Published December 11, 2007
Threats of murder. Fears of riots and religious violence. Demands for censorship. Politicians in hiding, fearing for their lives. A government preparing for the worst.
It's happening right now in a most unlikely place ... the Netherlands, once regarded as Europe's quietest and most stable nation.
And it's all happening because of a 10-minute movie that hasn't even been made yet.
It's the work of Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders, who calls his movie "a call to shake off the creeping tyranny of Islamicization." Wilders plans to present it to his country on television sometime next month.
"People who watch the movie will see that the Koran is very much alive today, leading to the destruction of everything we in the Western world stand for, which is respect and tolerance," Wilders, the 41-year-old leader of the right-wing Party for Freedom, said in a telephone interview.
"The tsunami of Islamicization is coming to Europe. We should come to be far stronger."
Like other European countries, the Netherlands is struggling to cope with an influx of Muslim immigrants, and the newcomers are often relegated to working at low-paying jobs and living in high-crime ghettos. Though the Dutch boast of their culture of tolerance, tensions have been high, with some blaming rising unemployment and crime on newcomers from Muslim countries like Turkey, Morocco and Somalia.
In the late 1990s, political leaders like Pim Fortuyn, Somalian-born writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali and outspoken filmmaker Theo van Gogh seemed to tap into a growing well of resentment against Muslims and criticism of Islam.
In 2002, tensions broke into outright murder when Fortuyn was shot by an animal rights activist who told the judge in the case that he was acting on behalf of the country's Muslims. Two years later, van Gogh was shot, stabbed and nearly decapitated on an Amsterdam street by Mohammed Bouyeri, a Muslim and a Dutch citizen of Moroccan descent.
Van Gogh, with Hirsi Ali, had recently made the film "Submission," a 10-minute movie that the two said depicted the abuse of women in Islamic cultures. After van Gogh's murder, the Dutch government placed public figures known for their anti-Muslim stances in safehouses.
Among them was the parliamentarian Geert Wilders. He hasn't been out of government protection since, a situation he said "I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy," and his views on Islam have only hardened.
Four months ago, he called for the Koran to be outlawed in the Netherlands.
"I believe our culture is much better than the retarded Islamic cultures," he told FOXNews.com in a telephone interview. "Ninety-nine percent of the intolerance in the world comes back to the Islamic religion and the Koran."
Though he refuses to claim the mantle of van Gogh's successor, Wilders clearly sees himself as continuing the controversial filmmaker's work. He acknowledges the similarities between "Submission" and his own 10-minute work, about five minutes of which have been completed, he said.
"I have so much respect for van Gogh's movie, aimed at one part of the Koran, women's bodies, one very bad part of the Koran," Wilders said. "I will use not only that theme but many others. Of course at the end it is a different movie."
Though Wilders has remained steadfastly vague about the specific contents of his movie, saying he wants to maximize the "moment of the broadcast itself," he added that it will include "images and parts of real-time movies that really happen in the Netherlands and the U.K. and the Middle East, the intolerance of the Koran that is still alive and vivid today."
Wilders, raised Catholic but long an atheist, said he's working with professors who are experts on the Koran and Islamic culture, professional filmmakers and scriptwriters to complete his film, which he hopes to broadcast next month on "Nova," a popular news program on Dutch public television. If "Nova" refuses to air the program, he said, he will broadcast the movie using the air time his political party is guaranteed by the government.
The Dutch government, which is protecting Wilders, has publicly warned him about the potential for violence at the completion of his film and has expressed concern over his personal safety. The government is also concerned about peace within the country and interests abroad. In 2005, cartoons printed in a Danish newspaper led to Danish embassies being set on fire, multi-million-dollar anti-Danish consumer boycotts in the Middle East, and hundreds of deaths in riots across the Muslim world.
"The government is taking the announcement of this movie quite seriously," said Floris van Hovell, a spokesman for the Dutch Embassy in Washington, D.C. "Obviously, because the movie hasn't been made, we cannot say anything about the movie until the movie has been shown, but the message Mr. Wilders has told us he wants to portray is disturbing."
Asked if the government plans to beef up security, Van Hovell said he couldn't comment. But he did say that the government is making a concerted effort to reach out to the Muslim community in the Netherlands and the larger Muslim world.
"We're explaining that in the Netherlands you have freedom of expression, and that at the same time the Dutch government is very concerned about the message Mr. Wilders supposedly wants to portray in his movie," van Hovell said.
Wilders has requested additional personal security from the government.
Wilders' rhetoric may have struck a chord among a part of the Dutch population. One poll suggests that if elections were held today, his Freedom Party would win 26 seats in the 150-seat Tweede Kamer -- Holland's House of Representatives -- up from nine the party won last November.
Muslim reaction to Wilders' film has been predictably less supportive. Some are calling for it to be outlawed before it is broadcast, and groups of both Muslims and non-Muslims have publicly denounced the film.
"I think he's addicted to the attention of the media," said Zainab al-Touraihi, secretary-general of the Contact Body for Muslims, the official Muslim advisory body to the Dutch government. "He's doing it for political reasons, and I'm sure he's getting more and more votes. And that's the scary thing, actually."
She said she supported Wilders' right to make the movie, though she said she was certain it would be skewed and harmful to both Dutch Muslims and the Netherlands as a whole.
"He would like to see that every Muslim woman is in prayers and held at home and that they have no rights, but he's not looking at Muslims these days," she said. "The Koran is a matter of interpretation, just like the Bible and the Torah. You need to interpret, not take it literally."
Al-Touraihi's group has long had a standing invitation to Wilders to speak to its members or take part in a debate. And Wilders has always ignored it, she said.
"If he really believed in these things, he would go out and sit with us and talk about issues, but he's never responded, so it's a one-man show and a one-way show," al-Touraihi said. "As a member of parliament, he can get every camera in front of him and say whatever he wants, but he never goes out for debates because I think he knows that he would lose voters."
For Wilders, though, all the criticism is just proof that he's on the right path.
"The reaction is proof of how much the movie is needed," he said. "This is not Morocco. We're living in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, a free country."