Fitna Film Falls Flat

Reaction to the anti-Islam film by Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders has been much milder than anticipated. The film "Fitna," released on the Internet in late March, drew worldwide condemnation ranging from U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to the Grand Mufti of Kyrgyzstan. But reactions in the Netherlands were muted, laying to rest fears that the film would lead to violent protests of the kind that followed the publication of the unflattering cartoon of Muhammad in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in September, 2005. After Wilders - leader of the right-wing Freedom Party - announced his intention to produce an anti-Islam film last November, the Dutch government took no chances. It first tried unsuccessfully to ban the film, then drew up evacuation plans for its embassies and consulates around the world, increased security around military installations and, right before the release of the film, raised the terror alert from "limited" to "substantial." In the end, much of the precautions proved unnecessary. Local imams called on their communities to remain calm during Friday sermons - advice that was largely heeded. But the overall response was one of relief, with many Muslims in the Netherlands saying they had expected much worse. There had been fears that the film would include images of Wilders ripping up the Koran or setting fire to it. At the end of the 15-minute Dutch-language film, with English subtitles, viewers do indeed hear pages being ripped. But a text on screen clarifies: "The sound you heard, was a page being torn from the phone book." The text goes on to read: "It's not up to me but up to Muslims themselves to rip the spiteful verses from the Qu'ran." Fitna is a cut-and-paste job, interspersing verses from the Koran calling on Muslims to fight Christian, Jews and other non-believers with footage of Islamic terrorist attacks. Viewers are shown footage from the September 11 attacks, followed by the Madrid train bombings and the 2004 murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh by Islamic extremist Mohammed Bouyeri, a Dutch youth of Moroccan descent. The second part of the film deals with what Wilders likes to refer to as the encroaching Islamization of Dutch society. Islamic anti-Semitism holds pride of place in Fitna, an Arabic word that means "ordeal" or "strife" and usually refers to situations in which Muslim faith is put to the test. A sheikh is shown brandishing a sword while intoning: "A Jew is hiding behind me, come and cut off his head. And we shall cut of his head! By Allah, we shall cut it off! Oh Jews! Allahu Akbar! Jihad for the sake of Allah!" His audience responds with approving chants and fist-shaking. The clip is followed by that of a girl toddler telling a Saudi television station that Jews are "apes and pigs" because "Allah" said so in the Koran. Wilders concludes the film with this message: "The government wants you to respect Islam, but Islam has no respect whatsoever for you. Islam wants to dominate you and destroy our Western civilization. (…) Stop Islamization. Defend out freedom.'' Wilders, known for his bleached Mozart-like coiffure, is the Netherlands' most vocal Islam critic, having assumed that role after the murders of Van Gogh and popular Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn who was also assassinated (in 2002), as well as the hounding into exile of Dutch parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali. (Fortuyn's killer, an environmental activist, confessed to killing the candidate in order to thwart his anti-immigration and anti-Islam plans.) Wilders has been a thorn in the side of the Dutch government since he broke ranks with the liberal VVD party in 2004 and went on to found the Freedom Party in 2006. He is also known for his dislike of parliamentary protocol. He called one minister "mad as a hatter" and regularly refers to Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende and his government as "the Grand Mufti and his dhimmis." Like his role model Pim Fortuyn, Wilders' disapproval of Islam is accompanied by staunch support for Israel. According to the Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad, as a teenager Wilders spent some time in Israel, working on a moshav and in a bread factory. With the money he made, he traveled around Israel and visited a number of Arab countries. According to news reports, he was apparently so enamored of the Israeli mentality that at one point he even contemplated moving to Israel. He has visited Israel about 40 times, most recently in January. It was during a stroll through East Jerusalem that he picked up the copy of the Koran used in the opening shot of Fitna. "I tried to bargain but apparently that's not allowed with the Koran," Wilders was quoted as saying in NRC. Reaction in the Jewish community was divided: The CJO, the closest thing the community has to a representative body, issued a statement calling the film "counterproductive" and "unacceptable." But others applauded Wilders' attempts to expose the scope of Islamic anti-Semitism. Fitna did not stir up the controversy that Wilders might have hoped for. But it certainly didn't hurt him politically. According to the most recent polls, conducted after the film's release, support for his Freedom Party has risen from nine to 15 seats in the 150-seat Dutch parliament.