Friday, 28 March 2008

Anticlimax

Well here it is: Fitna the movie. It does exist, after all. If you've got precisely 15 minutes to spare, and you haven't already watched the thing, sit back and enjoy:



Not entirely a damp squib, but a lot less explosive than a car bomb. A few predictable out-of-context quotations; some over-familiar (but perhaps that's the point) footage of terrorist incidents; a handful of satisfyingly mad mullahs (no names, but one or two certainly looked familiar) and President Ahmadinejad; and some music by Grieg, which for me was the highlight. Nothing we haven't seen before, and hardly the devastating critique Geert Wilders' supporters may have been hoping for (or his Islamist opponents for that matter). It is both less hard-hitting, and less aesthetically bold, than Theo van Gogh's Submission, with its genuinely shocking and original use of Koranic verses written on the naked body of a woman. The most memorable image in this new work is probably that of Kurt Westegaard's bomb-in-turban cartoon.

Some people will have been feeling a bit silly this morning. Network Solutions, for example, who last week suspended Fitna's official website on the grounds that it might violate its "acceptable use policy". Or the assembled ranks of pusillanimous European politicians, who have spent the past several months urging Wilders to stay his hand, fearful of the apocalyptic terrors that they imagined would sweep the earth in its aftermath. Or perhaps the Organisation of Islamic Conference, whose official commission on "Islamophobia" highlighted Wilders' desire to "release a film vilifying the Holy Quran" as one of the worst instances of western bigotry they could find.

The first question must be, was it worth it? Spiegel yesterday carried an interview with Wilders, in which he described his hunted existence, under constant protection, sleeping (rather like Salman Rushdie in 1989) in a different location every night, seeing his wife only every week or so. And yet, it went on, he "derives obvious enjoyment" from the discomfiture of his political opponents, forced simulataneously to defend and denounce his film. No doubt the notoriety which his publicity-seeking persona evidently craves is some compensation. But that might not last much longer, given the muted, even relieved, reactions of many to the film as released.

For months now, Wilders has been milking this for all it is worth. Did he, in the end, pull his punches, fearful of the chaos which might have followed a truly outrageous film? Or is he simply incapable of matching up to the hype? He is a politician, after all, not an artist. He speaks in the language of simplification and shallow soundbites; he repeats fearmongering platitudes. Originality eludes him. As I argued last week, Fitna was powerful as an idea, because the very absence of an actual film allowed fear of its eventual reception to fester in the minds of politicians and religious leaders both in the west and in Islamic countries. It forced discussion back onto the first principles of free speech versus sensitivity and "respect". It recalled the shocking fate of the murdered Theo van Gogh, and images (heavily used by Wilders) of masked protesters carrying "death to freedom" placards.

But now we've seen it, and the world shrugs. The middle east is not aflame. Wilders' bluff has been called.

UPDATE: LiveLeak have withdrawn the video after unspecified "threats". Google Video still has it, however.

5 comments:

Lost Causes said...

Hmmm. It's not very artistic, contains no new information, and no real analysis. It has the same aesthetic as the Jihadi videos of which it is the political opposite. 9-11 footage is always shocking of course, especially as some of this never made it to UK TV. But what of the years of violence (from all sides) since?

The Heresiarch said...

A very good point about the jihadi videos, although they actually go much further. Wilders' film doesn't show the moment of beheading - although you hear the scream, and it's blood-curdling.

It's interesting to speculate about the reason for the fairly muted reaction. There have been protests, and the Dutch prime ministers criticised Wilders again last night. But there's nothing to compare with the cartoon protests, or even the teddy bear protests in Sudan. Not yet. Several possible explanations. One is that the Internet is what McLuhan would have called a "cool" medium. Another is that Wilders avoided anything explicitly blasphemous. There's nothing, really, for protesters to latch onto.

If the film has a positive effect, it may be to reduce the purchase of the anti-free-speech argument. Many of which are grounded in fear. I think that there will be slightly less fear, or hysteria, next time.

But Fitna can't hold a candle to any one of Pat Condell's blissful rants.

Cinnamon said...

What did you actually expect?

You sound disappointed as if you hoped for something else.

The Heresiarch said...

On the contrary, this is precisely what I expected: see my earlier post "Coming soon". But I think both Wilders and some of his antagonists will be disappointed by the relatively mild reaction. It certainly didn't live up to the advance billing.

It's a good thing the film did actually come out, though. It has lanced a potentially ugly boil.

Cinnamon said...

I'm not too sure I'd class the EU reaction (and others) as 'mild'.

Our Eumperors' declaration is far more depressing than any size of bigotted islamist mob(s).