Linda Hindi, Jordan Times, June 20, 2008
The multilateral Danish-Dutch boycott campaign is moving ahead with the addition of a major brand, the removal of others and an ongoing lawsuit, while Jordanian importers still suffer losses.
Launched in late February to protest against the republication of disturbing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, “The Messenger of Allah Unites Us” campaign was relaunched in mid-June to add products from the Netherlands after Dutch MP Geert Wilders posted an anti-Islam film on the Internet.
The ultimate goal, according to campaign spokesperson Zakaria Sheikh, is to enact a universal law that prohibits the defamation of any prophet or religion, similar to the international legislation banning anti-Semitism.
Sheikh told The Jordan Times that the boycott will assist them in providing proof of the harm of “hateful messages” when advocating for the law.
A new poster, released earlier this week, displays new items, including a major Dutch electronics brand, while others were removed, including ‘”Anchor” dairy products, which comes from New Zealand.
Others were removed after their manufacturers joined the campaign, which offers businesses a way out if they meet four conditions: Publicly denounce the Dutch and Danish actions in the media, and support the lawsuits and the creation of an international law.
Dutch food group, Zwanenberg, which exports “ZWAN” products to the Kingdom, was one of the companies exempted from the boycott after it joined the campaign and published an open letter in Arabic dailies.
“Zwanenberg announces its solidarity with the ‘Messenger of Allah Unites Us Campaign’ in its endeavours to pass an international legislation to stop any insult of any religion including Islam and Prophet Mohammad (PBUH),” the letter reads.
From Holland, Zwanenberg Managing Director Aldo Vanderlaan told The Jordan Times that they “wanted to make it clear to our consumers in Jordan that we do not support this type of action”.
He was not aware that one condition stipulates making an announcement in one local (Dutch) media outlet, but said: “I have no problem to say that our company is concerned with this action and would print it if needed.”
Johan Verboom, deputy head of the Netherlands embassy in Amman, said he was “surprised” that his country was added since the Dutch government clearly distanced itself from the film in statements that were printed in the Jordanian press.
“This boycott, which is mainly harming local Jordanian agents, has nothing to do with Mr.Wilders and is not the right method to solve a difference of opinion,” Verboom told The Jordan Times.
“The Dutch government prefers to work together to build bridges through dialogue,” he added.
Referring to the creation of a universal law, the diplomat noted that there are ways to discuss these kinds of proposals and he “doubts” that this boycott would be helpful in any way.
Meanwhile, lawsuits under way are progressing with an “Internet committee” proving to a Jordanian court that the Dutch film can easily be taken off the net. The prosecutor general selected two local movie directors to “study” the film and submit reports on the moral and cultural impact it could have on viewers.
Earlier this month, Prosecutor General Hassan Abdallat subpoenaed several Danish journalists and editors involved in republication of the offensive cartoons.
The defendants will be informed of the move by their embassy in the Kingdom and requested to attend a hearing, according to campaigners.
Danish Ambassador Thomas Lund Sorensen was perplexed by the move and told The Jordan Times that he finds it “interesting and very unusual that one country would subpoena the citizens of another country about an issue that has happened in their native land within that country’s laws”.
The new poster includes the statement: “In the past four months (their economies) have lost 4.5 billion euros.”
Sheikh told The Jordan Times that this figure is estimated from feedback from agents across the Arab and Muslim world, but the Danish envoy said this claim was “shocking” and should be backed with proof.
“The number that the campaign is putting forward is ridiculous, absurd and totally out of the way,” Sorensen said, explaining that the calculation was simple: Exports to Jordan are worth JD50 million “for the whole year” and below three billion euros for all the 57 Organisation of the Islamic Conference member states combined.
He said the campaign was misleading Arabs, pointing out that comments to foreign journalists and local reporters differed.
“To start, the Arabic poster clearly shows 4.5 billion euros in loss while in the English poster, the figure is a billion euros,” he said.
According to figures from the Department of Statistics, Danish imports dropped by 1.68 per cent in March this year compared to last year, while in April they declined by 18.7 per cent.
When informed about these figures, Sheikh was unconcerned.
“If Danish and Dutch exports are so little then they have nothing to worry about,” he said, adding that the campaign’s intentions are clear and using accepted legal means.
“The economic boycott is our freedom, we reject any violent activity, we do not force others to listen or blacklist shops that choose to carry boycotted items and we only ask that the mother company denounces the hurtful actions and supports the international law,” Sheikh said.
In his view, the campaigners should be “thanked” by the Dutch and Danish. “We have created a way for Muslims to vent their frustrations and leave no room for extremists to use the excuse that the Islamic world has not done anything,” Sheikh added.