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:
- Why All the Fuss about "Fitna?"
- "Fitna" Announcement Censored
- "Objectionable Material" - What's That?
- Why Be Concerned?
- "Fitna" - What Next?
- "Fitna" - a Prediction
- "Fitna" - Censorship and Blogs
- "Fitna" and My Views
- "Fitna" and "The Last Temptation of Christ"
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 CensoredLike any good movie maker, Geert Wilders had a '[title]themovie.com' website. "Until Sunday, this site (www.fitnathemovie.com) had shown the cover of a Koran on a black background with the text: 'Coming soon: Finta [sic!]'." Breitbart.com (March 23, 2008)
I went to "Fitna, the Movie (www.fitnathemovie.com) 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: http://www.networksolutions.com/legal/aup.jsp"
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:
- An announcement of a controversial upcoming film is yanked
- hizbollah.org - "موقع المقاومة الإسلامية في لبن" (English version "Islamic Resistance In Lebanon - Official Web Site") isn't
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
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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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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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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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 BlogsSelected blog reactions:
- "Network Solutions censors Fitna website"
Klein Verzet (March 22, 2008)
Good background, and a call for a blogburst on the topic
- "Network Solutions Suspends Site of Anti-Islam Film 'Fitna' "
American Congress for Truth (March 23, 2008)
- "Will any American company host 'Fitna?' Update: Wilders says, 'If need be, I’ll personally distribute DVDs;' Dutch court to rule"
Michelle Malkin (March 22, 2008)
"Will any American company host 'Fitna?' " That's a good question.
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"Fitna" and My ViewsI 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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