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Analysis: Anti-Islam film scares The Hague

By STEFAN NICOLA, UPI Germany Correspondent   |   Jan. 22, 2008 at 12:59 PM   |   Comments

BERLIN, Jan. 22 (UPI) -- The Dutch government is bracing for widespread violence that could be sparked by an anti-Islam film that its producer wants to broadcast sometime this week.

The film, financed by right-wing politician Geert Wilders, will reveal the Koran as a source of "inspiration for intolerance, murder and terror," Wilders said.

The anticipated screening has already sparked international protests. Although no one has seen the film yet, there are rumors Wilders will tear up or burn the Koran in it. If that was true, Ahmad Badr al-Din Hassoun, the Grand Mufti of Syria, said earlier this month at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, "this will simply mean he is inciting wars and bloodshed. ... It is the responsibility of the Dutch people to stop him."

On Monday, an Iranian lawmaker warned The Hague not to allow the screening of the film.

"If the Netherlands will allow the broadcast of this movie, the Iranian Parliament will request to reconsider our relationship with (the Dutch government)," said Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the Iranian security and foreign policy commission, according to Iran's federal news agency IRNA. "In Iran, insulting Islam is a very sensitive matter and if the movie is broadcast it will arouse a wave of popular hate that will be directed towards any government that insults Islam."

The Dutch government seems to think in the same terms. It fears a crisis similar to the one sparked by the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad in Danish -- and later European -- newspapers two years ago, when Danish products were boycotted, Danish embassies set on fire and dozens of people died in violent protests all over the world.

To be prepared for all eventualities, the Dutch government over the past days summoned its key ministers and officials linked to security issues. The Hague has compiled a secret document (which the Dutch media said it has obtained) detailing emergency measures in case of riots or attacks, including short-term evacuations of Dutch embassies and citizens from the Middle East. Apparently, imams in several large Dutch cities have already had to calm Muslims angry over the news of the film.

"We are ready to react quickly, it is our role to be prepared for calamities," Dutch Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende told journalists at his weekly news briefing.

While a state-funded TV station has already recalled its promise to air the movie, Wilders, the most prominent member of the far-right Freedom Party, or VVD, has vowed to broadcast his film -- on a smaller TV station or on the Internet via YouTube -- whatever the pressure may be.

The Netherlands has had a history of violence connected to anti-Islam statements, and thus, officials there are particularly vigilant.

In November 2004 in Amsterdam, a Dutch teenager from Moroccan descent stabbed to death and nearly decapitated the filmmaker Theo Van Gogh after the airing of his controversial film "Submission," which criticized the suppression of women in Islamic culture.

Van Gogh had made the film together with prominent Somalia-born Islam critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali, then a Dutch lawmaker, who lives in self-imposed exile in Washington. Yet even Hirsi Ali has criticized Wilder's film as provocative and warned the Dutch government not to leave the field of debating integration of immigrants to extremists.

Wilders, however, has managed to grab all the headlines. The 42-year-old, infamous for his big platinum blond hair, sees himself as continuing the struggle of the late right-wing populist politician Pim Fortuyn, who was shot in 2002 by an animal-rights activist.

Wilders in the past years raised eyebrows with very controversial statements concerning Islam, saying the Koran was inciting hatred and fascism, and warning of an Islamization that was washing over the Netherlands like "a tsunami."

Dutch embassies all over the world have been told to highlight that the Dutch government is not backing the message of the film or any of Wilders' statements. While Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende fears that the film is able to "threaten the public order, the security and our economy," he said he cannot and does not want to censor the movie, citing the country's tradition of free speech.

At the same time, there is Holland's "tradition of respect, tolerance and responsibility. And absurd insults of certain groups are not part of that," Balkenende said in reference to Wilders' film.

© 2008 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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