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Associated Press – March 28, 2008
AMSTERDAM, Netherlands – A Dutch legislator’s film that portrays Islam as a ticking time bomb aimed at Western democracy prompted denunciations from Muslim capitals and street protests in Pakistan, but a restrained reaction from Dutch Muslims who had expected worse.
The 15-minute film entitled “Fitna,” an Arabic word meaning “ordeal,” by anti-immigrant politician Geert Wilders was posted on a Web site late Thursday. It evoked symbols that Muslims called offensive, and drew on well-worn footage of terrorist attacks and anti-Western, anti-Jewish rhetoric that was meant to alarm the native Dutch.
Hundreds of Muslims demonstrated in Pakistan. The Foreign Ministry summoned the Dutch ambassador to deliver an official complaint against what it called a “defamatory film which deeply offended the sentiments of Muslims all over the world.”
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the movie. “There is no justification for hate speech or incitement to violence. The right of free expression is not at stake here,” he said in a statement released in New York.
“The real fault line is not between Muslim and Western societies, as some would have us believe, but between small minorities of extremists, on different sides, with a vested interest in stirring hostility and conflict,” the U.N. chief said.
Condemnations also came from the government of Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, Iran and Jordan.
“It is not Islam that should be stopped, it is fear-mongers like Geert Wilders who should be stopped from spreading their hatred,” said Zakaria al-Sheik of the Rassoul Allah Yajmana, a Jordanian group formed to protect the image of Islam.
The Council of Europe said the film was a “distasteful manipulation” that exploits fear. The World Council of Churches said it failed to distinguish extremism from mainstream Islam. “Extremism is a problem for most religions and needs to be countered through inter-religious dialogue,” said Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana.
Dutch Muslims said the film misrepresented Islam, but that Wilders had largely stayed within the bounds of acceptable political discourse – winning praise from Wilders himself for their civil reaction.
Wilders argues in the film that Islam’s objective is to rule the world and impose an Islamic order without Western freedoms, where gays would be persecuted and women discriminated against.
The film employed elements and symbols calculated to offend Muslims. It reproduced pages of the Quran with the voice of an imam intoning the text. Alongside appears translations in Dutch or English of passages calling on followers to defend the faith and slay their enemies.
The film begins with the Danish cartoon image of Muhammad with a fuse in his turban. The same image concludes the film with the fuse lit and a ticking clock counting down the seconds, then fades into blackness broken by flashes of lightening and thunder.
Kurt Westergaard, the artist who has lived under police protection since the cartoon was published two years ago, objected that Wilders had violated his copyright. “I won’t accept my cartoon being taken out of its original context and used in a completely different one,” he told Denmark’s TV2.
In another provocative image, a hand turns a page of the Quran as the screen darkens and the sound of tearing paper is heard. A printed text says it is only a telephone book being torn, and adds: “It is not up to me, but to Muslims themselves to tear out the hateful verses from the Quran.”
The film concludes with a scrolling text saying that the West had defeated the Nazis and communism, and now must defeat an Islam that “wants to dominate, subject and seeks to destroy our Western civilization.”
Wilders told reporters he made the film because “Islam and the Quran are dangers to the preservation of freedom in the Netherlands.”
Even before its release, the Dutch government went out of its way to distance itself from Wilders, but was powerless to gag him.
It set up a crisis center to deal with the anticipated outraged reaction, but Muslim demonstrations failed to materialize after the film hit the Internet and Dutch TV stations broadcast excerpts.
“I want to pay tribute to Muslim organizations and the way they have reacted: Moderate reactions despite totally disagreeing with its contents. The Cabinet is proud – proud of people who react in this way,” said Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende.
Mainstream political parties and many Muslims dismissed the film as a political tactic to polarize society and scare people into supporting Wilders, whose reactionary Freedom Party holds nine seats in the 150-member Dutch parliament.
Mohamed Rabbae, leader of a group representing members of the Netherlands’ large Moroccan immigrant community, said the film was “less bad” than expected from Wilders’ prior comments.
Rabbae called on Muslims abroad to be calm and let Dutch Muslims deal with Wilders. “Harming Dutch people harms us,” he said.
“I wasn’t personally offended,” said Imad el Ouarti, a worshipper at El Umma mosque in Amsterdam. He said Wilders had taken Quranic texts out of context and had reused images that have been seen thousands of times since Sept. 11, 2001. “It’s just tasteless and non-creative, as if a child had pasted it together.”
In Rotterdam, a court said it would rule on April 7 on a petition by the Dutch Islamic Federation seeking to gag Wilders and order him to publicize an apology.
Wilders’ lawyer Serge Vlaar said the federation “wants to ban a point of view,” which he said was not possible under Dutch law.
Federation lawyer Ejder Kose countered that “my clients are not attacking freedom of speech. This is about ending the unjustified insulting of Islam.”
Outside the courtroom, a pro-Wilders demonstrator shouted far-right slogans until police bundled him into a car.

Associated Press Writer Mike Corder contributed to this article.
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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