People who make films to prove a point -- that president Bush is an idiot, that the world is on the verge of an environmental disaster or that the Koran is a fascist book -- are not so much concerned with aesthetics as with making a convincing argument. The maker is part of a long tradition in films -- from agit-prop to advertising. But in a tradition that runs roughly from Sergei Eisenstein to Michael Moore, where should we place débutante Geert Wilders?
The first few images show us immediately what sort of film the long-awaited "Fitna" is. This is not an artistic performance with a veiled actress and the sound of a whip as in Theo van Gogh and Ayaan Hirsi Ali's Submission. In "Fitna" we see an edited verse from the Koran in which the faithful are called on to hunt the enemies of Allah with "all force." There then follows footage of the attacks on the World Trade Centre and Madrid railway station. In the smoke of an explosion we see the face of an Islamic leader saying: "What pleases Allah? Allah is pleased if non-Muslims are killed."
"Fitna," which according to the credits at the end of the film was made by Wilders and someone hiding behind the name of Scarlet Pimpernel, is a 16-minute long compilation of largely archive material. There is no new footage, apart from perhaps that of a Dutch woman in a burqa pushing a stroller. The material is largely taken from news broadcasts and Internet downloads. That's clever, because lots of these short pieces are put on the net by (radical) Muslims and Wilders is using their own weapons against them. The most shocking scene is the beheading of a western hostage by radical Muslims, although the actual killing is faded out.
The archive material has been edited to make Wilders' point: that the Koran calls for violence and Muslims are receptive to that call. It is a tried and tested method of film-making.
According to the book "Nazis and the Cinema" (Susan Tegel, 2007), the Soviet film-maker Esfir Schub was the first to work like this in her film "The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty" (1927). The most noted example of this technique is "Der ewige Jude" (The Eternal Jew) (1940) by Frits Hippler. To make it clear, apart from the use of existing material, there is no similarity between that anti-Semitic production and "Fitna." Hippler wanted to show that Jews were sub-human, and combined images of filthy Polish ghettos with squirming rats to make his arguments more powerful. In "Fitna," Muslims are only shown if they make radical statements.
Wilders does not appear in front of the camera to debate with Muslims, as British atheist Richard Dawkins did with people of all religious persuasions in his television series "The Root of all Evil" (2006). He does not feature at all, apart from in a newspaper headline when he was threatened. So a comparison with Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," in which he tried to torpedo George Bush's re-election, fails for that reason. Moore uses his bulk and his ironic voice to help make his point. That has more of a comic effect. And this is another difference with Wilders' film. It has no humour.
Wilders does not use metaphors or hyperbole to make his point, but repetition. The rhythm goes like this: a verse from the Koran in which Jews or other heathens are threatened with death or torture, then images of terrorist attacks by Muslims followed by a shocking statement by a Muslim leader. Then a new verse. This rhythm ends with the promise that one day Islam will rule the world. After this point has been made a few times, a subtitle appears on the screen: "The Netherlands under the influence of Islam." Newspaper headlines then follow ("Ex-Muslim Jami beaten up," "Cabinet says no burqa ban") and statistics which show how the number of Muslims in the Netherlands and Europe is increasing. The message is clear: at the moment they are living under Arabic dictatorship, tomorrow the Netherlands will be an Islamic dictatorship itself.
This rhetoric makes "Fitna" similar to a film like Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth," in which the former vice president hammers home his message that the earth is undergoing global warming and we must do something now. Another, less well-known example is "Harry Potter: Witchcraft Repackaged," by a US evangelical group which wants to prove that JK Rowling's books are dangerous to children. The conclusion is the same as in Wilders' film: ban the books. Or as Wilders says at the end of his film: at least tear out the Koran verses which sow the most hate.