The Dutch government is bracing itself for violent protests following the scheduled broadcast this week of a provocative anti-Muslim film by a radical right-wing politician who has threatened to broadcast images of the Koran being torn up and otherwise desecrated.
Cabinet ministers and officials, fearing a repetition of the crisis sparked by the publication of cartoons of Muhammad in a Danish newspaper two years ago, have held a series of crisis meetings and ordered counter-terrorist services to draw up security plans. Dutch nationals overseas have been asked to register with their embassies and local mayors in the Netherlands have been put on standby.
Geert Wilders, one of nine members of the extremist PVV (Freedom) party in the 150-seat Dutch lower house, has promised that his film will be broadcast - on television or on the internet - whatever the pressure may be. It will, he claims, reveal the Koran as 'source of inspiration for intolerance, murder and terror'.
Dutch diplomats are already trying to pre-empt international reaction. 'It is difficult to anticipate the content of the film, but freedom of expression doesn't mean the right to offend,' said Maxime Verhagen, the Foreign Minister, who was in Madrid to attend the Alliance of Civilisations, an international forum aimed at reducing tensions between the Islamic world and the West. In Amsterdam, Rotterdam and other towns with large Muslim populations, imams say they have needed to 'calm down' growing anger in their communities.
Government officials hope that no mainstream media organisation will agree to show the film, although one publicly funded channel, Nova, initially agreed before pulling out. 'A broadcast on a public channel could imply that the government supported the project,' said an Interior Ministry spokesman.
Demonstrations are also expected from those opposed to Wilders beyond Holland's Muslim community - a number of left-wing activists have already been arrested - and from his supporters. Members of a group calling itself Stop Islamisation of Europe are planning to travel to Amsterdam. 'Geert Wilders is an elected politician who has made a film, and that he is under armed guard as a result is absolutely outrageous,' said Stephen Gash, a UK-based member, yesterday. 'It is all about free speech.
The Netherlands are a democracy, we have freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of press. That means that Geert Wilders can release his much opposed movie against Islam. In spite of the fact that our PM urged him not to do so because of the consequences. Geert Wilders can say what he wants to say, thanks to this freedom of speech and he is guarded, because he got a lot of threats and hate-mail.
In many perhaps, all muslim countries the Netherlands are asked to banish the movie and apogize to them. It's a misunderstanding that our government can forbid the release of the film, for there is this freedom of press and speech and that's a great thing. It's laid down in our constitution. What the government can do is forbid the movie after seeing it. Geert Wilders exercises his freedom of speech to take away the freedom of religion of the muslims. Now that's an inconsistency , isn't it? He wants to abolish the Quran,in the past others wanted to forbid the Torah or the Bible. In my country no books are forbidden, because we are free to read anything. We can watch whatever we want to watch on TV. If you are opposed to a programme you can turn it off, easy enough