In November 2004, Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh was murdered on the street in Amsterdam by a Muslim extremist for making a movie critical of the subjugation of women in the Islamic world. His death made headlines worldwide, and he was considered a martyr for free speech. Yet at the Academy Awards the following year Mr. Van Gogh’s name was never mentioned, not even in the video that commemorated those in the film community who had recently died. In a ceremony known for its political commentary, it was as though the most notorious and barbaric assault on the freedom of artistic expression in a generation had never happened.
Hollywood will likely look the other way once more. One of Mr. Van Gogh’s compatriots, the Dutch politician Geert Wilders, faces criminal prosecution in his country for insulting Islam. In March, Mr. Wilders released via the Internet a short film called Fitna, in which he compares Islam to Nazism and urges Muslims in the West to tear the Koran in half. The film was just one in a series of salvos against Islam by Mr. Wilders, long a politically incorrect pest to the European establishment, and it raised the possibility of another death on Dutch soil due to a provocative movie. Though he is still alive – he lives under 24/7 armed protection – the complaints against him grew into enough of a crescendo to compel the government to prosecute one of its own for offensive statements.
Had Mr. Wilders been prosecuted for making a film critical of the Catholic Church or Judaism, he’d be praised throughout Hollywood and Europe as an artiste. Stars might patrol the red carpet with white lapel pins representing the politician’s trademark bleached hair in a show of solidarity, the way some have worn orange ribbons in support of the terrorists in Guantanamo Bay. There would be protests against preemptive censorship – many of Fitna’s critics wanted it banned before it had been released – and against the fascism of the Dutch government for punishing someone for having a dissenting point of view. (Dissent, remember, is the highest form of patriotism.) And there would be the likelihood that the world will hear Geert Wilders’s name at least once during the Academy Awards on February 22.
But attacking Islam and Muslims is the big no-no of Hollywood and the global entertainment community, especially if the attackers are pasty-white, fair-haired heterosexual men of European ancestry. Whether it is out of leftist ideology, fear of being labeled Islamophobic, or fear of Islamist terror itself, most filmmakers have chosen either to ignore the topic of radical Islam or to treat those who confront it as the bad guys. No matter that Mr. Van Gogh, who was shot several times and nearly decapitated in public in broad daylight, became a martyr for the movies – he was too blonde and his movies went after the wrong people. The same goes for Mr. Wilders. It is yet to be seen how the prosecution against him turns out, but if Hollywood were writing the script he’d be guilty as hell.