Should 'Fitna' lead to violence?

The recent release of the movie Fitna, by Geert Wilders, is one circumstance that needs to be assessed thoughtfully with a cool head before responding. At first it seems to strengthen the notion of just another Western attack and attitude of arrogance toward Islam. After all, Geert Wilders is a legislator in the Dutch Parliament and even a leader of a political party.

Should this act be viewed as the Dutch government's conscious move to denigrate Islam?

That is an appealing and easy argument to make. But to do that would be a gross misrepresentation of the truth. In short, a fitna.

The Party for Freedom (Partij voor de Vrijheid, PVV) that Wilders leads is currently in the opposition and not inside the Dutch government. Wilder was in the mainstream center right People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) until he rejected VVD support for Turkey's possible entrance to the European Union in 2004. PVV took a more rightist attitude, especially toward immigration and culture. Its platform stated that Judeo-Christian and humanist tradition should be treated as the dominant culture in the Netherlands and immigrants should adapt accordingly.

Jan Peter Balkenende, the current prime minister, has clearly stated his discontent. In his own words,"The film equates Islam with violence. We reject this interpretation. The vast majority of Muslims reject extremism and violence. In fact, the victims are often also Muslims.... We therefore regret that Wilders has released this film. We believe it serves no purpose other than to cause offense". The Associated Press (AP) reported thousands of people joining protests against the movie at Dam Square, the Amsterdam version of the Hotel Indonesia roundabout, a few days ago.

But Muslims all over the world are asking why the Dutch government has not banned the release of the movie.

The Netherlands is a country that is very proud of its free-thinking attitude. "Live and let live" is their motto. Freedom of speech is deeply upheld and enshrined in the legal foundation of the country.

These days, no prime minister of any government can stop anyone from posting a video online. Dutch television stations refused to show the film without editing and Wilders said he preferred then to have the film in full on the Internet rather than in half on television. And that is what he did.

Indonesian Muslims could react angrily over the release of the film. We could replay a clip over and over again in the media. We could hold a public rally to burn Wilder's effigy while chanting how the West has done it again. Maybe even get baited for an emotional release valve here and there.

We could do that.

But if we do that, we will be extending the vicious cycle of violence and stereotyping. Wilders and his supporters could point to our actions as a verification of their propaganda that the Muslims are indeed prone to hostility.

We could look deeper to understand that as the leader of a small fringe party, Wilders needs to be seen as expressing the silent grumble of the people. Hard-right politicians in Europe such as Jean Marie Le Pen in France, Pim Fortuyn in the Netherlands and Jvrg Haider in Austria have trod this road before to garner electoral votes. Especially since the Dutch society is feeling jittery on economy and crime.

The force of globalization have led to the loss of two prize Dutch economic possessions, KLM airline and ABN-Amro Bank. The country's generous welfare scheme was cut and its industrial relations are significantly strained. The murder of Theo Van Gogh, a movie director who produced an offensive movie about Islam, by a Muslim immigrant in 2004, instigated the Dutch society to be cautious with anything related to Islam. A blanket notion of scapegoat would be convenient for a politician facing upcoming election.

Muslims have rightfully complained that the West often lump us into one category due to action of unrepresentative, and hard-line, agents. This time we need to apply it to ourselves and refrain from repeating the mistakes. I was in Amsterdam after the Van Gogh murder and there was a massive public protest in Dam Square by people of many nationalities and religions. They did not share Van Gogh's views but were disgusted with the violence that fell upon him.

Maybe this time we should take cues from the Prophet Muhammad himself. After an unsuccessful visit and hostile reception by the people of Thaif, he sat down and prayed, "Oh, Dear Almighty, please forgive them since they do not understand".

Berly Martawardaya. The writer holds a master's degree from Free University of Amsterdam. He is a lecturer at the School of Economics at the University of Indonesia (FEUI) and an active member of the Youth Islamic Study Club (YISC) Al-Azhar. He can be reached at b.martawardaya*

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