Dutch companies fear Jordanian boycott
Fearful of a Jordanian boycott of their products, two Dutch companies have distanced themselves from the film Fitna, produced and released earlier this year by Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders.
On Sunday, Friesland Foods and the Zwanenberg Food Group placed adverts in Jordanian newspapers to announce that they have nothing to do with the film.
They're hoping to prevent their products ending up on a Middle East blacklist. They took this step after 'The Messenger of Allah Unites Us', a broad coalition of Jordanian political parties, professional organisations and media, printed one million posters showing Dutch and Danish products that - they argue - consumers in Jordan and other Middle East countries ought to boycott. In addition to a number of Danish brand names, the list includes such Dutch companies as KLM, Philips and baby food manufacturer Friso.
There's considerable anger in Jordan regarding Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard and Dutch politician Geert Wilders. The chairman of the coalition, Zakaria Sheik, says that both men have offended Muslims throughout the world and should not escape punishment.
Dutch company Friesland Foods took steps to distance itself from Fitna as soon as the list of products to be boycotted was released in March 2008. Although that earlier announcement was recently repeated in an advert by a Jordanian distributor it has, says company representative Bram Franken, had little success. Both Friesland Foods and the Zwanenberg Food Group are hoping that their new advert will prevent the names of their products ending up on a new series of posters.
Friesland Foods has stated:
"The contents of the poster have been changed a number of times. When it first appeared, it contained several Danish brand names. Subsequently, several products of ours were added. One has since been removed, but the others have stayed. We're in the same position as KLM, which has also distanced itself from Fitna, but which also remains on the poster."
Zakaria Sheikh says that companies wanting to avoid the boycott should also put out posters in their own countries and speak out there against Fitna. Right now, Friesland Foods isn't worried about a huge slump in business, since Jordan is a relatively small market for its products. But if such a boycott were to spread to more countries in the Arab world, its sales would be at risk, since the Middle East as a whole is one of its most important markets. Up until now, Dutch companies have not really suffered economically in the wake of Fitna's release.
KLM, too, is not too worried about the boycott as yet.
"It certainly has our attention and we're keeping our finger on the pulse of our local people in Jordan," says representative Nanke Kramer. But she hasn't noticed any losses for the company so far. For a start, she says, KLM doesn't fly to Amman. Nor, as far as she knows, have travel organisations in other countries been called upon to boycott the airline.
Zakaria Sheikh has also urged the Jordanian authorities to investigate the extent to which Kurt Westergaard and Geert Wilders can be prosecuted. Criminal proceedings have already been filed against 11 Danish media companies in the country. They are accused of blasphemy, inciting disorder and threatening national peace: offences that could result in a maximum of three years in jail.
Tøger Seidenfaden, editor-in-chief of the Danish paper Politiken, is considering whether or not to go to Jordan to defend his paper against the charges. He hopes that he would be given the opportunity to explain how the Danish media work and how Danish society deals with freedom of speech.
26 June 2008
By Sebastiaan Gottlieb