Concern mounts as Netherlands readies for anti-Islam film

January 21, 2008

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, 23 June 2007/Yves HermanConcern is mounting in the Netherlands as the country prepares for a film about the Koran by a far-right populist known for his hostility to Islam. It reached the point last Friday that Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende publicly appealed for restraint. A former Malaysian ambassador in The Hague has said the reaction could make the 2006 Danish cartoon controversy look like “a picnic.”

Geert Wilders, who wants to ban the Koran as a “fascist” book and has warned of a “tsunami of Islamisation” in the Netherlands, has proceeded with the film despite warnings from the Dutch justice and foreign ministers. (We blogged on this last November when the warnings came). It’s not clear when it will be broadcast, but it is expected soon. Wilders has denied reports that it will be shown on Friday Jan. 25. There is already a spoof on YouTube.

The last Dutchman who made a film critical of Islam, Theo van Gogh, was murdered by an Islamist radical in 2004. That unleashed a violent anti-Muslim backlash in the Netherlands. Caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad in a Danish daily sparked off violent protests in the Muslim world.

Geert WildersWith that in mind, the Dutch government has been considering the possible reaction this time around and what to do about it. According to media reports, “these include quick evacuation of Dutch citizens from Muslim countries. The government is expecting riots, flag burnings and boycotts, and has informed municipalities and police to be ready for such eventualities.” Last Saturday, about 200 Christians from various churches met in Zwolle to pray “for calm and tolerance” when the film comes out.

Ehsan Jami, a Dutch-Iranian who launched a Committee of Ex-Muslims last September, has said he is working on a film about the life of Mohammad due out in February or March.

The Danish cartoon controversy was a frontal clash of cultures, with European editors and officials saying free speech was inviolate and Muslim leaders calling for punishment for blasphemy. The Dutch prime minister tried to strike a balance between these views on Friday, saying:

The Netherlands has a tradition of freedom of speech, religion and beliefs. The Netherlands also has a tradition of respect, tolerance and responsibility. Unnecessarily offending a certain belief or group has no place in that.” He said the government wanted “a free and unhindered debate, and respect in dealing with each other flow from both traditions, and the cabinet shall uphold both traditions and calls on everybody to do so.”

All this concern swirls around a film that nobody has yet seen and whose title is not even known. Tariq Ramadan, the Swiss-born Muslim academic who now teaches in Rotterdam, called it “a movie-provocation about which everybody is talking while nobody knows anything!” He added: “Silence will be the best response.”

Are we headed for another head-on clash? Or do you think that Muslims and non-Muslims in Europe have moved towards better cooperation when one side feels provoked?

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