How Muslim countries are reacting to Fitna’s release
There has been no trouble in response to the release of Fitna, the film by right-wing populist politician Geert Wilders on what he sees as the dangers of Islam. According to the Dutch Interior Ministry’s crisis centre, the reaction throughout the Netherlands has been calm. Neither have there been any reports of unrest internationally. The story has naturally attracted a great deal of media attention in the Middle East. The response from the major media organisations has been restrained and the tone moderate, especially in comparison to previous incidents such the Danish cartoon crisis. The Arabic news channel Al-Jazeera reported both in its main news bulletin and on its website that while Muslims were upset, their response has been more moderate than it was in comparable cases in the past. It quotes a number of leaders of Dutch Islamic organisations who have made similarly moderate comments. The channel clearly stated that the Dutch government has distanced itself from the film and tried to persuade Mr Wilders not to go ahead with the release.
The international Arabic newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat describes the film at length, commenting that Dutch public broadcasters have refused to screen it. The newspaper also puts the film into context, mentioning that Mr Wilders has received death threats and that in 2004 film maker Theo van Gogh was murdered for making a film criticising the treatment of women in Islam.
However, the vast number of readers’ responses featured on Arabic language websites such as that of the television channel al-Arabiyya reflect a much greater degree of anger and frustration about the film.
In Indonesia the chairman of the country’s top clerical body the Indonesian Council of Ulemas, Umar Shihab, warned of possible disturbances in response to Fitna. He advised Indonesians against watching the film on the internet. At the same time he appealed to people not to react emotionally.
Iran has sharply condemned Mr Wilders’ film. The Foreign Ministry in Tehran described the film’s release as a disgusting act that was evidence of a vendetta by Western citizens against Islam and Muslims. The spokesman also warned of retaliatory measures against this “provocative film”.
In Pakistan, where the Danish cartoons triggered fierce protests, as yet few people appear to be aware of the film’s release. Only one Pakistani newspaper carries the news in its inside pages.
Many television channels have not yet featured reports on Fitna. There are rumours that in Peshawar, a city in north-western Pakistan, a demonstration is to be held against the film. Notably, Dutch embassy staff in Islamabad were still not aware of the film’s release half an hour after it had appeared on the internet.
Muslims in the Netherlands generally appear not to find the film’s contents particularly alarming. Brahim Bourzik of the national consultative body for Moroccans in the Netherlands, LBM, said, “Concerns people had about rioting and the like have now considerably diminished.” Fouad Sidali a spokesman for SMN, an organisation representing the interests of Moroccans in the Netherlands, believes the film is not as bad as had been expected.
“I don’t find it as shocking as I thought it would be. We’ve not really had any calls from the people we represent saying they’re offended by it or they think it’s really awful. What they do say is ‘We also find these images appalling. They’re images that have gone down in history, which are the responsibility of criminals and certainly not of Islam.’”
Yusuf Altuntas of CMO, a body that facilitates contact between Muslims and the government, also says he doesn’t believe Muslims in the Netherlands will allow themselves to be provoked into a violent response. Mr Wilders is testing the limits of acceptability, says Mr Altuntas, but he hasn’t gone beyond them.
Dutch government’s response
In political circles in The Hague the response has generally been one of relief that the film doesn’t feature any images of the Qur’an being burnt or torn. At end of the film it is implied that a page of the Qur’an is being torn out. However, this is followed by a statement by Mr Wilders that it is not him but the Muslims who should tear out passages in the Qur’an that carry a message of hatred.
In a live television broadcast, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said he found Mr Wilders’ release of the film regrettable. “We don’t see what purpose this film serves other than to hurt people’s feelings. The film equates Islam with violence. We reject that interpretation."
Most political parties support the Prime Minister’s statement. Mr Wilders said the film was not a provocation but harsh reality. He sees Islam and the Qur’an as a threat to the preservation of freedom in the Netherlands, and wants to sound the alarm. "It’s five to twelve," he said, just before the film was released.
28 March 2008
[Copyright Radio Netherlands]