Sunday, March 23, 2008

Freedom of Speech for "Fitna" and Hezbollah, and a Prediction

'One of the differences between places like Saudi Arabia and Iran, and western democracies, is that we enjoy freedom of speech.'

Today, it's hard to say that with a straight face.

A website that announced the release a Dutch documentary about the Quran, "Fitna," has been taken down by its host. It was "objectionable."

This post is longer than most, so here's a table of contents:Now, let's get going.

Why All the Fuss about "Fitna?"

A Dutch Member of Parliament, Geert Wilders, made a 15-minute movie called "Fitna." It's about the Quran / Koran. More accurately, it's against the Quran, and against Islam. ("Fitna" seems to be a Latinization of "فتنة" - "Sedition," or maybe something else.)

"While the exact contents of the 15-minute movie, due to be released by March 31, are unknown, Wilders has said it will underscore his view that Islam's holy book is 'fascist.'

"Dutch officials fear the movie could spark violent protests in Muslim countries, similar to those two years ago after the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper." CNN (March 23, 2008)

If pre-release reports on what the mini-documentary are halfway accurate, those Dutch officials have something to worry about.

"No one has seen the film in its entirity [sic] yet but a Dutch paper which has seen some of the opening images from the film, said it shows the cover of the Koran and then images of 'a decapitation in Iraq, a stoning in Iran and an execution in Saudi Arabia, where sharia (Islamic law) is applied'."

No, I don't think Muslims are going to like that.

I think that I know how many Muslims feel. I'll get back to that later.

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"Fitna" Announcement Censored

Like any good movie maker, Geert Wilders had a '[title]' website. "Until Sunday, this site ( had shown the cover of a Koran on a black background with the text: 'Coming soon: Finta [sic!]'." (March 23, 2008)

I went to "Fitna, the Movie ( today.

It wasn't there.

It its place is a boilerplate announcement: "This site has been suspended while Network Solutions is investigating whether the site's content is in violation of the Network Solutions Acceptable Use Policy. Network Solutions has received a number of complaints regarding this site that are under investigation. For more information about Network Solutions Acceptable Use Policy visit the following URL:"

That URL is Network Solutions' "Acceptable Use Policy" page. It mentions "Prohibited Uses," including, "...profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable material of any kind or nature." [emphases mine] Blogger, the service I use for this blog, has a similar Blogger Content Policy, except that terms like "PORNOGRAPHY AND OBSCENITY," "HATEFUL CONTENT" and "VIOLENT CONTENT" are rather more specifically defined.

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"Objectionable Material" - What's That?

Network Solution's definition of "objectionable material" isn't all that clear to me. Particularly since: Yep, Network Solutions hosts Hezbollah's websites: Look it up at "WhoIs?." The domain is good to go until February 5, 2009, according to Network Solution's WhoIs service.1

More accurately, I've got nothing but a strong suspicion about why Network Solutions yanked a website that some Muslims don't like. There does seem to be a two-tier system for handling complaints:
  • 'Platinum' for objections from very emphatic Muslims, and a few other groups
  • 'Bridge sweepings' for everyone else
That would explain why is "objectionable," and isn't.

By the standards of people who sympathize with Osama bin Laden, Iran's Ayatollah's, or other Islamic extremists, Hezbollah/Hizbollah is a perfectly reasonable organization, with lofty goals and noble methods: and "Fitna" is 15 minutes of infidel lies, whose maker should suffer the fate of Theo van Gough.

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"Why Be Concerned?

I think that it's important for people who publish to be responsible for what they create. Libel and other laws exist to deal with people who make false, slanderous, or damaging statements.

I also think that it's a mistake, and a big one, to pull down a website because of what appear to be a few objections. Particularly since controversial websites are hardly unusual.

It doesn't matter whether Network Solutions yanked a website down to appease radical Muslims, fundamentalist Christians, or people who believe that Elvis is still alive.

Anyone who has material on the web should be concerned, very concerned, when their site can be pulled down because it's "objectionable." With about 6,000,000,000 people on Earth, the odds are that one or two will find any given website or blog "objectionable."

If that sounds silly, consider this: a website, consisting of a picture of the Quran and the word "Fitna," and little else, isn't there any more.

Because it was "objectionable."

Today, it's not your website or blog that's been censored.

Tomorrow, it might be.

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"Fitna" - What Next?

We already know that Mr. Wilders doesn't approve of Islam, probably doesn't like Muslims, and has no intention of being polite about his opinions.

When Geert Wilders' "Fitna" is released, probably next week, we'll find out exactly what he packed into his 15-minute movie. It will probably be an emotionally-charged thrill ride through the decapitations, bombings, stonings, and beatings that some Muslims have made the public face of Islam.

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"Fitna" - a Prediction

Within a few hours of the release, there will be demonstrations. Loud ones. In quite a few cities, mostly in the Middle East, Africa, and Europe, Muslims will set fire to flags. And, most likely, buildings, cars and people.

And people who agree with Mr. Wilders will have more evidence to back up their beliefs.
Update March 28, 2008

I'm pleased to say that I was wrong. The Islamic world broke with tradition and did not explode into a fury of anti-western riots.

After the first, and second, set of violent demonstrations in reaction to some cartoons, I'd expected another embarrassment for Muslims who are trying to deal with the Information Age.

Apparently Arsalan Iftikhar was right, when he said "We in the global community learned a lot from the Danish cartoon controversy ...."

I've been hoping that Muslims, in general, are able to live in a world where everyone is not just like them. The Fitna fizzle helps me think that this is so.
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"Fitna" - Censorship and Blogs

Selected blog reactions: Meanwhile, other people are taking advantage of the "Fitna" online fiasco. is a discussion of Fitna. It's hosted by T Walrecht, in Breezand, the Netherlands. It popped up February 27, 2008. Another site,, displays two email addresses, and the promise that "This domain is for sale."

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"Fitna" and My Views

I haven't seen Geert Wilders' film, but from what I've read of his statements about Islam, and about "Fitna," I think that I'll find myself in agreement with one point made in the film: that Muslims read the Quran, or at least parts of it.

I'm not concerned about the censorship of his film's website because I agree with Geert Wilders. From what I've read, Mr. Wilders seems to have beliefs similar to the ones that made life challenging for my Irish ancestors. He doesn't happen to hate my guts, but that's no reason to agree with him, and hate someone else.

I'm concerned because I think that America supports free speech: and pulling down a website because someone thinks that its contents are objectionable isn't the exercise of "free speech." At least, not by my standards.

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I think I know how Muslims feel about "Fitna."

"Fitna" and "The Last Temptation of Christ"

The two films are not the same, obviously. "Fitna" runs 15 minutes, "Temptation" is 164 minutes long. One is made by a Dutch lawmaker, the other by a professional American film maker.

They do have one thing in common, though: both are offensive to religious groups.

It's been almost 20 years since Scorsese's "Temptation" was released, so here's some background:

"The Last Temptation of Christ" Universal Pictures / Cineplex-Odeon Films, 1988: "The carpenter Jesus (Willem Dafoe) is beset by blinding headaches and comes to the conclusion that he is the Son of God, sent down to spread the word of God to his people. He falls afoul of public and political controversy and is sentenced to death. As he spends his last hours nailed to a cross, Jesus is tempted by Satan with a vision of life as it COULD be..."

"The Last Temptation" was dedicated to showing that Jesus was human, human, human. Which is true, as far as it goes.

Although critically-acclaimed and nominated for numerous Oscars (Best Director (Martin Scorsese), Best Original Score - Motion Picture, Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture (Barbara Hershey)), not everyone approved of the film. Conservative Christians were upset, and some serious thinkers didn't like the film, either. One dissenting review noted that, "Jesus, with less charisma than Woody Allen and less clarity of vision than a youth minister on crack, mumbles some poorly modernized lines about love ..., " and: "It is a requirement for Christian fundamentalists to hate this film, normally without having seen it. And it is in vogue for more liberal minded Christians and film critics to heap praise upon it. Both reactions are inappropriate. It just isn't that blasphemous or that good." (The Film Atheist)

Maybe so. It did, however, strike me as another film in the tradition of "Jesus Christ, Superstar" which assumed that Jesus of Nazareth was a human being. Period.

Since I am a Christian, and a devout Catholic, I believe that Jesus is human. His mother is human. His Father is God. Is he human? Yes. Is he just human? No. I can't agree with the belief that Jesus is just human.

And I certainly can't agree with the idea that He is a nut case with severe headaches who does what the voices in his head say. (Yes, I know: that's not the nicest way to summarize Scorsese's character in the film.)

The nature of the Christ shown in the film is what I found objectionable in the film, not the nudity and Barbara Hershey's portrayal of Mary Magdalene as a hubba-hubba hottie who had sex with Jesus. That last was a vision/hallucination.

(Considering the quality of the sex scene, I'm surprised that the film received such critical acclaim. As Film Atheist described it as "the most reserved coupling you'll find in a film not made by Disney." I take it that he found the groovy part of the film something of a disappointment.)

Would I have stopped "The Last Temptation of Christ" from getting to theaters, if I had that power?


As definitely as I think that the message of the movie is wrong, I do not think it would be right to censor it.

That's partly out of self-interest. I'm Catholic. Among the last things I would want to do is support the idea that Catholics are a bunch of heavy-handed bigots. Censoring a movie because it was in conflict with my beliefs would support that idea.

Besides, I think that what I believe can stand on its own. Two millennia ago, Roman emperors tried to stamp out the Christian Church. I don't think that Martin Scorsese is a bigger threat than Nero and company were, even if he did have Hollywood backing.

And, partly, I wouldn't censor that film, because I believe in freedom of speech, the marketplace of ideas. I believe that, when people are allowed to express their ideas clearly, those ideas will be evaluated. True ones will be accepted (eventually), false ones will be rejected (also eventually), and silly ones will go into a sort of intellectual blooper reel.

Preventing ideas from being expressed doesn't help that process. In fact, it can give the impression that the censored idea has more merit than it actually does.
1 Hosting arrangements might change, when more people know about about Network Solution's business connection with a terrorist group. ("Terrorist" is an American designation: the EU is more open-minded about Hezbollah (a.k.a. Hizbollah, Hizbu'llah).)

Related posts, on censorship, propaganda, and freedom of speech.

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Anonymous said...

Muslims Against Sharia neither endorse nor condemn "Fitna"; we have not seen the film. However, we find it disturbing that Network Solution suspended "Fitna" website while hosting a multitude of radical Islamic websites, some of which belong to (or are closely affiliated with) terrorist groups.

Alex Mcone said...

This is actually a very very delicate issue.

I'm all for freedom of speech. As a blogger I demand that I be given the right to speak my mind.

But then again, these are troubled times. Remember the Danish cartoon controversy ? For freedom of speech the Danish people had to pay a price; the price of living in fear. Danish companies suffered losses due to the Muslim boycott of their products.

But then again you raise a very disturbing point. Supposing we were to agree to protests and pull down offensive material for the sake of peace. What next ? Where will it stop. Anything that offends anyone can be targeted and pulled down over the threat of violence.

So then again we come back to freedom of speech. What then can we define as racist or hate speech like the radio station during the Rwandan Genocide. How can we define such actions as illegal if we grant ultimate freedom of speech.

As I said I'm all up for free rights but the more you think, the more disturbing the consequences you forsee.

Brian H. Gill said...

Muslims Against Sharia,

Thank you for commenting. I've skimmed your "Wilders Movie Website, Network Solutions, Is Caving Into Radical Islam," the blog post you cite.

As I commented there, I welcome a voice of reason.

And, I deeply appreciate an articulate and informed Islamic point of view.

Brian H. Gill said...

Alex Mcone,

It's "a very very delicate issue" indeed!

I am profoundly glad that I'm not involved with the Dutch government: the reasonable ones must be going through a very rough experience.

As you pointed out, the simple-sounding idea of "free speech" is an enormously complex issue, when put into practice.

I'm afraid that, considering how some Muslims have reacted to ideas other than their own before, we're in for violence.

What concerns me is the possibility that more western organizations and governments will decide to let whoever is most willing to kill innocent people determine what the rest of us do, and don't, see.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much, Brian

Anonymous said...

According to the Nicene Creed, Jesus was 100% God and 100% human.

The point of The Last Temptation of Christ was to examine that long-neglected human side.

Brian H. Gill said...


Good point. Although the nature of the conflict between fundamentalist Islam and the ideals which grew in Christian Europe, this blog's focus is more historical and cultural, than theological.

Now, "According to the Nicene Creed, Jesus was 100% God and 100% human." Yes, although the various creeds don't mention percentages.

I'm not a Nestorian, Gnostic, or Arian, and accept the idea that Jesus is true God and true man.

"The Last Temptation of Christ" may have been intended to examine the "long-neglected human side" of Jesus. Unhappily, this review seems to sum up the film rather well: "Deeply flawed screen adaptation of the Nikos Kazantzakis novel probing the mystery of the human nature of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, fails because of artistic inadequacy rather than anti-religious bias."

It's all too easy to see the movie as the tale of a man who "is beset by blinding headaches and comes to the conclusion that he is the Son of God, sent down to spread the word of God to his people." In short, a well-intentioned nut case.

It seems to me that it's another case of 'the names of the characters are true. The incidents have been changed to indulge the author.'

in fact, the tone of the movie, together with Scorsese's "preoccupation with sexual rather than spiritual love," makes me suspect that when Hollywood gets around to Mother Teresa of Calcutta, they'll show her with leather underwear and a whip.

qazi said...

Why blame Islam?

Individuals, not religions, carry out inhuman acts.

Islam is a religion of peace, accepted and practiced by more than 1.25 billion people worldwide. It is the fastest-growing religion in the world, and if it was what some critics claim, why should the people from all walks of life from around the world keep embracing Islam? Where is the sword now?

In Islam, a person has the right to defend himself, his family, his country or his neighbor(s), which justifies the resistance being offered by the people of Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, Iraq, Kashmir and Palestine, to attacks on their soils by the so-called liberators, who are actually the occupiers.

The Holy Qur’an clearly states that if a person saves one life, it’s as if he saved humanity, and if a person kills one human being, it’s as if he killed humanity.

What is happening in the enslaved Muslim countries is a natural reaction to occupation, bombings, killing and terrorizing of innocent civilians (children, old men and women), rapes, in addition to looting of resources, national antiques and artifacts, above all destruction of property by the occupiers.

Terror breeds terror.

We assure those who bash Islam that if there was no occupation in this world by foreign invaders, there would be no resistance – the so-called terror.

We would like those who criticize Islam to explain the following acts committed by the Christians on Jews, other Christians and Muslims alike, throughout history:

- Hundreds of thousands of Muslim men, women and children killed by the crusaders, who were Christians.

- Inquisition of Jews and Muslims from Spain by Queen Isabella, a Christian.

- Millions of people killed by the European and American Christians during the two world wars.

- Atrocities committed on millions of Jews and Christians by Adolph Hitler, a professed Christian.

- Hundreds of thousands of Christians killed every year by the Irish Christians, including the British and the IRA, both Catholics and Protestants, during the past few centuries. Why are they not blamed to be “Christian Terrorists?”

Both of them believe in Jesus Christ, who told them to turn the other cheek, and both of them believe in the same Lord, Who commanded that “Thou shall not kill.” Period.

- Timothy McVeigh, who bombed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, was a Catholic. Are all Catholics terrorists?

Last but not least, the bombings, killings, rapings and lynchings of both American Indians and black slaves (Afro-Americans) during the past 200 years in the United States.
What about them?

Will those filled with hate for Islam blame Christianity for the above inhuman acts by Christians in various parts of the world since its inception?

If not, then why are they blaming the religion of Islam for what is a natural reaction to occupation of Muslim countries by foreign invaders?

Most importantly, these folks should know that the three great Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – have one common basis, and that is one God Almighty.

“All men (and women) are created equal, and we all are one nation under Almighty God,” is a statement according to the Holy Qur’an and is very well elucidated in the U.S. Constitution.

Lastly, yet importantly, as brothers in humanity, we recommend those filled with hate get an education in the history of Islam and Muslims, before they dare to write nasty letters full of personal, ingrain hate and vendetta.

We would be pleased to provide anyone with free copies of the Holy Qur’an and Islamic literature in English, which would help them to understand the truth about Islam and Muslims and get rid of hate from their systems, God willing.

May God Almighty show you the light, Amen.

Brian H. Gill said...


I see you've got a template. For efficiency's sake, I'll follow suit.

Agreed. If you take the very best of one group, and the very worst from another, the first group will look nice, and the second won't.

I try not to do that.

Links to posts about religion, culture, and the war on terror: "Islam, Christianity, Religion, Culture and the War on Terror."

Anonymous said...


"Islam is a religion of peace"

While verses like "kill them [infidels] wherever you find them" remain in the Koran, it is ludicrous to claim that Islam is a religion of peace.

Freedom of Speech Essay said...

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Brian H. Gill said...

Freedom of Speech Essay,

Thank you for your kind words.

Particularly coming from "Freedom Of Speech Essay - How To Write Freedom Of Speech Essays," I'm flattered.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.