Drs. Cornelis Hulsman discusses the recent controversy stirred up by Dutch MP Geert Wilders’ film ’Fitna.’ He points to a number of articles in this issue that directly respond to the film, stressing the need for dialogue rather than an abuse of freedom of expression in building bridges between the Arab world and the West.
There has unfortunately been a considerable delay between week 1 and week 2 of AWR. We have participated in a meeting of the Electronic Network for Arab-West Understanding in Amman (March 17-19) which was immediately followed by the request of the Dutch organization Kerkinactie to organize the visit of a delegation of representatives of Dutch churches and Muslim organizations in opposition to the then still pending film of Dutch MP Geert Wilders. We were not only able to organize this visit in three days time only but also wrote a petition to the chair of the Dutch Parliament. Our work and the delegation received much media coverage in both The Netherlands and Egypt. The delegation returned hours after the film had been released. Rev. Dr. Bas Plaisier, secretary-general of the Dutch Protestant Church (Protestantse Kerk Nederland, PKN) and head of the delegation was overloaded with more requests for interviews whereby he, of course, reflected his experiences in Egypt. The visit was followed by several reports on our Web site on the film and overloading myself to the extent that I had renewed problems with my legs (sitting too long) which resulted in a forced period of rest. We are only now getting back to a normal work rhythm.
In this issue I would like to refer to the several articles on Wilders, articles 2-10. I would like to highlight the research done by Bahīr Dukhān on Qur’ānic references to the five verses Wilders claims call to violence in ten years of Arab media [art. 4]. None of the articles referring to one or more of these verses called for violence. Imam Fadel Soliman of Bridges Foundation showed how Wilders used the on/off switch in selectively using his quotes, deliberately removing phrases before or after the given quotes [art. 7]. Dr. Hassan Wagieh provided an explanation of how the verses Wilders presented should be interpreted [art. 5, 6].
Once the mails were sent out on Wilders I received two comments; one from a Coptic activist living abroad and one from an American former member of the Maadi Community Church in Cairo. Both were in favor of the Wilders’ film because, they argued, violence has been committed in the name of Islam. While that is true I believe it is extremely unfair and adding to polarizations if we would generalize this to all Muslims. I have been living a long time in Egypt (came here first in 1976 and have been living here with my family since 1994) and I was shocked when I saw the film. I am a Christian and I do not believe that the Qur’ān is a revelation from God (if I did believe that then I would have been a Muslim) but I do believe that Muslims have the right to have their religion and faith presented in a correct way; not twisted for ulterior motives. I do not want Muslims or anyone else to present a distorted picture of the Bible or my faith and therefore I do not want Christians or non-Christians to do this to Muslims and their faith. We should live according to the principle ’do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you.’
Christians in the West should know that distortions of the Muslim faith create tensions that affect both the Christians in the Islamic world and the Muslims in the Western world. That does not benefit any one except the extremists on all sides. Fighting extremism in all cultures starts with presenting the both in an honest and fair way.
I am, therefore, very pleased with the strong stance of the Protestant Church in The Netherlands and the stance of Egypt’s Christian leaders, including Coptic Orthodox Bishop Marqus, Coptic Catholic Bishop Yohann Qulta, and Coptic Evangelical leader Rev. Dr. Safwat al-Bayadi against the distortions of the Qur’ān and Muslim beliefs such as the ones presented in the film. That is not freedom of expression!
I recommend that you read Arab-West Report (www.arabwestreport.info). See the articles of Rev. Dr. Jeff Adam’s (Independent Baptist, Kansas City, U.S.) and others in Arab-West Report’s report archive of over 17,000 articles and that will show you a different Christian approach to Muslims. Arab-West Report also provides translations from the Arabic media that will show you a very different picture to the one that is often presented in the West, including opinions that we appreciate and those that we do not. Furthermore, it shows that the Arab and Muslim world is not one monolithic entity.
Interesting articles in this issue are a list of 10 Coptic celebrities in Egypt, Hānī Labīb making interesting suggestions to avoid tensions following conversions [art. 16] and Viviane Salāmah reporting about the ongoing massive Christian emigration from the Arab world. She writes there are about 12-15 million Christians in the Middle East, and this number is expected to decrease to six million by 2025.