretty menacing, but the film loses steam very quickly. There's no comment or anything, so as a whole the film becomes overly disjointed and transparantly propagandistic (letting the imagery "speak for itself"). As the film didn't make me hate muslims, I guess it's a failure. Wilders deserves special points for confusing Theo van Gogh-killer Mohammed Bouyeri with Moroccan-Dutch rap talent Salah Edin. Also, he isn't really tearing a page from the Quran, but a page from a phone book while the screen fades to black! Boo hoo! What a coward!)

Michael Moynihan at Reason magazine has a good piece (good, that is, aside from mentioning the words "thoughtful" and "Christopher Hitchens" in the same sentence) on the Geert Wilders controversy in the Netherlands at the moment.

But the article itself is unfortunately another sign of Holland's troubles making it's way into the international press. We used to be famous abroad for our dikes and our tulips and linguistic abilities. Now we are getting famous for islamic extremists murdering filmmakers and empty-headed "Mohammed was a pedo" anti-islamic discourse from what I guess used to be our intelligentsia. Wilders, at heart, is a windbag and a blowhard of little consequence. One who relentlessly focuses on one single issue without any underlying greater vision on Dutch society - which distinguishes him from other fierce critics of Islam such as the late Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh who stood (however incoherently at times) for the libertarian streak in Dutch political history. Wilders, by contrast, is a relentless authoritarian, whose self-serving rumblings on "freedom of speech" when his own speech is concerned contrast sharply with his quickness for calling for bans on speech he doesn't like.

In a normal society, he would be regarded as the village idiot he is, and would have an assured the two seats in parliament normally alotted to cranks. However, thanks to the hysterical response from the Dutch political class to Wilders' planned (and eagerly awaited) fifteen minute anti-Islam videoclip Fitna, he has had just about all the attention the country could muster for the past month or so.

It's not only that the government is trembling in the face of the possible response among our own. It's also that we are involved - without much conviction - in the doomed nation-building project in Afghanistan. Now, the Dutch parliament will ask questions whenever a guy with a beard squints angrily at a Dutch soldier, and our Afghan enemies have not been slow to exploit this.

The result is that Wilders has been granted the political limelight, an electorally comfortable potential-victim role, and reasons to cry censorship, with little effort of his own. Thing with Wilders is, he's a coward at heart. He rejects offers by muslims to debate him. He has rejected an offer by the Dutch Muslim Broadcasting Company to screen his film (provided the film even exists). So he can continue to play the persecuted hero speaking truth to power. This again contrasts him with Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh.

And in the end, Muslims will be right to be angry about Wilders' film if it indeed turns out to be the substance-free hate-fest I expect it to be. Just as they were right at being angry at the Danish cartoons portraying them as scimitar-waving terrorists. Let's make no bones about it: like the cartoons, the film will be designed to offend, to hurt feelings, and nothing more. Any blathering about provoking political discussion about the nature of Islam should be seen for the crap it really is. That's not what Wilders and his supporters are interested in. The whole point of the exercise is to taunt and to jeer and to offend - to vent the frustrations of twenty years of official multiculturalist ideology and it's wilful looking-away from the very real problems immigration brought with it, without actually facing and thinking about those problems.

Sometimes I think Christians should be a little more offended at the crap routinely - and without much protest - thrown at them. The difference is that Christianity in the Netherlands is historically so splintered that most Christian denominations (at least, those that are still vibrant) are used to being inwardly directed, living their own lives within Dutch society. Or being liberalized to death. This is why I am getting a grudging respect for Pope Benedict XVI. Conservative as he may be, he acts with conviction, in line with being at the head of the institution he leads. So I loved it when he snubbed the parvenu American emperor's emissaries, or when he did not sit up and roll over for the secularists at La Sapienza university. This despite with disagreeing with him on many religious matters. I would love to see a little more conviction among Christians participating in the political discussion in Western Europe. It's time to stop making excuses to the secularists for your very existence.

And the same goes for the muslims. The problem is that we are locked between weak-kneed, frightened calls for censorship on the one hand, and the extremely lowbrow nature of the discussion on immigration, secularism, the position of muslims in Western society, and so forth on the other hand. Much as I despise Wilders' views, I hope his film will not be censored and I hope it will be shown on Dutch television. And I would defend his freedom of speech, while holding my nose. Just as I would defend the freedom of a bad cartoonist drawing a dog wearing a turban, or God doing a blowjob, with similar distaste. Though I would rather live in a society where these would be seen for the puerile exercises they really are. Perhaps, the ultimate problem is really fear. A fear which sees no alternatives to dealing with religious minorities by the equivalent of scatological graffiti on the one hand, and denying any sort of problem on the other.

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