Film on Islam Making Waves, Even Though No One's Seen It Yet

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:06pm EDT

( - A Dutch lawmaker who caused a stir last year with calls to ban the Koran in his country is again under fire, this time for making a film criticizing Islam's most revered text.

Geert Wilders announced late last year that his aim in making the short movie was to show that the Koran was not some "old dusty book" but the inspiration in many parts of the world for "intolerance, murder and terror."

He said at the time that it would appear in late January; however, the release has been delayed by several weeks.

Although the film has yet to be seen, some media, both in Islamic nations and the Netherlands, already are predicting a Muslim reaction like the one that greeted the publication by a Danish newspaper in 2005 of cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet, Mohammed.

"The controversial film is expected to spark worldwide protests similar to those staged after the publishing of a series of blasphemous cartoons by a Danish daily," said Iran's Press TV.

Reaction to the cartoons included a boycott of Danish products and violence in several Islamic countries, some of it deadly.

The Iranian television network said the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), a Saudi-headquartered bloc of 57 Muslim-majority states, would be discussing the film and may seek a meeting with senior Dutch government officials.

Pakistani foreign office officials were also quoted as saying that the movie would be taken up by the OIC. Pakistan currently chairs the OIC's grouping of foreign ministers.

Since the Mohammed cartoon episode, the OIC has been pushing at the U.N. for an international ban on acts that "defame" Islam. Last December, it succeeded in getting a General Assembly resolution passed on combating the "defamation of religions."

The OIC executive committee held a meeting in Jeddah on Sunday, but it focused on the situation in the Gaza Strip and a final communique released afterwards made no reference to the Dutch movie.

Iran's ambassador to the Netherlands, Bozorgmehr Ziaran, told the country's Volkskrant newspaper that Wilders' film could endanger the safety of Dutch military personnel serving in the NATO force in Afghanistan. The troops, he said, would be seen as "representatives of people who besmirch the Koran."

Ziaran also said he could not guarantee that Iranians would react calmly to the movie.

Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said on Dutch television last month that the film posed a "crisis" for the government, and Dutch media have aired leaked reports about contingency plans being drawn up by government agencies in case of security threats.

European Union justice ministers meeting recently in Slovenia expressed concern about the situation.

Madrid-based legal scholar Juan F. Carmona y Choussat said the episode raised questions that would have to be answered by Europeans and Westerners.

"Is censorship regaining its grounds in the heart of Europe?" he asked in an article written for the Strategic Studies Group think tank. "How far will Europeans go to defend freedom of expression? What are the limits of this freedom where Islam is concerned?"

What does seem clear, Carmona said, is that "once you give up a bit preventively, chances are you will only be hated more."

/s4 'Ignore him'

Some Muslims are calling for calm.

"Silence would be our best response" to Wilders' movie, said Oxford-based Muslim scholar and theologian Tariq Ramadan in an article posted on his Web site.

Wilders was trying to provoke a reaction from Muslims, "and the best response is to ignore him," he said. Ramadan has been accused by critics of supporting violence in Israel and Iraq, and has been denied a U.S. visa.

Ahmed Aboutaleb, a Muslim who serves as state secretary of social affairs in the Balkenende government, told Dutch television that Muslims themselves had increased Wilders' stature by reacting to his provocation.

Pakistan's daily The Post said in an editorial the film "could hurt Muslim sensibilities."

"Wilders needs to realize that whenever he goes on ranting about how Muslims are extremists and terrorists, he himself is acting like one and his words are definitely causing as much, if not more damage, than the so-called extremists he is supposedly fighting against," the Lahore-based paper said.

Meanwhile, a left-leaning Dutch think tank is organizing a new petition against "Islamophobia" in the Netherlands and hopes to obtain 50,000 signatures by Feb. 14.

"We want to make it clear that Wilders and other Muslim-bashers are not running this country," the group said in a press statement this week.

Wilders is leader of the right-wing Freedom Party (PVV), which holds nine seats in the 150-member lower house of the Dutch parliament in The Hague.

Last summer, he called for the country to ban the Koran, saying some verses instruct Muslims "to oppress, persecute or kill Christians, Jews, dissidents and non-believers, to beat and rape women and to establish an Islamic state by force."

The controversial politician, who says he has received numerous death threats, has been under police protection for some time.

Several high-profile Dutch figures have been threatened by Islamic radicals in recent years, including an Iranian-born politician who set up a support groupfor people who have renounced Islam, and Somalia-born former lawmaker Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who later moved to the U.S.

In 2004, a Dutch-Moroccan radical shot and stabbed to death filmmaker Theo van Gogh, after he directed a movie written by Hirsi Ali, critical of the treatment of women under Islam.

Two years earlier, right-wing politician Pim Fortyn was assassinated by a non-Muslim environmental activist, who later confessed to the crime, saying he regarded Fortyn as a danger to Muslims and other minorities.

Muslims account for about six percent of the population of the Netherlands, a country that has long prided itself on a tradition of liberal tolerance.
See also:
Dutch Reject Call to Ban Koran But Worry About Islam (Aug. 16, 2007)
Death Threats Greet Dutch Lawmaker's Call to Ban the Koran (Aug. 10, 2007)

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