The Spanish government has warned a political refugee that he faces deportation for making a documentary critical of Islam.
The move comes after Belgium raised its terror threat level to the second-highest ahead of the release of the film, originally planned for December 14.
The case demonstrates how the fear of Muslim rage is threatening the exercise of free speech in Europe.
The one-hour amateur film, "The Innocent Prophet: The Life of Mohammed from a Different Point of View," by Imran Firasat, was posted on YouTube on December 15 and purports to raise awareness of the dangers of Islam to Western Civilization.
Firasat, a Pakistani ex-Muslim, obtained political asylum in Spain in 2010 due to death threats against him in both Pakistan and Indonesia for criticizing Islam and for marrying a non-Muslim. (Read his story here, in Spanish.)
His film shows images of the Muslim terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York; on the double-decker buses in London and on the commuter trains in Madrid. The movie features many passages from the Koran threatening violence against non-believers. The movie also promises to answer the question, "Was Mohammed an inspired prophet of God, or was he a madman driven by his own demons, thus producing a religion of violence and tyranny?"
Firasat says the film will be translated from English into Spanish and Hindi, and that he plans to release a version in Arabic. Firasat made the film in cooperation with the American pastor Terry Jones, who burned a Koran in April 2012 to protest the imprisonment of the Iranian Christian pastor, Youcef Nadarkhani.
In an online trailer to promote the video, Firasat is filmed standing in Madrid's Plaza de Colón, with the Spanish flag in the background. He says: "If we find the truth about Mohammed, we can find the truth about Islam. Was Mohammed a prophet sent by Allah or was he a molester of children and a murderer?"
Firasat, who runs the website World without Islam (Mundo sin Islam), says he was inspired by another amateur film, "The Innocence of Muslims," which portrayed Mohammed as a womanizer, a homosexual and a pedophile; when it was released in September, it triggered a wave of anti-US protests and riots across Europe (here and here) and the Middle East in which more than 30 people were killed.
At the time, the Obama Administration falsely alleged that "The Innocence of Muslims" was responsible for the murder of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others in Benghazi, Libya.
Firasat told the Belgian newspaper De Morgen that he decided to make the film "when I heard that the U.S. ambassador was slain. I said, 'Okay, you Muslims, use violence, but we will continue to make films. One day one of us will lose.'"
Belgian Interior Minister Joëlle Milquet said on December 7 that the decision by the Coordinating Unit for Threat Analysis (OCAM/OCAD) -- the agency which keeps tabs on the terrorist threat in Belgium -- to take the level of threat up from two to three ("severe"), out of a maximum of four, was "a simple preventative measure."
According to Peter Mertens of the Crisis Center, a government agency linked to the Belgian Interior Ministry, which assists in emergency planning and emergency management, "the trailer can be perceived as Islamophobic. The OCAD has evaluated and decided to increase the threat level to the third of four levels. That is serious. We have now informed all of the police forces of the country and have asked to be extra vigilant."
The Belgian government appears afraid of inciting its burgeoning Muslim population after more than 250 Muslims clashed with police in the heavily Islamized Borgerhout district of Antwerp, the second-largest city in Belgium, when the earlier film, "The Innocence of Muslims," was released in September; approximately 300 people, including 50 in Brussels, were arrested.
Belgian intelligence officials interviewed by the newspaper De Morgen said: "It is unclear how reactions to the new movie will be. That is not easy to predict. But recent history teaches us that the reactions can be violent. We cannot risk that the matter is not closely followed."
Belgium is not the only European country to take preemptive action. The Spanish government, apparently afraid of provoking another terrorist attack similar to the train bombings in Madrid in April 2004, has attempted to silence Firasat by threatening to deport him if he goes ahead and releases the film.
According to the Socialist daily newspaper El País, the Spanish Interior Ministry has initiated a process to review Firasat's refugee status -- although the ministry has not specified the precise legal grounds for his potential deportation. Speculation is rife that Spanish authorities will issue an arrest warrant for Firasat for "offending religious sentiments."
In an interview with the online newspaper International Business Times (IBT), Firasat said he has received far more threats from the Spanish government than from angry Muslims.
Firasat told IBT, "Seven years ago I was granted refugee status in Spain for the reason that I used to criticize Islam. It has been seven years [and] since [then] I have taken the fight against Islam very far. And my right to freedom of expression was always respected by this great country. But now suddenly, for doing the same thing which I have been doing since for the last seven years, I have been threatened by the authorities [and told] that my refugee status will be revoked; I will be deported back to Pakistan where the death penalty for blasphemy is waiting for me, and that I may be detained if I continue with the plans to release the movie."
IBT then asked Firasat, "What made the Spanish authorities 'suddenly threaten' you? What could be the reason?" Firasat responded: "That's a very funny, interesting and surprising question, even for me. Why now? I was granted asylum because of my criticisms of Islam. I have formally asked the Spanish government for the prohibition of Koran in Spain. I have given thousands of interviews to radio and TV channels. I wrote articles in newspapers. But I was never told by anyone that what I am doing is illegal. Now suddenly they try to revoke my refugee status, detain me and prosecute me for offending Muslims' religious sentiments. Why? There may be two reasons: Fear of violence by Muslims abroad and in Spain, and conflicts in diplomatic relations with Islamic countries which are investing in Spain…This is not the Spain I arrived in seven years ago, where there was complete liberty of expression."
Some free speech activists say that Firasat is himself guilty of seeking to restrict free speech. In March 2012, for example, Firasat filed a 10-point petition with the Spanish government asking that the Koran be outlawed in Spain, and in April, the Constitutional Commission of the Spanish Parliament announced that it had accepted the petition and had agreed to study it further.
In an interview with the Spanish business newspaper La Gaceta, Firasat explained why he submitted the petition: "There are hundreds of verses in the Koran that encourage believers to kill, hate, discriminate, exact revenge and torture women. A book that promotes violence should not be circulating in a free and democratic society. In the last 10 years, all terrorist attacks have been promoted by Islamic jihad as contained in the Koran."
Firasat continued: "Over 100 places in the Koran mention the phrases such as 'go to war' or 'kill all the infidels until everyone is submitted to Allah.' And the Koran requires Muslims to continue to fight jihad [war in the cause of Islam] until it has captured the Western world, its freedoms and its religion at any cost."
Firasat concluded: "I formally asked the government of Spain to ban the Koran in Spain. It is a book that cannot exist in our free society. There are millions of Muslims who follow the book, but we cannot allow millions of other people who want to live in peace and in freedom and enjoy human rights to suffer and die. I do not understand why the Spanish penal code, the Spanish constitution and the European constitution prohibit violence of any kind and yet close their eyes when talking about the Koran."
Two days after filing his petition, however, the Spanish National Police (Policía Nacional) called Firasat in for questioning after it emerged that he wanted to burn a Koran at the Plaza del Sol in central Madrid.
According to a five-page police statement dated March 5, agents asked Firasat if he "understood that his actions could hurt the religious sensibilities of those who profess the Muslim faith." He was also asked if he was "conscious that the burning of the Koran could be considered a crime according to Title XXI, Chapter IV, Sections 1 and 2 of the Criminal Code…which refers to crimes against offending religious sentiments."
According to Firasat, the agents who questioned him asked him why he did not leave Spain and burn the Koran in another country. Firasat defended himself by saying he is a Spanish citizen and a legal resident with the same rights as any other.
After reviewing his website with the agents, Firasat said: "I am not hurting the feelings of any Muslim. Rather, I am taking an action that seems necessary against a book which gives the message of jihad: killing, hatred, violence and discrimination, which in no way is compatible with Spanish law."
In a newspaper interview, Firasat summed up his dilemma: "Fighting the injustice of Islam is not so easy. On the one hand there are the Islamists who are seeking to kill me, and on the other side our own police, our own system, which seeks to intimidate me and dissuade me from confronting Islam."
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook.