A Dutch politician's plan to release a film that charges the Koran with promoting violence and intolerance has sparked controversy in the Netherlands. Government officials are distancing themselves from the project and stepping up security at home and at embassies abroad, while Muslim leaders fear that it could strain relations between the Dutch and their large Muslim immigrant population.
Geert Wilders, leader of the right-wing Freedom Party, says he will release a 10-minute-long film on Friday that shows how the Koran is used by Islamic radicals to promote homophobia, the abuse of women and violence. The film was slated to debut on Jan. 25 but as of last Friday Wilders had not found a Dutch broadcaster willing to air it. If he can not find one by Friday, he says he will post it on the Internet.
As Wilders searched for a broadcaster last week, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende urged Wilders to exercise restraint. "The Netherlands has a tradition of freedom of speech, religion and beliefs," said Balkenende according to the Associated Press. "The Netherlands also has a tradition of respect, tolerance and responsibility. Unnecessarily offending certain groups does not belong here."
Balkenende said that cities in the Netherlands were on alert for potential protests in response to the film, and diplomats abroad were briefed on responding to potential animosity.
'Fascist Book that Incites Violence'
Wilders has previously sought to ban the Koran, calling it, "that horrible, fascist book that incites violence," and equating it with Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf." The 42 year-old lawmaker has built a public image on stemming the tide of what he calls a "tsunami of Islamization" in the Netherlands, where a population of 16.3 million now includes 850,000 Muslims.
He was not available for comment Monday and a spokesman for the Freedom Party, which holds nine of 150 seats in the Dutch parliament, declined to comment.
Wilders is viewed as a hero to a small but vocal group of right-wing politicians working against the influence of Islam in Europe -- particularly the group Stop Islamization of Europe (SIOE), an organization founded in Denmark after an international controversy erupted there when a daily newspaper published none-too-flattering caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in 2005. A leader of the group's Dutch chapter told SPIEGEL ONLINE on Monday that SIOE supported the film and Wilder's right to produce it.
"He has every right to use freedom of expression. We dont get it why people would get so upset about the movie," said Monique van der Hulst, who co-founded the Dutch chapter of SIOE in 2006. "He provokes of course, to make things clear. But we both say Islam is not a religion, but a dangerous and evil ideology," said van der Hulst.
She also agreed with Wilder's comparisons of the Koran to Hitler's "Mein Kampf." "You can see the evil coming up from Muslims. They do the same as what Hitler did before -- they say the same things about Jews and homosexuals."
But other right wingers in Europe are distancing themselves from Wilders' film and his associations between Muslims and Hitler. Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of a far-right party in Belgium, said last week that he did not support a ban on the Koran.
"Burning books is always wrong. I respect every religion as long as they dont dabble in politics," said Strache.
Muslim leaders in Holland are concerned that the film could incite violent protests throughout the Muslim world -- like those across the globe following the Danish cartoon incident in 2005 -- and damage relations between the Dutch and the growing Muslim population in the Netherlands.
"We tell our people that they must not pay attention to this ridiculousness, because (Wilders) only wants media attention," Iyan Tonca, a leader of the Dutch Contact Group Between Muslims and the Government, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "Plus, he's not saying anything that he's not already said about the Koran."
Tonca is concerned that young Muslims in Holland will be compelled to fight back against the film, and that any protests would only exacerbate tension between the native Dutch and Muslim immigrants. "I worry about many young people who might not react in a proper way and that segregation would only be greater after they protested this film," he said.
The forthcoming film evokes memories of the murder of Theo van Gogh, who was shot and stabbed by an Islamist fundamentalist on an Amsterdam street three years ago after directing a movie that accused Islam of condoning violence against women.
'Harmful to Dutch Society'
That 10-minute film, "Submission," was written by Ayaan Hirsi-Ali , a Somalian emigrant to the Netherlands and prominent critic of Islam. Wilders has in the past invited comparisons between himself and Ali, both of whom are under constant security protection because of death threats they have received for their criticism of Islam.
Several activists were arrested last week at a protest in Amsterdam against Wilders' film. They were brandishing placards designed to look like the health warnings on cigarette packs and emblazoned with slogans that called Wilders an extremist and "harmful to Dutch society."
Materials from the Associated Press and Reuters were used in this report.