A scene from "Fitna:" Scenes of murder, terrorism and hate preachersFoto: AFP
Geert Wilders chose the time to publish his anti-Koran film carefully. He picked a Thursday evening, shortly before the Dutch evening news and before Muslims in East Asian countries like Indonesia visit their mosques for Friday prayers.
Until the very last minute, there was fierce speculation over whether and when the cinematic pamphlet would be broadcast. And until very recently, Wilders was offering only vague responses to these questions, especially after no television broadcaster was willing to show the film. Even a US Internet provider decided to take the Dutch right-wing populist's Web site offline.
"Fitna," Arabic for "strife," is now available online at Liveleak, a video platform similar to YouTube. It was viewed well over a million times within just one hour.
The film begins with an image that every Muslim in the world and many others are likely to recognize immediately: the controversial caricature of Mohammed wearing a bomb as a turban. The publication of this and similar drawings in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in September 2005 triggered unrest in the Arab world.
The cartoonist who drew the caricature, Kurt Westergaard, himself the target of planned attacks recently, promptly protested against its use in the Wilders video. "The drawing was created in a certain context," Westergaard said, adding that Wilders could "simply not use it. This is not a question of free speech, but of copyrights." Westergaard told the paper that he wants the Danish association of journalists to take action against the copyright violation.
Wilders has animated the bomb fuse on Mohammad's head, allowing it to burn up. Then the image is faded out and followed by a sura from the Koran calling Muslims to fight the infidels. The airplanes that crashed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001 appear through the lettering, followed by images of people jumping from the burning towers, screaming desperately.
The film continues in this suggestive mode: with images of the Madrid train bombings, of imams calling for global dominance, with a video showing the beheading of a Western hostage and with statistics on the rapidly growing number of Muslims living in the Netherlands.
Wilders shows a postcard with the words "Greetings from the Netherlands" on it, but instead of pictures of windmills, we see mosques. "Is this the Netherlands of the future?" the film asks, as it shows an image of a girl being subjected to female circumcision. "I had to warn people," Wilders said. "This isn't a provocation, it's the 11th hour."
Women being stoned, beheadings -- the makeshift collage of images of horror from Arab countries is meant to generate a sense of alarm among Wilders' fellow Dutchmen. He calls upon Muslims to tear what he considers to be hate-filled pages from the Koran, accompanied by a soundtrack of pages being torn from a book.
Does the film live up to all the excitement that dominated the Netherlands and the rest of Europe in the months preceding its airing? Dutch intelligence in The Hague raised the terror alert level weeks ago. Embassies in the Arab world have had evacuation plans in place, and Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende had already asked his counterparts within the European Union to support him if his country became the target of protests and boycotts.
Balkenende's cabinet convened on Thursday evening to watch the film, which is now available around the world in Dutch and English. Then, only three hours after "Fitna" went online, Balkenende, looking serious, went before the press and gave an address in Dutch and, for foreign viewers, again in English. In his speech, Balkenende castigated the film for equating the Koran with terrorist attacks, and he announced that the Dutch Justice Ministry is looking into legal issues related to the film. He also pointed out that suicide bombings have also claimed the lives of Muslims.
Balkenende criticized Wilders for seeking to invoke nothing but base emotions against Muslims. In replying to Wilders and his film, he said: "Let us build bridges and overcome prejudices."
The film's final sequence is likely to give the government the greatest cause for concern. The Muhammad cartoon reappears, but now the fuse on his turban bomb is lit. Then there is the sound of an explosion. Is the Prophet exploding, like a suicide bomber? According to Wilders, the noise is the "roar of thunder and lightning."
Wilders has apparently tried to avoid any legal repercussions by replacing the explosion with the sound of thunder. He also sought to downplay the sound of pages being torn out of a book by adding that the pages are from a telephone book.
"He apparently looks for boundaries, but he avoids crossing them," Yusuf Altuntas, the spokesman for a Muslim organization, said on Dutch television. "I find that many of the images are not really original. They're simply clicked together from the Internet."
Dutch Muslims, Altuntas added, are thick-skinned, and he said that he doesn't believe that the film would provoke them. "I can't say the same for other countries," he added.
A similar reaction came from the spokesman of an organization of Moroccans in the Netherlands known as "Landelijk Beraad Marokkanen." He said that he was relieved that the film has finally been released. "The concerns I had about unrest and the like have now been reduced considerably."
But Leo Kwarten, an Arabist, believes the film's low-impact nuances will be lost on the Arab World.
Kwarten is critical of the film for several reasons. For one, Wilders shows the circumcision of young girls, even though the Koran contains nothing about female circumcision. "He throws Sunnis and Shiites into one pot and unabashedly creates a link between images of terror from around the world and Muslims in the Netherlands."
Gijs van de Westelaken, producer of the film "Submission" by Theo van Gogh, was disappointed: "I don't see how any of it was a political attack -- quite unlike 'Submission.' Now that was a real statement."
The government has not commented on the film yet. Clerics and Muslim officials are meeting in the mosques in Amsterdam's suburbs to discuss how they should respond to the Wilders film. They plan to issue a statement at a press conference on Friday.
It's likely that Wilders will face a legal challenge over his film. A photo in the video meant to be of van Gogh's radical Islamist murderer Mohammed Bouyeri actually shows Dutch-Moroccan rapper Salah Edin.
He now wants to sue Wilders.