April 4, 2008

Blasphemers Unite!

Egypt's Grand Imam Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi threatened “severe” consequences if the Dutch government doesn’t ban Parliamentarian Geert Wilders’ anti-Islamic film Fitna. It makes no difference to Tantawi and other perpetually outraged Islamists that the Netherlands is a sovereign country with its own laws. Ever since Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini condemned Salman Rushdie to death for writing the supposedly offensive Satanic Verses – and sent death squads after him and his publishers around the world – radical Islamists have seen it as their right and duty to enforce their own unilateral anti-blasphemy laws on the human race. (Meanwhile, liberal American Muslim Aziz Poonawalla hosts Fitna on his own Web site even though he, as should be expected, doesn’t like it.)

Fitna isn’t the only recent movie hard-line Islamists hope to squelch beyond their own borders. The other is Persepolis, an animated film based on Iranian author Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel of the same name about repression under both the Shah Reza Pahlavi and the Ayatollah Khomeini. General Wafik Jizzini at Lebanon’s Ministry of the Interior banned it because, he said, Shia officials (read: Hezbollah) said it was offensive to Islam and – you guessed it – Iran. Islamic Republic officials and their proxies are true to form here, considering it was they who kicked off the international anti-blasphemy campaign in the first place.

“The heart of every culture-loving Lebanese breaks with every ban,” writes Abu Kais, a Lebanese Shia who lives now in Washington and writes the indispensable blog From Beirut to the Beltway. Beirut is a genuinely cosmopolitan and culturally rich city, more so than any other Arab capital. And Lebanon, true to its form, fought back. Tarek Mitri, Lebanon’s Minister of Culture, managed to overturn the ban and get Persepolis on the big screen after all.

It’s too bad Fitna and the reaction to it sucked all the media oxygen out of the room. I haven’t seen Geert Wilders’ short film, but he’s sounds like a reactionary who makes a poor poster boy for free expression (he wants to ban the Koran in the Netherlands). He not only thinks radical Islamists shouldn’t be able to buy their own copy, but neither should moderate Muslims or people like you and me who might want to study it for our own reasons. The man has a death threat hanging over his head from nutjobs the world over, as do employees at the Internet company LiveLeak that hosts the film, yet an enormous amount of the public discussion revolves around whether or not his film is offensive. It is offensive to some people, including many reasonable people. But that’s beside the point.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at April 4, 2008 10:33 AM


"Fitna" is a disturbing movie. I managed to watch it to about the 6 minute mark, when I guessed what was about to happen was a beheading.
It was a well done movie (15 minutes?), but quite graphic. Someone remarked that it could be used as a AQ recruiting tool.

Posted by: Tom in Texas Author Profile Page at April 4, 2008 8:10 PM

If I understand correctly (but I won't bet my life on it), his quest to ban the Koran takes a cue from Germany's ban on "Mein Kampf".

Posted by: gus3 Author Profile Page at April 4, 2008 10:39 PM

Politics aside, any movie that features snuff material (in this case, the decapitation), regardless of context, should NOT be supported. Is the entire footage of the hostage execution shown, or does it cut off before the actual beheading?

Posted by: lee Author Profile Page at April 5, 2008 1:10 AM


I don't know.

I haven't seen it. I don't want to watch it. I don't want it banned. And I don't want Geert Wilders to be the next Theo Van Gogh, even though I have no time for Geert Wilders.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at April 5, 2008 1:13 AM

The important question here isn’t whether Fitna or Persepolis is offensive. "Offensive" movies will always be with us--they're a sign of human creativity, a spur to debate. I just hope the United Nations doesn't get involved. At the same time international campaigns were launched to shut down these movies, the United Nations Human Rights Council – in true Orwellian fashion – passed a resolution against “the defamation of religion” and suggests governments pass laws to stop to it. If freedom of expression – which includes the right to blaspheme the Gods – isn’t a human right, then human rights do not exist.

Agreed. Those crazy radicals back in 1776 were saying the same kind of thing. It's amazing that people are still arguing about it..

It's much easier to defend Persepolis than to defend Fitna. I don't agree with the poor quality and lame argument in Wilders work, but it is necessary to defend it.

In contrast, Persepolis was a work of art, both in comic book form and as a film.

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at April 5, 2008 11:01 AM

I think that the Lebanon ban has been lifted, almost as soon as it was put in place:


Mike... is there evidence that Iran
"...sent death squads after him and his publishers around the world..." as you claim?

According to Wikipedia: an unknown assailant stabbed the Japanese translator to death, and an Italian and Scandanavian publisher were shot and wounded.

But is there any evidence that the Iranian state was behind these attacks? Clearly the Iranians may have encouraged this sort of aggression because of the bounty on Rushdie's head and the general opposition to The Satanic Verses, but HIT SQUADS sent from Tehran is a big jump upwards....

Certainly, I would suggest there is no evidence whatsoever that Iranian hit squads were despatched after Mr. Rushdie himself.

The best argument for that is that Mr Rushdie is still with us.

Posted by: Microraptor Author Profile Page at April 6, 2008 1:04 PM

At the beheading scene the image fades, as I recall, back to a page of the Koran. The sound does not fade out. The victim screams. Momentarily.

Posted by: msr Author Profile Page at April 6, 2008 1:26 PM


Khomeini gave the general order. He doesn't have to give orders to the specific individuals who actually carried out the attack.

Years ago an Idaho man named Tom Metzger was found liable to murder when his skinhead fans took his public advice and beat an Ethiopian man to death in Oregon. He didn't give orders to those specific individuals, only to his followers in general, but that was not enough to exonerate him.

If Metzger is guilty, so is Khomeini.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at April 6, 2008 3:26 PM

Lee, do you think the people jumping out of the WTC to their certain deaths, thus snuff footage, should be not supported?

After so much fake horror-show violence and blood, seeing the real thing is very disturbing.

But, I think people need to be disturbed, even offended, in order to be willing to support the VIOLENCE needed to enforce "rule of law", and to protect human rights from those who are willing to use violence to take those rights away.

Use of violence, and of gov't force, should not be supported for as many minor things as it is -- yet should be more supported for stopping genocide and protecting free speech and free religion.

In the positives and negatives about the disturbing actual video footage of any beheading, the higher likelihood of people "knowing" what the terrorists are willing and able to do seems to me to be more important than avoiding offending the terrorist enablers, although offending the true moderates is a true disadvantage of showing such footage.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad Author Profile Page at April 7, 2008 9:16 AM

Liberty Dad

I've heard your line of reasoning before. Michael Savage (an extreme right wing radio talk show host) put THREE footages of the hostage decapitation (Nick Berg, the American mechanic whose name I can't recall, and Kim Sun IL) with a line that read something like "Show your liberal friends who the enemy is." They're taken down now.

The beheading flims were planned and shot by Al Qaeda, and it was targeted for a certain audience, so it qualifies as snuff (the footages of the victims are not, IMO). If the swedish documentary featured the entire sequence of the execution, the whole project becomes snuff by my book. If that is indeed the case, (I'm told that it fades away before the blade strikes) I would HEARTILY support any kind of efforts to remove it from online hosting sites or whereever, regardless of context.

I don't believe in using exploitation to persuade others. If I was against the death penalty, I would not advocate for a documentary that features graphic footages of executions to run during prime time, in an effort to "educate" the audience. We debase our humanity greatly when we CHOOSE to watch premeditated loss of human life shot on film. There's a difference between glancing over still photos of severed heads on a killing field (the book "rape of Nanking" comes to mind) and actually witnessing live, moving images of someone's flesh being torn apart.

Posted by: lee Author Profile Page at April 7, 2008 3:09 PM

In the first paragraph by "footage of victims" I meant people jumping off the WTC building. Again, that's not snuff IMO

Posted by: lee Author Profile Page at April 7, 2008 3:13 PM

The Muslim world needs to realise that their anger, real or frained, creates a market for this sort of stuff. If they muted their response this stuff would not get the circulation it does.

Fitna, as a piece of work, is rubbish. We could take almost any religion or political movement and make the same exact movie. I watched it and thought of what I could do with the verses from the Old Testament telling the Israelites to snuff entire cities, down to the women, children and animals.

It is trash journalism and plays to those who already hate Islam. Having said that, the right to say what one thinks, no matter how stupid it is, is a right that MUST be defended.

Posted by: Marc Author Profile Page at April 9, 2008 7:14 AM

Thank you for your in-depth reporting. To get honest on-location dialogs and photos with our troops is quite helpful.

It appears your Post Dates are quite delayed from the interview dates. It would be helpful to know when the interviews are held to put into context with what we hear about today. My son is a Marine currently stationed in Karmah.

Posted by: Tyrus Author Profile Page at April 19, 2008 3:48 PM
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