Netherlands: Debate continues over controversial film

The Danish cartoonist behind drawings satirising the Prophet Muhammad has urged a Dutch lawmaker to air an anti-Islam film despite Muslim outrage.
Kurt Westergaard said MP Geert Wilders should show his film, despite government warnings that this would damage Dutch interests. He said that no Danish politician would dare to block the film. Mr Westergaard's cartoons in a Danish paper triggered riots by Muslims in many countries in 2006.
'Cartoonist's job'

"Wilders must show his film," Mr Westergaard told the Dutch Volkskrant newspaper on Monday. "In Denmark, we have criticism of everything: the Queen, politicians, religion... provoking debate is the job of the newspaper and so also of the cartoonist. Muslims have to accept that." "A Danish politician knows that you should not limit freedom of expression," he said.

Mr Westergaard was one of 12 cartoonists behind the Prophet Muhammad drawings, but he was responsible for what was considered the most controversial of the pictures. The caricature - originally published in the Jyllands-Posten newspaper in 2005 - featured the head of Islam's holiest prophet with a turban depicting a bomb with a lit fuse. The cartoons were later reprinted by more than 50 newspapers, triggering protests in parts of the Muslim world in 2006.

Last month, Danish police arrested three people suspected of planning to attack Mr Westergaard, who now lives under constant protection. In response, Danish newspapers reprinted Mr Westergaard's caricatures to show their commitment to freedom of speech.

'Inspiration for murder'

Mr Wilders originally said he would release his 15-minute film in March, but is under pressure from the Dutch media and officials not to show it. He has revealed that his work is entitled Fitna, an Arabic word meaning strife or discord, usually in a religious context. The lawmaker has said it shows how the Koran is "an inspiration for intolerance, murder and terror".

Last week, the Netherlands raised its terrorism alert level to "substantial", partly due to the expected release of the film.

At the weekend, thousands of people in Afghanistan rallied against the reprinting of the cartoons and also condemned the planned release of Mr Wilders' film. Mr Wilders' project has been criticised in Iran and Pakistan.

In the past, Mr Wilders - who leads the Freedom Party - has called for the Koran to be banned and likened it to Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf.

Mr Wilders has had police protection since Dutch director Theo Van Gogh was killed by a radical Islamist in 2004. Mr Van Gogh's film Submission included verses from the Koran shown against a naked female body.

10 March 2008