2nd Dec 2023

EU alerts delegations to Dutch anti-Koran film

The European Commission has sent out alerts to all of its diplomatic missions across the globe that a controversial anti-Koran film by Dutch MP Geert Wilders is soon to be made public.

The nationalist Mr Wilders, who heads the Party for Freedom and has previously likened the Koran to Hitler's Mein Kampf, has produced a ten-minute film called "Fitna" - an Arabic word that means strife.

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Radio Netherlands reports that the website for the film is already up and running. Details of the film remain scant, with Mr Wilders in the past having said that he expected it to be shown in the Netherlands and released on the internet in March.

For its part, the commission on Wednesday (4 March) said that "some time ago" it sent its 130 delegations "some information on the line to take - that means how to react to questions from the press."

Elaborating, the spokesperson said this referred to the "freedom of expression and the limits to freedom of expression."

Insisting that it did not want to add to the "rumour mill" and fuel possible tensions in the run up to the film's release, the commission said the alert was part of a "continuous stream of information" between Brussels and its offices throughout the world.

Mr Wilders' production has already caused a political furore in the Netherlands, a country still mindful of the murder of Theo van Gogh three years ago for making a film critical of Islam.

At the time, it plunged the country into turmoil, while Ayaan Hirsi Ali a Somali-born Muslim who collaborated with Mr van Gogh in the making of the film remains under death threat from extremists.

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said at a press conference at the end of January that films could result in "grave risks" to citizens abroad as well as economic consequences.

"It is our responsibility to point out to Mr Wilders the possible consequences of his deeds,'' Mr Balkenende said, according to Bloomberg. "Freedom doesn't relieve anyone of responsibility.''

Meanwhile, over the weekend, the head of NATO, Dutchman Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said he feared airing the film could have negative consequences for troops serving in Afghanistan.

"If the [soldiers] find themselves in the line of fire because of the film, then I am worried about it and I am expressing that concern," he said in a television interview.

Reuters reports that both Pakistan and Turkey have already objected to the film.

Europe was last hit by a similar debate in 2006 when riots erupted in several Muslim countries after the publication in a Danish newspaper of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. In one, the prophet was shown wearing a turban that looked like a bomb.

Some 50 people were killed, Danish embassies were attacked and some Danish goods were boycotted in the Middle East.

The debate exposed deep rifts in Europe at the time about how far the freedom of expression should be allowed to go.

Some European politicians have begun reacting to Wilders' film already.

"There is a difference between freedom of expression and deliberately going out to insult someone," said leader of the liberals in the European Parliament Graham Watson.

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