Controversy over Fitna increases

Muslim world in uproar over Dutch film.

by Jennie Kermode

It's less than 17 minutes long and it's only available on the internet, yet Geert Wilder's film Fitna is fast becoming a household name. Today almost half the members of the Jordanian parliament petitioned their government to cut diplomatic ties with the Netherlands because of it. Dutch envoys have been officially summoned to 'explain' it in Pakistan and Iran.

So what is all the fuss about? In Fitna, Dutch politician Geert Wilders offers his views on Islam. In fact he seems to be talking mostly about extremist Islam, but no qualification is made, leading some critics to protest that if he had made a similarly sweeping statement about Jews or Christians it would not have been tolerated in the West. Wilders is, in fact, intending to make a similar film about the Bible, so further controversy may ensue.

Wilders argues that his film is centered on particular suras from the Qu'ran which are being used to incite Muslims to violence. He claims that he has nothing against Islam itself but feels that Muslims should consider these suras inappropriate in the modern age.

Though deliberately provocative, Fitna is actually not as extreme as popular rumour suggests. It has been alleged that it features the sound of pages being torn from a copy of the Qu'ran. In fact, Wilders insists, the pages were torn from a telephone book.

Whether it's a good or a bad thing in itself, Fitna raises important questions about freedom of speech and about the power of film to communicate radical ideas of all kinds. Most countries already ban films which incite violence. Is there a point at which censorship of films which cause offence becomes appropriate, or does film too easily take the flak in the absence of wider debate?

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