Thursday, March 27, 2008

Fitna Film

I have been following the news about the planned release of the movie by Geert Wilders called "Fitna".

I always want to seek the most rational point of view I can, though sometimes this is an art.I expect my perspective to be biased by my experience and I try to check for that in my thought patterns.

When I boil this down I see some things on both sides of this issue.

First, having lived in the Flemish speaking Belgium I can attest to some of the attitudes people have toward the rise of population in their countries of those from other countries and cultures. A good friend of mine, we'll call him Thomas, used to tell me about his views on this matter during dinners to which he and his wife and family would regularly invite me.

Thomas would focus on some details of the impact of immigrants, and even their descendants, particularly from countries in the Muslim world. He'd complain about health code violations from animal sacrifice rituals, identity problems with full coverage clothing and generally about the trend toward people creating a multi-cultural situation where many did not need to learn the Dutch or French languages because they had all they needed in their ethnic enclaves.

I was aware of the emotional nature of Thomas' reactions to the changes taking place in his country and society. The ethnic differences and perceived multi-culturalism made him feel like his own society, built up over years of identity forming struggle, survival, compromise and achievement, was under threat. Thomas has a strongly held belief that Islam was spread by the sword and that Mohammed himself beheaded many Jews and many of his rivals among his own people.

I think Europeans have a small part of their identity that is closely associated with holding back what they perceive to be Islamic raids on their lands and way of life. Something similar is held among Islamic peoples of the Middle East and Mediterranean regions where they view Christians as Crusaders whose raids and onslaughts have been held back over the many years. Evidence for both beliefs can be cited.

Europeans feel they have achieved secular, tolerant, free societies governed by law which is sustained by democratically elected representatives. That is a factual, though perhaps a bit idealized description which leaves out a lot of references to corruption, but a fair description none-the-less.

I think most Dutch people are tolerant, accepting and accommodating to foreigners who choose to join their way of life. They expect that new immigrants will obey and be subject to Dutch laws and beyond that, they are welcome to dress, pray, speak and do as they see fit.

To state the point of tension plainly, the Dutch value freedom of speech. To speak ones mind, state ones point of view, whether in word, art, drawing, film or music is a n inalienable right to them. Not everyone will be pleased with what you say, and if you break laws with your work, you can be subject to prosecution. This may be for libel or violating other legally coded limits. Sometimes history plays a role, so there is such a thing as banned literature in The Netherlands. "Mein Kampf" is an understandably banned book. The German World War II invasion of the Netherlands and the Holocaust have left an indelible impression on the social circumstances and laws of the Netherlands.

Protest, I think, is accepted as a valid response to a work of art. Legal action as well is within the realm of what is acceptable in Dutch society. Murder is not an acceptable course of action for making ones displeasure known.

I am referring to the story of Theo Van Gogh who made a film depicting a Muslim woman voicing the possible secret worries of a woman in a strict Muslim home environment. The actress was dressed in what looked like concealing Islamic conservative head and facial covering, while her nearly naked body was visible through a see through part of the long covering. Symbolically I can see the message of the clothing. The piece is very "artsy" but also makes some points about the lack of support a Muslim woman may have, even from her own family, if she is beaten or raped...even by family members.

I know that Theo Van Gogh also said deplorable things about Jews. I can understand someone being angry with Theo Van Gogh for his outrageous statements. As a former Mormon, I understand the anger religious people feel when their symbols are misappropriated to criticize their faith.

I cannot understand or accept Theo Van Gogh's fate. He was murdered by Mohammed Bouyeri, who left a note with even more deplorable anti-semetic statements as well as other references to a radicalized Egyptian Islamic group.

I can agree with the Dutch sentiment that such a killing is not a justifiable behavior and not compatible with their society. This line of reasoning all too quickly leads to ethnic slurs, an "us vs. them" mentality and talk of a "Final Solution".

It is simply not acceptable for someone to come from another culture, observe the ideas of someone in their host culture and murder that person for those ideas. This just cannot stand. I think reasonable people can accept the mixing of others from other cultures in their streets. I don't think they have to put up with something that looks like an act of war by an invader. Even if that person is a second generation descendant. A man who has such a poor level of respect for the laws, customs and culture of his newly adopted land clearly represents a real and serious problem that needs to be dealt with. It appears that the act of murder was somehow, in the mind of this particular Muslim perpetrator, justified by a belief system or doctrine. What is to be done about this, especially if it is a trend?

"How is it ok for religious zealots with Middle Eastern roots to enter Dutch society and tell them how to live?" That is the rhetorical question asked by many people who feel angered and threatened by Muslims living in the Netherlands.

From watching filmmaker Geert Wilders in interviews, it is clear he is not a cultural relativist. He tends to believe that some traditions are simply good and some are bad. He unabashedly states that some ways of life are better than others. I can understand how easily he could arrive at this notion given some of the outrageously ancient attitudes exhibited in "holy" books. Though, if the Koran is a source of ideas that are incompatible with Dutch society then so is the Bible.

I stare blankly in horror at the news of so called "Honor" killings, which are simply not humane and acceptable behavior. Then again, neither are abortions or death penalties by the same standards.

I think that ultimately every religion has irrationalities in it and the potential for fundamentalists to interpret the sayings and writings of the faith for what are by any definition evil purposes.

When I really think about it, I know there are over a billion Muslims in the world and I certainly do not fear them or think they are all trying to do evil. On the contrary, most of them are people I could get along with. I am aware that my perspective is under a powerful influence of the media, but I have also have personal experience with Muslims. I find them to be reasonable, good, descent, also sometimes imperfect human beings like anyone else. Sometimes I detect the notion that some young Muslim men have not found and defined the limits of the recourse against offenses to their faith. That is a troubling thing to discover. This seems to be the case even in people who are upstanding family men in America who appear to all observation to be moderate and tolerant.

I also see the similarities in what western religions value and what Muslims people value. The similarities are everywhere. Christians, Jews and Muslims share a wealth of religious stories and characters.

Still the question remains. What do you do about it when people murder their fellow citizens for their views? Surely that cannot stand. Geert Wilders is under death threats for creating an opinion piece. Like him and his movie or not, the threat of killing him for having a voice in a free society is a deep and intense undermining influence to freedom. He must not have to die so someone else doesn't feel "offended".

There is a better way to voice opposition to the movie that Muslim people will need to find, perhaps their own voice is what they need to find. Death threats soundly prove all of Meneer Wilder's points. I see Geert as taking a hard line himself and I do not feel comfortable with the way he insults the Koran, even though I am not a Muslim. Though I certainly have never heard him threaten death to anyone. He wants to preserve, and even share, the liberal Dutch society with others. He only voices his thoughts about his culture and what he perceives as threatening it. What less can be expected of a free man, Even if you don't like his attitude or ideas.


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