The Dutch government is bracing itself for violent protests following the scheduled broadcast this week of a provocative anti-Muslim film by a radical right-wing politician who has threatened to broadcast images of the Koran being torn up and otherwise desecrated.
Cabinet ministers and officials, fearing a repetition of the crisis sparked by the publication of cartoons of Muhammad in a Danish newspaper two years ago, have held a series of crisis meetings and ordered counter-terrorist services to draw up security plans. Dutch nationals overseas have been asked to register with their embassies and local mayors in the Netherlands have been put on standby.
Geert Wilders, one of nine members of the extremist PVV (Freedom) party in the 150-seat Dutch lower house, has promised that his film will be broadcast – on television or on the internet – whatever the pressure may be. It will, he claims, reveal the Koran as ‘source of inspiration for intolerance, murder and terror’.
Dutch diplomats are already trying to pre-empt international reaction. ‘It is difficult to anticipate the content of the film, but freedom of expression doesn’t mean the right to offend,’ said Maxime Verhagen, the Foreign Minister, who was in Madrid to attend the Alliance of Civilisations, an international forum aimed at reducing tensions between the Islamic world and the West. In Amsterdam, Rotterdam and other towns with large Muslim populations, imams say they have needed to ‘calm down’ growing anger in their communities.
Government officials hope that no mainstream media organisation will agree to show the film, although one publicly funded channel, Nova, initially agreed before pulling out. ‘A broadcast on a public channel could imply that the government supported the project,’ said an Interior Ministry spokesman.
Demonstrations are also expected from those opposed to Wilders beyond Holland’s Muslim community – a number of left-wing activists have already been arrested – and from his supporters. Members of a group calling itself Stop Islamisation of Europe are planning to travel to Amsterdam. ‘Geert Wilders is an elected politician who has made a film, and that he is under armed guard as a result is absolutely outrageous,’ said Stephen Gash, a UK-based member, yesterday. ‘It is all about free speech.’
In November 2004, anger and violence followed the stabbing and shooting by a Dutch teenager of Moroccan parentage of the controversial film-maker Theo Van Gogh, a distant relative of the artist.
The attacker said the killing was in response to a film about Islam and domestic violence that Van Gogh had made with the Somalian-born activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, then an MP, which showed images of naked veiled women with lines from the Koran projected over them.
From her self-imposed exile in Washington, Hirsi Ali last week criticised the new film as ‘provocation’ and called on the major Dutch political parties to restart a debate on immigration that has split Dutch society in recent years, rather than leave the field to extremists.
Wilders announced his plans last November, saying he was making a film to show the violent and fascist elements of the Muslim faith. The maverick politician’s remarks about Islam have become increasingly radical. In February last year he said that if Muslims wanted to stay in the Netherlands, they should tear out half of the Koran and throw it away. In parliament he then called for the Koran and Hitler’s Mein Kampf to be banned, a proposal that was rejected.
Job Cohen, the left-wing mayor of Amsterdam, echoed Hirsi Ali’s words and called for a debate ‘so that the moderates can make themselves heard’.
During a visit to the European Parliament in Strasbourg last week, Ahmad Badr al-Din Hassoun, the Grand Mufti of Syria, said that, were Wilders was seen to tear up or burn a Koran in his film, ‘this will simply mean he is inciting wars and bloodshed … It is the responsibility of the Dutch people to stop him.’