(Soundbite of film "Fitna")
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
On the Internet, there's a 15-minute film that asserts Islam is behind terrorism. Verses from the Koran appear on the screen as you see footage of the planes plowing into the World Trade Center on 9/11, of the charred bodies pulled from the Madrid train bombings, of the rantings of extremist Muslim imams urging their followers to cut the heads off Jews.
(Soundbite of film "Fitna")
BRAND: The filmmaker is a rightwing Dutch politician named Geert Wilders. He made the film because he thinks Islam is as dangerous as Nazism. Writer and professor Ian Buruma is Dutch. He grew up in the Netherlands and he is the author of the book "Murder in Amsterdam." It's about the 2004 murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh. He had made a movie critical of Islam. Buruma also writes about the clash between Western and Islamic cultures in the Netherlands, and he joins me now on the line from New York. Welcome to the program.
Mr. IAN BURUMA (Author, "Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo Van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance"): Thank you.
BRAND: Now, you've seen the film?
Mr. BURUMA: I've seen the film.
BRAND: What do you think of it?
Mr. BURUMA: Well, it's very crude, and I think it will be - it will come down as an anti-climax. And of course, the idea is to demonstrate that the Koran, and Islam itself, is a kind of dangerous, violent, quasi-fascist ideology.
BRAND: Now, if you could, give us a picture of who Geert Wilders is. He is reminiscent of another rightwing Dutch lawmaker, Pim Fortuyn, who was very vocal in his anti-Muslim views, was very flamboyant, and also was assassinated. Although, it needs to be said, not by a Muslim immigrant.
Mr. BURUMA: No. He was assassinated by a fanatical vegan. Well, they are similar in the sense that they both tap into the same fears. The fear the people has is that they no longer represented, that they've lost their influence on their own lives, and this is blamed on the immigrants. Wilders, as well as Fortuyn, are really populists who appeared to be speaking for the sort of common man, who feels betrayed by the political elites who are no longer looking after their interests.
BRAND: What is it about the Netherlands in particular, though? Because this is a country that is famous for its tolerance and, in fact, the subtitle of your book is "The Death of Theo Van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance." Is there something particular about the Netherlands and its relationship with its Muslim immigrants?
Mr. BURUMA: Well, I suppose what is particular is that the reaction has been rather overheated, precisely because the political elite was always rather tolerant, and still is, but tolerant in a rather paternalistic way. Meaning that if people complained, say, about too many immigrants moving into their old working class areas, they were very quickly dismissed as being racist and not politically correct and so on.
And so the once the floodgates were opened and populist leaders came up who articulated such feelings, often in a rather crude fashion, people began to voice these kinds of complaints, perhaps more violently than they would do in countries where there was less of the paternalistic tradition.
BRAND: Now, all sorts of Dutch politicians have come out against this film, and it appears this film has provoked some protest abroad, in Pakistan, Iran is denouncing the film. Is this something you would expect?
Mr. BURUMA: Yes, absolutely. Because like Danish cartoons, which initially did not get much of a response amongst the European Muslims and on the whole, they were rather cruel, but these things, of course, are manipulated by governments in the Middle East for their own political reasons, and one can certainly expect demonstrations and thing of that nature there. Now, how that will affect the European Muslims, of course, is another question.
BRAND: And what about Wilders himself? Will he now be a target of assassination?
Mr. BURUMA: Well, he already is. I mean, he's been under threat for years. Death threats come in regularly, so he's under heavy guard and lives virtually underground. So that's nothing new for him. What he has achieved, of course, is he is a minor, provincial Dutch demagogue of the right and he has become a world-famous figure. And he became a world-famous figure before anybody had even seen the film. So as sort of promoter of his own notoriety, he's a genius.
BRAND: Ian Buruma, thank you very much.
Mr. BURUMA: Thank you.
BRAND: That's Ian Buruma. He is the author of the book "Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo Van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance." And we've speaking about this new short film on the Internet called "Fitna: An Anti-Islamic Film."