- The Washington Times - Friday, February 29, 2008

BRUSSELS — Europe’s uneasy relationship with its Muslim minority faces another blow next month, when Dutch politician Geert Wilders releases a 15-minute film that compares Islam to Nazism and communism.

The film is called “Fitna,” an Arabic term for “discord.” It intersperses verses of the Koran with footage of terrorist attacks and other Islamist-inspired violence.

“The film will show that the Koran isn’t a dead work, but the face of Islam — a tremendous hazard,” Mr. Wilders told the daily newspaper NRC Handelsblad.

He said the film calls the Koran “the latest test to Western democracies since Nazism and communism.”

Mr. Wilders said the film will be finished tomorrow and will be posted on a Web site, www.fitnathemovie.com, when it airs on television.

Several Pakistani Internet providers tried this week to block YouTube on the orders of the government because it carried a movie trailer for the film. The effort caused a worldwide crash of the popular online site for sharing videos.

In recent years, other perceived insults to Islam in Europe have turned deadly.

Worldwide riots after the 2005 publication of editorial cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad left more than 100 people dead.

In 2004, a terrorist killed Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh in broad daylight over another short film titled “Submission,” which told the tale of abused women in the Muslim community.

The assassin called Mr. van Gogh, a descendent of the 19th-century artist, an “enemy of Islam” in a note that threatened the life of then-Dutch lawmaker Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who wrote the script for the film.

Ms. Hirsi Ali now lives in the United States under tight security.

About 1 million Muslims live in the Netherlands, with a population of about 16 million.

The Iranian justice minister requested his Dutch counterpart to ban the latest film, calling it “satanical and undermining,” according to Iranian press agency IRNA.

The Dutch government has thus far refused to act, citing the principle of free speech.

Stephen Suleyman Schwartz, director of the Washington-based Center for Islamic Pluralism, said it was “strange” and “ahistorical” to think that a 1,400-year-old text could become a threat to the West.

“My advice to Muslims is to ignore such trivial provocations, maintain their dignity and faith and work to improve their communities,” Mr. Schwartz said. “Mr. Wilders has a right to make whatever films he wants and Muslims have a right to ignore them.”

Mr. Wilders and his movie reflect what many fear is a shift in values in the Netherlands, historically a haven for religious tolerance and free speech.

Although his popularity has grown along with his rhetoric, public opinion polls show that the vast majority of Dutch citizens are still proponents of free speech, religious freedom and tolerance.

“Geert Wilders spreads hatred. We want to be an open, tolerant and democratic society and he preaches the opposite,” said Michael van der Vlis, a former city councilman of Amsterdam who is one of Mr. Wilders’ fiercest critics.

Mr. van der Vlis began his own Web site, “Don’t spread hatred,” to counter Mr. Wilders.

Within a few weeks of opening the site last year, he received thousands of supportive e-mails but eventually abandoned the effort when faced with a never-ending stream of hate mail.

“Yes, we have a problem with a part of the Muslim community and you can’t ignore that, but you should solve it very differently than the way Wilders tries to,” Mr. van der Vlis told The Washington Times.

“You should attract people, not make them outcasts. [Mr. Wilders] preaches ripping up half the Koran and the fight against Islam. This shows extremely little respect for those with a different religious opinion. He does not contribute to a tolerant Netherlands.”

Mr. Wilders, a member of the Dutch parliament since 1998, has proposed closing the country to all non-Western immigrants for at least five years and banning construction of Islamic schools and mosques for the same period.

He has also proposed a law that would prevent foreign imams from preaching in the Netherlands and forbid preaching by anyone in any language other than Dutch.

In addition, he has sought to ban the Koran, calling it the Islamic answer to Hitler’s manifesto “Mein Kampf.”

Dutch authorities fear that Mr. Wilders, already the recipient of numerous death threats, faces similar dangers to the assassinated Mr. van Gogh.

Mr. Wilders, who leads a nationalist party with nine of 150 seats in the Dutch parliament, was not immediately available for comment.

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