"We've Seen This Movie Before," a Commentary by Eboo Patel

April 10, 2008

Author: Eboo Patel

Source: Washington Post/Asia Society


Here we go again: Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders has finally released his controversial film "Fitna" ("Strife"), which shows bloody scenes of terrorist attacks to support claims that the Koran inspires violence.

Supporters insist that, whether right or wrong, the film is an important statement and that in a free and open society, Wilders has every right to make it. Many others disagree. Indonesia and Iran have condemned the film. In Karachi on Sunday, Dutch and American flags went up in flames as some 25,000 protestors vowed revenge. NATO has said it fears the film will affect the safety of troops in Afghanistan.

Similar controversy erupted in 2005, after a Danish newspaper published a series of cartoons depicting the Islamic prophet Mohammed. At least 100 people died as riots spread across the Muslim diaspora.

Then, as now, both sides were as wrong as they were right. Both sides, equally angry and equally self-righteous, insist the argument here is in fact a clash of civilizations, an epic fight between Islam and the West. But this narrative misses the point and reinforces a misguided and fundamentally counterproductive sense of conflict.

And we have been here before. Forty years ago this month, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated amid the violent schism of the American civil rights movement. Then as now, opponents framed the debate as a zero-sum game.

But King helped elevate the discourse beyond such a restrictive framework. He said there are two groups of people in the world: those who want to perish together as fools, and those who want to live together as brothers. Those two kinds of people are still with us today.