Wilders’ Fitna Lands with a… Whimper?

After months of controversy, Dutch politician Geert Wilders has released his anti-Islam short film Fitna online, a move many fear will incite a repeat of the violence resulting from the 2005 publication of cartoons of Muhammad. But so far, reaction to the film has been more of a whimper than a bang.

The film, which Wilders has promoted as showing how “verses from the Qur’an are being used today to incite modern Muslims to behave violently and anti-democratically,” has been a hot topic in the Arab world for months now — Pakistan’s attempt to ban a trailer for the film caused a worldwide YouTube outage. At first seeking to air the film on Dutch television, Wilders was unable to find any broadcaster willing to show it, and thus resorted to the Internet, uploading to LiveLeak.com on Mar. 27.

LiveLeak immediately began receiving “serious threats” and thus was forced to remove the film for a short time in order to increase security for its employees.

A statement on LiveLeak’s site reads,

“We will not be pressured into censoring material which is legal and within our rules. We apologise for the removal and the delay in getting it back, but when you run a website you don’t consider that some people would be insecure enough to threaten our lives simply because they do not like the content of a video we neither produced nor endorsed but merely hosted.”

Since restoring the film, Fitna has amassed over 4 million views — a 10-minute English-subtitled YouTube cut is closing in on a million additional hits.

The actual film consists of photos and news clips of terrorist violence (including an extended sequence devoted to 9/11) and quotes from the Qur’an that purport to endorse such actions. The end calls for the Muslim world to cut these violent passages out of their faith (literally represented by the sound of pages being torn out of a book).

The film does have its moments of visceral shock, but it doesn’t quite pack the punch Wilders clearly wants it to. For one thing, it has all the production value of a kid who’s just figured out how to use the sepia tone filter in iMovie. For another, every Qur’an quotation Wilders cites bears resemblance to similarly violent passages from the Old Testament — it’s incredibly unfair to judge an entire religion by its most extreme elements. As Dutch Prime Minister Jan Balkenende says in a statement condemning the film: “The vast majority of Muslims reject extremism and violence. In fact, the victims are often also Muslims.”

Wilders is that most odd of contradictions: a proponent of free speech who demands an audience for his film, but wants to make the Qur’an a banned book in the Netherlands. One of the last credits of the film calls for viewers to “Defend your freedom!” — but he clearly means freedom on his own terms.

According to Menssat.com, “The worst thing the Muslim world could to Geert Wilders and his anti-Islam movie…is to simply ignore him and it. That seemed to be the main reaction to the early release.” Meanwhile, in the days following Fitna‘s release, hundreds of Dutch YouTubers have uploaded “I’m sorry” videos. So far, all Wilders’ film has inspired is messages of apology and tolerance — an unintended result, and a reassuring one.

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