Dutch politician plans broadcast of Muhammad cartoons

Dutch politician plans broadcast of Muhammad cartoons

Critics accuse Geert Wilders of trying to provoke Muslim community by showing pictures from cartoon contest during airtime allotted for political parties

Dutch populist politician Geert Wilders during a press conference in The Hague, Netherlands. (AP/Patrick Post)
Dutch populist politician Geert Wilders during a press conference in The Hague, Netherlands. (AP/Patrick Post)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Moderate Dutch Muslims on Thursday called anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders’s plan to broadcast cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad on national television a provocation.

There were no signs of outrage or unrest, the day after Wilders announced his plan to use airtime granted to political parties to show cartoons from a contest in Texas last month that was targeted by two armed attackers. Wilders spoke at the contest in Garland, but left before the foiled attack in which both gunmen were shot dead.

Islamic tradition holds that any physical depiction of the Prophet Muhammad is blasphemous. It appears, however, that Muslims in the Netherlands may be growing accustomed to Wilders’ fierce criticism of their faith.

Muslims in the Netherlands “are no longer easy to offend,” said lawyer Ejder Koese, who once represented a Muslim organization that tried unsuccessfully to ban a short film made by Wilders.

Wilders rose to national and international prominence after the brutal murder in 2004 of another Dutch critic of Islam, filmmaker Theo van Gogh, by a Muslim extremist. Wilders established and leads the Freedom Party that holds 12 of the 150 seats in parliament’s lower house.

Wilders’ anti-Islam rhetoric has in the past sparked outrage around the Muslim world and prompted death threats that have led to him living under round-the-clock protection since 2004.

Koese, who is vice chairman of a group that promotes debate about the Turkish diaspora in the Netherlands, says Wilders has to keep escalating his comments to grab headlines.

“He only wants to be in the news, and every time he goes a step further in his attempts to be provocative,” he said.

Yassin Elforkani, spokesman of the Contact Group for Muslims and Government, agreed that people are growing accustomed to Wilders.

“It is provocation from Mr. Wilders that we have been used to for years,” Elforkani said in a telephone interview.

Wilders denied he was being provocative for the sake of it and said in an emailed reaction that he wants to show the cartoons to support freedom of expressions and demonstrate to extremists that their violence won’t silence him.

“Never capitulate. Never give in to fear,” he wrote. “Always continue with more power and conviction.”

A date hasn’t been set for Wilders’ broadcast.

The Dutch government said Wilders’ comments hadn’t prompted any change in the country’s terror threat level.

Justice and Security Ministry spokeswoman Renske Piet said that the level remains at “substantial” and there is no immediate reason to change it.

Wilders is no stranger to pushing the boundaries of free speech and targeting Islam. He has lived under round-the-clock protection since 2004 because of death threats.

In the past, he triggered protests in the Muslim world for a short film he broadcast online which juxtaposed verses from the Quran against videos of violence and terrorism.

He was acquitted in 2011 of hate speech as judges said that his anti-Islam rhetoric came in the context of a fierce national debate about immigration and multiculturalism.

Wilders is again facing prosecution for hate speech over a chant last year in which he asked his supporters whether they wanted more or fewer Moroccans in the Netherlands and they shouted back “Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!”

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press.

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