Concern mounts as Netherlands readies for anti-Islam film

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.

Is another “West-versus-Islam” clash on the horizon?

Two Dutch politicians seem to be doing their best to stir up a controversy with Muslims. The far-right MP Geert Wilders says he wants to make a film for television about the Koran. Ehsan Jami, an Iranian-born local councillor who launched a Committee of Ex-Muslims in September, plans a film called “The Life of Mohammad.” Both are due to be ready early next year.

The body of murdered filmmaker Theo van Gogh, 2 Nov. 2004Shades of the bloody protests over the Danish Prophet Mohammad cartoons and Theo van Gogh‘s murder for his film “Submission”…

Are we in for another “free-speech-versus-blasphemy” (or, to put it more bluntly, “West-versus-Islam”) clash?