Following the release of MP Geert Wilders’ anti-Islamic film Fitna, the Dutch government unequivocally denounced the project. In a televised statement, Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende condemned the film for serving “no purpose other than to cause offense.” Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Verhagen wrote an op-ed for the pan-Arab Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, arguing that, “Islam must not be equated with the commission of atrocities.” Verhagen later addressed the ambassadors of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, vowing that Fitna did not represent the official position of the Dutch government.
Well, apparently none of this was good enough for Iran, where the Majlis is now considering severing economic ties with the Netherlands. Yesterday, the Majlis’ National Security and Foreign Policy Commission asked the ministers of commerce and economic affairs to produce a report on the current state of Dutch-Iranian economic relations, while Speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel called on Muslim countries to boycott products from any country involved in blasphemy against Islam.
At what point does the international community call Iran on its hypocrisy? After all, when it comes to sanctioning the production of offensive media, Iran is an absolute beacon of freedom. For example, in the aftermath of the Danish cartoons controversy of 2006, the major Iranian daily Hamshahri—with the support of the municipally owned House of Caricatures—announced a Holocaust cartoon competition, purportedly to test the West’s commitment to free speech. Of course, the competition was really just another example of Iran scapegoating the Jews in a moment of cultural crisis—an impetus that was again on display yesterday. Indeed, while announcing the proposed boycott against the Netherlands, MP Kadem Jalali declared, “It is quite natural that the Zionists have masterminded the plot and since they have suffered a crushing defeat in Palestine and Lebanon they seek to insult Islamic sanctities.”
As I have previously argued, winning the public diplomacy war against Iran requires that we challenge Iranian orthodoxies head-on. In this vein, just as the international community was swift to condemn Fitna, it must immediately condemn Iran’s attempt to incite Muslim publics against the Netherlands. It should further throw Iran’s constant invocation of anti-Semitic rhetoric back at Tehran, asking how Iran—which aimed to challenge western free speech with its Holocaust cartoons conference—pathetically failed the challenge of free speech when faced with a peripheral, Internet-only film produced by a political pariah.