I had heard about the “controversial” film Fitna in the days prior to this posting, but I had not found reason to watch it until I noticed that screening it would soon become necessary for discussion in the context of my Amsterdam class. So I watched it just now.
I am speechless.
My only context for the film was twofold: an assumption that the film was about Islam, gleaned from its shared name with the term used for the Islamic civil wars, and the fact that it was “controversial,” a bit of news gathered from various blogs I read detailing its existence on Google Video. I had always assumed that this film would be “controversial” in the way that a political blog like Daily Kos is, or in the way that the great Martin Luther King was at some point “controversial” – that is, that they examine what is already a controversial subject (political news and racism, respectively), and draw certain insightful but not necessarily politically safe analyses and conclusions from them.
This is nothing like that.
This is more akin to terrorism.
The film is shocking. The use of footage from September the 11th in its opening is only the first in a long string of shocking imagery used in the film. The quote from the Qur’an in the beginning of the film isn’t an introduction, isn’t a hook, isn’t a piece of food for thought; it and its successive siblings are rather the focus of the film, it and its successive siblings are rather the foreground against which the film’s shocking images are set, it and its successive siblings are rather the disquieting fragments of text from an already fragmented text called out to be wielded in some unseemly fashion to illustrate some unseemly point which, try as I might, I fail to comprehend in the slightest.
The film is shocking. The film is beyond hyperbole, and this statement is far from it. Indeed, I find myself sitting here writing this post of my own volition, before knowing what the content of it is supposed to be simply because I feel compelled to write something about its grotesque nature at this very moment. There are, of course, other reactions.
There are also less reactionary and perhaps more rational and scholarly approaches to discussing the film – not on the merits of its content, which are beyond hope for any sort of academic study, but rather in terms of the social roots of its existence and of its topic. I could discuss the film’s religious roots, discussing the effects of perspective upon various views of the world, but this line of discussion has been done to death by minds greater than mind, and are not what I find immediately stimulating.
Rather, I would like to discuss the issue of the freedom of speech: what does it mean and where does it cease? Unfortunately, I have no answers to this question, and thus I am unable to provide a particularly proper discussion on this issue. In my opinion, there is no such thing as overstepping the bounds of the freedom of speech. Society is self-balancing, and if one does make a statement this controversial, the social backlash and implications thereof are likely to rectify any damage one may have done or attempted to do. However, I find it incredible that there was considerable issue raised with video sharing sites’ decisions on whether or not to allow the video to be shared. Put simply, the laws and rights of free speech cease once one intrudes upon private property. These companies have a right to look out for their employees’ security (which prompted the original distributor LiveLeak.com to remove the video for several days), but also to their own interests, and avoiding the center of controversy certainly falls in that category.