- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 15, 2008

BRUSSELS — Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende has found his fellow European leaders willing to support him through any potential backlash from Dutch right-wing politician Geert Wilders’ upcoming anti-Islam film.

During informal remarks before dinner at the European Union summit in Brussels on Thursday, Mr. Balkenende briefed other heads of government and heads of state about the film, “Fitna,” which has already incurred the wrath of the Islamic world, and was answered with a murmur of support.

Mr. Balkenende, who is hoping for European solidarity on the issue, has already won the support of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

Meanwhile, the Danish intelligence service said yesterday the reprinting of a cartoon depicting the prophet Muhammad has brought “negative attention” to Denmark and may have increased the risk to Danes at home and abroad, according to the Associated Press.

The warning did not name any specific threats but said Danish interests, particularly those in the Middle East, North Africa, Pakistan and Afghanistan, could be targeted.

Two years ago, Denmark received little support after the cartoons caused widespread fury across the Muslim world. At the time, the European Commission condemned the cartoons.

In the case of the Wilders film, Europe is expected to support freedom of speech.

“It is fruitful to have a firm stance concerning freedom of expression,” Reuters news agency quoted Mr. Rasmussen as saying.

The support is still informal, however. The Netherlands will not seek official support until the film is released on March 28.

“That message from the Dutch prime minister and the approach of his government received warm support,” a Dutch diplomat told the Associated Press.

During his announcement, Mr. Balkenende reportedly said that freedom of speech is “something to be cherished” but that it is “no absolute right” and comes with “responsibility.”

During a recent debate in the Dutch parliament, Mr. Wilders’ former People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, or VVD, called on the prime minister to let the ban on discrimination and incitement prevail over Mr. Wilders’ freedom of speech, but Mr. Balkenende refused.

The film already has caused repercussions. Hundreds of demonstrators in Afghanistan, where some 1,500 Dutch troops are fighting under the NATO umbrella, demanded a ban on the film, crying “Death to the Netherlands.”

After commercial television networks refused to show his film unedited, Mr. Wilders decided to hold a media screening. He now has to reconsider that plan, too, because he reportedly can’t afford to rent the Nieuwspoort media center in The Hague because of an inflated security bill, estimated at about $500,000, according to the newspaper.

Mr. Wilders has said he will now go “all out” with his online showing at www.fitnathemovie.com.

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