Fariborz Pooya interview with Maryam Namazie and Bahram Soroush on Secular TV
Fariborz Pooya: Fitna, a 17-minute movie by Dutch politician Geert Wilders, shows passages from the Koran with graphic footage of terrorist attacks on the West, executions of people in Iran and Afghanistan and ends with statistics showing the increasing number of so-called Muslim immigrants to Holland. Fitna, which was first released on LiveLeak internet site as there were no TV stations willing to broadcast it, was viewed 5 million times soon after it went live. It was pulled off LiveLeak due to threats but is now available on a number of internet sites. Wilders is under police protection because his life has been threatened. Islamic states and the UN General Secretary have all condemned the movie as anti-Islamic. Heads of European states have also condemned the movie. There is an ongoing debate on the impact of this movie. We will explore the issues with Maryam Namazie and Bahram Soroush. Maryam Namazie, what is your initial reaction to Fitna?
Maryam Namazie: Well, there is a lot that can be said about it but my initial reaction when I first watched is was that I found it really annoying! I thought how dare he. The political Islamic movement has wreaked havoc for decades, long before September 11, long before the Madrid or London bombings. In Iran, we have lost an entire generation to this movement and we have struggled and fought against this movement. How dare he equate all of us as one and the same with the political Islamic movement? It made me quite angry actually.
Fariborz Pooya: What do you mean, when you say equating us with the political Islamic movement? Wilders shows images of terrorist atrocities such as 9/11 and the Madrid bombings as well as the execution of youth in Iran and he refers to the rising number of immigrants to Holland. Which part of this are you referring and objecting to?
Maryam Namazie: Firstly, the attacks on the west pale in comparison to the attacks on the people of the Middle East and North Africa yet he only cares to focus on these. He also blames the rising political Islamic movement in Europe to so-called Muslim immigration and shows a rise in numbers coming to the Netherlands. What he fails to see is that a lot of these people who are fleeing to Europe are actually fleeing from political Islam and want nothing to do with this movement. Yet he like many on the Right view masses of people as one and the same with their oppressors. To say that this ‘teeming hordes’ of so-called Muslim immigrants - many of them atheists, socialists, freedom fighters, secularists, and of course also those who consider themselves Muslims - are one and the same with the very movement that has been slaughtering them and that they have been at the forefront of opposing is nothing short of outrageous.
Bahram Soroush: I would agree. I wish it was an anti-Islamic film; a criticism of Islam and of the political Islamic movement. It is not. It is an anti-immigrant film. Obviously, Geert Wilders as a right-wing politician has got his own agenda, which is to blame most of the problems in Dutch society on immigrants and to label them with the mark of Islam. Whereas in fact most of those people are themselves victims who have escaped from the hell that Islamists have created in countries like Iran and Afghanistan and sought refuge in Holland and other European countries. He presents them as accomplices of this political Islamic movement which is a fascistic movement.
Fariborz Pooya: So what you are saying is that he is not criticizing Islam and the political Islamic movement but is using images of atrocities committed by the political Islamic movement, which are factual.
Maryam Namazie: Of course there is some truth in his movie in the same way that there is some truth in Bush’s assertions about Saddam Hussein’s violations of rights, though the US government fully supported Saddam prior to that for many years. It’s not enough to tell some parts of the truth about certain things. Also, why you tell the truth, what’s behind that truth and that you tell all of it to begin with is what matters. There is quite a lot of deception in his film.
Fariborz Pooya: He doesn’t criticise any Islamic states; he might show Ahmadinejad, but he doesn’t attack Islamic states. Instead he is looking at so called Muslims in the Netherlands. Is that what you are saying?
Maryam Namazie: Yes, he does come from a perspective that has no problem with religion and even religion in power. He just doesn’t want - from his perspective - Islam to take over a ‘Christian Europe’ and he is equating that with so-called Muslim immigration.
Let me be clear that I do think that we need to focus on Islam and the political Islamic movement because it is a religion in power today. It does have state power, is vying for power, and is massacring people left, right and centre. So we do need to focus on Islam and criticise it but from a perspective that addresses the real issues at hand as that’s when you can get to some sort of solution to addressing and challenging the political Islamic movement and Islam in power. This is not Wilder’s intention or concern.
Fariborz Pooya: Islamic states, European governments, and the UN Secretary General, have condemned this movie as anti-Islamic. The Dutch government has been apologetic. There seems to be a move to prevent criticism of Islam.
Bahram Soroush: There are a few points here. First of all, the film is not anti-Islamic in that sense. It is anti-Muslim, against ordinary people. It is an attempt to label and put everyone together with the oppressive governments that they have escaped from.
Secondly, what if it was anti-Islamic? Since when is it wrong to be anti-Islamic and anti-religious? People have been criticising and opposing religious oppression and ignorance for years. They have been fighting the Established Church and religious forces, whether in power or as movements. Especially in our day and age, as Maryam pointed out, the political Islamic movement is a menace which is wreaking havoc throughout the world, and is specifically targeting people in countries under Islamic rule. So it is obvious that there should be a reaction against that. That’s why a lot of people are taking a stance against religion and Islam. That should not be forbidden; that should not be banned; that’s the right of everyone. What is the point of freedom of expression if you can’t exercise it exactly when it is needed? And it is needed more than ever now that obscurantism and ignorance are on the rise. Then you have to have a relentless, a sharp criticism of a religion which is spearheading this attack on the rights of people.
And about the European governments that you mentioned, they have their own agenda as well. Their defence of freedom of expression is in inverse proportion to the volume of business and trade that they have with those governments. So we have to forget about these pretensions about human rights and freedom of expression. If they were at all concerned, they would be objecting to what is going on in Iran, in Saudi Arabia, in Afghanistan. People knew what the Taliban was doing for years but it wasn’t shown on TV at all. For example, the scene in Wilders’ film of the execution of a woman in the stadium in Afghanistan is an old tape, but that was only shown in preparation for the attack on Afghanistan after September 11. For many years people had been fighting against these religious reactionaries, these executioners, but none of that was talked about because it was not politically expedient. You know that in Saudi Arabia every Friday they behead people. Is it shown? No. The Saudi government is invited to Britain and given the red carpet treatment. But tomorrow, if they have a political difference with them, they will talk about some of those atrocities. So their politics are reactionary and inhuman anyway; it has to do with business and profits.
Fariborz Pooya: What are the aims of the political Islamic movement and Islamic states in their attack on this film and are they using this film to advance their policies?
Maryam Namazie: They have become quite savvy compared to two three decades ago and have learnt to advance in ways that are more palatable to a western audience. For example, use of the term Islamophobia and deeming any criticism of Islam as racism and by using victim status. And we’ve seen how well that has been working for them in the sense that you even have the UN Human Rights Council agreeing that freedom of expression needs to be limited if someone ‘abuses’ religion. I mean the whole point of human rights is rights for people not for beliefs or religions. But they have managed to change definitions and values, which fits in quite well with the US’ New World Order. This strives to make it more difficult for people to be able to speak out against Islam and the political Islamic movement because it is deemed racist or an attack on the rights of ‘minorities’, whereas in fact there is no connection between the two. As Bahram said it is crucial that we criticise Islam; they take advantage of films like this and the Danish caricatures to exert pressure for limits on free expression and speech.
I have heard that there are Dutch people who have gone on the internet to apologise for Wilder’s film. Why should they? I won’t apologise for the Islamic Republic of Iran; I don’t feel any affinity with it; why would anyone feel an affinity for fascistic anti-immigrant policies? Firstly, why apologise?
But secondly, wake up and see the bigger picture. The fact is that freedom of expression is under attack. As Bahram said, freedom of expression only matters when you say things that are not permissible, that go against the grain; that’s how things have changed throughout history - by criticism and particularly criticism of religion. Religion has always been a bulwark and barrier against progress and advancement and if we are not allowed to criticise it, where does that leave us? Being the banner of the political Islamic movement, being at the forefront of the attack against all that civilised humanity and the working class has fought for over centuries - from secularism to universal rights to freedom of expression - makes it important to criticise - irrespective of whether we dislike Wilder’s film or not. We have to say that people have a right to criticise religion and Islam and more importantly a duty to do so.
So don’t apologise, but instead organise and stand up to anti-immigrant legislation and parties, defend universal and citizenship rights for everybody but also stand up and challenge political Islam. Don’t let the Islamists walk over universal values and rights in Europe or the Middle East and elsewhere. And stand in solidarity with the people of the Middle East and North Africa who have been doing so for a long time vis-à-vis this movement. That’s what we need to do rather than apologising for Wilder’s film.
Fariborz Pooya: Can you not see that the Islamic movement is using this film as an excuse to advance its policies.
Maryam Namazie: They are using it and we will use it. Civilised humanity will use it to advance its progressive stance, its defence of universal rights, its defence of secularism, its defence of asylum seekers and immigrants and its uncompromising opposition to political Islam and US militarism - both of which are part and parcel of the same new world order - feeding off of each other. Okay this film is out there. Let’s use it as one more excuse to stand up to those who are trying to take advantage of the situation. We can also take advantage of the situation and bring a human stance to it - one that the world desperately needs.
Fariborz Pooya: The UN Human Council led by the government of Pakistan has adopted a non binding resolution against the defamation of religion and in particular Islam. How do you link this with things happening around this issue? There is a concerted effort to undermine secularism and universal rights. How do you see this resolution?
Bahram Soroush: First of all, it’s interesting that they call it ‘defamation of religion’. It is unheard of. Usually you hear of defamation of people, of character assassination, etc. But defamation of religion? What does that mean? Does it mean criticising religion, saying that it is superstition, ignorance? What’s wrong with that? People have been doing that for years. This resolution was pushed by a number of Islamic states as an attempt, once again, to limit freedom of expression, which would have been unthinkable to someone even from the 19th century; unthinkable that in the 21st century you would be reading such nonsense as ‘we want to limit freedom of expression because you are insulting our religion; you are hurting our religious feelings’! Religion is like any other belief system; you either believe in it or you don’t. And those who believe in it have the right to defend it, and those who don’t, have the right to criticise it. This resolution is in fact a case in point how incompatible religion is with human rights, civil liberties and human progress.
Fariborz Pooya: What does this signify in terms of protecting state’s power vis-à-vis citizens?
Maryam Namazie: It strengthens the political Islamic movement but also states in Europe and west that are attempting to limit free expression, such as the UK government’s attempts to bring the incitement to religious hatred laws. All of this feeds into it. Any restriction on freedom of expression is the beginning of a lot more restrictions in society. We need to defend it dearly. In this day and age I think criticising Islam, criticising political Islam is one of the most important things you can do to uphold freedom of expression and universal values.
Fariborz Pooya: Fitna, as mentioned here, doesn’t fundamentally criticise Islam; it doesn’t criticise the political Islamic movement and Islamic states that is destroying the lives of millions every day. And effectively its anti-immigrant tone distorts the whole picture. The reality is that millions of people are fighting against the political Islamic movement and that’s the movement that needs to be supported. Freedom of expression and the right to criticise Islam and religion and is a fundamental right that needs to be upheld.
To see the April 4, 2008 interview as well as commentaries by ex-Muslims and others on Iranian Secular Society TV, click here.
This interview was first published in WPI Briefing 204, May 8, 2008.