EU foreign ministers on Saturday (29 March) broadly condemned a controversial film released by Dutch MP Geert Wilders which portrays Islam as a religion which incites violence, but defended the filmmaker's freedom of expression.

"The film equates Islam with violence and this view is sharply rejected," the ministers said in a statement released after their meeting in Brdo, Slovenia on 29 March. "The problem is not religion, but abusing religion as a pretext for sowing hatred and intolerance," the EU foreign ministers added. 

Among other scenes, the 15-minute film includes footage of the September 11 terrorist attacks superimposed alongside verses quoted from the Qur'an, beheadings of hostages and executions of women wearing the hijab (covering the head and body of the wearer). 

Muslim organisations condemned the film. Describing it as a "deliberate act of discrimination against Muslims," the secretary general of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, said the footage was designed to "provoke unrest and intolerance". 

Similarly, EU foreign ministers condemned the content of the film, but were quick to defend Mr. Wilders' right to make it. "The production of this movie falls within the exercise of the rights all our citizens have," they insisted. 

Likewise, the Council of Europe defended Wilders' freedom of expression, albeit "in this case with disappointment and concern," describing its release as a "sad day for European democracy". The principles of European democracy were being used "to promulgate intolerant and deeply offensive stereotypes," said Terry Davis, the secretary general. 

Perhaps mindful of the extent of the reaction to the publication of the Mohammed cartoons in 2005, EU foreign ministers stressed that "feeling offended is no excuse for aggression or threats".