FaithWorld

A silver lining to the Dutch anti-Islam film “Fitna”

Logo for Fitna movieThere seems to have been a silver lining to the Dutch anti-Islam film “Fitna” that far-right PVV party leader Geert Wilders released in late March. We noted already the strife that many people feared didn’t materialise. Now the country’s National Coordinator for Counterterrorism says the long debate about the film actually brought Christian and Muslim groups closer together.

It said in the English translation of its latest report:

“The commotion surrounding the Fitna film appears to have resulted in overtures* between Christian and Islamic organisations. Several organisations with a Christian foundation have strongly criticised standpoints of the PVV parliamentary party chairman with respect to Islam and, together with Muslim organisations, are taking initiatives to reduce the social tensions in the Netherlands and abroad. Remarkable in this context is a collaboration between the World Council of Churches and the Protestant Church in the Netherlands (Protestanse Kerk in Nederland, PKN) on the one hand and the Muslims and the Government Liaison Committee (Contactorgaan Moslims en Overheid, CMO) and the Islam Contact Group (Contact Groep Islam, CGI) on the other hand. In March 2008 these organisations conducted a ‘reconciliation mission’ to Muslim organisations in Egypt to neutralise any detrimental effects of the film.”

*The Dutch original is actually a bit stronger. It says there has been a “toenadering” (rapprochement) between Christian and Muslim groups. “Overtures” implies an initiative towards cooperation without making clear that something happened, whereas rapprochement does. And, as the report made clear, something did happen.

Dutch relieved but cautious after “Fitna” causes little strife

Malaysian students protest against Fitna film in Kuala Lumpur, 4 April 2008/Zainal Abd HalimThe Netherlands has breathed a sigh of relief at muted reaction at home and abroad to a film critical of the Koran that seems to have done more for the standing of the prime minister than the populist who made it.

But there is still a sizeable audience in the country for the kind of anti-Islam, anti-immigration rhetoric first popularised by maverick politician Pim Fortuyn in 2002 that is likely to keep Dutch politics fragmented and unstable.

One week after Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders posted his film “Fitna” on the Internet, read the analysis of the reaction by our chief correspondent in the Netherlands, Emma Thomasson.

Debate yes, “fitna” no

“fitna” in ArabicWe’ve been following the story of the Geert Wilders movie “Fitna” on the Reuters file and on FaithWorld and it has attracted quite a few comments. Some are vociferously for or against it, and that’s what comments sections are there for. But we have been getting some comments that are simply in very bad taste. The comments section is open to provocative comments, but not cheap slander. That rule applies to any religious leader, politician or anyone else we talk about here. Debate yes, fitna (strife) no.

How Dutch Muslim leader reacted to Wilders anti-Koran film

“Our goal is nothing other than working peacefully for our society’s future, the future of our children, but also the future of the Netherlands. Muslims in the Netherlands love this country — they of course criticise some developments, as any citizen. The Netherlands is our country and we will try together with our compatriots to find the right tone … to finally get away from the ongoing polarisation in society, so that we can finally get on with our daily lives and don’t have to be afraid of each other.” — Mohammed Rabbae, Chairman of the National Moroccan Council of the Netherlands

Logo for Fitna movieThe day after Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders showed his anti-Koran film on the Internet, warning of Islam as a threat to Western civilisation, Dutch-Moroccan leader Rabbae had separate messages for his compatriots in the Netherlands and for fellow Muslims abroad. Speaking to Dutch and foreign journalists in the El Ouma mosque in Amsterdam, he sought to assure the Dutch that Muslims considered themselves part of society, had no sympathy for violent extremism and respected the law and the constitution. “What people feel threatened by also threatens us. What threatens Westerners also threatens us. There is no difference,” he said.

He urged Muslims abroad to respect this. “We want to tell our Muslims brothers and sisters abroad, in the Middle East, in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia etc, that we as Muslims in the Netherlands are best positioned to analyse the situation in the Netherlands, and to determine the response to Wilders and others … I am appealing to our brothers and sisters abroad to follow our strategy, not to frustrate our strategy by any violent incidents or an attack to a Dutch embassy,” he said.

More activity on the Christian- Muslim dialogue front

Saudi King Abdullah at a cabinet meeting in Riyadh, 24 March 2008//Ho NewThe dust had hardly settled from the Magdi Allam baptism story when Saudi King Abdullah announced he wanted to promote dialogue between Muslims, Christians and Jews. The World Council of Churches came out with its endorsement of the Common Word dialogue appeal after consulting member churches (many of which have already responded positively). And the World Economic Forum issued a study that says, among other things, that fewer than 30% of Muslims and Christians polled thought the other faith was sincerely interested in better understanding and cooperation. What’s going on?

The first thing to say is that these all seem to be different developments. We’ve already covered the Magdi Allam baptism story. That incident looks like a bit of unexpected turbulence that should calm down now that Common Word signatory Aref Ali Nayed criticised the Vatican for it and L’Osservatore Romano said the baptism was not a hostile act towards Islam. For more on this, see Nayed’s statement, his El Pais interview today (English, Spanish) and the L’Osservatore Romano editorial (Italian).

King Abdullah’s comments popped up in the Saudi press on Tuesday. He has been making positive comments and taking interesting steps such as his November visit to the Vatican and a recently announced plan to retrain Saudi imams to preach moderation. But what this latest statement really means is still unclear. It is not connected to the Common Word initiative, which has some Saudi signatories but otherwise no link to Saudi Arabia. It is not clear whether the Saudi religious establishment, which is usually more conservative than the royal family, has signed on to this. And it is not clear whether the foreign Muslims who Abdullah says he wants to lead to dialogue with Christians and Jews really want to be that close to a Saudi project. It is certainly interesting to hear the Saudi king speak of inter-faith dialogue, especially when he includes Jews in it, but there are still a lot of question marks over this plan.

Drumroll grows louder before Wilders’ Koran film

Logo for Fitna movieGeert Wilders certainly knows how to get maximum publicity for his views. Nobody has seen his film “Fitna” about the Koran yet, but the expectation that it will be scathing about Islam and its holy book means it’s being talked about from the Netherlands to Indonesia. I just did a search for Reuters output on it to catch up on the story (see below) and was surprised to see how strong the drumroll preceding it has become just since the beginning of March. And we still have until the end of the month before it comes out… Do you have any predictions on what impact it will have?

March 19: Danish PM condemns views of Dutch film-maker

March 19: Dutch brace for movie backlash (video)

March 18: NATO seeks Afghan support on anti-Koran film

March 18: Dutch anti-Islam filmmaker refuses to be silenced

March 17: Ramadan wants Muslims to ignore far-right Dutch film on Koran

March 14: Indonesia says Dutch anti-Koran film threatens harmony

March 14: Dutch warn EU of possible anti-Koran video backlash

March 14: Dutch draw on past crises to deal with Islam film

March 12: Iranian minister urges Dutch to ban Koran film

March 10: Cartoonist says Dutch must show anti-Koran film

March 9: Afghans threaten attacks on troops over cartoon

March 6: Dutch raise threat level ahead of anti-Koran film

March 6: Cartoon and Koran film part of “Crusader war:” Taliban

March 6: Dutch fear terrorism ahead of new Koran film

March 5: Dutch PM seeks French help over anti-Islam film

March 5: Anti-Koran Dutch film “propagates hate” -Pakistan

March 5: Dutch want Koran film shown but fear reactions: poll

March 3: Dutch cabinet may seek ban for Koran film – paper

Ramadan wants Muslims to ignore far-right Dutch film on Koran

Logo for Fitna movieAs the premiere of the long-awaited Koran film by far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders nears, it’s not uncommon to hear Muslims call for some way to censor what they expect to be a blistering condemnation of their faith.

But not all see the film — now expected to be broadcast by the end of this month — as an opportunity to revive the polarisation of the Prophet Mohammad cartoons clash in 2006, when freedom of expression and respect for faith were presented as implacable opposites.

Tariq Ramadan, one of Europe’s most prominent Muslim intellectuals, has never shied from confronting the critics of his faith. But his approach to the Wilders film aims to avoid a repeat of the cartoons controversy. At a recent conference in Sweden, he told Reuters that people could not be prevented from publishing material like the Wilders film and the Danish newspaper cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad that triggered protests across the Muslim world.

How should the media handle the Dutch anti-Koran film?

Geert Wilders, pictured during an interview with Reuters television in 2005Geert Wilders doesn’t do things by halves. The anti-Koran film that this far-right politician has been working on in recent months will be finished very soon. He doesn’t know if any Dutch broadcaster will touch it because of the controversy it has already stirred up. So he has arranged to have “Fitna” put out as a webcast as well. That should ensure that the film can be seen all around the world and not just in the Netherlands.

“It is very good news,” Wilders told us , adding that the film would “definitely be finished this week.” After that, he has to negotiate with Dutch television programmes to see who — if any — will broadcast it. Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende appealed last month for restraint over the film and Iran has urged the Netherlands to prevent this “provocative and satanic act on the basis of European Convention on Human Rights.”

The Dutch foreign and justice ministers met Wilders on Wednesday to warn him of the possible consequences of showing his film, including possible charges against him for hate speech. According to the Volkskrant daily and NOS television, Wilders called the meeting “one hour of pure intimidation” and left it determined to work “full speed ahead” on his project.

Iran wants European law to squelch anti-Koran film

European Court of Human RightsIran has urged the Netherlands to block a planned anti-Koran film, citing Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights as the legal basis for doing so. This is the latest twist in the saga surrounding the controversial film by far-right leader Geert Wilders (we’ve blogged on this before). In the letter, Iran’s Justice Minister Gholamhossein Elham asked his Dutch counterpart Ernst Hirsch Ballin to use European human rights law to stop a European from exercising one of those most basic rights. Freedom of expression has been the rallying cry of those who defended the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten for publishing the Mohammad cartoons — and republishing the most controversial one (the turban bomb) this week after a death threat against the artist who drew it.

Protesters set fire to Danish consulate in Beirut, 5 Feb. 2006/Mohamed AzakirThis also raises the question of whether any protest against purported blasphemy against Islam this time might not turn out to be on the streets, as after the Danish caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad, but in the courts. European Muslim organisations brought court suits against the cartoons in Denmark and in France but lost their cases — thanks to the principle of freedom of expression. Will the Iranian letter inspire any to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg? Nota bene — Danish imams preached calm at Friday prayers, in contrast to the imams who went to the Middle East to rally opposition to the cartoons when they first came out.

On Friday, Iran’s news agency IRNA reported on the letter, which the Dutch government told NRC Handelsblad it had not yet received. IRNA wrote the following (quotes from Elham in italics):

Anti-Koran film keeps the Dutch holding their breath

Geert Wilders speaks during an interview with Reuters Television, 3 March 2005/Jerry LampenThis is getting to look like a striptease…

The far-right politician Geert Wilders, whose planned anti-Koran film has the Netherlands holding its breath, has revealed that his long-awaited opus will be delayed by two months. There had been speculation he might show it in his party’s broadcasting slot on Dutch television on Friday evening. Viewers instead got shots of Wilders walking along a beach repeating his complaints about Muslims (shown a few minutes into this Dutch TV interview with Ayaan Hirsi Ali). For more on his views, he’s here and here spelling them out in English.

The 10-minute movie is now due out in March, Wilders said in an interview in Saturday’s De Telegraaf. This comes after a rising chorus of concern about possible protests against the film and a call from Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende for restraint and reports that Dutch embassies were preparing to evacuate Dutch citizens abroad if things got out of hand.

LoudspeakerThe Rotterdam daily NRC Handelsblad smelt a rat. “Geert Wilders says he’s making a film. Nobody has seen it yet. But his plan has kept the media and politicians in its grip for two months now,” it commented. “In terms of political PR, Geert Wilders is putting on a great showWilders can dominate the news because journalists and politicians are sytematically allowing themselves to be taken hostage by him. Without a loudspeaker, there is no platform. Without political reactions, there is no series to watch.”