Dutch embassies on alert over Muhammad cartoons
Right-wing politician Geert Wilders plans to air the images on television later this month
Dutch right-wing politician Geert Wilders, who plans to air cartoons of the prophet Muhammad on television. Photograph: Evert-Jan Daniels/EPA
Dutch embassies around the world have been briefed on how to cope with possible fallout, including violent protests, when cartoons of the prophet Muhammad are aired on television by right-wing politician, Geert Wilders, on three nights – starting next Saturday.
The worst-case scenario facing the embassies is that there will be mass protests, in particular across Muslim countries, similar to those in which some 200 people were killed following the publication of caricatures of the prophet in the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, in 2005.
However, diplomatic sources have denied that a “cable” sent to 140 embassies and other diplomatic missions across the globe is an indication of panic on the part of the government in The Hague, which has been largely silent on the planned broadcasts.
“There is absolutely no question of panic or a crisis atmosphere about Wilders or his cartoons,” said one source, who described the briefing as “standard procedure”.
“In this age of Twitter and Facebook, it is simply more consistent if the government speaks with one voice – and the ambassador in Morocco delivers the same message as the ambassador in Oman.”
The cartoons to be broadcast will be the same ones shown at a contest in Texas last month at which Mr Wilders delivered the keynote speech, and where two gunmen who later attempted to attack the cartoonists were shot dead by police.
After being refused permission to exhibit them in the grounds of parliament, Mr Wilders opted instead to use national airtime allocated to each party for political broadcasts to publicise the cartoons – “in support of people who use the pen and not the sword”.
The diplomatic strategy being co-ordinated through the embassies aims to emphasise the fact that the broadcasts are in no way supported by the government in the Netherlands – underlining instead that they are being used by a single MP to make a point about free speech.
The priority is to prevent “violent protests in Islamic countries that could put Dutch lives at risk or damage Dutch business interests” following the broadcasts which are scheduled for June 20th, June 24th and July 3rd.
While there has been no legal challenge to Mr Wilders’ plans, it is understood that there have been behind-the-scenes contacts between the government and Muslim groups in an attempt to dampen the reaction of the 850,000-plus Muslims living in the Netherlands.
Dutch Muslims, said Elforkani Yassin, spokesman for a special committee which liaises with government, had in recent years “become accustomed to Wilders’ provocations”.