02/14/2009, 00.00
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Fr. Samir: Gagging Fitna and Wilders does not promote dialogue among civilizations

by Samir Khalil Samir, sj
The British government has blocked the Dutch member of parliament from entering the country, because of his controversial opinions about Islam. For some, human rights are being set aside in the West in order to avoid displeasing Muslims; for others, silence is better than provocation. But the problem of the connection between Islam and violence remains a question that no one wants to address. A commentary by the Islamologist Fr. Samir Khalil Samir.
Beirut (AsiaNews) - The British government has denied the Dutch member of parliament Geert Wilders permission to enter to the country. Wilders had been invited to present his film "Fitna" to the House of Lords. The film, produced about a year ago, is intended to demonstrate the strong connection between the Qur'an and international terrorism, with images of the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York (2001) and the attacks in London (2004) and Madrid (2005).

Wilders, who was stopped at the Heathrow airport, said that for him the ban on entering the country marked "a very sad day" for democracy.

Last year, the movie "Fitna" was released via the internet and provoked many reactions in the Muslim world. The decision to block Wilders was justified by reason of "public order," to dampen "extremism."

Foreign Minister David Miliband said that Great Britain has a "profound commitment to freedom of speech but there is no freedom to cry 'fire' in a crowded theatre and there is no freedom to stir up hate, religious and racial hatred, according to the laws of the land." But other observers view the attitude of the British government as too fearful, and too much inclined to not spoiling relations with Middle Eastern countries and their investments in Great Britain. AsiaNews has obtained a commentary on this situation from the Islamologist Fr. Samir Khalil Samir.

One thing is clear: the decision of the British foreign office to block the visit of Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders is a political reaction, dictated by political motives. The question that can be asked is whether this is a good policy. It could be that this expedient on the part of Great Britain is the only way to avoid religious conflict, but it seems worthwhile to me to make an observation.

I saw the film "Fitna" a year ago, and recently I have viewed a few clips from it again. The film is rather violent and crude, on purpose: its intention is to demonstrate that Islam is a violent religion in itself.

I don't like the film. For one thing, it depicts a reality with many citations from the Qur'an, to demonstrate the violence of this religion. Without a doubt, the reality presented in "Fitna" is partial, and in no way an accurate depiction of Islam as a whole.

The film is certainly provocative, because it intends to assert that Islam is a religion of violence. But in effect, there is violence both in the Qur'an, and in the life of Mohammed. Still today, there are Muslims who carry out violence in the name of the Qur'an and of the prophet of Islam.

But it must be said that the response to a violent, partial film cannot be violence, and not even the decision to prevent someone from speaking. The minister's decision to block Wilders, and the threats against him, fall into this category.

I have seen that the European Arab League has responded to this film with another film, a sort of "anti-Fitna"; other Muslim filmmakers have done the same thing. Such a reaction is more admirable than the one displayed by the Foreign Office. Although I do not like "Fitna," I am against the decision of the British government. All the more so in that Wilders was supposed to present the film to the House of Lords, and not to a political group.

Wilders's speech is, without a doubt, violent and fanatical. This is clear from reading just a few of his statements. But in the West, freedom of speech is a right that cannot be denied without creating other problems.

I have read at least 60 reactions from Muslims to the film "Fitna," although few of them had seen it. Their reactions are mainly of rejection, a violent response. Only one commentary states: "It is true, this film is violent, it is not helpful, and it increases our perception of being besieged on every side; we see Islamophobia everywhere. But it is also true that our reactions make a great deal of room for this Islamophobia."

I wonder: how is it that the Muslim world - and also part of the West - is so sensitive that it must gag every critic and even raise so much (physical) violence against (verbal) violence?

The Muslim world has not yet assimilated certain values, like the right to speech and to criticism, even though this can sometimes be unjust, or partially unjust.

There is a beautiful verse in the Qur'an that says: "In debate, dispute with them in a superior manner, and not on their level." This verse should exclude this kind of violent reaction. And yet it must be said: there is violence in the name of Islam.

In some of the "anti-Fitna" films, there are images of Israelis fighting against the Palestinians; then there are images of crusaders, with cross and swords; then images of Americans in Vietnam. One film has been produced by the Islamic society al Furkan. In these "anti-Fitna" films as well, violence connected to religion is denounced. But the difference is that the Muslims who carry out violence do so in the name of their faith, constantly citing passages from the sacred book and the hadiths. The Israelis and Americans wage war not in the name of the Bible or the Gospel, but in the name of their politics. This is not a question of crusades, because it is foolish to compare contemporary events with those of a long gone past.

If the West goes to war, it does so for political purposes, economic, etc. Unfortunately, in Islam there are many imams who preach a religious war against nonbelievers, not a moral war, but a physical war, always quoting the Qur'an. Violence in the name of God is to be rejected in every religion. John Paul II spoke out against it many times, and Benedict XVI is doing so today. It is therefore worthwhile not to block discussions, but to become engaged and demonstrate falsehood, the connections between religion and politics, correcting one another.

In conclusion, I do not believe that the film "Fitna"is helpful: it serves only to provoke Muslims to make a break with violence, and non-Muslims to react, and not remain silent. On the other hand, the British reaction is not valid either, it does not help Muslims to criticize themselves, nor to stop violence in the name of Islam.

It is increasingly urgent that there be a group of Muslims and non-Muslims fighting together for freedom of speech and conscience, and capable of dialogue; to advance self-criticism of persons and civilization; distinguishing precisely between religion and politics.

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