Everything you want to know about Geert Wilders Fitna… except the ending!
When Dutch crime reporter Peter R. de Vries announced he solved the Holloway-case and put together his findings, facts, and answers in a two hour film, he did so three days before airing the actual program. For 72 hours the Dutch public was held captive in front of their newspapers and screens. News was primarily dominated by talk shows and articles speculating about the films content prior to its broadcast. In the end the massive media hype resulted in seven million Dutch people staying home on a Sunday evening to watch a Cheech & Chong movie, with all the jokes cut out, being interrupted by commercials. Now the question is: what happens if, instead of three days, you announce a film three months before airing it?
As I am writing this article it is almost four months since Geert Wilders announced that he is preparing a film which elaborates on verses from the Quran, showing they are still being used today, accompanied by documentary footage from the world of Islam, in a 15 minute “call to shake off the creeping tyranny of Islamization”. In the meantime the Dutch government has expressed great concern about the upcoming film release and has made emergency evacuation plans available to all its consulates and embassies worldwide. Also, Dutch Minister-President Balkenende initiated hardening security measurements around military installations abroad. It is feared that the film will lead to violent extremist Muslim protest such as previous protests against the Jyllands-Posten Mohammed cartoons in 2005. Some critics argue that this governmental involvement adds to the publicity of the film and possibly is the cause of its negative association. Wilders accuses Balkenende of succumbing to professional cowardice for capitulating to Islam.
Nonetheless, on March 6th 2008, the Dutch government raised its national terrorist threat level from the status ‘limited terrorist threat’ to ‘substantial terrorist threat’ because it fears Muslim terrorists will launch attacks against European targets, with the film as one of the causes. Also Wilders received a substantial terrorist threat: a fatwa by Al-Qaeda, calling all Muslims around the world to assassinate Wilders in the name of Islam. In addition, various international relations have threatened to review its diplomatic stance with The Netherlands, should the film be aired. Leading to an investigation of the Dutch ministry of Justice to find out whether publication could be prevented, but this could not be done. Dutch law avoids censorship unless the content is discriminating. At this stage Fitna’s content is unknown.
Yet, Pakistani regulators banned YouTube for several days due to a “blasphemous” video clip believed to be a trailer for Fitna. Google eventually complied with the Pakistani protest and the material was removed. In their attempt to censor, Pakistan accidentally caused the YouTube site to be unavailable worldwide for hours. Moreover, on March 20th 2008, the American internet hosting provider Network Solutions took down Fitna’s website, replacing a placeholder image containing a picture of the Koran and the text, “Geert Wilders presents Fitna”, with a message asserting that complaints had prompted an investigation into whether its contents violated Network Solutions’ acceptable use policy. Notions of the Internet being a ‘free for all’, ‘revolutionary’ and ‘antigovernment’ distributed global network, should be reevaluated. Both YouTube and Network Solutions exemplify the hierarchical authority of control that exists in its decentralized design and the political pressure and power that allow manipulation.
Authority and control are even more evident in old media. Wilders negotiated about a possible broadcast of the film on the Dutch television. At this stage however it appears that no Dutch broadcaster wants to show the film in its entirety without interruptions and editing. Wilders has said that he would “Rather have the film entirely on the Internet, than half on television”. Fitna is a telling example of the conformist practice in Dutch television. The only tolerant Dutch broadcaster turned out to be the Dutch Muslim broadcasting network: the Nederlandse Moslim Omroep (NMO) offered to air the film, but insisted on an assessment prior to its broadcast, which Wilders turned down. I was enthuses when I read that the NMO proposed to show Fitna in its entirety. This could solve all problems. Not only are all bases – from a political perspective – covered; it would have been a beautiful gesture from both sides, hinting at compassion and forgiveness.
Perhaps one could say the conservative structure of television represents contemporary bureaucracy. On the other hand, Fitna demonstrates the emancipating and mobilizing quality of media. Numerous petitions are distributed via Internet channels, various artists have created ‘counter-films’, and the widespread critique of the (unseen) film has spawned protest actions including a protest of 1,000 people in Dam Square in Amsterdam. People gather together allowing the streets and media to become a platform for their neglected voice. Whilst governments are repressing masses by elaborating on increase of threat, religious conflict and censorship; there actually are people who consider Fitna to be an inappropriate political expression for a politician in a country with a multi-cultural population.
When searching for Geert Wilders Fitna on YouTube, you will have a difficult time missing hundreds of unique clips with the word “Sorry”. Inspired by an apology project done in America (concerning their President), Amsterdam-based Mediamatic mobilized professional and amateur film makers on YouTube in an attempt to show the world Holland is not solely inhabited by bitter angry Wilders clones, but flooded with artistic lovable people. And they are sorry. Sorry for the commotion, confusion, and it will never happen again….
But, should we really be sorry? I mean isn’t Fitna a brilliant new media case-study? The announcement to make a film for television and Internet has resulted in a multi-media hype, a demonstration of online and offline mobilization, and has spiced up contemporary debates concerning distribution laws, internet freedom, security, global politics and ‘impactology’. No doubt in the near future Fitna will be a cuisine for many hungry scholars (in domains of media, law, politics, sociology, cultural anthropology, religion studies) allowing them to obtain their Master and Phd degrees…… thanks to Wilders.