08 April 2008

More on Fitna...

The Dutch government is making all of the right moves in trying to appease the dismay that Geert Wilders' film ever managed to get released. As an aside here, one should never underestimate the power of the Internet. If you have an agenda and an Internet connection you can find yourself an audience without any trouble at all. Mobile phones with cameras and video capabilities mean that the budding film maker in all of us has a chance to find a forum for expression!

The point though of this post is to explore in very little detail the calls by Muslim leaders in Indonesia for the Dutch government to take legal action against Wilders for the film which is described as being anti-Islam. The film is anti-Islam and that is the point of the film. The question of whether free speech has limits, is an interesting one, and the simple answer here is; yes! But just because a section of the community, in this case the world's followers of Islam, feel that the film is offensive still does not mean that there has automatically been a breach of the limits to free speech.

I am not an expert of Dutch law however on face value these are some of the problems that litigation may encounter in the prosecution of Wilders. I must confess here that I still have not watched the film, so what is said from here is based on a more general idea of film content overall.

If it is true that the film contains recorded images of actual events and the selected Suras of the Al-Qu'ran that are inserted are accurate translations of those Suras, then the obvious issue is whether putting images and words together in a particular way is a breach of the limits of freedom of speech? It is clear that it may be a propaganda call or whatever but my question would be does the film call for any explicit violence to be directed back to Islam? If the film incites violence then this might not be a free speech issue but a much more mundane criminal matter. Any additional commentary aside from the images and the various Suras might indeed take the film to a level where it breaches the prevailing Dutch laws and regulations.

However, the fact that the Dutch have yet to make a pronouncement about whether there has been a prosecutable offence committed suggests that it might be a little more difficult than just drawing up an indictment and running with that alone.

However, another interesting point will relate to what happens if the Dutch cannot find a suitable provision under which to pursue Wilders in the legal sense. If he has broken no Dutch laws then what is the response to be? Are calls for Wilders to be killed representative of tolerance for divergent opinions even where those opinions are offensive? Also interesting is the question of whether these Muslim leaders in Indonesia are overplaying their respective hands?

If you demand that the Dutch take action against Wilders for his film (which by most accounts is of relatively poor quality and where most people understand that Wilders has an agenda here so much so that it is being reported that Dutch TV stations won't air it) is the Indonesia Muslim community also committing to a position of upholding the law in Indonesia and demanding the same standard of their own government when it comes to objectionable or offensive films and commentary from Indonesian citizens?

An example would be are these individuals also prepared to come out and criticize Abu Bakar Bashir when he calls for all the khaffirs to be beaten because they are nothing more than maggots, worms, and snakes?

Just a thought about law enforcement in general! But my point is that if Bashir is to have a right to exercise his freedom of speech even where a good section of the broader community and perhaps the world's community of people who fall into the khaffir section find the call and the associated description objectionable and offensive, then why is the same standard not applied across the board. Is this simply a case of wanting your cake and eating it too? Or a case of the pot calling the kettle black? or what is good for the goose also having to be good for the gander as well?

What strikes me is the similarities here between the idea of anything that questions the fundamentals of a religion or religious practices is written off as being anti-whatever and suppressed rather than people engaging in constructive and active debate about the merits of the various and relevant positions. If Wilders film is as poorly constructed as it has been alleged then I am certain the Muslim community could counter the Wilders film with one that is designed to set the record straight as the Muslim communities sees it. The similarities here relate to claims that certain positions are anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, anti-whatever...

The idea of suppressing debate and writing things off as simply being anti-something seems to belittle human intelligence and the free will and ability to decide for ourselves what is right and wrong!

Hypothetically, if a Muslim was to put together a film that questioned the underpinnings of Christianity and highlighted Christianity's penchant for violence from the pre-Crusade days until the present and this film was then released concurrently in Holland and Indonesia would we be having the same freedom of speech debates?

My apologies for the long and winding nature of this post...

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