Mr. Wilders Goes to Washington

February 26, 2009, 3:31 pm <!– — Updated: 5:39 pm –>

Fitna scene
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images At a private screening in London, a viewer watches a scene from the controversial film “Fitna,” made by Geert Wilders, a Dutch legislator.

On Capitol Hill, the events that usually make the news are the ones that take place in front of television cameras, from votes to testimony to speeches. But an event scheduled to take place today behind closed doors, in a cozy chamber of the Capitol known as the L.B.J. Room, is creating some buzz.

At first glance, the event sounds innocent enough: a screening of a short film.

But the film’s content — and the identify of its creator — are raising eyebrows. It is a documentary entitled “Fitna,” by Geert Wilders, a Dutch lawmaker and leader of the right-wing Party for Freedom. Mr. Wilders is best known for his fierce criticism of Islam, which has brought widespread condemnation from Muslim leaders and anti-discrimination groups. Just this year alone, a Dutch court ordered that Mr. Wilders be prosecuted for hate speech, and the British government banned him from entering the country, calling him an “undesirable person.”

The British ban came just as he was planning to screen “Fitna” for conservative lawmakers in London. Mr. Wilders was invited to the Capitol by Senator Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona, who has been at the center of immigration debates in America.

Mr. Wilders’ film, just 17 minutes long, has been described by some as hate-filled propaganda; at the very least, it is provocative. Throughout the film, which opens with a warning about the “very shocking images” it contains and can be viewed online, video clips of violence and bloodshed committed by Muslims are interspersed with verses from the Koran.

At one point in the film — whose title is apparently an Arabic term referring to “disagreement and division among people” — video footage of one of the planes striking the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, is juxtaposed with a verse from the Koran:

Prepare for them whatever force and cavalry ye are able of gathering, to strike terror, to strike terror into the hearts of the enemies, of Allah and your enemies.

Other clips show images of Westerners being beheaded; carnage from the 2005 London transit bombings; and imams making statements like “Allah is happy when non-Muslims get killed.” At one point a young child is shown saying that she learned from the Koran that Jews are “apes and pigs.” The film ends with a message from Mr. Wilders that Islam “seeks to destroy our Western civilization” and “has to be defeated.”

Mr. Wilders has said that the film is meant to demonstrate how verses from the Koran push Muslims toward violence. Mr. Wilders has defended the film and his positions by saying in interviews, “I don’t hate Muslims — I hate Islam.”

In an interview with the conservative talk-show host Glenn Beck on Tuesday, Mr. Wilders said:

I have nothing against Muslims. But my point is, that the Islam is a totalitarian ideology that should be compared not so much with other religions but with other totalitarian ideologies — like communism or fascism.

Mr. Wilders’ appearance on the Beck program was one of several stops on a media tour of conservative outlets in the United States. He has posted video of that interview and links to many blog posts and Web site articles about him on his own blog.

At least one congressman has publicly opposed his visit to Washington. Keith Ellison, Democrat of Minnesota, who is Muslim, compared the screening of “Fitna” on Capitol Hill to showing the infamously racist film “The Birth of a Nation” at the White House. In a statement, Mr. Ellison said the movie compares Islam to Nazism, and added that he was disappointed by Sen. Kyl’s decision to screen it in the Capitol:

I am a strong advocate of First Amendment free speech. However, this is not about free speech, but rather an issue of propriety, timing and venue. Senator Kyl has every right to host anyone he chooses. However, it becomes a question of propriety to use the United States Capitol as a venue for the condemnation of an entire religion.

Oddly enough, the screening is taking place on the same day that Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts is holding a hearing on Capitol Hill entitled “Engaging with Muslim Communities around the World.” Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state under President Clinton, is scheduled to share her thoughts at the hearing “on strengthening U.S.-Muslim relations.”

Whether the hearings were scheduled to coincide with the screening, or vice versa, is unclear. A spokesman for Mr. Ellison said the congressman planned to issue a statement this afternoon. Calls to Senator Kyl’s office on Thursday morning were not immediately returned.

Mr. Kyl, a staunch conservative, is best known for his work on immigration. In 2006, during a bid for re-election, he broadcast a series of television ads that criticized his opponent, Jim Pederson, as a supporter of “amnesty” for illegal immigrants. But a year later, Mr. Kyl enraged many of his supporters when he backed a bipartisan Senate immigration bill that allowed most illegal immigrants to remain in the country and file for permanent residence or become guest workers. Swarms of protestors gathered outside his Phoenix office, calling for Mr. Kyl to step down, and state Republicans lashed out at him.

The bill ultimately crumbled in the Senate.

Mr. Wilders has also been outspoken on immigration issues in his home country, espousing views so incendiary that he has had his own security detail for years. Among his more controversial stands has been calling for an end to “all immigration from Muslim countries” and for Muslim immigrants to be paid to leave the Netherlands.

Other than Senator Kyl, it was unclear who else would be attending the screening.


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