The overnight posting of an anti-Islamic film by a right-wing Dutch politician has sparked widespread condemnation and fears of a backlash.
The 15-minute film by far-right Dutch legislator Geert Wilders was posted on the maverick video-sharing website liveleak.com late on March 27 after Dutch television stations refused to air it.
The film is called "Fitna," a Koranic term sometimes translated as "strife" or "conspiracy." It begins and ends with one of the controversial Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad wearing a ticking bomb on his head.
It splices verses from the Koran with images and audio of recent attacks by Islamic terrorists: pictures of victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks; the beheading of a man by masked gunmen; and an Afghan woman draped in a blue burqa being shot in the head are all interspersed with videos of Muslim clerics' calls for jihad and anti-Semitic tirades.
Wilders said his film demonstrates why the Koran is a "fascist" book that incites people to commit violence.
Wilders, who is also known for his critical stance on Dutch immigration policies, said at a press conference at The Hague on March 27 that his film is "not a provocation but sheer reality and a political conclusion. I am a politician. Islam is a danger to freedom in the Netherlands. And I must warn against it."
The film alleges that the rising number of Muslims in the Netherlands and Europe threatens the survival of democratic societies.
It ends with calls to "Stop Islamization of Europe" and to "Defend Our Freedoms." It says Islam has to be defeated like fascism and communism were defeated in Europe before.
Dutch authorities and the country's religious officials spent weeks trying to prevent the film's release in hope of averting the kind of Muslim backlash that Denmark suffered in 2006 over published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende on March 27 in The Hague rejected the interpretation of Islam that the new film makes.
"The film equates Islam with violence. We reject this interpretation," he said. "The vast majority of Muslims reject extremism and violence. In fact, the victims are often also Muslims. We therefore regret that Mr. Wilders has released this film."
Fears Of Muslim Backlash
In recent months, the Dutch government has carried out a public-relations campaign around the film, distancing itself from it while at the same time reminding people that Wilders lives in a country that guarantees freedom of speech.
In recent weeks, news that the film would soon be released set off violent protests in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other predominantly Muslim countries.
Balkenende said the film "serves no purpose other than to offend," but cautioned against a violent reaction, saying that feeling offended must not be an excuse for "aggression and threats." "You can, of course, have a lot of criticism [of] the film, and you can even say my feelings are really hurt by this film, but that's not an excuse for violent action," he said.
Liveleak.com is a British-based website that is popular with U.S. soldiers who commonly upload videos of their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it includes footage of crimes and other "reality" videos from around the world. The site received so many hits within the first hour of the posting of the film that the video temporarily froze.
The film's own website (http://www.fitnathemovie.com) was suspended, and the warning said the network hosting it is investigating whether the site's content violates its policies.
Wilders said he made a "very decent film" that was "within the boundaries of the law." He added that the film was a call for debate.
The government has assigned bodyguards to protect Wilders because of death threats against him. In 2004, Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh was killed on the street in Amsterdam after he released a short film criticizing Islam's treatment of women.
The UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on March 27 deploring the use of the media to "incite acts of violence, xenophobia, or related intolerance and discrimination towards Islam" or other religions.
A Dutch court is scheduled to hear a petition by the Dutch Islamic Federation seeking a review of whether Wilders' film violates hate-speech laws.
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