Saturday, March 08, 2008

Gandhigiri in the Netherlands

"Immunizing a country against the pandemic of xenophobia and outright dehumanization is serious business," says Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, in his discussion on the Dutch's preparations to preempt a Geert Wilders-inflicted pandemic of 2008 in The Washington Post's On Faith forum (Wilders, photo above, leader of the right-wing, anti-Muslim Freedom Party, of which there are only nine members in the 150-seat Dutch lower house, had long threatened to release a film exhibiting, in his words, "the violent and fascist elements of the Muslim faith").

He says, "at the highest levels of government, the preemptive media response was palpable and powerful. The Dutch Foreign Minister stood by the right to free speech while putting reasonable parameters on the proviso, saying "freedom of expression doesn't mean the right to offend". The Dutch Interior Minister warned media companies against broadcast, noting the repercussions globally, saying "a broadcast on a public channel could imply that the government supported the project". Even the Dutch Embassy in Washington D.C. categorically condemned the content. But most impressive, was the showing by Amsterdam's mayor Job Cohen, who is Jewish, saying flatly that Wilders was 'dehumanizing Muslims'."

But at the ground level, at the people to people level, a lot of Gandhigiri was applied to achieve great results (so far so good):

Mindful of the buzz building in the Arab press and keen to concoct a global media strategy to counteract a crisis, the Dutch appealed to international organizations like ours [Cordoba Initiative] to proactively engage Muslims in prevention-oriented activities. Mobilizing Dutch Muslim civil society, in close consultation and coordination with our Dutch Muslim legal liaisons on the ground, the response was overwhelmingly positive. Locally, Muslims showered Wilders with kindness, sending flowers and emailing virtual hugs. This coincided with a coordinated campaign involving educational radio and TV programs, talks, flyers, T-shirts, and peace-promoting online petitions – all with the purpose to prevent political furore. Internationally, young Muslim leaders, from Europe to the United States to the United Nations, rallied to support local Dutch efforts and while focusing on similar inoculation efforts in their own countries. In sum, grassroots engagement was rigorous, respectful and well-regimented – exactly the kind of early warning system that is needed at a local level to immunize a population from a threat.


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