/ 31 March 2008

Dutch minister seeks to calm Muslim anger at film

The Dutch Foreign Minister met ambassadors from Muslim countries on Monday to try to cool tempers over a film by a Dutch lawmaker critical of the Qur’an and ask for protection for Dutch citizens and property.

Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-immigration Freedom Party, launched his short video on the internet on Thursday, mixing images of Islamist bombings with quotations from the Muslim holy book, prompting a stream of condemnation from the Islamic world.

But reaction to the film was more restrained compared with the violence in 2006 that followed the publication in Europe of cartoons lampooning the Prophet Muhammed, when more than 50 people were killed in riots in Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

”I am pleased with the muted reactions that we have received so far from the Muslim world,” Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said in a statement. ”But the rhetoric in some countries shows that we need to remain alert.”

Verhagen said he had told the ambassadors from 26 countries including Iran and Indonesia that the film in no way reflected the views of the Dutch government and called on the diplomats to make sure that Dutch interests abroad were protected.

”We are aware of the concerns and feelings in the international Muslim community about this film. But injured feelings should never be an excuse for aggression and threats,” he said. ”Let us keep a cool head and warm relations”.

The 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) said the film was ”solely intended to incite and provoke unrest and intolerance”, while United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called it ”offensively anti-Islamic”.

About 50 members of a hardline Indonesian Muslim group held a rowdy protest outside the Dutch embassy on Monday, calling for the death of Wilders. Members of the Islamic Defenders’ Front hurled eggs and plastic water bottles into the compound.

Iran’s foreign ministry summoned the Dutch ambassador on Sunday in protest at the ”insulting and anti-Islamic” film.

The film, which starts and ends with a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad with a bomb under his turban, urges Muslims to tear out ”hate-filled” verses from the Qur’an.

The cartoon by a Danish artist had ignited protests and a boycott of Danish products in 2006.

Wilders said on Monday he would replace the cartoon with another one of the prophet after the illustrator said he would sue the Dutch lawmaker for taking the image out of context and using it without permission, ANP news agency reported. – Reuters