Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende says he’s “gravely concerned” about the consequences of the yet-to-be-broadcast anti-Qur’an film being produced by right wing politician Geert Wilders.
The Dutch cabinet discussed the repercussions of the film at length during their weekly meeting. The cabinet clearly wants to get a message of tolerance and moderation out before the film is released.
In a statement to the press, the Prime Minister said the Netherlands stands for freedom, but also for respect. He stopped short of calling on Mr Wilders not to broadcast the film, but, he said, “the first person who has to take responsibility for the consequences, is Mr Wilders himself. And that’s not a call for him to do anything, but he should look into his own conscience, and ask what his responsibility here is.”
Capitulating to Islam
In reaction to the Prime Minister, Mr Wilders said “The cabinet is capitulating to Islam. I will never, ever do so.” Earlier in the week, in an unusual move, Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen called on Mr Wilders not to broadcast the film. Mr Wilders was even stronger in his response to the Foreign Minister, telling him to “stuff it”.
Mr Wilders is the leader of the populist Freedom Party, the fifth largest party in the Dutch parliament. He has long been making headlines with his claims that Islam’s holy book of is fascist, and should be banned. His film, which is said now to be finished, has been creating controversy in the Netherlands and abroad since the plan to make it became known in early December. The film is fifteen minutes long, and is called Fitna, Arabic for trial or ordeal.
Muslims around the world have reacted angrily to news of the film. The Taliban in Afghanistan announced this week that it would step up attacks on Dutch soldiers in Uruzgan if the film is broadcast. Development Minister Bert Koenders has cancelled a trip to Somalia. A children’s film, Where is Winky´s Horse, was banned from being shown at an international film festival in Egypt, as retribution. Dutch stewardesses have said they are scared of flying.
Various cabinet ministers also hinted that Dutch intelligence has been getting more specific threats against Dutch nationals or Dutch interests. The country could suffer economic damage, as has been the case with Denmark after the cartoon row two years ago. A number of Dutch organizations representing business interests have made an appeal to Mr Wilders not to show the film.
In addition to asking Mr Wilders to re-consider broadcasting the film, Mr Balkenende called on Muslims around the world not to overreact, and to take their cue from Muslims here in the Netherlands. He complemented this country’s Muslim community for its calm, considered approach to the film.
Nonetheless, Prime Minister Balkenende is seriously concerned about Dutch economic interests and the safety of Dutch citizens abroad. When asked why he didn’t ban the film in the interests of national security, the Prime Minister said that was not possible. The most the government could do, he said, is to prosecute Mr Wilders after the fact. He did say that in his nearly six years as prime minister, he’s never seen anything like the commotion surrounding the announcement of this film.
Mr Wilders appears determined to have the movie broadcast. He has registered a website just for the film, www.fitnathemovie.com, and will now take the finished version around looking for a television station to air it. The anticipation, and consternation, is mounting. And Mr Wilders has us right where he wants us.
For more information: www.radionetherlands.nl