In Defense of Geert Wilders

Dear Reader

When I read that Geert Wilders’ film “Fitna” had been banned in the EU, of course I had to download it. As I watched the relentless scenes of death, cruelty, and extremist Muslim anger, I felt fear envelop me in a toxic cloud. Tears filled my eyes. I could hardly sit still for the outrage.

When it was over, I felt drained, yet still very fearful. Extremist Muslims, it appears, want to take over the world. They want to control us all, to take away our rights, to set up an Islamofacist empire in every country, starting in the Netherlands. According to the film, they are making great progress. Despair blew like a cold wind across my bones. All I wanted, in that moment, was to crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head.

But I knew I couldn’t stop there. I had to find hope, to find reminders that violent purveyors of Islam are the minority, hated by their own people. I found video responses to “Fitna” that did, indeed, quell the pulse of terror that the film was designed to provoke. Weeks later, I watched “Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?” and my faith in the power of humanity to resist fascist control and in the the power of love over hate was restored.

“Fitna” no doubt had a similar effect on many viewers. But is that bad or good? The fact is, Wilders’ footage is all legitimate. His film reflects a reality that holds true for many, from those living under the iron hand of facism to the victims of terrorism and their families and friends. Is this a reality that should be ignored, or explored? Should it be banned, or discussed?

Now I read that Wilders has been banned from British soil as an “undesirable person.” The reason for this may be pressure from Muslims, or Wilders’ own protection against the volatile radicals living in the UK today. But I can’t help asking myself: Does this mean that the thugs have won? Or — that they are winning?

“Fitna” offended me with its implication that the larger Muslim world supports the violence of the few. But even more offensive are the attempts to silence Wilders’ warning that, yes, there are those in the world who will resort to violent measures to control the rest of us. By “us,” I’m including moderate Muslims, those who walk the compassionate, egalitarian “middle path” envisioned by the Prophet Muhammad. They should appropriate this film, not try to ban it. Censorship is the least effective way to counter its disturbing images. Publicly declaring that violence is wrong, and that extremists are not the majority, would go far to help moderates reclaim their religion from the lunatics who are trying to hijack it.

As it stands now, with the British government supporting radicals’ “right” not to be offended, the people of the UK find their own freedom of speech endangered. It began with Salman Rushdie, 20 years ago; it continues with Mr. Wilders and also with “The Jewel of Medina,” whose future in the UK remains hostage to the actions and rhetoric of a few who have not even read the book.

On the road to facism, free speech is the first obstacle — and the most critical one. Once we lose it, we lose everything, including freedom of religion. Films like “Fitna” make people uncomfortable, but censorship should make us even more so. It’s as Mr. Rushdie has said: Without the freedom to offend, there is no freedom of speech. I’ll add this: Without freedom of speech, there is no freedom at all.

Keep reading — and speaking,