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'Fitna': Dutch leader's anti-Islam film brings strife

Far-right politician Geert Wilders's latest attempt to air the controversial video has been delayed by US-based website host Network Solutions.

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Wilders is often laughed off as a crank in the Netherlands, popularly referred to as Holland, even while most of the Dutch defend his right to speak.

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"It's Holland and I'm proud to live in a country where you can say anything, even if I don't agree," says Jeremy, a café owner in The Hague.

Why Wilders's popularity is rising

Wilders, who has warned of a "tsunami of Islamization coming to Europe," has built his career on fears over an immigrant influx – including those of the nearly 1 million Muslims in this country of 16 million residents. His message has resonated with a growing percentage of Dutch voters who feel he is telling truths that elite politicians are too polite or tolerant to voice.

His popularity rose after the shocking 2004 street killing by a Dutch-Moroccan of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, who with a Dutch parliamentarian had produced a film criticizing Islam's oppression of women. Two years later, his Freedom Party surprised the elites by scoring nine out of 150 members of parliament in 2006 elections.

Some residents here described conflicted feelings about politicians like Wilders that they detest, and a public discourse that seems not to capture the extent of social divisions in Holland.

"I hear Muslims making very hard statements about their situation," says Woter Mertens, a shop manager and PhD candidate in Amsterdam. "The cultures in Holland are separating further; you can feel it. Our tolerance is being destroyed. We used to be able to have reasonable discussions about things like the burqa or scarf. People did and didn't like it, said so, and did it with some tolerance and certainly openly. Now, no."

There's little outward tension along the famed canals here, or among the diffident and pragmatic Dutch. Some are tiring of Wilders and the film build-up. "It could come out any time – right now, in two weeks, no one knows," says Hans Ulrich, a retired history teacher in Leiden. "Now we joke that "Fitna" doesn't exist, but is an April fool's trick."

'He represents the fear we feel'

One Rotterdam business consultant, Rhys Jansen, who spent years working for a Dutch oil firm in the Arab world, says Wilders has rightly grasped the uncertainty and worry over losing a good standard of living in a country that traditional Dutch people feel is different from the one they were born in – and he is playing on this fear.

"He represents fear, the fear we feel, it's all about fear," says Mr. Jansen. "He exacerbates our feelings. We don't know each other anymore. There's less time in our lives, less time to cook, to talk, to socialize. We live in houses with walls two meters high separating our gardens. When I grew up we talked across our gardens. Now if you meet you neighbors, it is pretty much by accident. This is what Wilders understands."

Even many Muslims say they don't like the hidden tensions and new pressures in Holland brought by culture wars. Mehmet, who works in a Leiden falafel and kebab cafe, says he came from Egypt 20 years ago to escape religion. "No one here would bother you about anything," he says. "That's what I like about Holland, but I am worried this is changing."

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