K.S. Ramkumar, Arab News
JEDDAH, 2 April 2008 — The anti-Qur’an film released by Dutch rightwing parliamentarian Geert Wilders has been condemned in the Netherlands, a senior Dutch business executive said here yesterday.
The film, which has been the subject of much critical speculation and controversy, was released on the Internet on March 27 and withdrawn within 48 hours, Marcus Potter, managing director of Jeddah-based Friesland Foods Middle East, told a press conference.
Potter said the film attempts to paint “the whole of Islamic situation with a single fundamentalist and extremist brush.” Some other Dutch companies doing business in the Middle East have also condemned the film and taken up the matter with the government, he added.
“In fact, our objection to this documentary is also shared and strongly voiced by the Dutch government,” he said, adding that Jan Peter Balkenende, prime minister of the Netherlands, had condemned the film as a misrepresentation of Islam.
“On behalf of the Dutch government, I would like to respond to the online film by Wilders. The film shows images of violent acts and holds Islam and the Qur’an responsible for them. The government condemns such acts and those who commit them,” Potter said, quoting the prime minister’s statement.
“The film equates Islam with violence. We reject this interpretation. The vast majority of Muslims reject extremism and violence. The victims are often Muslims. We therefore regret that Wilders has released this film. We believe it serves no purpose other than to cause offense. But feeling offended must never be used as an excuse for aggression and threats. The government is heartened by the initial restrained reactions of Dutch Muslim organizations,” the statement said.
“Muslims, Christians and people of other convictions can easily live together in peace. The problem is not religion, but misuse of religion to sow hatred and intolerance. That is why we are calling for respect for everyone’s deepest convictions. We are aware of the concerns and the sentiments about this film in the international Muslim community. We have recently spoken with many people at home and abroad to promote mutual understanding. We will continue to follow this course,” the statement added.
“The Dutch government stands for a society in which freedom and respect go hand in hand. Such a society demands dedication and commitment. We oppose extremism. Anyone who breaks the law is dealt with firmly. Let us solve problems by working together. Let us reach out to others and build confidence and trust. Let us conquer prejudice. We shall surely succeed,” the prime minister said.
“Friesland Foods Middle East rejects this categorization of the Middle East, the Arab World or of the millions of peace loving Muslims whom we have come to appreciate as customers,” said Potter, who was accompanied by Regional Commercial Director Gerjo Scheringa and Khalid A. Bakhsh, regional director finance and administration.
A subsidiary of the Dutch multinational Friesland Foods, Friesland Foods Middle East has been doing business in the Middle East since the 1950s, with 50 percent of its regional business in Saudi Arabia. “At Friesland Foods Middle East, we respect all cultures, beliefs and values, and strongly condemn this expression against Islam. Our company has grown as part of this region and respects its culture as its own,” Potter said.
Asked whether the film had an adverse impact on the company’s sales across the Kingdom or elsewhere in the Arab-Muslim world, Potter said, “Our sales are not at all affected. However, boycott is not a solution for such individual acts. What is required is dialogue and understanding. A boycott will surely affect sales and ultimately result in unemployment. It will only hurt the innocent. What we need to address is the cause or the source of the problem,” he said, adding that individuals take undue advantage of the right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed in the Dutch constitution.
Friesland Foods employs more than 450 in its regional headquarters and Jeddah production facility, which produces a variety of dairy products and drinks.