Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders — a politician whose penchant for over-the-top self promotion exceeds that of global past masters such as Binyamin Netanyahu, Tony Blair and John McCain — came to Washington get some “legitimacy” for his anti-Islamic film Fitna.
And a top Republican senator gave it to him.
Let’s be clear about Wilders.
The leader of the extreme-right Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, has every right to peddle his views in the United States. (British officials embarrassed themselves and gave Wilders an immense amount of free publicity when they prevented the Dutch legislator from entering that country on the grounds — as stated by the Home Office — that, “The government opposes extremism in all its forms.”)
In fact, it is valuable that he has come to the US, and that his visit is drawing attention.
Because hate festers and grows in the dark, it is important that the Wilders visit should be covered thoroughly by the media, with an eye toward identifying the American politicians who associate with a man who even conservative figures in Holland have denounced as a hatemonger. (The Dutch government has disavowed the parliamentarian’s global gallivanting, stating that the screening of this film “serves no purpose other than to cause offence.”)
While Wilders should be welcome in America, and his political associations should be well reported, the decision of Arizona Senator John Kyl to host a private, closed-to-the-media screening Thursday of Fitna inside the US Capitol merits denunciation.
Kyl’s move ran the risk of suggesting that the U.S. government endorses, or at the least sympathizes, with those like Wilders who compare Islam with fascism and propose banning Islamic religious texts.
Were a Muslim member of Congress to sponsor the showing of an anti-Christian film, or a Christian member of Congress to sponsor the showing of an anti-Jewish film, at the building, it would undoubtedly spark an outcry.
The same should go for Kyl’s movie screening.
As Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison notes: “I am a strong an advocate of First Amendment free speech. However, this is not about free speech, but rather an issue of propriety, timing and venue.”
Ellison, a member of the House Judiciary Committee who has championed civil liberties protections for those with whom he agrees and disagrees, is no censor. “Senator Kyl has every right to host anyone he chooses,” says the Minnesota Democrat, “however, it becomes a question of propriety to use the United States Capitol as a venue for the condemnation of an entire religion.”
Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, argues that, “At a time when President Obama has said to the Muslim world, ‘We are ready to initiate a new partnership based on mutual respect and mutual interest,’ the showing of a film that denigrates the faith of 1.4 billion of the world’s citizens does not foster mutual respect or mutual interest. At a time when the US should be providing renewed leadership for peace and more understanding between the west and the Muslim world, one has to question the wisdom and judgment of promoting a film that erroneously condemns an entire religion–especially in the US Capitol.”
Should Kyl have been barred from screening this creepy film in the cloistered environs of the Capitol’s LBJ Room?
That would only have made Wilders, and his buddy Kyl, free-speech martyrs.
But Ellison has done the right thing. He has thoughtfully and frankly criticized Kyl’s choice, and put it in perspective.
Other responsible members of the House and Senate, especially the Arizona senator’s fellow Republicans, should join Ellison in distancing themselves from Kyl and Wilders.