A Dutch Cabinet minister postponed his trip to Somalia on Friday due to "specific threats" linked to the film, and the Dutch government has urged lawmaker Geert Wilders to scrap his film for the safety of its citizens abroad.
But Wilders said Monday he has begun negotiations with Dutch broadcasters about airing the 15-minute film, "Fitna." He said he will only allow them to show it in its entirety, and if they refuse, he plans to show it to the media and post it on the Internet.
"We have never learned to be intolerant toward people who are intolerant toward us, toward cultures that are intolerant toward us," he said in a recent Associated Press interview.
The right-wing legislator previously warned of a "tsunami" of Islam swamping the Netherlands and said Muslims should tear up half of the Quran if they want to live here.
Wilders has lived under round-the-clock security since the 2004 murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh by an Islamic radical enraged by his short film, "Submission," a fictional study of abused Muslim women with scenes of near-naked women with Quranic texts engraved on their flesh.
The film "Fitna" - an Arabic word meaning discord - puts the centuries-old Dutch traditions of religious tolerance and freedom of speech on a collision course.
If it airs, Dutch Muslims are expected to file criminal complaints for racial or religious vilification. Prosecutors would then have to decide whether to charge Wilders with any offense.
"Our law is very clear - anybody can make a film. We have freedom of expression and you cannot restrict that," says Moroccan-born Sadik Harchaoui, chief of the Forum Institute for Multicultural Development.
"Can you offend people? The answer is yes. I'm not saying you should do it or it is desirable, but you can," he added. "But if the film is insulting and preaches hate, then the law has to take action."
The Dutch government says it cannot ban the film but is attempting to distance itself from Wilders, the leader of the Freedom Party, which holds nine of Parliament's 150 seats.
"It is our responsibility to make clear to everyone that the views and actions of this one elected representative are not those of the government," Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende told reporters last week. "We defend the core values of freedom and respect. We guarantee freedom of expression and of religion, for Muslims as for everyone else."
Already the film has provoked reactions from Damascus, Tehran and other capitals of predominantly Muslim countries.
Pakistan's government ordered Internet providers to restrict access to YouTube, allegedly to prevent Pakistanis from accessing a clip of Wilders in which he makes derogatory remarks about Islam. The move inadvertently caused a brief worldwide outage of the video sharing site.
In Afghanistan, protesters set fire to Dutch flags over the weekend and Islamic clerics called for the withdrawal of Dutch troops.
NATO's Dutch secretary-general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, says he too is worried about the "potentially serious consequences" for alliance troops in Afghanistan, where 1,500 Dutch troops serve in the NATO-led force in the volatile south.
"If they are put in the line of fire because of the film, I am concerned," he told Dutch television news show "Buitenhof."
De Hoop Scheffer says people around the world, including some in the U.S. administration, have been asking him about the film.
So far, the reaction among the 850,000 Muslims living in this country of 16 million has been muted, but the Dutch government has warned municipalities to be on alert for rioting if and when the film appears.
The moderate National Moroccan Council has said it is trying to "neutralize the threat" posed by the film, but cannot rule out violence at home.
"We will have succeeded if, after the film, Mr. Wilders is frustrated," chairman, Mohamed Rabbae said at a news conference in January. "If he sees there are no riots and Muslims are cleverer and more democratic than he thinks."
By Mike Corder