Church body denounces Dutch anti-Koran film

|PIC1|Global ecumenical body the World Council of Churches (WCC) has condemned a provocative new film released by a Dutch parliamentarian in which he accuses the Koran of inciting violence.

The director of the WCC's Programme on Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation criticised Geert Wilders' short film "Fitna" as "a clear case of Islamophobia". The word 'fitna' is an Arabic term that is sometimes translated as 'strife'.

"Through graphic images the filmmaker depicts violent extremism without any attempt to distinguish it from mainstream Islam. Extremism is a problem for most religions and needs to be countered through interreligious dialogue," Premawardhana said.

Wilders, who is leader of the anti-immigration Freedom Party, launched his short video on the Internet last Thursday to the outcry of Muslims around the world. In the film, images of the September 11 attacks on the US and bombings by Islamic extremists appear alongside quotations from the Koran.

European Union foreign ministers condemned the film and expressed their support for the Dutch Government, which has distanced itself from Wilders' film.

"The film equates Islam with violence and this view is sharply rejected," the 27 ministers said in a statement.

The EU said, however, that the film did not surpass the boundaries of freedom of expression and that those offended by its content should not react violently.

"Feeling offended is no excuse for aggression or threats," the ministers said.

"Muslims, Christians and people of all convictions and beliefs must live together in peace and mutual respect."

The film has caused offence in a number of majority-Muslim countries, including Iran which called the film heinous, blasphemous and anti-Islamic.

A delegation of Dutch Christians and Muslims travelled to Egypt last week in an effort to limit the possible damage caused by the film. According to Ecumenical News International, they went with the message that the large majority of the population, the churches and Muslim communities in the Netherlands are opposed to the film, but that free speech means that the Dutch Government is powerless to block its release.

According to members of the delegation, the spiritual leader of the world's Sunni Muslims, Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawy, expressed his discontent to them during a half-hour meeting.

"A single member of parliament in the Netherlands insults one-and-a-half billion Muslims. That is intolerable," they quoted the Sheikh as saying.

Delegation member and General Secretary of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, Bas Plaisier, said after the meeting with Tantawy, "Yet again it has become clear to us how the response to this issue is very emotional in the Arab world. This film is playing with fire."

Earlier in the month, the WCC issued the commentary "Learning to explore love together" in which it urged Muslims and Christians to find common ground in love for God and for one's neighbour.

The commentary followed the "Minute on our religious imperative to foster sensitivity and reconciliation in shifting society" released by the WCC's Central Committee in February. The document encourages churches to "work towards reconciliation and healing" through dialogue with Muslims that would lead communities "not only from hostility to peaceful co-existence, but also to celebrations of our common life".

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