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Dutch anti-Islam film meets with heavy criticism

28 March 2008

THE HAGUE – Criticism from home and abroad of Dutch opposition lawmaker Geert Wilders’ anti-Islam film grew Friday after Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende appeared on television to distance the government from the film.

Balkenende spoke shortly after the film, Fitna – in which Wilders draws links between terrorist acts by Muslim extremists and the words of the Koran – was posted on the www.liveleak.com website Thursday evening. In the run-up to the film’s release, Wilders had described the Koran as a "fascist book" that incites people to violence.

The prime minister told reporters during a press conference that the Dutch government regretted the fact that Wilders had decided to release the film, even though the government had asked him to refrain from making it public.

The European Union condemned the film. "We believe that acts, such as the above-mentioned film, serve no other purpose than inflaming hatred," a statement from the Slovenian EU presidency said Friday.

"The European Union and its member states apply the principle of the freedom of speech which is part of our values and traditions. However, it should be exercised in a spirit of respect for religious and other beliefs and convictions."

Reaction from Muslim countries was swift. Tehran warned of the "consequences of such a provocative move," as Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini termed the video "insulting and anti- Islamic" and symbolic of the "deep antagonism" of some Western states towards Islam and Muslims.

Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Kristiarto Legowo said the contents of the film were "misleading and full of racism" and called the production of the film an "irresponsible action done under the blanket of freedom of the press."

Indonesian House of Representatives Speaker Agung Laksono said the government must "take action" against the film because internet users could easily download and distribute it, triggering religious conflict.

Pakistan summoned the Dutch ambassador to condemn "the defamatory film which deeply offended the sentiments of Muslims all over the world and which was expected to result in expressions of strong abhorrence and outrage."

Iranian-born Afshin Ellian, a professor in the philosophy of law affiliated with the universities of Leiden and Amsterdam, said Geert Wilders "must have been advised by the best mullahs."

"Wilders stayed perfectly within the realm of what sharia or Muslim law permits. No images of Mohammed or Allah, and no material that may be blasphemous to Muslims."

Minister of Integration Ella Vogelaar (Labour) did sound a word of warning, saying the film could increase people’s fears of Islamic radicalism.

"The first half of the film contained shocking material," she said.

Meanwhile, the Dutch public prosecutor’s office said it would investigate whether the film violated anti-discrimination legislation.

[Copyright dpa 2008]