Patrick Goodenough | International Editor | Thursday, August 16, 2007
Geert Wilders of the anti-immigration Freedom Party (PVV) last week called publicly for the Koran to be banned. The subject continues to stir debate, and the Dutch ANP news agency reported that authorities have received "scores" of complaints from around the country.
In an open letter published in a Dutch newspaper, Wilders said some of the text's verses instruct Muslims "to oppress, persecute or kill Christians, Jews, dissidents and non-believers, to beat and rape women and to establish an Islamic state by force."
Wilders told Cybercast News Service earlier that despite criticism, he believed that "many, many Dutch voters" shared his views.
When his new party entered parliament last November, it captured nine of the 150 seats in the chamber, becoming the fifth-largest party and surprising many observers. The most recent poll on political preferences, conducted after the ban-the-Koran row, showed that the PVV would double its representation, securing 18 seats, if elections were held now.
Although the same poll, conducted by pollster Maurice du Hond, found that three-quarters of the respondents disagreed with Wilders' stance on the Koran, it also found 68 percent support for the decision of De Volkrant newspaper to publish the letter. (It subsequently emerged that Wilders had approached another Dutch paper, the NRC Handelsblad, first but it had declined to publish it, citing an "offensive tone" and weak argument.)
Other survey results indicated that many Dutch people are concerned about the inter-communal and inter-religious situation in their country, where one in every 16 citizens is now of the Muslim faith.
Almost 70 percent of the respondents agreed that Dutch political parties do not openly discuss the subject of Islam enough.
Fifty percent said the content of the Koran was more violent with respect to "unbelievers" than the Bible or Torah, while 30 percent disagreed.
Fifty-one percent of those polled said Islam in the Netherlands "threatens" the country's culture and 13 percent said it "enriches" it.
And asked their views about the integration of Islam in the Netherlands, 17 percent said they were "optimistic," 65 percent said "pessimistic," and 17 percent declared themselves "neutral" on the subject.
Meanwhile, Wilders says he plans to press criminal charges against a Dutch-Moroccan rapper who calls himself Appa, after the rapper told a newspaper that "if someone were to put a bullet in his [Wilders'] head, I wouldn't mind."
Appa's latest song/video is laced with expletives and features images depicting violence, assaults and an abduction. He wears a t-shirt bearing the word "terrorist" and handles knives and axes and other weapons.
Wilders drew to the justice ministry's attention the fact that Appa has been holding "workshops" for juvenile criminals in Dutch prisons, teaching them to rap. Following the threat against the lawmaker, the ministry said it would no longer work with the rapper.
Wilders said his call for the Koran to be banned was sparked by an attack by Muslims on a young Dutch politician of Iranian origin who set up a group for people who had renounced their Muslim faith. Ehsan Jami was not hurt, but the August 4 assault was the latest in a number of violent incidents in recent years in which critics of Islam have been targeted.
Like Wilders' letter, the attack on Jami - who is now under police protection - has triggered a strong public response, and more than a dozen prominent figures have joined a committee to support his organization for ex-Muslims.
The committee has sent letters to 50 politicians and academics on the right and left, asking them to sign a declaration supporting the right of free choice in religion.
In 2004, a Dutch-Moroccan extremist murdered Theo Van Gogh, a controversial filmmaker critical of extremist Islam. Another high-profile critic, Somalia-born lawmaker Ayaan Hirsi Ali, had worked with Van Gogh on a documentary about the oppression of women under Islam. She too faced death threats and later moved to the United States, where she is now a resident fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
One Dutch clergyman's suggestion for improving relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in the country caused a stir this week.
Speaking on a Dutch television program, Catholic Bishop Martinus Muskens proposed that Dutch Christians start referring to God as "Allah," saying this would promote better relations between adherents of the two religions.
Muskens noted that Christians in Islamic lands use the term "Allah" in reference to God, and predicted that Christians in the Netherlands would do so too eventually, even if it took 100 years.
The diocese of Breda, where the 71-year-old bishop is located, issued a statement saying Muskens was not reflecting the views of the diocese or of the Dutch Catholic Bishops' Conference.
Theologians say Christians living in the Arab world used the Arabic word "Allah" for God even before the founding of Islam in the 7th century. Christian Arabs still use the word when referring to God, despite significant differences in the Judeo-Christian and Islamic conceptions of God.
When President Bush said during a November 2003 press conference that he believed Christians and Muslims "worship the same God," evangelical leaders reacted strongly, with one leading Southern Baptist figure calling the president "simply mistaken."
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