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ISSUE 121 VOL 16 PUBLISHED 4/11/2008

Anti-Muslim movie misses mark

By Cody Venzke
Variety Editor


Friday, April 11, 2008

When I volunteered to review the anti-Islamic film "Fitna" for the Messenger this week, I didn't really know what I was launching myself into. Movie reviews aren't normally a difficult thing: weigh the good and the bad, crack a few jokes at the filmmaker's expense, recommend the movie (or condemn it) and move on. Easy.

That's for most films anyway. Sometimes, however, a movie comes along that is so powerful and so profound that a writer cannot simply review it. To try to sum up such a movie in 800 words is impossible, for its characters, dialogue, cinematography and message all seem to defy the limits of our collective linguistic capabilities. Some movies really are that powerful.

"Fitna" is not such a film. Written by a harshly-conservative member of the Dutch parliament Geert Wilders, the film was originally released on March 27 on the website liveleak.com. It has since been removed from the original website (apparently for "copyright reasons"), but is available virtually anywhere, including on YouTube. The film's title derives from an Arabic word which can be translated as "disagreement."

Ultimately, "Fitna" is ignorant, misleading at best, inflammatory and insulting at worse (and it is at the latter that the film seems to dwell during the majority of its duration). Just shy of 17 minutes long, the film consists of a number of verses taken from the Qur'an mixed in among fiery speeches by Muslim clerics condemning western values and footage of terrorist attacks. Despite the attention it has received from the international media, "Fitna" is in reality a piecemeal hack-job. I could simply decry the film's sloppy workmanship and call it good.

However, I won't stop there. Behind "Fitna," there is an ideology that is too corrosive to ignore. It's not that "Fitna" really has anything unique to say. Bigots have had a soapbox to stand on since the 1970s and the public has lent them a reluctant ear since Sept. 11 -- we've already heard everything that "Fitna" has to say. Despite its controversial message, the film is neither powerful nor provocative, just distasteful and insulting. However, it has become more and more evident that Wilders and his compatriots will not simply go away. For that reason, it's probably time to call them out: inflammatory, unreflective films will not combat radical Islam, but only heighten current tensions.

First, there is absolutely nothing redeeming about the film on a cinematographic level. Opening with the "Arab Dance" from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite, I can't tell if the overall intention of "Fitna" is to go for scare tactics or just sheer melodramatics. As Tchaikovsky drones in the background, Wilders unveils the first of the five verses used throughout the film.

The film immediately jumps to footage from Sept. 11 followed by footage from the March 11, 2004 train bombings in Madrid. As the smoke settles, a Muslim cleric appears on the screen and declares, "Allah is happy when non-Muslims get killed."

The film goes on in this manner for 17 minutes. Wilder's goal is obvious -- to underscore that the Qur'an is an inherently violent book and Islam an inherently violent religion -- and he makes a concerted effort to do so. Perhaps I am biased in my opinion, but I can't help but believe that Wilder ultimately falls short of his goal. As the movie jumps from one verse to another, the viewer's mind isn't really drawn to what is being said, but to what is being shown. Images of dead bodies, explosions, and radical speeches dominate the film more so than any depiction of actual Muslim practices. The imagery is certainly shocking (as the film's introduction warns), but the images are mostly of low quality, which becomes more and more distracting as the film wears on.

After about seven minutes of this, Wilder's already shaky method falls flat apart. The material is rather disconnected, often having little if anything to do with one another or the verses. And yet, we get the feeling that we've seen this all before -- it just seems like a recap of the past few years' headlines. And sure enough, Wilders ends the main part of the film with a slideshow of headlines cut from Danish newspapers -- and they only become more and more irritating as the film meanders among its own fearmongering.

In the last five minutes of the film, Wilders reintroduces Tchaikovsky, but now he has shifted his argument from the inherent violence of Islam (note the sarcasm) to the impending invasion of Europe by Islam (more sarcasm). Wilders really seems to believe that such an invasion is not only about to begin, but that it is occurring already. As statistics showing the growth of the Muslim community in the Netherlands and Europe dominate the foreground, a video of public executions plays in the background. It's apparent: A conquest of Europe is underway and a brutal, Islamic dictatorship is inevitable. Which would be unfortunate, since Europe has never produced any of its own brutal dictators. Right?

After watching the film, I'm inclined to just shake off its absurdity. Do people actually take this man seriously? Unfortunately, they seem to -- Wilders has more than enough crazy (funny how that's not normally used literally) fans in the Netherlands and on the Internet. Yet, it seems much of this anti-Islamic passion is the same xenophobia that has haunted the West since the Ottoman Empire began creeping in on the Balkans 700 years ago.

I will grant "Fitna" that radical Islamic groups such as Al-Qaeda pose a serious threat to the West and the Middle East. Any ideology that focuses so intently on conflict with another offers only destruction and paralyzing hatred. However, if Wilders and his supporters wish to argue that Islam is exclusively responsible for such an ideology, he is grossly mistaken. Give me a night, some melodramatic music and a video-editing program and I can produce an equally disturbing program chock-full of Bible verses that demonstates the horror of Christianity. Give me two nights, some rap-metal, and President Anderson's college papers, and I'll prove to you that last summer's repainting of the president's house is actually part of a grand communist conspiracy to overthrow the Northfield City Council.

The point here is that one of Wilders' many sins is that of misrepresentation. You cannot judge an entire religion based on the actions of radical fundamentalists. What if we judged Christianity based solely on the Crusades. Not very fair, is it? Somehow it seems unfair to categorize a religion that emphasizes charitable giving (yes, that would be Islam) as inherently cruel or violent.

It's interesting to note though that initial reaction to "Fitna" in the Islamic world was relatively mute. The film, afterall, doesn't present anything new; instead, it's the same knee-jerk reactions against Islam that we have increasingly seen in the United States and Europe since 2001.

The great irony here is that "Fitna" and its counterparts are protesting a supposedly hateful religion and yet they are as hateful and bigoted as they claim Islam to be. So what is "Fitna"? For starts, it's probably not going to make any appearance at Cannes any time soon. At a little bit longer than fifteen minutes, the movie provokes some hard questions about the changing face of religion in Western society and the global community. Ultimately, however, I found "Fitna" to be bigoted, ignorant, and hardly constructive. But then again, I really wasn't expecting anything else.





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