Get ready for more mob violence in the Middle East. Geert Wilders, a right-wing member of the Dutch Parliament, will soon have the world premier of his film Fitna, and tempers are rising in anticipation. Wilders’ film is short but incendiary, a paranoid broadside again Islam and everything associated with it. After filmmaker Theo van Gogh was stabbed to death by a militant Islamist and mobs across Islamic world went berserk over some Danish cartoons, the Dutch government is frantically trying to contain the potential damage. The government persuaded Dutch television not to broadcast the film, but some Internet site will post it. From there, no doubt, it will go viral in the right wing-nut margins of the Internet. Otherwise, the domestic front looks ready; Dutch Muslim groups have been cooperating by urging Muslims not to let Wilders get under their skin. A loner jihadist may do something rash, but that’s a more or less constant risk anyway.
Beyond the Netherlands the situation isn’t so secure. Last month the Cairo International Film Festival for Children held the Dutch animated short Where Is Winky’s Horse? hostage until the Dutch government apologized and did some symbolic slapping around of a certain right-wing parliamentarian. But l’affair de Winky may not be the last word from the Islamic World. Protests have already started in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where, you would think, they would have more important things to worry about. Judging from the Danish cartoon episode, the current penalty for graven images of the Prophet created in a small European country seems to be 50 deaths, and that has a lot of people concerned.
Fitna may be a waste of bandwidth, but you can insert your standard defense of freedom of speech here. The film’s release is yet another example of the mutual misunderstanding between Islam and the West. No one believes Wilders’ film will be the last provocative episode, but one can hope that the reaction will be relatively subdued, and Wilders’ hateful bluster will end up little more than a 20-second segment on the BBC World News. After all, the long tail of sectarian hysteria has to start diminishing some time, right?
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