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     Volume 8 Issue 60 | March 6, 2009 |

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Straight Talk

Drawing a Line

Nadia Kabir Barb

I am sure I have said and written on more than one occasion how tired I am of having Islam misinterpreted and people using the term terrorist and Muslim in the same breath. So you can imagine my utter horror when I came across the far-right Dutch MP Geert Wilder actually calling the Quran a 'fascist book' and comparing it to Adolf Hitler's 'Mein Kampf'. The more I read about the MP and his views, the more appalled I became. A while ago, he wrote in a Dutch national newspaper De Volkskrant, "I've had enough of Islam in the Netherlands; let not one more Muslim immigrate, I've had enough of the Qur'an in the Netherlands: forbid that fascist book." In an interview with the Guardian Newspaper last year, he told them that Islam "is not a religion, it's the ideology of a retarded culture". That would make almost 1.5 billion people fall into that category.

To add insult to injury he has also made a film called 'Fitna' - which is a 15-minute movie that accuses the Qur'an of inciting violence and aggression. I have to admit that I have not watched the film myself having neither the desire nor inclination to sit through 15 minutes of one man's warped view of my faith, so I can only tell you what I have heard about 'Fitna'. According to those who have seen the film, it shows images of 9/11, the 2003 bomb attacks in Madrid and also the death of murdered Dutch film-maker Theo Van Gogh, interspersed with an assortment of quotations from the Qur'an. Last month Mr. Wilder was invited by Lord Pearson and Baroness Cox, both members of the House of Lords, to screen his film but was subsequently banned entry into Britain by the Home Office because they believed his anti-Muslim opinions, as expressed in his film, would “threaten community harmony and therefore public safety”. The Dutch politician stated to the media that he would still travel to London for the screening of his film and flew into Heathrow Airport only to be questioned by immigration and refused entry.

Part of me felt a sense of relief at the decision taken by the UK government to deny Mr. Wilders entry into the country. A spokesman from the Muslim Council of Britain stated,"We have no problem with the challenge of criticisms to our faith, but the film that will be screened by Lord Pearson and Baroness Cox is nothing less than a cheap and tacky attempt to whip up hysteria against Muslims". There were also protests that took place in some Muslim countries, such as Indonesia and Pakistan and even the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon regarded the film 'Fitna' as "offensively anti-Islamic". I am all for freedom of speech but this was taking things too far. Had Mr. Geert Wilder been an authority on the teachings of the Qur'an and had extensive knowledge of Islam then there would be some merit in putting his views forward even in the format of a short film or have some formal discourse with named theologians to debate his views. But to try and show some correlation between acts of terrorism and randomly chosen excerpts from the Qur'an was offensive to me.

Geert Wilder, promoting bigotry.
Wilders short film also uses the images of a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad, wearing a turban with a bomb in it. This was one of the twelve Danish cartoons that led to violent protests across the Muslim world in 2006. Due to the fact that the original creators of the controversial cartoons did not give their consent for the image to be used in 'Fitna', Wilder's office said the picture would be replaced with another cartoon of the prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

With hindsight, however, the more I think about it, the more I feel it was a mistake to have banned the MP from entering the country. The reason for this sentiment is that a couple of months ago I was blissfully ignorant of the existence of Geert Wilder, nor was I even remotely aware that he had made an anti-Islamic film called 'Fitna' which was already floating around the internet and in all probability neither did most of the people in the UK. If he had been allowed to come to London and showcase his film at the House of Lords, where I am sure the numbers of viewers would have been meagre, he would never have been able to attain the extent of publicity he achieved by the ban. Wilder would have come and gone without most of us being any the wiser. As they say, there is no such thing as bad publicity and sadly this whole fracas has given Geert Wilder global recognition. I think we have seen that the quickest and a sure fire way of achieving a certain degree of fame (or notoriety in this case) is to cause a sensation. For a few weeks the rightwing Dutch MP was in all the newspapers with photographs of him and his quiff gracing the front pages for what is reported to be an ill conceived and amateur piece of work.

Now, people across the country are debating whether the principles of free speech have been encroached upon and whether the UK government took things too far by restricting Mr. Wilder's right as a citizen of the EU and a MP for that matter, to express his views in Britain. What is most worrying is that a man of such narrow minded prejudiced beliefs was actually elected as a Member of Parliament in the Netherlands in the first place.

I am still pondering on the concept of freedom of speech which as we know is a human right. But just because we have the right to freedom of speech, does that give us the right to use it indiscriminately or without giving any thought to potential consequences? Does it mean we should say or act on everything we think just because we can? Surely there must be a point where we have to draw the line. Recently I heard about some fatwa issued by Al Qaeda calling for the death of Geert Wilder and this to me is abhorrent and unacceptable. It is more fuel to feed the flames of hatred against Muslims and Islam that people like Wilder would so desperately like to propagate. You can almost imagine him telling the media “I told you so”. Although he maintains that he is exercising his right to free speech, the Appeals court in Amsterdam thinks otherwise and Mr. Geert is to be prosecuted in the Netherlands for hate speech and inciting discrimination. That on the other hand is an outcome I can definitely live with.

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