Footage of a hijacked airplane slamming into the World Trade Center on 9/11. Hate-mongering mullahs calling Muslims to a holy war. Images of the mangled corpses of victims in the 2004 Madrid train bombings. These are the tools by which right-wing Dutch populist Geert Wilders tries to "shock" his audience.
But it doesn't work.
First, these images lost their impact long ago. We've seen them in the news a thousand times, much like images of Hamas supporters in Gaza, waving machine guns in the air and bellowing anti-Semitic slogans at the camera. It may sound macabre, but they are worn out -- we were desensitized long ago to these inflammatory television images.
A desire to shock also compelled Wilders to include footage from the beheading of a hostage, uncensored and uncut. The camera fixes on the severed head as the scene fades out. The only problem is that the news value of this footage is absolutely zero. The viewer finds herself wondering: "When is Wilders actually going to shock me?"
Moderate Muslims are as appalled by these horrific images as non-Muslims -- both groups turn away with equal disgust. Islamic extremists, meanwhile, judge these pictures callously. "Perfect," they are surely saying, "the Dutchman has portrayed us just right." Such extremists won't be shocked. Just the opposite: Al-Qaida could post Wilder's work as a promotional video on their Web site.
Europe 's Muslims as Christian-haters and homophobes
Wilders' accompanies these "shocking images" with quotations from the Koran, an effort to expose Islam's holiest text as a well-spring of hate. That makes it difficult for me, a totally average Muslim, to defend Islam as a peaceful religion. These quotations are not made up -- they can actually be found in the Koran. Passages from the holy book that rail hatefully against Jews have, unfortunately, long been misused as propaganda. That is tragic, as it is tragic that similar anti-Semitic passages are just as common in the Bible.
The film's title, "Fitna," can be translated as "chaos," and that describes the first 10 minutes of the film. An endless stream of fear-mongering images promotes the cliché of Muslims as savages -- a horde of bearded, dark-skinned men in long white robes. The viewer finds herself asking, "What is this film trying to achieve? What does the film maker want?"
Then, after the 10th minute, Wilders' goal becomes crystal clear. He doesn't have his sights set on Muslims in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iraq, but rather on Muslims in Europe. It's not about differences between moderate and militant Muslims. In Wilders' film, every Muslim in Europe is a threat. Every Muslim supports honor killings, opposes Christianity and is homophobic. "Stop the Islamification of Europe," "Take a Stand against Muslims" -- these are tired slogans that can be found tied to right-wing extremists in any local, state or federal election in Germany. They are familiar, and they have long since ceased to be "shocking."
'Fitna' Is Not to be Taken Seriously
Wilders' film offers a prophecy for "Holland's future": bloodied children will cower before their abusive mothers, gays will be hanged and young girls will be subjected to genital mutilation.
If the topic of Muslim integration in Europe weren't so important, it would be tempting to treat the film as a caricature of itself and smirk at it a little. Wilders portrays his subject so mercilessly that it's impossible to take him or his film seriously. It's hardly politically correct to admit, but "Fitna" does have a certain explosive power. On the other hand, is it even possible today to make a film critical of Islam without fear of assassination, protests and violence? I ask this question as a Muslim woman.
I am sure that many people in Holland, and here in Germany, share Wilders' beliefs. Personally, I'd like to know what Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has to say on the matter.
The tricky thing about the film is that Wilder's does manage to show one facet of the Muslim experience in Europe. Annoyingly, it's even in documentary format. It would be downright foolish to be against the film "on principle." Wilders portrays a mindset that undoubtedly exists in Amsterdam, in Paris and in Berlin.
But he chooses to ignore certain realities of Muslim life in Europe: The high rate of unemployment among immigrants, the slim chances of receiving a good education, the daily encounters with racism and the countless immigrant children -- particularly boys -- who are abandoned.
So which came first -- the chicken or the egg?
Wilders' Offers a One-Sided Argument
As a believing but non-practicing Muslim, the film in no way offends my religious convictions. Neither Allah or the Prophet Muhammad are a direct target. Wilders also avoids the mistake Theo van Gogh made by connecting the Koran and sexuality. Van Gogh was murdered in 2004 by a Muslim extremist after directing "Submission," a film that juxtaposed passages from the Koran with stories of men abusing women in Islamic culture and images of a partially-clothed female narrator.
I had no problem with Van Gogh's film, but the explosive violence perpetrated by less tolerant Muslims around the world raised the chances of a violent reaction to Wilders' film.
To that end, "Fitna" surprised me. One can argue that it is overhyped -- Wilders shows nothing but facts, even if they are somewhat one-sided.
"Fitna" was an attempt -- a cheap, transparent attempt -- to lump together every Muslim immigrant in Europe as potential terrorists, as threats to hard-won democracies, as beasts driven by base instinct.
If politicians hadn't warned people so incessantly of the film's potential consequences and drawn constant comparison to the unrest caused by the Danish cartoon controversy in 2005, Wilders' "Fitna" project wouldn't have been nearly as successful as an exercise in self-promotion. But shock us he did not. And that's a lucky thing.