On Nov. 2, in the holy month of Ramadan, Mohammed Bouyeri, a 26 year old Dutchman of Moroccan origin, prepared for ritual slaughter. He went to the El Tawheed mosque in Amsterdam and said his prayers, but instead of buying a sheep for slaughtering, he cycled to Linnaeus Street where he waited for the 47 year old moviemaker Theo van Gogh to pass by. When Bouyeri spotted van Gogh, he overtook him and shot him off his bike. Then he jumped on the wounded man. "Have mercy, don't do it," van Gogh cried before Bouyeri slit his throat and planted a knife in his stomach. Attached to the knife were five pages with koranic verses, threats to "the enemies of Islam" and a self-made poem: "I know for certain, o America, that you will perish; I know for certain, o Europe, that you will perish; I know for certain, o Holland, that you will perish. To the hypocrites I say: Wish for DEATH or hold your tongue and ...sit."
Holland, the most liberal society of late 20th-century Europe, harbors a rapidly growing Muslim population of almost 1 million within its borders - 6.25 percent in a population of 16 million. According to the AIVD, the Dutch equivalent of the FBI, five percent of Muslims in the Netherlands are fundamentalists. This represents an army of 50,000 jihadists. In a report written to the ministers of Justice and Home Affairs after the van Gogh assassination, the AIVD wrote that youngsters, some of them not older than 15, form the hard core of the jihadists. They are being "brainwashed" in schools that have become "recruitment centers for the Jihad," the report said.
Bouyeri's message to the infidel dogs - "Wish for DEATH or hold your tongue and ...sit" - was not lost on the Dutch liberal establishment. The day after the murder, the mayor of Rotterdam ordered the removal of a mural by Chris Ripken, who had painted an angel with the text "Thou shalt not kill" and the date "11-02-04" on the exterior wall of his studio. The mural was removed because the Muslims in the nearby mosque might take offence. In Amsterdam, a portrait of van Gogh became an object of abuse. Young Muslims spat on the portrait of the man whom they considered to be a blasphemer.
Theo van Gogh had long been considered an icon of Dutch liberalism. The irony is that his cruel death could have been a scene from one of his own movies. His first film, "Luger" (1981), was the story of a neo-Nazi who, bored with torturing kittens, kidnaps a handicapped woman, puts a pistol in her vagina, and blows her to pieces. It was followed by movies like "Charley" (1986), a "comedy" about necrophilia depicting two female killers who barbecue the penises of their victims, "Loos" (1989), a sado-masochist thriller, and "1-901" (1994), a movie about phone sex. None of this, however, had offended Mohammed Bouyeri. He objected to "Submission," a documentary that van Gogh made this summer about the position of women in Islam. It showed naked bodies with Koranic verses calligraphed on them. To the Muslims this was blasphemy.
Theo van Gogh came from a family with a genetic inclination for art as well as for extravagance bordering on madness. His great-great-grandfather, also called Theo, was the brother of the painter Vincent van Gogh. Apart from making movies, van Gogh was also a newspaper columnist. His articles were characterised by the same obscene nihilism as his movies. They deliberately intended to shock and insult anyone who believed in something, especially if they were religious. The Netherlands having been traditionally a Christian nation, Christians were van Gogh's first targets. He called Jesus "the rotten fish of Nazareth." Jews were offended by his depiction of them as "copulating yellow Stars of David in the gas chambers" and his quip that "cremating Jewish diabetics must have smelled like caramel."
In the late 1980s and early '90s, some Christians and Jews took van Gogh to court, but in vain. Freedom of speech cannot be limited by laws except in totalitarian states. Van Gogh's diatribes, however, proved that freedom of speech becomes self-defeating in a society where all constraints of decency and manners have crumbled under the onslaught of moral relativism and liberal secularism. This is exactly what had happened in Holland in the 1970s and '80s.
Theo van Gogh was one of those who created and advanced a religious vacuum at the heart of Dutch late 20th-century culture. They did not realise it, but in doing so they were signing their own death warrants. For without the moral framework of the Judeo-Christian civilization that had made freedom possible and that defined the boundaries within which liberty could blossom, society had but two ways to go: either towards secular totalitarianism or towards the replacement of the old Christian religion by another one.
That new religion made its first appearance in the Netherlands in the early 1970s, when the liberal establishment invited large numbers of Muslims to immigrate into the country. They were welcomed in because the secularized Dutch had stopped having enough children to take the place of older generations, creating a demographic vacuum as well as a religious one. Moreover, the liberals regarded the Muslims as allies in their attempts to destroy traditional Christian civilization. In addition, they were convinced that the welfare state would quickly secularize the Muslims as easily as it had the Christians. The latter, however, was a serious miscalculation, due to the sheer numbers of the Muslims entering the country. The Islamic population was too large to be assimilated. When the establishment realized that assimilation was impossible, it began to sing the praises of the "multicultural" society where Muslims should be allowed to live according to their own traditions while the ethnic Dutch should respect them. Anyone who voiced the fear, however tentatively, that Western Europe had perhaps opened its gates to a Trojan horse was shouted down with accusations of racism and right-wing extremism.
"This multicultural society is a hostage tragedy. The Dutch have been taken hostage by liberal moralists who qualify every concern about immigration as racism," Afshin Ellian, a professor at the university of Leiden, who had fled the Iran in 1982, warned.
Mohammed Bouyeri was well aware of the Dutch hostage mentality. "To the hypocrites I say: Wish for DEATH or hold your tongue and ...sit." The message referred clearly enough to Stockholm Syndrome, the well-known psychological response to terrorism named for an incident in 1973 in Stockholm in which victims had become attached to their captors by the end of six days of captivity. The abused bond with their abusers as a way of enduring the violence and saving their lives. There can be no doubt that Islam will win its war with secularism, because secularist are hardly ever willing to fight. Lacking faith in a life hereafter, their present life is the only thing they have. Hence they prefer to live in bondage rather than to live free or die.
In this sense van Gogh was an atypical secularist, which is probably the reason he was butchered. Van Gogh was a nihilist but he was courageous. Perhaps it was the genetic streak of madness in van Gogh's family that inspired his courage. Van Gogh had belonged to the liberal elite that had consistenly ridiculed religious Christians and Jews and thereby undermined traditional European morality, but, unlike other liberals, van Gogh refused to treat Muslims differently.
In his columns he consistently referred to fundamentalist Muslims as "goat fuckers." Their prophet Muhammed, he said, was a "pervert" and their god "a pig called Allah." Van Gogh fiercely criticized liberals such as the Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen, who after the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon went to the Amsterdam mosques to tell the Muslims "you are a part of Dutch society." According to van Gogh, Cohen should have said: "What are you doing here in Holland? Go back where you came from."
Van Gogh began making a different type of movies: documentaries. Some called him the Netherlands' Michael Moore, but he addressed topics that a liberal like Moore does not even dare to touch. His documentary "Submission," released last August, centered on the stories of Muslim women who had been beaten, raped, and forced into marriage. The script was written by the Somali-born Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The film showed women whose naked bodies where visible under their transparant chadors and gowns. On their bodies verses were written describing the physical punishments prescribed by the Koran for women who "misbehave." Another documentary, "0605," on which van Gogh was working at the time of his death, deals with the murder of his friend, the journalist and politician Pim Fortuyn, by an animal-rights activist in May 2003. Fortuyn, who openly flouted his gay promiscuity and claimed to have sex with Moroccan boys in dark rooms, was a fierce critic of fundamentalist Islam because, like van Gogh, he perceived it as a threat to the "values" of post-Christian secular Europe.
From an icon of the radical Left in the 1980s, Theo van Gogh suddenly found himself in the camp of the radical Right. He noticed, however, that he was alone and began to consider himself as Holland's "village idiot." When he was warned that his anti-Muslim diatribes might put his life in danger - something that was obvious to all who understood that freedom and tolerance are values that evolved from the Judeo-Christian tradition but not necessarily from other religions - he remarked: "Who would want to kill the village idiot?" His murder put an end to that illusion.
In the wake of van Gogh's death, "racial" tensions in the Netherlands heightened. An islamic school was set ablaze, another one bombed. Both incidents, which occurred by night and hurt no one, provoked counteractions in which churches were attacked. The jihadists had apparently understood that it was not the secularists who were fighting back. From Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, the Tawheed Brigades, a terrorist group that has claimed responsibility for the bombing of the Taba Hilton in Egypt last October, where 30 people were killed, issued threats to the Dutch that "if the attacks on our mosques, schools and the Muslim community in Holland do not stop, we will make you pay a very high price."
In what Associated Press described as an effort to "assuage the fears of the Muslims," Dutch Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende visited mosques and Queen Beatrix devoted her first public appearance after the assassination of van Gogh to a meeting with Islamic younsters in Amsterdam. One young Muslim woman wearing a veil, reported AP, "told the Queen she hasn't felt safe on Dutch streets since the killing." The Minister of Justice announced that he would check out how to reintroduce the application of an old law prohibiting "scornful blasphemy." Van Gogh would have lashed out at such cowardice.
The events in the Netherlands have relevance beyond the tiny kingdom of the Dutch. Holland was one of the first regions in Europe to become predominantly secularist, but the entire western part of the continent has followed. This has recently become evident in the constitution of the European Union, which is rigorously secular, omitting any reference to God and acknowledging only the values of humanism and the Enlightenment. Western Europe is dominated by a liberal political class that is repulsed by the moral tenets of Christianity and interprets Western values exclusively as the creed of liberalism and moral relativism, more interested in gay marriage than in the demographic implosion of old nations such as France, Germany and Italy. Parties, including Belgium's largest, the Vlaams Blok, have been banned by the leftist establishment for adopting anti-immigrantion stances and defending traditional morality.
Though some secularists, like Theo van Gogh, may defend their values against the jihadists, I would not count on there being many of them. Those who would have been reckless enough to do so are keeping quiet after Nov. 2.
(written Nov. 14, 2004)