[Originally published in Turkish Daily News]
I just saw “Fitna,” the new controversial film produced by Geert Wilders, head of the Dutch Freedom Party. The 17-minute video shows acts of violence, and expressions of hatred, by Muslims against “infidels.” Heads are cut off, bodies are blown apart, children are taught to denounce Jews as “apes and pigs,” imams call for world domination, and protesters hold signs that read, “God Bless Hitler.”
What makes all this disturbing scenery even more provocative, and, in a sense, more meaningful, is the way they are connected to the Koran. After each instance of ferocity, “Fitna” quotes a passage from the Muslim Scripture which, apparently, presents a justification.
The message of the film is clear: The roots of “Muslim rage,” as Bernard Lewis once defined it, is the very sacred book that these Muslims believe in.
But is that really true?
Koran and the Book of Joshua
No, not really. Things are actually much more complicated. And Wilder’s film presents them in a highly prejudiced, or even a fanatical fashion.
The film actually does not lie or cheat. Such violent or angry Muslims do exist, and so do the belligerent passages in the Koran. What the film does is to cherry-pick them. There are also many messages of tolerance, compassion, and peace in the Koran. Using the same method of purposeful selection, one could also make a movie titled “Islamic Agape,” which would include the scenes of smiling Muslims and benevolent verses.
Moreover, one can use “Fitna”s selective method to propagate against most other religions – such as, say, Judaism. Actually if you focus on the radical groups among the Jewish settlers in Israel, you can find a very similar language of hatred, and even acts of terrorism such as the mosque massacre perpetrated by Baruch Goldstein in Hebron in 1994. It is also remarkable that such fringe Jewish fundamentalists, like the followers of the late radical Rabbi Meir David Kahane, use passages from the Hebrew Bible in order to justify, and even amplify, their fervor.
Actually certain parts of the Old Testament, and most notably the Book of Joshua, would overshadow any sura (chapter) of the Koran in terms of militancy. But the overwhelming majority of the world’s Jews know that the Book of Joshua, which tells the war of the Israelites against the pagan Canaanites, is a historical record which does not address today’s realities. Similarly, when they read Koran’s chapters about Prophet Muhammad’s war with pagan Arabs, most Muslims regard them as historical anecdotes.
But a worrying number of Muslims, such as the ones that “Fitna” has captured, think differently. What makes them believe in a scripture-driven militancy is the same thing that influences radical Jewish settlers: They are in a sociopolitical context which radicalizes them. They believe that their values, identities and very lives of their children are in danger – and they conclude they are fighting the same existential war that Joshua or Muhammad fought centuries ago.
Therefore the right thing to do in the face Islamic militancy is not to ask for revision in the Koran – as “Fitna” naively does – but to try to save the Muslims from the idea that they are under attack and humiliation. This idea might be stemming from real troubles – such as wars, conflicts or dictatorships in the Muslim world, or the sense of alienation felt by Muslims in Europe. Or it might be stemming from imaginary ones – beliefs in conspiracy theories about “the Elders of Zion,” or “the global war on Islam.”
In any case, the solution is the stabilization and modernization of Muslim societies and communities. If the global jihadist battle cry, “Islam is under attack,” loses its steam, then, in the eyes of Muslims, the passages in the Koran that relate to jihad will become less and less literal.
What Needs to Be Done?
Well, this is what I would like to say about “Fitna,” at least in a nutshell. But there is also another issue, which is what Muslims should do about this film. Should we protest it, ask for its banning, and even threaten Wilders and his team? No, I don’t think so. The fanaticism of a movie would not be a reason to ban or censor it. Moreover, one could even argue that Mr. Wilders has done us a favor by presenting how some non-Muslims in the West perceive Islam. That perception, although highly biased, is a fact that we Muslims have to face and think about.
Angry rantings, let alone violent protests, in the face of “Fitna” would actually be a confirmation of the film’s argument – that Muslims are, by nature, uncivilized people. Quite the contrary, I think this film, and all similar cases of anti-Islamic propaganda, should be countered by Muslims with dignity and civility. We can choose to ignore them, but if we will respond, it should be done politely, reasonably and scholarly.
And, interestingly, that would be response which would find its justification in the Koran. “Repel the bad with something better,” verse 41:34 reads, “and, if there is enmity between you and someone else, he will be like a bosom friend.”
For my part, I would prefer to chat with Mr. Wilders rather than bullying him. If he ever hits Turkey, I will be most glad to buy him coffee — a real Turkish one — and tell him about how I understand Islam as a believer. I could even take him to one of the magnificent mosques of Istanbul, in which men, women and children praise God and find moral inspiration. “Fitna” in the Islamic sense, which means “strife on Earth,” would be the very last thing these people would sympathize with. Quite many of them, unlike Mr. Wilders, even believe in a Europe in which Muslims and others can live together in peace.