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MIDDLE EAST: Dutch film about Koran could spark new clash

January 22, 2008 | 10:17 am

DanishcartoonUh-oh... The clash of civilizations may fire up again with the possible release of a short film by an ultra-rightwing member of Holland's parliament who has likened the Koran to Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf."

Geert Wilders, a Dutch lawmaker, has made a movie that has raised alarm bells across Europe even before it's been screened. Political leaders worry about another flare-up of cross-cultural conflict like the one that erupted in 2006 after the Danish publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. 

The film purports to show the dangers of the Koran and Wilders has threatened to air his movie during a segment on Dutch television alloted to his Freedom Party. Wilders has a less-than-stellar record when it comes to cultural sensitivity on the issue of Islam. He has demanded an outright ban on Islam's holiest book, which he calls a "fascist" text. And he means it when he says ban, according to his website:

Not only the sale, but also the use in mosques and ownership in a household context should be punishable. If the current legislation does not allow that, then a new law on banning the book should be introduced. This book incites hate and murder, and therefore does not fit in with our rule of law. If Muslims want to participate, they must distance themselves from the Koran. I know that is asking a great deal, but we have to stop making concessions.

The Muslim world has already reacted to the prospect of any movie by WIlders on the subject of the Koran. On Monday, an Iranian lawmaker warned the Dutch not to allow the screening of the film. Alaoddin Boroujerdi  said there would be protests and a "review" of Tehran's relationship with the Netherlands if Wilders' work is shown, according to the Fars News Agency.

If Holland allows the broadcast of this movie, the Iranian parliament will request to reconsider our relationship with it. In Iran and other Muslim countries insulting Islam is a very sensitive matter and if the movie is broadcasted it will arouse a wave of popular hate that will be directed towards any government that insults Islam.

The Grand Mufti of Syria, Ahmad Badr al-Din al-Hassoun, has also denounced the film.

Unlike the Danish cartoon controversy, which caught the government in Cophenhagen by surprise, the Dutch aren't taking any chances. The government has publicly warned Wilders that his film could spark violence and jeopardize his safety.

"The government is taking the announcement of this movie quite seriously," said Floris van Hovell, a spokesman for the Dutch Embassy in Washington, D.C. "Obviously, because the movie hasn't been made, we cannot say anything about the movie until the movie has been shown, but the message Mr. Wilders has told us he wants to portray is disturbing."

The Dutch government is reaching out to Muslims and in Holland and abroad in an effort to distance itself from the movie, instructing its officials at embassies across the world to disavow it.

"We're explaining that in the Netherlands you have freedom of expression, and that at the same time the Dutch government is very concerned about the message Mr. Wilders supposedly wants to portray in his movie," van Hovell said.

Violence erupted in Holland in Nov. 2004 after a Dutch teenager of Moroccan descent stabbed to death film-maker Theo Van Gogh, who made a movie that had a scene super-imposing lines from the Koran over images of naked veiled women.

There's a lot of back-and-forth in the blogosphere about Wilders film, much of it in Dutch. Daniel Pipes, the conservative American writer, describes this incident as the first such flare-up, beginning with the 1989 controversy over Salman Rushdie's book "Satanic Verses, in which both a government, a provacateur and his opponents are preparing in advance for a cross-cultural clash, as opposed to stumbling into one:

That a lone individual, a Rushdie or a Wilders, is in the anomolous position of driving a state's policy makes this situation so fascinating...

Blogger Fred Stopsky over at the Impudent Observer thinks folks make way too much of characters like Wilders:

At some point, those Muslims who become upset at the Wilders of this world must come to the realization they thrive when you trnasform into martyrs. The most effective anti-Wilders action is to ignore his behavior. He can not thrive in the silence of anonymity.

Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Photo: Angry demonstrators set ablaze the Danish embassy in Damascus on Feb. 4, 2006 over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that appeared in a Danish newspaper. Almost two years later, Dutch fear a another controversy, this time over a film about the Koran.  Credit: LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images

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