Page last updated at 13:04 GMT, Friday, 28 March 2008

Relief over Dutch MP's anti-Islam film

By Andy Clark
Radio Netherlands Worldwide

Still from Geert Wilders' film Fitna, 28 March 2008
The film shows several attacks, including 9/11

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, with no demonstrations or riots.

Comments posted to popular websites like that of De Telegraaf - the Netherlands' best selling newspaper - are mixed.

"It seems to me that this will not lead to problems for Mr 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."

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
Fouad Sidali
Co-operation of Moroccans in the Netherlands

There were also many messages of support for Mr Wilders 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 Muslim groups, which say that Mr Wilders is painting an image of all Muslims as extremists.

Anti-film protestors in Amsterdam, 22 March 2008
Strong views were expressed in the run-up to the film's release

"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," said Fouad Sidali from the Co-operation of Moroccans in the Netherlands.

Graphic images

The film, whose title Fitna means 'Ordeal' or 'Strife' in Arabic, shows verses of the Koran alternating with graphic scenes of recent atrocities: the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, the charred bodies of train passengers bombed in Madrid and gruesome images from attacks in London and Somalia.

The 15-minute production quotes the Koran - Surah Four, verse 56 - as saying: "Those who have disbelieved our signs, we shall roast them in Hell."

Mr Wilders' message is clear: be warned because Islam's true purpose is to conquer the world and destroy our freedom and democratic systems.

We believe it serves no other purpose than to cause offence
PM Jan Peter Balkenende

Towards the end, a hand is shown grabbing a page of the Koran. 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.

Mr Wilders then declares that it is not up to him to tear malicious verses out of the Koran, 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 the internet, the Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende criticised 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."

Dutch PM Jan Peter Balkenende, 27 March 2008
Dutch PM Jan Peter Balkenende called the film regrettable

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," he said.

"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 Mr Wilders into legal problems, saying it is not discriminatory in the legal sense.

But the government says it will look at this issue and a mistake in the film may well see the member of parliament 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.

And the Danish cartoonist, Kurt Westergaard, is suing Mr Wilders through the Danish Union of Journalists, alleging he infringed copyright by using a cartoon of his without permission. The cartoon depicts the Prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban.

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.

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