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Wilders on the Web

DW staff (nda)March 28, 2008

Muslims in the Netherlands have reacted calmly to the Internet release of a controversial film critical of Islam by Dutch far-right MP Geert Wilders, but elsewhere passions run high.

Geert Wilders, leader of the parliamentary Party for Freedom
Far-right MP Geert Wilders claims his film is not an attack on Muslims but on radicalismImage: Picture-Alliance /dpa

The Wilders film, titled "Fitna" [strife], made its debut via British video-sharing website Liveleak and soon spread to the globally popular YouTube site where it quickly generated heated debate among viewers and much divided opinion.

The 17-minute film, which Wilders claims is not intended as an attack on Muslims but on radical Islam, features violent imagery of the terrorist attacks in New York and Madrid intertwined with Koranic texts.

The film opens and ends with a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad with a bomb under his turban, originally published in Danish newspapers, accompanied by the sound of ticking.

Images of hijacked airplanes flying into the World Trade Centre in New York on September 11, 2001, soon follow with sound bites from phone calls to the emergency services on that day. The film then continues with grizzly images of bloodstained bodies in the aftermath of the Madrid train bombings in March 2004 in which 191 people were killed.

September 11, 2001
Excerpts from the Koran are shown with images from 9/11Image: AP

It intersperses these with images of a Koran and the text of a sura from Islam's holiest tome, which translated from Arabic implores the faithful to "terrorize the enemies of Allah."

The film carries no commentary and relies purely on the pictures of the terrorist attacks, as well as a beheading and a vision of a future Holland where homosexuals and alternative thinkers are tortured, to carry Wilders' perceived vision of "reality."

"I am a politician," Wilders said recently. "I think that Islam and the Koran present a danger for our country and I want to warn against it. I think I have made a good film within the boundaries of the law. If something should now happen, then it is solely the responsibility of those people who use violence."

Dutch government distances itself from Wilders

The Dutch government, fearful of reprisals similar to those which followed the reproduction across Europe of the cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, pressured Wilders not to release the movie but to little effect.

Dutch Prime-minister Jan Peter Balkenende
Balkenende rejected Wilders' interpretation of IslamImage: dpa

"This film equates Islam with violence and we reject this interpretation," said Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende. "The vast majority of Muslims reject extremism and violence. In fact the victims are often also Muslims"

Initial reactions from the Muslim community in the Netherlands were restrained. The evening after the film's release passed without incident, in contrast to the unrest that swept the country following the murder by an Islamic militant in 2004 of film director Theo van Gogh, another Dutch artist who was accused of offending Islam.

However, Iran and Indonesia slammed the film.

Iran called it film heinous, blasphemous and anti-Islamic and called on European governments to block any further showing. Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation and a former Dutch colony, also condemned the film.

"We are of the view that the film has a racist flavour and is an insult to Islam, hidden under the cover of freedom of expression," a foreign ministry spokesman said. "We call on Indonesian people not to be incited."

Prime Minister Balkenende praised the efforts of his government to defuse Muslim anger in the months preceding the release of the film and welcomed the initial Muslim response.

"The government is heartened by the initial restrained reactions of Dutch Muslim organizations," he said. "The Dutch government stands for a society in which freedom and respect go hand in hand... Let us solve problems by working together."

Dutch politicians distanced themselves from Wilders and his film.

"The Netherlands does not need Wilders as a filmmaker," said Mark Rutte, leader of the Dutch Liberal VVD party -- of which Wilders himself was a member until being thrown out in September 2004. "We need Wilders as a legislator, to debate about the Netherlands and to find solutions for serious problems, including the problems of integration and immigration."

Minister of Integration Ella Vogelaar said the film could increase people's fears of Islamic radicalism. "The first half of the film contained shocking material," she said.

Dutch Muslims wait, international anger simmers

Muslim groups have appealed for calm and mosques plan to open their doors to the public on Friday to defuse tension.

Muslims pray in a mosque
Dutch Muslims have recated with restraint to the filmImage: AP

Fouad Sidali, a leading member of the Muslim community in Holland, called for moderate responses. "We Muslims in the Netherlands are opposed to any forms of violence and aggression," Sidali said. "We are Dutch; we love our country and abide by the constitution."

Moslems in other areas of the world, however, have not been as magnanimous. Before the film's release, demonstrators had already taken to the streets from Afghanistan to Indonesia to burn Dutch and Danish flags, and the governments of Pakistan and Iran sharply criticized Wilders' project.

NATO has expressed concern the film could worsen security for foreign forces in Afghanistan, including 1,650 Dutch troops.

Despite Wilders' own assertion, one that has been supported by a number of Dutch legislators, that he did not break any blasphemy laws with the film, a court in Rotterdam will hear an injunction against him on Friday brought by the Dutch Islamic Federation.

Cartoonist to issue writ from secure location

Afghan students burn an effigy during a demonstration against the reproduction of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad in Danish newspapers and the Wilders film
Westergaard's cartoon continues to cause outrageImage: AP

Wilders may also find himself embroiled in another court case brought against him by the cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, whose Mohammed caricature, which opens and closes the film, sparked violent protests by Muslims worldwide in 2006.

"My cartoon has been misused again. It has been pulled from its original context and set in a completely different one," Westergaard told Danish broadcaster DR. "It is a drawing aimed specifically against Islamic terror that uses interpretations of the Koran and Islam as spiritual ammunition," Westergaard, who remains in hiding after death threats, said.

"Wilders has not asked me for permission, so it is simply a case of violation of copyright rules," Westergaard said, adding he would contact legal experts Friday.