Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Submission (to Fear)

Last November, Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered by an Islamic extremist angry at Van Gogh's treatment of Islam in his latest film. That film, titled Submission, was highly critical of the treatment of women in many Muslim societies. With the shocking killing making news around the world, the Netherlands was forced to take a hard introspective look at its society and confront a growing cultural schism.

Instead of coming up with any helpful solutions, it appears that "Dutchland" is dissolving into a culture of fear. Submission was scheduled to be the highlight of the Rotterdam Film Festival this weekend. Until now that is. Citing security concerns, the organizers of the show have now declined to air the Van Gogh film. Not exactly the most inspiring statement of commitment to the principles of freedom of expression, huh? Meanwhile the Muslim writer of Submission, who happens to be a member of Parliament, is living under a heavy security detail.

Those who would promote a climate of apprehension can only be emboldened by the emasculated status of their adversaries. Even more alarming is the attitude of some of those who are fighting back. In today's Washington Post there was a profile of Geert Wilders, a popular Dutch politician with an "aggressively anti-Islamic" agenda. "Islam and democracy are fully incompatible," he proclaims. "They will never be compatible -- not today, and not in a million years."

Wilders' opinion about the idea of Islam coexisting in a free society seem to coincide perfectly with, ironically enough, sentiments recently expressed by the terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Humor aside, the very fact that Wilders' extremist views are somehow finding support is troublesome and is indicative of the severity of the crisis in the Netherlands. Many of the affluent countries of Europe are having to deal with the societal upheaval caused by an influx of Muslim immigrants into their community. They have not always found it easy to deal with. One incident that comes to mind is the French ban on the wearing of Muslim headscarves (and other religious icons or symbols) in public schools.

But the worst of it may be in the Netherlands, where the entire concept of multiculturalism seems to be in decay. It's a sign of the dissatisfaction of the times that people like Geert Wilders can effectively channel public anger into popular support. But really, Wilders and his kind are also extremists on end of an ideological spectrum. Like the terrorists they despise, they too are contributing to the hostile atmosphere that poisons a free society.

Says Wilders, "We are in an undeclared war. These people are motivated by one thing: to kill everything that we stand for." Yes, Mr. Wilders, there is an undeclared war taking place right now in your country and across much of Europe. But it is not an ethnic conflict with "these people", as you might think, but rather a fight to maintain respect for freedom and tolerance of all people and all ideas in an era when those values are under assault.

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