Guest Column: Ingrid Mattson vs. Freedom of Speech
by Robert Spencer
July 11, 2008
In her statement on Geert Wilders' film Fitna, "Respecting the Qur'an," Ingrid Mattson, President of the Islamic Society of North America, seems to strike a responsible note of Islamic moderation. While in Karachi, jihadists chanted "Death to the filmmaker" and a Jordanian group called for an international arrest warrant against Wilders, Mattson – writing before the film was released -- appeared to be much more reasonable. Yet the full import of what she says about Wilders and the film is ominous in its implications for the survival of free speech and free societies.
"Wilders," says Mattson, "should be afforded the full protection of the law and those threatening violence against his person should be prosecuted." She proclaims: "We do not have to agree with each other or love each other, but we have to afford respect to each other." One might get the idea that Mattson, a major Muslim leader in the United States and Canada, was endorsing Western notions of pluralism and free speech, in which individuals and groups accept the possibility that they might be offended by the speech of another, but do not seek to establish the hegemony of their own perspective over society by trying to silence that offensive speech. Free speech is the foundation of a free society, and this necessarily includes speech that others find offensive; if any group is placed off limits to criticism or offense, it has become a protected class, with rights that other groups do not enjoy, and there is no more equality of rights of all people before the law.
However, there are numerous indications in Mattson's article that free speech is precisely what she does not accept. When she says that "we do not have to agree with each other or love each other, but we have to afford respect to each other," she is not speaking of Muslims and their reactions to Wilders' film. Rather, she is referring to Wilders himself, as is clear from the sentence that follows: "This means that we do not deliberately try to humiliate each other." She clearly believes Wilders in creating the film Fitna, which offers violent quotations from the Qur'an and then shows Muslims acting upon them, was trying to humiliate Muslims: she claims that "Wilders has directed most of his hatred in recent years at Muslims," and says that "Wilders' actions are designed to hurt, offend, and even intimidate." She decries "the voices of self-proclaimed nationalists – really, racists – like Wilders, [who] often seem louder and more powerful because they are threatening."
These are serious charges. Does Wilders actually threaten Muslims in Fitna? Does he direct hatred against them? Is he a racist? The core objection to the film was that it linked Islam with violence. The Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Jan Peter Balkenende, declared: "We reject this interpretation. The vast majority of Muslims reject extremism and violence. In fact, the victims are often also Muslims." Mattson herself has made many similar statements.
But was Geert Wilders really responsible for the connection of Islam with violence? An answer can be found in the film itself. The main part of Fitna features a series of quotations from the Qur'an, followed by scenes of violent acts committed by Muslims. But the key question is whether or not the violent acts really have anything to do with the Qur'an quotes.
Most of Wilders's detractors would say that they do not, but Wilders has already accounted for this objection in the film itself. For example, the first verse of the Qur'an presented in Fitna is 8:60: "Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into the hearts of the enemies of Allah and your enemies…" Wilders follows this with heart-rending scenes from 9/11 and the March 11, 2004 Madrid train bombings, as we hear two women, among the many victims, calling for help on those days. The women are indeed terrified, but what does this have to do with Qur'an 8:60? An Islamic preacher – not Wilders or any other non-Muslim -- soon appears to answer this question, stating in terms that clearly recall that verse of the Qur'an: "Annihilate the infidels and the polytheists, your (Allah's) enemies and the enemies of the religion. Allah, count them and kill them to the last one…"
Later, Fitna quotes Qur'an 47:4: "Therefore, when ye meet the Unbelievers (in fight), smite at their necks; at length, when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly (on them)." Wilders follows this with images of two unbelievers whose necks were struck by the warriors of jihad: Theo van Gogh and Nick Berg. The statements of the perpetrators make it clear that they believed themselves to be acting in accord with Islamic imperatives. Mohammed Bouyeri, the murderer of van Gogh, clutched a Qur'an as he told a Dutch court in 2005: "What moved me to do what I did was purely my faith. I was motivated by the law that commands me to cut off the head of anyone who insults Allah and his prophet." And the late jihadist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi invoked Muhammad's example to justify the beheading of Berg: "Is it not time for you [Muslims] to take the path of jihad and carry the sword of the Prophet of prophets?...The Prophet, the most merciful, ordered [his army] to strike the necks of some prisoners in [the battle of] Badr and to kill them....And he set a good example for us."
Here again, the Islamic justification for these acts of barbarism comes not from Wilders, but from Muslims.
Next comes Qur'an 4:89: "They but wish that ye should reject Faith, as they do, and thus be on the same footing (as they): But take not friends from their ranks until they flee in the way of Allah (From what is forbidden). But if they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them; and (in any case) take no friends or helpers from their ranks." Wilders again illustrates this with Muslims calling for the deaths of those who leave Islam. One would think also that the case of Abdul Rahman, the Afghan Muslim who was put on trial for his life in 2006 for converting to Christianity before being spirited away to safety in Italy, would be enough to demonstrate that many Muslims take the traditional Islamic death penalty for apostasy seriously – and that penalty was not invented by Geert Wilders.
Finally, there is Qur'an 8:39: "And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah altogether and everywhere…" – and a series of Islamic preachers and other Muslims (including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) asserting that Islam will soon conquer the West and rule the entire world.
And that points up the odd myopia of virtually all of the objections to Fitna, including Mattson's. Is it "hateful" or "racist" for Wilders simply to quote the Qur'an and show specific Islamic jihadists acting on its dictates? It was not Geert Wilders, but the many Muslims he shows in his film, who link Islam with violence. And that link has already been made innumerable times around the world – by Islamic jihad warriors, not by non-Muslim "Islamophobes." Omar Bakri, once the leading jihadist in Britain but now not allowed to return to that country, even went so far as to say that with a few small edits, Fitna "could be a film by the Mujahideen."
Yet despite the film's accuracy and actual lack of hateful content, Mattson suggests that Fitna should run afoul of "hate speech laws": "As for the right of freedom of speech, Wilders' film should be treated like other statements within Dutch law. The Netherlands, like most other countries, has certain restrictions on speech that is defamatory, libelous or insults a group of people based on their race or religion." She says: "We should not justify or excuse extremism of any kind, whether they are racist and hateful attacks on the Muslim community or vigilante violence by Muslims against those who make such statements."
Dutch authorities have determined there is no crime to prosecute, yet they are standing mute as Jordanian officials seek to try Wilders.
The idea that Wilders' straightforward film against Islamic jihad terrorism constitutes a "racist and hateful" attack on the Muslim community echoes the statements of Islamic leaders worldwide, as they push for international restrictions on free speech. "In confronting the Danish cartoons and the Dutch film ‘Fitna'," explained Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary General of Organization of the Islamic Conference, in June 2008, "we sent a clear message to the West regarding the red lines that should not be crossed. As we speak, the official West and its public opinion are all now well-aware of the sensitivities of these issues. They have also started to look seriously into the question of freedom of expression from the perspective of its inherent responsibility, which should not be overlooked."
The objective is to use "hate speech" laws to silence criticism of Islam and discussion of the elements of Islam that jihadists use to justify violence. The Daily Times of Pakistan reported that same month that "Pakistan will ask the European Union countries to amend laws regarding freedom of expression in order to prevent offensive incidents such as the printing of blasphemous caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) and the production of an anti-Islam film by a Dutch legislator."
Abdoulaye Wade, the President of Senegal and chairman of the OIC, said: "I don't think freedom of expression should mean freedom from blasphemy. There can be no freedom without limits."
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, was ready to help. She said that legislators "should offer strong protective measures to all forms of freedom of expression, while at the same time enacting appropriate restrictions, as necessary, to protect the rights of others."
In characterizing Wilders and his film (sight unseen) as "hateful" and "racist," Mattson was laying the groundwork for legal initiatives that would outlaw all honest discussion of the violent and supremacist elements of Islam, and essentially make Muslims into a protected class, beyond all criticism, precisely as her violent brethren are challenging the West as they have not done for centuries. Her superficially high-minded critique of Geert Wilders is actually a thinly-veiled expression of Islamic supremacism.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and author of the New York Times Bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad.
 Ingrid Mattson, "Respecting the Qur'an," Islamic Society of North America. http://www.isna.net/articles/News/RESPECTING-THE-QURAN.aspx
 "Muslim, UN outrage over Dutch MP's anti-Islam film," Agence France-Presse, March 28, 2008. "Jordan court wants Wilders arrested," DutchNews.nl, June 20, 2008.
 "Muslims condemn Dutch lawmaker's film," CNN, March 28, 2008.
 Philippe Naughton, "Van Gogh killer jailed for life," Times Online, July 26, 2005.
 Steven Stalinsky, "Dealing in Death," National Review, May 24, 2004.
 Michael Steen, Andrew Bounds, and Ferry Biederman, "Muslim reaction to Dutch film is muted," Financial Times, March 29, 2008.
 Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, "Speech of Secretary General at the thirty-fifth session of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference," June 18, 2008.
 Tahir Niaz, "Pakistan to ask EU to amend laws on freedom of expression," Daily Times, June 8, 2008.
 Rukmini Callimachi, "Defame Islam, Get Sued?," Associated Press, March 14, 2008.
 "Louise Arbour condemns the film ‘Fitna,'" Kuwait News Agency, March 28, 2008.