The Case of Geert Wilders and Fitna

by Caela

The British government is “the biggest bunch of cowards in Europe. They are more Chamberlain than Churchill,” Dutch MP Geert Wilders said after being refused entry into Britain to show his film Fitna in the House of Lords.

The British government is “the biggest bunch of cowards in Europe. They are more Chamberlain than Churchill,” Dutch MP Geert Wilders said after being refused entry into Britain to show his film Fitna in the House of Lords.

Last Thursday (12th Feb.), Dutch Parliamentarian Geert Wilders was denied entry into United Kingdom (UK), detained and deported back to the Netherlands. Wilders came after being invited UKIP peer Lord Pearson of Rannoch to screen and discuss his film Fitna with peers and MPs in the upper chambers of the British parliament, the House of Lords. He was denied entry despite the protest of the Dutch government to the British government when Mr. Wilders received a letter from the British Embassy in The Hague saying that he is a “persona non grata” in the UK and that he is a threat to public security and public harmony because of the controversy created by Fitna.

Watch the BBC interview of Wilders while being detained >>

There are three key issues here: (1) freedom of speech; (2) the unprecedented barring of an elected EU parliamentarian by another EU country; and (3) the film Fitna

Freedom of Speech

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless frontiers”.

-Article 19, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

“We’ve got to allow these people to say these filthy, terrible things and then we’ve got to take them on and dismiss them and move on. But once you ban them you give them a different kind of credibility. And that’s the mistake,” says Lord Pearson.

Voltaire is said to have pointed out that freedom of expression means defending someone’s right to assert that with which one disagrees. And this freedom is one of the key rights that democracies around the world holds dear.  Moreover in Mr. Wilders’ case, it is political freedom as well which is one of the very essence of democracy. While it is true that his sentiments gives room to numerous disagreements, it is also true that he has the rights to voice them.

For years, Britain’s free speech had been its validation of respect and the envy of the world. Extremist and Radicals from all over the world used to find asylum in London. Russians, Chechens, Algerians, but also radical Islamic groups were able to settle there. Karl Marx fled there from Paris. But all of this seem to be undone and undermined by this single event and quite rightly so. If an elected EU parliamentarian was denied entry because of his views despite the protest of his country’s government (an EU member), would others have a better chance?

It is interesting to note that although the film is going to shown only in the House of Lords and to a limited number of people for educational and discussion purposes was deemed as one that could “stir up hate, religious and racial hatred according to the laws of the land”. Foreign Minister David Milliband also quite alarmingly claimed the the film contains “extreme anti-Muslim hate” despite not having seen it yet.

Watch the BBC interview of Foreign Minister David Milliband >>

For a moment I feared that I would be refused entrance.But I was confident the British government would never sacrifice free speech because of fear of Islam. Britannia rules the waves, and Islam will never rule Britain, so I was confident the Border Agency would let me through. And after all, you have invited stranger creatures than me. Two years ago the House of Commons welcomed Mahmoud Suliman Ahmed Abu Rideh, linked to Al Qaeda. He was invited to Westminster by Lord Ahmed, who met him at Regent’s Park mosque three weeks before. Mr. Rideh, suspected of being a money man for terror groups, was given a SECURITY sticker for his Parliamentary visit.

-Geert Wilders MP, (undelivered) speech to the British House of Lords

EU Relations

NRC Handelsblad recently reported that “Dutch Politicians are indignant about the treatment of member of parliament Geert Wilders but want to avoid a diplomatic conflict. Relations between Britain and the Netherlands are too important.” Less than a week after the Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende’s visit at 10 Downing Street and with the current economic crisis (both UK and the Netherlends are in recession), the relationship between the two countries is indeed valuable. But whether or not it is legal, just about every Dutch politician is at odds with the British decision.

As he was being led away, Wilders said: “I am not nervous but is this how Great Britain welcomes a democrat?” I think this will be an issue that concerns the EU as a whole in the sense that an elected parliamentarian of one EU country was barred from entering another EU member country. (Had this probably been another independent filmmaker, it would probably not have attracted so much media attention.)

The Foreign Affairs Ministry of the Netherlands released a statement saying that “The Netherlands deeply regrets that the United Kingdom did not see fit to revoke its decision to refuse Mr. Wilders’ entry into the country.” Regret is of course, as pointed out by the NRC, diplomatic term for ‘do not rock the boat‘. The Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Verhagen had earlier telephoned his British counterpart, David Milliband, to express his displeasure when the ban was first annouced. The Dutch Parliamentary Chairman Gerdi Verbeet also sent a letter to the Chairman British House of Lords with a copy to the Chairman of the British House of Commons with the request to do every thing possible to allow Mr. Wilders’ entry.

One may indeed raise the question, is the UK government suicidal? The UK has had many exclusions from the EU as it is (and among it the Euro) and banning a parliamentarian from an EU member state is indeed ‘rocking the boat’ that has been in a delicate balance. The damaged would have probably been less had the spokesman of the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that he (Mr. Brown) “fully supports the decision” taken by British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, it would have been a better political move to refuse to comment on the situation by merely saying that such is a decision for the Home Secretary and that she should do as she see fit. The British government could have indeed held this in a more sensible way that would not have caused such diplomatic concerns because at the end of the day the headline that came across was: Dutch MP refused entry in UK.

Thijs Berman, a Dutch EU Socialist Parliamentarian, said he will discuss the case during Tuesday’s socialist EU Parliamentarians meeting in Brussels. He is determined to obtain an “official rebuke” for Britains “totally wrong decision”. “Politicians must be allowed to do their work” he continued, ” and EU member’s states are all democratic countries and allowing Mr Wilders to enter Britain would have strengthened democracy within the EU.” (as reported by the Telegraph)

Fitna

Watch the movie Fitna >>

“[I]f you look at the film, all the film does is too show the result of the hate which they bear us. It’s that way around. […] What Baroness Cox and I are trying to do is to promote discussion particularly among the vast majority of the mild Muslim population who have really got to start discussing what the Quran means among themselves and against their coreligionist who perpetrated every thing you saw on that film. So which way around is the hate? Is it us that hate them or them that hate us? And why?”

-Lord Pearson of Rannoch, House of Lords, UK

Watch Lord Pearson’s statement at BBC >>

After seeing Fitna, a rational person would conclude that it does not show “extreme anti-Muslim hate”. What it does show is how religion is used to justify violence and terrorism around the world (9/11 in New York, the train bombings in Madrid, 7/7 in London…). I raises the question of why and more importantly the idea the need for this to be discussed. Prohibiting one man from discussing his views does not solve the problem because the real threat to security is not Mr. Wilders’ opinion but the extremists call for violence.

It is not an issue of Muslims against Christians or Jews or whatever religion. It is not a film against Islam but against an ideology, against using religion to justify violence and terrorism. It is a film that demands the international community and faiths in general (including Islam) to sit down and talk, debate and challenge this ideology to foster understanding and seek peace.

“We can think of the great humanitarian enterprises which bring relief to those who are suffering – the Red Cross, the Red Crescent or Islamic Relief, CAFOD and Christian Aid, Hindu Aid and SEWA International, World Jewish Relief and Khalsa Aid – all the charities which draw inspiration from the teachings of the different faiths.

To them their faith is realised in action: in commitment to others; in caring; in compassion; in an all-embracing feeling of solidarity.  They believe they act as instruments of God’s love when they perform such actions.

But let us also recall for a moment the evils of the 20th Century done in the furtherance of political ideology; fascism and the holocaust; communism and the millions of Stalin’s victims.  And recall how the heroic defiance of those evils was often led by men and women of faith.

Religious faith can give rise to extremism.  It is most obviously associated with extremism in the name of Islam through the activities of Al Qaida and others.  But we shouldn’t kid ourselves.  Even if by far most religious people are not prone to the use of terror, at least not nowadays, there are extremists in virtually every religion.  And even where there is not extremism expressed in violence there is extremism expressed in the idea that a person’s identity is to be found not merely in their religious faith, but in their faith as a means of excluding the other person who does not share it.

If people of different faiths can co-exist happily, in mutual respect and solidarity, so can our world. And if faith takes its proper place in our lives, then we can live with a purpose beyond ourselves alone, supporting humanity on its journey to fulfilment.”

-Tony Blair, “Faith and Globalization”, Cardinal Lecture, 2008

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3 Responses to “The Case of Geert Wilders and Fitna”
  1. Caela says:

    I think this story is a little funny, sad, tragic and kinda useless. (But I want to share it nonetheless.)

    I had a recent exchange with a local lawyer, a friend of mine, and asked him if he’s heard of Wilders’ case. He admitted to me that he hadn’t seen much news these days since they’re preparing for a case.

    So I told him that Geert Wilders is a Dutch MP who was barred from entering Britain to show and discuss his film Fitna to the House of Lords. Before I could continue however, he interrupted me with a great big “They did what?!” and an exasperated sigh. I thought he was going to go on the diplomatic ramifications of it but he then continued to say, “Hang on, are you sure it’s Britain?” I told him “positive”.

    Then he continued with a little note of panic, “You mean Great Britain? The country who gave us the Magna Carta? The mother of parliaments?” Then he uttered in defeat, “We’re doomed.”

    So I told him, “No, we’re not. They are.”

    Then he launched into this conspiracy theory about the New World Order and the plot to centralize power etc, etc. So I went all skeptic on him and said, “Really, Gio? I never knew you were big on conspiracies but before you draw anymore conclusions, let me first finish.” So I launched into telling him the whole story and he listened patiently like a good lawyer should.

    After a while, he smiled sheepishly and said, “Well, back in law school my teachers were always hot on me jumping to conclusions before hearing out the whole case. I guess I’ve never really learned.” Then he added a bit more seriously, “But I still think they’re pretty much fucked over there.”

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  1. […] some agree, some mere acknowledge his right to say what he has to say and some simply dismiss. In a previous entry, I discussed the issues surrounding the Fitna and Wilders. However, those are not the most pressing […]



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