An open, liberal discussion of religion is, in most cases, an unpleasant one for many faithful and the movie "Fitna" is no exception.
Produced by the Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilder the film takes a straight look at the ideology of groups like Al-Qaeda, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah, among others. Parts of the 16-minute film are graphically violent and it may be difficult to watch.
But it's definitely worth watching if only for two reasons. First is to remember that Radical Islamists have long declared a bloody and brutal war, and second is that they are waging it with explicit reference to what they believe their religion teaches.
Wilders's film contains quotations from the Qur'an, Islam's holy book, intermixed with scenes of Islamist atrocities - such as Al-Qaeda's attacks on New York and Madrid, the beheading of Nick Berg and the "honor killing" of women.
To drive home his point that these actions are committed in the name of Islam by fervently religious Muslims, "Fitna" includes footage from Islamic preachers, commanding followers to kill the infidel.
"Throats must be slit, and skulls must be shattered," urges one preacher, "this is the path to victory."
There are also clips showing how pervasive such teachings can be. In a clip that aired on Saudi TV a 3-year-old girl repeats what she has been taught, that according to the Qur'an, Jews are apes and pigs.
What has been so controversial about the film is not the behavior that it depicts, but that Wilders links such behavior to the Qur'an. Why the controversy exists in the first place is unclear to me, since the Jihadists empathetically cite the Qur'an and the Hadith to justify their violent actions.
Nevertheless, "Fitna" was widely condemned. The Dutch Prime Minister issued statements in Dutch and English saying that the film "serves no other purpose than to cause offense." UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon labeled the film "offensively anti-Islamic." The European Union's Slovenian presidency blasted the film for "inflaming hatred."
From the Muslim world, naturally, there were also denunciations. Reuters reported that Iran's foreign ministry labeled the film "heinous, blasphemous, and anti-Islamic." The government of Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, said the film was "an insult to Islam." In Jordan 55 MPs demanded the Dutch ambassador's expulsion. The Organization for the Islamic Conference denounced the film as "a deliberate act of discrimination against Muslims" meant to "provoke unrest and intolerance," CNN reported.
I will grant them that there is nothing at all subtle about the Wilders film. Anyone who didn't know better might think after watching the film that Islam is irredeemably violent, or even that all Muslims worldwide seethe with religious-based anger. Neither is true.
Like all religions Islam is subject to a large number of interpretations. Most of them are unlike those of the Jihadist movement that seeks the West's destruction.
Zealots and bigots who say that Islam is itself the enemy are hurting us and condemning us to, in effect, a war without end. They also betray the anti-Islamist Muslim moderates who are repulsed and disgusted by the radicals just as much as, if not more, than non-Muslims are.
Still, Wilders didn't invent anything new. The violence portrayed in "Fitna" is real and the fanatics who commit and preach this violence explicatively and emphatically say that they do them as Muslims.
Where is the Muslim world's outrage against that? Where is Iran's foreign minister's outrage over the beheading of a hostage or a poisonous sermon of a radical cleric? I would argue, that teaching what the radical clerics preach is considerably more heinous, blasphemous, and, yes, anti-Islamic.
How often has the Organization of the Islamic Conference denounced "honor" killings or Islamist anti-Semitism?
Look, Fitna, whatever its flaws, still deserves to be seen. Yet, panicked by the prospect of Islamist violence and desperate to appease extremists, the film was criticized and even censored. This would never happen to anything film that criticized Christianity and the Islamists very well know this.
Censorship is not the way to defend or protect civilization. There is definitely room, I think, for "Fitna", in our large idea marketplace, that is, unless political correctness stands higher than free expression and the right to criticize religion or its interpretation.