MIDDLE EAST: Jitters as Dutch movie ‘Fitna’ is released

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Will the world witness soon another wave of angry Muslim protests?

The release on the Internet Thursday evening of a highly controversial Dutch film asserting links between Islam and terrorism raised fears of renewed riots, similar to those sparked in 2006 by the publication of derisive Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad.


So far, according to Los Angeles Times correspondent Geraldine Baum in Paris, no violence was recorded related to the film, at least not in Holland:

‘They were all disgusted by the film, but so far there isn’t a big explosion,’ said [Dutch] police spokesman Arnold Aben. ‘In fact, it’s quieter than usual here today. Sort of like a holiday.’

The 15-minute film ‘Fitna,’ which in Arabic means strife, was made by an extreme right-wing Dutch lawmaker, Geert Wilders. The movie intersperses verses from Islam’s holy book, the Koran, and inflammatory sermons by Muslim clerics, along with sensational images of terrorist attacks, including the 2001 attack against the World Trade Center in New York.

The film purports to show that Islam inspires its followers to commit acts of violence against adherents of other faiths, in particular Jews. One scene shows a little girl wearing a head scarf saying that Jews are ‘apes and pigs.’

The film ends with a text reading: ‘Stop Islamization. Defend our freedom,’ followed by the explosion of the ticking bomb in the turban of the prophet Mohammad depicted in one of the controversial Danish cartoons.

Wilders claimed his film shows the truth about Islam to raise awareness among Europeans of the dangers this religion poses to their way of life.

But the Dutch government washed its hands of the documentary. Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende rejected the film’s equation of Islam with violence and said the film did not nothing but ‘hurt feelings.’

Dutch media refused to air the documentary, prompting the filmmaker to finally post it on the Internet this week.

Reaction in the Middle East has been muted so far. The Arabic satellite channel Al Jazeera described the film as a tool of ‘propaganda’ that attacks Islam on faulty grounds and presents verses from the Koran out of their context. The channel showed footage of protests by Muslims in the Netherlands, where banners describing the filmmaker as a ‘Zionist’ were raised.

The Dubai-based website Islam Online said that clerics in the Netherlands were trying to soothe the anger of Muslims on the streets. The Council of Churches and Muslim organizations in the Netherlands are touring Muslim countries with a joint statement:

‘It is reprehensible when that which is sacred in our religions is ridiculed and our faith offended. We therefore strongly reject all contempt and slander aimed at the Qur’an and the prophet Muhammad, just as we would not wish this with regard to the Bible and the Christian faith.’

The somewhat muted reaction may show that it’s getting harder and harder to shock people, even conservative Muslims, in a media-saturated world.

Raed Rafei in Beirut