The Dutch government was today examining the legality of banning a film attacking Islam amid fears that it would fan sentiment against the Netherlands in Muslim countries.
The Telegraaf newspaper reported that the coalition government was divided on the film, with the Christian Democrats leaning towards a ban but Labour favouring freedom of expression and calling on Muslim countries to prevent violence against the Netherlands.
The 15-minute film, called Fitna—an Arabic term used in the Qur’an and sometimes translated as “strife”—was made by Geert Wilders, a rightwing politician who leads the nine-member PVV (Freedom) party.
Wilders has argued that there is no such thing as moderate Islam, and has called for a ban of the Qur’an, which he compares to Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
“The core of the problem is fascistic Islam, the sick ideology of Allah and Muhammad as it is set out in the Islamic Mein Kampf: the Koran,” he wrote in a comment piece for the Volksrant newspaper last year.
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the Nato secretary general, has expressed concern about the safety of Nato troops after protests against the film in Afghanistan.
“If the [troops] find themselves in the line of fire because of the film, then I am worried about it and I am expressing that concern,” he said in a television interview.
Yesterday, around 1,000 Afghans protested against the republication of a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad in Danish newspapers and Wilders’ plan to air the film.
The protesters, mostly religious clerics in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif, demanded the withdrawal of Danish and Dutch troops from Afghanistan.
The Dutch prime minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, warned last week that the Netherlands risked economic sanctions and attacks against its troops because of the film. He stopped short, however, of saying that it should not be broadcast.
In 2006, demonstrations and rioting broke out in many Muslim countries after Danish cartoons, one showing the prophet with a turban resembling a bomb, appeared in a Danish newspaper. At least 50 people were killed and three Danish embassies attacked.
Balkenende said the Dutch government did not share Wilders’ views, adding that the cabinet was obliged to point out the risks of transmitting the film.
Wilders—a target of death threats on Islamist websites—said he had completed the film and was in negotiations with TV stations for its broadcast either this month or in April.
The politician, who has gained support in recent opinion polls, has warned of a “tsunami of Islamisation” in a country that is home to nearly 1 million Muslims.
In 2004, a young Dutch man of Moroccan parentage stabbed and shot 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 criticised the new film as “provocation”.
She called on the major Dutch political parties to restart the debate on immigration that has split Dutch society in recent years rather than leaving the field to extremists.
Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende has warned a maverick lawmaker of the risks to Dutch national interests if he presses ahead with a film criticizing the Koran.
Wilders said his short film would portray the Koran as a “fascist book.” He does not yet have a broadcaster for it, but says he will release it on the Internet if he fails to find one.
In a statement after Balkenende’s news conference, Wilders accused the Cabinet of “bowing to fear of terror and fear of Islam” and rejected calls to scrap the movie.
Last week, the Pakistani government ordered Internet providers to restrict access to YouTube, allegedly to prevent Pakistanis from accessing a clip of Wilders in which he makes derogatory remarks about Islam. The move inadvertently caused a worldwide outage of the video sharing site.
The Dutch development minister called off a visit to Somalia on Friday after he was warned his life would be in danger on the trip.
In an earlier last week, Wilders said negative reactions to his film “only served to prove the point” that Islam should be criticized.
Wilders said the film would demonstrate how the Koran incites violence and intolerance of women and homosexuals.
Muslim groups in the Netherlands say they will file hate-speech charges against Wilders for previous statements, such as his description of Islam as a “retarded” religion. The Grand Mufti of Syria has warned of “bloodshed” if the film is released.
The Dutch national antiterrorism coordinator has told Wilders he may have to go into hiding abroad once his film is released. He already lives under constant police protection.
Dutch embassies have warned staff to brace for similar violence if the film is broadcast.