Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Fitna is an instrument for oppression, and not free speech

Posted by butalidnl on 21 March 2008

The impending release of Fitna, Geert Wilders’ anti-Koran movie, is pushing the discussion on what all this has to do with the freedom of expression.

The freedom of expression was cited by Danish newspapers, when they recently decided to reprint the controversial “Mohammed cartoons” (actually, they’re more caricatures than cartoons). The Danes said that they did this to protest the effective suppression of their press freedom. They said that Muslims should learn to take this kind of thing as part of how things are done in the modern world.

The same logic of freedom of expression is raised by Geert Wilders, the Dutch ultra-rightist, when he asserts that he has the right to attack Islam – especially now when he is about to broadcast his anti-Koran film, Fitna.

The debate on these inflammatory actions (both of the Danish media and Wilders) has recently boiled down to the conflict between the damage to national interest and press freedom. I am particularly disturbed that practically all parties here in the Netherlands seem to uphold Wilder’s freedom to express his views, even despite the extreme negative effects this would have on large groups of people. And that for them the main problem is not in terms of his right to express himself, but on the negative consequences for the country if he does so.

It is as if Dutch politicians declare that although they want to restrict Wilder’s “basic right”to express himself, their doing this is something like a “necessary evil” since this would hurt the country.

I think that they are missing a basic point in this. The freedom of expression, like other basic human rights, is part of a package. And this package of rights is intended to empower the weaker members of society, enable them to fully develop themselves as individuals and groups, and promote the smooth working of the whole society. From this framework, the exercise of the component rights becomes relative – both in a practical sense, and in principle. Take for example, the right to assembly – this needs to be curtailed in the case of rioting that causes bodily harm and destruction of property. And the freedom of religion is no excuse to deprive their members of health care. Such trade-offs between the various basic rights are principled decisions, and not merely practical.

In addition, rights such as freedom of expression, assembly, non-discrimination, etc., are particularly important in order to protect the weaker members of society. Thus, the freedom of expression would enable the oppressed, poor, or minority groups to be able to air their grievances, inform the rest of the population re these, and work to improve government policies towards them.

These rights are not there for the dominant and powerful – after all, they would be able to express themselves, assemble, practice their religion etc even without a special bill of rights. Human rights are thus the rights of the unempowered, the minorities etc.. If the powerful invoke such rights (especially in this case, the freedom of expression) in a way, and with the intention, of suppressing the rights of the weaker sections of society, this should be prohibited. And the basis of this prohibition should not merely be the fear of negative consequences, but rather on principle – the principle that human rights should be emancipatory and not oppressive.

Going back to Geert Wilders’ Fitna – this film should be banned on the basis that its purpose is to ban the Koran, which would be a grave infringement on the freedom of religion of muslims. There is no additional evidence needed to ban this film: Wilder’s declaration of his purpose for the film is enough; it is an attack on Islam as a religion. Wilders should not be given the opportunity to oppressive the muslim minority in the Netherlands, and help others to oppress muslims elsewhere.

Proceeding from the above line of reasoning, I believe that Wilders should be prohibited from continuing his campaign to ban the Koran.

* also see my other blog post: Anti-islam movie coming this April in the internet

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