The ambassadors of 26 Islamic countries want the Netherlands to investigate whether the film Fitna made by Dutch right-wing populist MP Geert Wilders can be banned. They asked Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen whether it is possible to start legal proceedings against the anti-Islam film. The meeting at the ministry in The Hague was attended by ambassadors of countries including Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Mr Verhagen told the 26 ambassadors he was pleased that responses from the Muslim world up to now had been moderate. He said the public prosecutor was investigating whether any offence had been committed, and the Dutch government clearly distanced itself from the film.
At the same time he called on the ambassadors to ensure Dutch citizens and organisations abroad were protected. “Let’s keep heads cool and relations warm,” he added. “We know about the concerns and feelings about this film among the international Muslim community, but hurt feelings must never be an excuse for aggression and threats.”
In Indonesia, a few dozen demonstrators protested against Geert Wilders’ film outside the Dutch embassy. They waved banners reading “Holland go to Hell” and “Kill Geert Wilders”, threw eggs and bottles of water at the building and chanted anti-Dutch slogans. One protestor called on Muslims around the world to kill Mr Wilders, calling him a “Christian terrorist”.
The protestors were kept at a distance by police with shields and water cannons. They were all said to be members of the Islamic Defence Front, an organisation whose leader was given a seven-month jail sentence in 2003 for acts of violence. In the city of Magelang on Sunday a few hundred protesters took to the streets to demonstrate against the film. However, the rest of Indonesia has remained calm.
During a meeting of the Arab League in Damascus on Sunday, Arab leaders spoke of their alarm about growing Islamophobia around the world. The closing statement expressed concerns that Islam was also under attack in countries famous for their tolerance towards other religions and cultures.
In Jordan a group of MPs have asked the government to sever relations with the Netherlands in response to Fitna. “The film insults the Prophet Muhammad and hurts the feelings of all Muslims,” said Jordanian MP Ali Dalain.
According to Arnold Heertje, a former professor of economics at the University of Amsterdam, an economic boycott of the Netherlands would have little effect.“It would amount to a drop of 1.7 percent in our exports if the boycott was applied comprehensively. Probably the effect would be much smaller and possibly zero.”
While there have been no demonstrations outside the Dutch embassy in Pakistan, security has been tightened there due to concerns about possible protests. Embassy staff have been instructed to limit their travel and attract as little attention to themselves as possible.
Regret and condemnation
The Iranian government called on Dutch ambassador Radinck van Vollenhoven to protest openly against Fitna. Mr Van Vollenhoven expressed his regret about the film and said the Dutch government condemned it.
There has also been criticism of Fitna from beyond the Islamic world. Austrian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith called the film “highly offensive,” and “an obvious attempt to generate discord between faith communities.” United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon also said it was “insulting and anti-Islamic”.
Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende has warned that there may be more protests to come. “It can sometimes take months for all the reactions to be felt.”
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