While America is focused on its elections, which might bring the first Muslim-born president in the White House, Europe is anxiously awaiting Geert Wilders’ movie on the Koran. The Dutch government fears that the release of the movie might lead to terror attacks on the Netherlands or on Dutch citizens abroad. There are rumours that the government may seek to ban the film. NATO secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, a Dutchman, has also expressed concern about the Wilders movie. On Sunday he told Dutch television that he fears retaliations against Dutch NATO troops in Afghanistan.
Last week Wilders complained that the Dutch authorities are putting him under pressure not to release his 10-minute film. Yesterday, a poll showed that the governing Dutch Christian-Democrats of Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende are losing popularity because of their attempts to tone Wilders down. Dutch public opinion, however, tends to be very volatile. Two month ago, I wrote here that “if the Wilders movie results in (fatal) attacks on Dutch citizens and Dutch interests abroad, it might lead to an anti-Wilders backlash. The Dutch are not Danes. They have a history of swinging from one extreme to another. Like the Spanish after the Madrid bombings they might paint their hands white and surrender.”
There is little doubt that Muslim radicals are already preparing ‘punishment’ for the Dutch if they deem the Wilders movie to be ‘blasphemous.’ Westerners do not seem to have a clue about what Muslims consider to be blasphemous. The mere depiction of Muhammad enrages Muslims, even if Wilders were to do it ‘in a respectful way.’ On the other hand, however, things that seem outrageous to Westerners will not at all be outrageous to Muslims. Wilders likes to point out that the Koran is “as intolerant and dangerous as Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.” If his movie shows praying Muslims next to marching Nazis, or if it compares Koran verses to anti-Semitic rants by Hitler, that may seem outrageous to Western eyes. However, a Nazi comparison, which is the worst form of libel in contemporary Holland and destroys a man’s reputation there, will hardly affect Muslim radicals who tend to agree with Hitler and who will in all likelihood take the comparison as a compliment rather than an insult.
Al-Qaeda is not going to blow The Hague to Kingdom Come for comparing Osama bin-Laden to Adolf Hitler, but they will be inclined to take revenge over a cartoon, a picture or a joke. Suppose Wilders’ movie is outrageous by our standards, but not by those of Muslim extremists. Hence, nothing happens after the release of the movie. Then Dutch public opinion will in all likelihood regard Wilders as the extremist, as someone who tries to provoke others with Nazi slurs, and the Muslim radicals as paragons of tolerance.
Obviously, Westerners – and especially elected officials such as Geert Wilders – should never be forced to take the sensitivities of other cultures into account when making public statements (be it in a film or otherwise) in their own countries. The fact that Wilders is under considerable pressure to do just that shows that the Netherlands is no longer his home country and that it has already been penetrated and colonized by another culture. There is no place anymore that Europeans can call their own.
NATO secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer is right to worry about the repercussions of the Wilders movie for Dutch soldiers in Afghanistan because it can be argued that Afghanistan is a Muslim country where the Dutch do not belong. But if the Dutch do not belong in Afghanistan, do Muslims belong in the Netherlands? If Muslims do belong in the Netherlands, then the Dutch, including Mr Wilders, should take Muslims sensitivities into account. If not, they needn’t.
If Mr Wilders were a wiser man he would have focused on the question whether Muslims belong in the Netherlands rather than on whether or not the Koran is an intolerant book. Now, by antagonizing Islam, he is putting his own life at stake as well as that of millions of his compatriots, while if he had campaigned as an advocate of deportation of Muslims his liberal compatriots might have called him a “white supremacist” or a “racist,” but they would not have had to fear for their own lives.
The Netherlands are not the only country where Europeans might start wondering whether they can still call their country their own.
In neighbouring Belgium, it was revealed earlier this week that for several years the Sûreté de l'Etat, the state security services, had Abdelkader Belliraj on their payroll as an informer. Belliray, a 51-year old Moroccan-born Belgian citizen, was arrested two weeks ago in Morocco for terrorist activities. Last week Belliraj, who was with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan in 2001, confessed to the Moroccan police that he committed six murders in Belgium between 1986 and 1989, including the assassination of Abdullah el-Ahdi, the imam of the Brussels mosque, in March 1989 and that of Joseph Wybran, the president of the Belgian Coordination Committee of Jewish Organisations, in October 1989.
Belliraj became a Belgian citizen by an act of Parliament in 2000. The only party which voted against extending Belgian citizenship to the man was the Flemish-secessionist Vlaams Blok party. Belgium has a long history of turning a blind eye to Muslim terrorism in return for immunity from attack. The Belgian authorities hope that by appeasing Islamist extremists they can avoid falling victim to them.
In France, meanwhile, four police officers were wounded last Sunday when masked youths fired shotguns at officers in Grigny, a southern suburb of Paris. About 30 people ambushed the officers after they were called to Grigny, an area where many Muslim immigrants live. Following last November’s riots, in which the police was also shot at, a French judge warned that France must prepare for civil war. During the November riots, French president Sarkozy announced that “those who shoot at officials will face court for attempted murder.” To date, however, only seven rioters were brought to justice. None of the youths had to stand trial for attempted murder. The longest sentence given was a 12-month term. Following the recent shooting the French authorities have again announced that those who shoot at the police will be severely punished. Does anyone still believes them? Do the French authorities still consider France to be the country of the French? Or does the “House of War” has to prepare for the unthinkable – war?