The Dutch government is bracing itself for violent protests following the scheduled broadcast this week of a provocative anti-Muslim film by a radical right-wing politician who has threatened to broadcast images of the Koran being torn up and otherwise desecrated.
Cabinet ministers and officials, fearing a repetition of the crisis sparked by the publication of cartoons of Muhammad in a Danish newspaper two years ago, have held a series of crisis meetings and ordered counter-terrorist services to draw up security plans. Dutch nationals overseas have been asked to register with their embassies and local mayors in the Netherlands have been put on standby.
Geert Wilders, one of nine members of the extremist VVD (Freedom) party in the 150-seat Dutch lower house, has promised that his film will be broadcast – on television or on the internet – whatever the pressure may be. It will, he claims, reveal the Koran as ‘source of inspiration for intolerance, murder and terror’.
Dutch diplomats are already trying to pre-empt international reaction. ‘It is difficult to anticipate the content of the film, but freedom of expression doesn’t mean the right to offend,’ said Maxime Verhagen, the Foreign Minister, who was in Madrid to attend the Alliance of Civilisations, an international forum aimed at reducing tensions between the Islamic world and the West. In Amsterdam, Rotterdam and other towns with large Muslim populations, imams say they have needed to ‘calm down’ growing anger in their communities.
Government officials hope that no mainstream media organisation will agree to show the film, although one publicly funded channel, Nova, initially agreed before pulling out. ‘A broadcast on a public channel could imply that the government supported the project,’ said an Interior Ministry spokesman.
Demonstrations are also expected from those opposed to Wilders beyond Holland’s Muslim community – a number of left-wing activists have already been arrested – and from his supporters. Members of a group calling itself Stop Islamisation of Europe are planning to travel to Amsterdam. ‘Geert Wilders is an elected politician who has made a film, and that he is under armed guard as a result is absolutely outrageous,’ said Stephen Gash, a UK-based member, yesterday. ‘It is all about free speech.’
There were a couple of points in that article that intrigued me. First, there was Maxime Verhagen’s view of free speech: “It is difficult to anticipate the content of the film, but freedom of expression doesn’t mean the right to offend.” In fact, free speeh means precisely that — you get to say what you want to say, even if it offends someone. This view that free speech can’t be offensive is, of course, identical to the speech codes that stultify American college campuses. It’s also a complete lie, because those who espouse this point of view don’t mean it. What they really mean is “freedom of expression doesn’t mean the right to offend me or those I deem beyond criticism. I, of course, am perfectly free to use my speech to offend you.”
The second thing that intrigued me was the fact that the film is going to include “images of the Koran being torn up and otherwise desecrated.” Why would the filmmakers do that? To make a film about Muslim violence is, I think, perfectly valid, since only someone in complete denial could, in a straight-faced way, claim that Muslims don’t have anything to do with many of the convulsions going on around the world today. The fact is that, whether you’re in Iran, Iraq, Israel, Holland, the Philippines, Thailand, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kenya, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Bali, Spain, Britain, the United States or myriad other spots around the world, the common denominator when bombs blow up, or free thinkers are murdered, or school girls beheaded, or airplanes collide with buildings is radical Islam. (Check out The Religion of Peace for more info about this point.) One can do a perfectly good indictment of radical Islam without lowering oneself to the same tactics employed by Islamists — that is, desecrating the symbols of another’s religion. As you can see from the footnote, I’m unwilling automatically to accept the Guardian‘s designation of Geert Wilders as “radical right wing.” However, demeaning what could be a serious film about a real problem indicates that there may be truth to that designation.
And sort of bouncing off of that last point, the rise of the truly extreme right wing in Europe (something Charles Johnson has been dealing with at LGF) demonstrates a very scary point about politics: If the stable middle refuses to respond to a crisis, a panicked populace will embrace the radical extremes. Had the mainstream, somewhat leftist European governments taken seriously the Islamist threat and worked harder, not to placate the extremists, but to assimilate its moderate Muslim population, ordinary citizens would not have that sinking feeling of abandonment that leads them to hate-mongering political parties.
*I don’t automatically accept this description, not because it’s necessarily false (and, indeed, there are signs that it’s true), but because (a) I don’t know anything about the politician’s point of view; (b) Europe’s right and left classifications don’t match ours that closely; and (c) consistent with point (b), above, this article comes from the British Guardian paper and in its view everything that’s not left is far right.