Time for dialogue

International Herald Tribune

By Tulin Daloglu and David Pollock

The Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders has touched off a fierce debate with his plans to post a short film on the Internet that is said to be highly critical of the Koran and Islam. A date has not been set, and there is no certainty that the film will be posted. But the anticipation has already touched off a heated discussion, and raised fears that the film could set off violence of the sort that followed publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad in Denmark. Following are four comments on the film and the furor around it.
Religious pluralism is essential to any successful democratic society. But securing it is easier said than done – even Western nations are being put to test on this issue.
Geert Wilders’s coming release of a short movie depicting the Koran as “an inspiration for intolerance, murder and terror” assures continuing controversy.
This is all too sadly reminiscent of the case of Ayan Hirsi Ali, a former Dutch parliamentarian who created a film with Theo van Gogh, “Submission,” which featured text from the Koran shown against a nude female body. Van Gogh was murdered in 2004 as a result, and Ali’s life was threatened, forcing her into hiding.
As with the Muhammad cartoon controversy in 2006, controversy over this film threatens to boil over into the streets.
Wilders has a right to speak freely, though his words and ideas are hateful. Taking violent action in response to his goading is absolutely wrong.
Instead, we all need to look at such intemperate speech as an opportunity for real debate and dialogue. The questions of faith, integration and multiculturalism raised by these controversies are not going away – and they are an increasingly large part of political and social dialogue.
But the question remains: Why should Muslims care if a politically marginal Dutch parliamentarian calls them names and slanders their faith? What authority does he possess that Muslims should even bother reacting?
Given past controversies, it would be better this time to pre-empt the prospect of violence by taking a clear and public stance against it right now.
There is no need to repeat such tragic scenes. Everyone’s goal should be to create a debate that helps unite humanity by making reason, not rage, the rule. Then the overriding issue will be not how civilizations are clashing, but how moderate Muslims can be included in a pluralistic world.
Tulin Daloglu is an independent journalist based in Washington. David Pollock is a fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.