The Hague – Dutch Muslims have expressed outrage at a film broadcast on national television that tells the fictional story of a Muslim woman forced into a violent marriage, raped by a relative and brutally punished for adultery.
One Muslim group has called it “extremely insulting”.
Submission, an English-language film broadcast on Sunday, was scripted by a rightwing politician who years ago renounced the Islamic faith of her birth and now refers to herself as an “ex-Muslim”.
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The place of Muslim immigrants in Dutch society has long been a contentious issue in the Netherlands, where many rightwing politicians have pushed for tougher immigration laws and say Muslims already settled in the country must make a greater effort to assimilate.
Like her rightwing colleagues, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a member of the Dutch parliament, has repeatedly outraged fellow Muslims by criticising Islamic customs and the failure of Muslim families to adopt Dutch ways.
But Hirsi Ali, originally from Somalia, said the 11-minute film was not intended to be provocative. Rather, it was an attempt to reach “intelligent Muslim women” and to expose the abuse of women, she said.
Several Muslim groups and newspapers criticised it as a shallow provocation that lacked insight. The women’s group Al Nisa have called it “extremely insulting” and said Hirsi Ali had shown “ignorance and insensitivity” in handling the issue of domestic violence.
The film tells the fictional story of a young Muslim woman forced into an arranged marriage with a man who beats her. She is ordered to keep silent about being raped by her uncle to protect his honour. She is later punished for having an adulterous relationship with a man she falls in love with at a market.
The body of the actress on which Hirsi Ali painted Islamic texts for the filming, is shown with inflamed lacerations to the sound of a cracking whip. The woman kneels on a prayer rug and speaks to Allah. Her last words are a wish for her own death.
“It is not intended as a provocation,” Hirsi Ali said during an interview on Sunday night. “You see the woman praying. She symbolises a lot of women to me – women who were an inspiration to me.”
The unidentified actress, whose full face is never seen on the film, appears in the movie in a translucent caftan-like gown and a veil, which Hirsi Ali said was meant “to reveal what is behind the robe”. Throughout the film, her naked body is clearly visible through the robe – in itself an insult in Islamic culture.
The symbolism, she said, “is not intended for the viewers, but for women in Iran, Somalia and Saudi Arabia who live under the Shariah (Islamic law)”.
Ceylan Weber, of the Al Nisa Foundation for Muslim Women, said domestic violence was a reality in the Islamic world, but that Hirsi Ali’s “irrational, insensitive approach” would drive the issue underground.
“She has absolutely no clue of the complexity of domestic violence,” said Weber, who has worked for years with abused women.
Ayyub Mohamed Ajoeb, of the Muslim Information Centre, said the film “is yet another attempt at provocation by… Hirsi Ali, the most frustrated politician in our country. She creates a culture of fear around Islam by trying to portray it as a backward culture”.
Hirsi Ali fled to the Netherlands to escape an arranged marriage 11 years ago when she was 23. She studied political science at a Dutch university and was elected to parliament last year for the free-market Liberal Party. Her telegenic looks and outspokenness made her a media star.
Since then, she has inflamed Muslim opinion by calling Islam “backward” and saying the prophet Mohammed, when measured by today’s Western standards, would be considered “a tyrant”.
She says her intention is to liberate Muslim women.