On "Fitna" and confrontational politics

Here's an image of the future for you: the extremists of the world (a.k.a. the idiots) engage in an escalating and violent pissing contest while the intelligent folks try to keep their heads down. Sounds groovy. You've probably heard about Fitna, a movie produced by far-righ Dutch MP Geerts Wilders. It's a 15 minute screed against Islam, combining stock footage of 9/11, the Madrid bombings, and the London Tube attacks with alarmist statistics about the 'Islamisation' of the Netherlands. The upshot: Islam is a violent religion, determined to rule the world and destory Western civilization. I'm not going to post it up here, because I find it distasteful. But feel free to check it out at LiveLeak.

Here's why this video pisses me off. First, it isn't a good movie. A lot of third-rate off-the-shelf special effects connecting a bunch of stock footage and about eight lines of original dialogue. It's the kind of thing I could make at home, given too much spare time and a hate-on for Islam.

Second, it doesn't contain anything like original thought or insight. Islam wants to destory our nations and everything we hold dear? Please. I've heard that so many times, it's just background noise by now. Sure, the Qu'ran has all kinds of loopy things written in it. So does the Bible and every other religious text in the history of humanity.

Here's my big problem with this crap. Fitna isn't meant to inform, or challenge, or entertain. It is intended to provoke. Wilders is out to stir up extremist Muslims, so he can point at them and explain how irrational and dangerous they are. And the fundamentalists will be more than happy to oblige. One of them might even shoot Wilders in the face, ensuring his martyr status among likeminded xenophobes.

I find it impossible to respect this kind of politics, never mind its frequent invocation of one of the values most important to me- freedom of speech. The politics of confrontation isn't just hurtful and cruel. It's lazy. Look, getting fundamentalist Muslims- or Christians, Jews, Hindus, Scientologists, or whatever lame religion you want to name- riled up is the easiest thing in the world. Say something critical of the magical fairy creature they worship and they lose their minds. Like ants in a jar, really. Shake it up, and you know they'll fight. It's just a question of who gets all their legs ripped off first.

Worse, this kind of baiting obscures the real issue. Fundamentalism, regardless of creed, is a real problem. Wilders has constructed a classic straw man, suggesting that since some Muslims are murderous and violent, all Muslims must be murderous and violent. Any reasonable person knows this just isn't true. But Islam, like most other relgions, needs to confront the dangerously anachronistic fundamentalism simmering at its fringes. But in all the shouting following something like Fitna, that kind of conversation becomes impossible. The rational voices are lost in the cacaphony, and everyone is forced on a slow train to insanity. Then people die.

And that sucks.

You can believe whatever you want. Pray to your god, wear a Burqa, carry a rosary around, be born-again. Great. But the minute you start imposing your beliefs on others, you've crossed a line. And if your imposition comes by way of violence, you're so far past the line you're getting long distance calls from the people on the other side. Fundamentalism is a disease, and we need a way to address it. Fitna and the way of thinking it represents doesn't help. In fact, I suspect it will make things much, much worse.

Here's a thought: why not try living a moral, ethical life without expectation of reward or punishment? You'll find it squares pretty well with rational thought and, you know, the modern world.