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Europe should explain Wilders to world
by Erik Hesen*
Hague, Netherlands, 1 March 2008 - Dutch MP Alexander Pechtold wants the Netherlands to form a common front with other European countries to explain to Muslims around the world why the anti-Qur'an film by right-wing MP Geert Wilders has not been banned. The leader of the democrat party D66 wants the Dutch government to do more to spell out what democracy and freedom of expression exactly stand for in Europe.
The debate surrounding Mr Wilders' anti-Islam movie focuses too much on the Dutch context, according to Mr Pechtold.
"The cabinet constantly warns Mr Wilders about the film's consequences. We should address ourselves more to other countries. Here we are accustomed to democracy and freedom of expression but not everyone abroad is.
Elsewhere fundamentalists seize on these sort of films to preach hatred against the West. We have to explain what our fundamental rights represent. Maybe the prime minister should explain the matter on Al Jazeera. Or Mr Ahmed Aboutaleb [the deputy minister for social affairs], who speaks Arabic."
Mr Pechtold stresses, however, that the Netherlands should not go it alone but join forces with other European countries, which have a stake in this too.
"The protests sparked by the Danish cartoons, for example, show this can happen to any country. In fact, we should now form a common front at the EU Council of Ministers. Democracy and freedom of expression are European inventions. But it now looks like each country is left to fend for itself."
So far, the Netherlands doesn't appear to have been very successful in clarifying the situation. The prime minister has warned that Wilders' film could prompt violence against Dutch citizens and could even cause deaths.
Mr Balkenende underlined there already are clear warnings. He noted that in Afghanistan the Taliban are threatening to step up their attacks on the Dutch troops there. He also mentioned fears among stewardesses to work on certain flights.
And Development Minister Bert Koenders has been forced to cancel a planned trip to Somalia due to specific security threats.
Mr Pechthold does not, however, entirely share the prime minister's concerns.
"Maybe things won't be so bad, because we are dealing with them now. It's hard to say. It all depends on how foreign regimes will exploit the movie. Foreign regimes often have double agendas. Iran's authorities are using this incident to try and counter economic sanctions.
The thing to do, therefore, is to reach people directly, bypassing governments, to explain what democracy entails. I really regard democracy as an export product. We shouldn't just pursue economic interests but also strive to make people aware of our democratic values."
Mr Pechtold stresses, however, that it's Mr Wilders' own responsibility to decide whether or not to broadcast the film. The Public Prosecutor only can determine whether the film breaches any constitutional rights once it has been shown. Mr Wilders appears undeterred by all the commotion. He dismissed the prime minister's warnings accusing the cabinet of capitulating to Islam, something he vowed he will never do.
Source: Radio Netherlands