Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders says he's ready to have a dialogue with Muslims about Islam and his controversial film Fitna, which made its debut on the Internet Thursday night. It is the first time the anti-immigration politician has agreed to debate his adversaries, and opposition politicians in the Netherlands are calling it the only positive thing to emerge from the controversy about his anti-Islamic film. Lauren Comiteau reports from Amsterdam.
Dutch politicians had braced themselves for the worst, but as most of the morning newspapers headlined, all's quiet the day after Fitna aired on the Internet. Dutch media say the 15 minute film, which translates as "strife" or "ordeal" in Arabic, has already had more than 5.5 million hits on the Internet, where it was forced to air after local broadcasters refused to show it.
Geert Wilders says his film is not meant as a provocation. Still, it begins and ends with an image of the prophet Mohammed with a bomb under his turban, an image from one of the Danish cartoons that sparked riots two years ago throughout the Muslim world.
The film juxtaposes Quranic verses with statements from radical clerics and scenes of terror attacks from Madrid to New York.
The images in the film are shocking but Muslim commentators say they are not new. Although they object to Wilders' equating Islam with violence, a sentiment echoed by the prime minister of the Netherlands, the early consensus of Dutch Islamic groups is that the film is less offensive than they had feared.
One Quranic verse in the movie talked about roasting disbelievers in hell. Ahmed Aboutaleb is the Dutch state secretary of social affairs, and a Muslim.
The Moroccan-Dutch politician says Wilders could have easily chosen quotes from the Koran saying it's a sin to kill another man. But Aboutaleb says that didn't work in his favor, so he chose the worst ones. Words of restraint from local Muslim groups were welcome by the government, which put the country on higher alert and warned other EU members of a possible backlash.
A judge is considering a petition by the Dutch Islamic Federation, which is seeking a ruling that the film violates Dutch hate speech laws. But legal experts seem to agree that the film, however offensive, falls within free speech guarantees.