Dutch relief about anti-Islam film
The initial reaction in the Netherlands following the long-awaited showing of right-wing politician Geert Wilders' anti-Islam film Fitna is one of relief. Commentators are almost unanimous in their assessment that the Internet video is much less inflammatory than expected. By Andy Clark.
The initial reaction in the Netherlands following the long-awaited showing of right-wing politician Geert Wilders’ anti-Islam film Fitna is one of relief. Commentators are almost unanimous in their assessment that the Internet video is much less inflammatory than expected.
Mr Wilders himself called the film ‘respectable’ saying he wanted it to spark debate – others said it was ‘nothing new.’ Public opinion has been restrained; no demonstrations or riots and comments posted to popular websites like that of De Telegraaf - the Netherlands’ best selling newspaper – are mixed.
“It seems to me that this won’t lead to problems for Geert Wilders or the Netherlands, it was a mess, just separate fragments linked together. It was nothing more than what Wilders always says, in fact it was toned down,”
writes Simon from Amsterdam. Frank in Utrecht had this to say:
“I’m no fan of Wilders but when you see things as laid out in this film you get a clear picture. It will make a lot of people think, and luckily thinking has never done anyone any harm.”
Support and criticism
There were also many messages of support for the Party for Freedom leader with people saying they felt he was addressing issues other politicians are afraid to talk about - those being Islam and integration. In their reactions, different Dutch Muslim organisations expressed a similar sense of relief.
“The worries that I and Dutch society had about riots and that sort of thing are now considerably reduced,” said Brahim Bourzik from the National Moroccan Council.
However, there was criticism from the Muslim groups who say that Geert Wilders is painting an image of all Muslims as extremists. Fouad Sidali, from the Co-operation of Moroccans in the Netherlands, said:
“The film is not as shocking as we thought it was going to be. We haven’t had phone calls from our community that people are offended by this. But having said that, we think the images are repulsive, totally terrible. They are images that have already gone down in history as the deeds of criminals – they are responsible for these acts, not Islam.”
The film, whose title Fitna means ‘Ordeal' or 'Strife' in Arabic, shows verses of the Qur'an alternating with graphic scenes of recent acts of terror: the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, the charred bodies of train passengers in Madrid, gruesome images from atrocities in London and Somalia. “Those who have disbelieved our signs, we shall roast them in Hell", according to Surah 4, verse 56, quoted in the 15-minute production.
Wilders' message is clear: be warned because Islam's true purpose is to conquer the world and destroy our freedom and democratic systems. Towards the end, a hand is shown grabbing a page of the Qur'an; the image is accompanied by the sound of tearing paper, the screen then goes blank and subtitles explain that the sound was that of a page being torn from a telephone book. Wilders then declares that it is not up to him to tear malicious verses out of the Qur’an, but that Muslims themselves must do that.
In a press statement issued, unusually in English as well as Dutch, just a few hours after the film appeared on Internet the Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said the government regretted the showing of the film.
“The film equates Islam with violence, we reject this interpretation. The vast majority of Muslims reject extremism and violence and in fact the victims are often also Muslims. We therefore regret that Mr Wilders has released this film, we believe it serves no other purpose than to cause offence.”
Maurits Berger, an expert on Islam from Leiden University, shares the view that the film is milder than expected, but he says there could still be problems.
“I’m worried about what I call the Salman Rushdie effect - then having not read the book was no bar to protest and that could be the case here. It may be that people will protest against ‘the anti-Muslim’ film without ever having seen it – so there is still need for caution.”
Most experts believe that the film will not get Geert Wilders into legal problems saying it is not discriminatory in the legal sense. But the government says it will examine this and a mistake in the film may well see the MP in hot water.
A photograph of the rapper Salah Edin was mistakenly used as the photo of Mohammed Bouyeri, the murderer of Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh. The rapper is consulting his lawyers. Also said to be consulting his lawyers is the Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, Mr Wilders used his cartoon – an image of Mohammed with a bomb in his turban – without permission.
Despite the mild reactions to the film the co-ordinator for terrorism prevention Tjibbe Joustra is keeping the level of terrorist threat at ‘substantial.’ This is the second highest level in the Netherlands.
28 March 2008
[Copyright Radio Netherlands]