Dutch ultra-right politician Geert Wilders was in the news again after his anti-Muslim and anti-immigration Freedom Party, which has nine members in the Dutch parliament, won four seats in the European Parliament elections. It garnered the second highest vote in Holland after the Christian Democrats.
Across the European Union, this was part of a worrying general swing to the far right.
Wilders' previous claim to fame was for posting his video, Fitna, on the internet in March 2008, and subsequent charges against him in Holland for inciting hatred and discrimination. As yet no date has been set for the trial to hear these charges.
Fitna, an Arabic word meaning 'strife' or 'chaos', is a 17 minute video deriding Islam. It combines the famous 'war' or 'sword' verses from the Quran, threatening tirades from Muslim terrorists and extremist leaders, and graphic scenes from terrorist attacks and rabid Muslim street protests, all set to sombre classical music.
In short, it's a heavy handed piece of anti-Muslim propaganda.
No TV station would broadcast it, leaving the internet as its only platform, thus illustrating the dark side of this anarchic medium. (To be fair, there are many anti-West hate videos made by Muslim extremists posted on the internet as well.)
If you want to see Fitna, it's easy to find on the internet. Rather than featuring this hate video, I thought it would be more useful to see Wilders being grilled by a seasoned and reputable journalist. This video is an interview conducted in August 2008 by Stephen Sackur for the BBC's excellent current affairs series, Hardtalk (review continues below).
The recent election success of far-right parties in Europe and the UK comes hard on the heels of President Obama's historic speech in Cairo. His approach of reaching out to Muslims, and trying to heal the rift between Islam and the West is in stark contrast to their hate and fear mongering.
But the newfound popularity of the far-right shouldn't be a surprise. It's a predictable response in tough economic times, and with western Europe being at the razor sharp edge of debate over rapidly growing Muslim populations in many Western countries.
You may think it's all happening a long way away, and doesn't have much to do with Australia. But consider the community reaction, including that of some local Christian churches, against plans to build a Muslim school at Camden on Sydney's southwest fringe. While it would be unfair to put this directly on par with the extremist views of Wilders, it's these sentiments and fears that politicians like him seek to exploit and inflame.
Thank God for political leaders like Barack Obama who make a cogent case for an approach based on mutual concerns and dialogue rather than prejudice, hate and confrontation.
Peter Kirkwood worked for 23 years in the Religion and Ethics Unit of ABC TV. He has a Master's degree from the Sydney College of Divinity.
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19 June 2009
In Fitna, Wilders is only the messenger. Wilders was simply stating what is in sacred Islamic texts and how modern-day jihadis justify their terrorist attacks with these texts.
It is untrue to say that only extremist jihadis interpret these texts in such a way. Look at videos at www.memri.org and note how many television stations from "moderate" Muslim nations e.g. Egypt, Bahrain, Kuwait, feature these "extremist" views. Topics typically discussed are: why wives can be beaten; how Allah hates Jews; why apostates should be killed; how Islam will overthrow the West by armed struggle; how Mohammed cannot be insulted.
There is a militant side to Islam that must be called for what it is. It is a side that is not compatible with traditional Western liberal values. In the West, Van Gough and Rushdie found that out for themselves. Would Kirkwood want such men to be silenced, as they would in an Islamic country?
19 June 2009
Peter Kirkwood is right to draw our attention to the racist ‘objections’ against the Muslim school in Camden. It is particularly shameful, as he says, that many of these claims were made by members of Christian churches.
They say racism is a light sleeper. Lately, we might say that in Australia it is wide awake and a little hyperactive. CathNews links to an article (http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/stories/s2600891.htm) on the ABC’s website by Irfan Yusuf, who makes a case that Muslim schools are far from being breeding grounds of terrorism and separatism; he light-heartedly claims that his one experience of being radicalised happened at an Anglican school.
But many of the responses to his article are chilling – they want either to recycle straw-man arguments against Muslims or to derail the discussion by claiming, with a sort of equal-opportunity sectarianism, that all religious schools are bad.
Clearly the Land and Environment Court made its decision against the school in Camden on planning grounds alone. It’s a tragedy, however, that some inside and outside Australia will be able to misrepresent the decision either as a victory in the war against Islam or as further evidence of institutionalised racism in Australian society.
19 June 2009
Patrick, Van Gogh was a foul-mouthed racist not a brave warrior of liberalism and morality. I would suggest that his values were as incompatible with 'traditional Western liberal values' as are those of militant Islam.
Wilders is similarly a man whose has modeled himself as a champion of the values that are cherished in the West, while he really undermines them.
20 June 2009
Ashlea, whatever you may allege about Van Gough or Wilders, I have never read or heard that they wanted to inflict on anyone the sort of restrictions, punishments or retributions which are typical in Islamic countries. This includes freedom of speech. Look at Rushdie and the Danish cartoons. Why should Islam's sensibilites be met when no other religions' are? The equality of all before the law. No one group should be given privileges over another. In Muslim countries Islam dominates over other religions and will not suffer another to be its equal. The right to change your religion or to practice none at all. The internet has many stories from ex-Muslims who have literally risked their lives when they have given up their Islamic faith. The rights of homosexuals. Men have been hanged in Iran for being homosexual. Young men even suspected of being homosexual were brutrally murdered in Baghdad. I could go on about amputation, stoning or compulsory wearing of the hijab or burka.
Wilders said in the posted interview that he welcomes Muslims who want to live within the bounds of our laws. If they don't, he reasonably wants to exclude them lest they destroy those laws.
23 June 2009
Okay Patrick. You seem to have decided that the negative aspects of the Muslim community are all that exist and so you will look for only examples of that negative side. That's a shame because you, like Wilders, blanket the entire Muslim community under that same image.
25 June 2009
Ashlea, I don't know how you could conclude that I, like Wilders, blanket the entire Muslim community. If you cared to watch the interview posted by Kirkwood, you would see that Wilders says that the radical fanatics make up between 5-15% based on various studies.
You do not dispute any of the "negative aspects" of Islam that I raise. At the risk of stating the obvious, these negative aspects are hardly trivial issues. We are talking about the equality of all before the law, and the outlawing of barbaric practices.
I have exchanged posts and emails with Muslims online who want no part of Islamic supremacism, stonings, amputation or suppression of free speech. I would welcome them as a citizen of this country at any time. If they can live within the laws and values of our country, I have no issue whatsoever. Unfortunately, this is not the case for some (no blanket here) Muslims in Western countries.
If you would care to do a few simple searches on google, you would find many examples of what I am talking about.