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Dutch film draws quiet response from Muslims

Some expected much worse from a video by a right-wing lawmaker who says Islam poses a threat to Europe.

March 29, 2008|Geraldine Baum | Times Staff Writer

PARIS — A young Muslim girl in a head scarf calls Jews "apes and pigs." A nonbeliever is beheaded and another is shot. Verses of the Koran are juxtaposed with horrific images, implying that one begets the other.

The new film by right-wing Dutch legislator Geert Wilders, first posted on the Internet late Thursday, had everyone from the Dutch prime minister to soldiers in Afghanistan braced for angry reactions from offended Muslims. Even before the film was released, there were protests this month by 15,000 people in Afghanistan, with many burning the Dutch flag.

And a spokesman for the Amsterdam police said Friday that the force was on alert and that extra officers would be on the streets in Muslim neighborhoods this weekend.

Before Friday's midday call to prayer, police were busy contacting imams to gauge reaction at the city's 50 mosques. But as of late Friday, reaction there appeared muted.

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

The 17-minute film, "Fitna," the Arabic word for strife, was first posted late Thursday on Wilder's Freedom Party website. The site crashed immediately with heavy traffic, but within minutes the film was available in Dutch and English on the British-based website LiveLeak, which also froze up briefly. By Friday, the film was all over the Internet -- on YouTube, Dailymotion and other shared-video sites. LiveLeak later took down the video, saying its staff had received "threats of a very serious nature."

Wilders has said he made the film to call attention to what he sees as the Islamic threat to Europe -- which he compares to the fascism that led to World War II.

Not everyone was impressed.

"It is not very original," Yusuf Altuntas, deputy chairman of a Muslim umbrella group based in The Hague, said in a phone interview. "We have seen many of these images before. There was no shock so we don't think there will be problems in Holland. I can't speak for in the Middle East."

Altuntas had worried the film would set off riots around the world after Wilders hinted that it included images of the Koran being torn. There is the sound of paper tearing at the end of the film that a viewer might conclude is the Koran, but the text explains it is not pages from the Muslim holy book but rather from a phone book.

"It is not up to me but up to the Muslims to tear the spiteful verses from the Koran," the text reads.

Wilders, who has full-time police protection because of assassination threats from Islamic extremists, has built a political career fighting what he calls the "Islamization" of the West.

Although his party gets less than 15% support, he is known for stirring emotion in a highly tolerant country with one of Europe's fastest-growing immigrant populations from Muslim countries.

On Friday, Wilders, 44, told reporters that he was happy there hadn't been violence after the film's release. "My intention was not to provoke riots," he said, according to Agence France-Presse. "On the contrary, I want to encourage debate."

The new video was met with several counter-videos on the Internet on Friday morning, and the blogosphere was crowded with back-and-forth. On YouTube, a man from Pakistan had put up his own video saying that "Muslims love Jesus Christ, Moses and all prophets of all religions. . . . They respect all scriptures."

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said in a statement that "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. We believe it serves no purpose other than to cause offense."


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