Italy’s state broadcaster, RAI, will tomorrow defy protests from Muslims and reported threats to one of its executives when it becomes the first leading foreign TV network to show the controversial Dutch film Submission.
The decision to screen substantial extracts from the film, which is fiercely critical of the treatment of women in Islam, followed a plea last week from Italian MPs from all leading parties. They said broadcasting the film would contribute “to artistic freedom and freedom of expression”.
In a letter to President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, the Islamic Council of Turin called for the broadcast to be cancelled. The letter, signed by two imams, said the content of the film was “detrimental to Islamic traditions and customs”.
The imams warned that showing the film could create “new and drastic tensions that could induce the most fanatical to commit high-profile actions endangering public security”. Copies of their letter were sent to, among others, the prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, and the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano.
Critics of RAI’s decision have argued that it is bowing to pressure from the anti-immi grant Northern League, which had earlier tried and failed to get the film shown at the European parliament.
Van Gogh’s 12-minute film was written by a former Muslim who has become a member of the Dutch parliament representing an anti-immigration party. She was last reported to be in hiding under armed police guard.
Submission includes scenes of near-naked Muslim women in headscarves with verses from the Koran written on their bodies. According to someone who saw the film at a recent private viewing, it includes an interview with a woman who recounts a beating she endured for fleeing her home after being attacked and made pregnant by her uncle.
Some Dutch Muslim women who were victims of male violence reacted angrily when Submission was shown on television in the Netherlands last August, arguing that it cheapened their suffering. Van Gogh’s murder two months later was followed by dozens of arson attacks on mosques and other Islamic targets, which in turn led to counter-attacks on churches.
The decision to screen the film in Italy was reported by the Northern League’s daily, Padania, on Sunday. But the news was not carried in the national press, apparently for fear of stirring protests.
According to the Italian news agency Adnkronos, the RAI executive supervising the broadcast has already received anonymous threats.
A RAI official confirmed that it planned to air the film at 11pm tomorrow. Until now, only brief clips from Submission have been televised on national channels outside the Netherlands in news reports on Van Gogh’s death. A northern Italian station has shown the film.
The Italian news agency Ansa yesterday reported that, following talks with the producers of Submission, RAI planned to broadcast a four to five-minute selection of excerpts.
Last month, the European parliament scrapped a screening of the film because of legal concerns and security fears.
Though Italian MPs of all parties have backed RAI’s decision, the impetus for the screening has come largely from the Northern League, which has arranged showings at some of its premises.