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Dutch Filmmaker Slain for Anti-Islamic Views


Time, Amsterdam, Nov. 2, 2004

Photo: Theo van Gogh

While the rest of the world remains fixated on the U.S. elections, the Dutch were plunged into a drama of their own on Tuesday with what appeared to be the second politically-related murder to hit the Netherlands in two years. The enfant terrible of Dutch T.V., Theo van Gogh, was shot dead while riding his cycle in Amsterdam around 9 a.m. on Tuesday morning.

Like the right-wing Dutch political leader Pim Fortuyn who was assassinated in 2002, van Gogh, 47, was a harsh critic of Islam. Although the motive for van Gogh's death is not yet known, there is growing consensus that he was killed because of these views. A 26-year-old Amsterdammer with dual Dutch-Moroccan nationality has been arrested in connection with the murder. The name has not yet been released.

Van Gogh received several death threats since making the controversial film Submission, which depicted the text of the Koran on the naked flesh of young Muslim women. The film, shown on Dutch T.V. in September, was made in collaboration with the Somali-born Dutch M.P. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has been receiving police protection since its release. The film was directed and personally financed (€18,000) by van Gogh, the great-great-nephew of the painter Vincent van Gogh. His latest project was a film about the murder of Fortuyn, entitled 06/05, a reference to 9/11.

The Muslim community in Holland, almost one million in a total population of 16 million, has reacted with shock and anger at the attack as has rest of the nation.

Ayham Tonca chairman of the Dutch Muslim umbrella organization says: 'It's unbelievable and unacceptable that something like this can happen in Holland again.' He says Dutch society as a whole must bear the responsibility for the increasing polarization that has taken place in Holland since 9/11. 'This was a tolerant, multicultural country but things have changed. It's become 'us and them' and extremists from both sides throw accusations at each other. But only a sick individual can do this sort of thing [commit murder].'

Yasmin Kaddour, a social worker in a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood of Amsterdam, fears a new wave of antagonism against 'the ordinary Moroccan citizen' similar to that experienced after 9/11 and the murder of Fortuyn. 'I am shocked, all the more because it has taken place during the holy month of Ramadan.'

Van Gogh was murdered on a busy street in the east of the city during the morning rush hour as parents were taking their kids to school. A cyclist - a bearded man, eye witnesses say, wearing a traditional Arabic robe - pulled out a gun and shot van Gogh several times as he overtook him. He then used a knife to secure a letter to van Gogh's body. No details of the letter or the language in which it was written have yet been released.

A second person, either an onlooker or someone who was with van Gogh, was slightly injured in the incident but managed to alert police. The murderer ran off into park and was cornered by police. He shot a police motorbike rider - who was not injured because he was wearing bullet-proof vest - before himself being shot in the leg by police.

Although many people were unhappy with van Gogh's confrontational style, the Dutch are united in their determination to stand up for the freedom of speech. In a public address, Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen has called on the city to honor van Gogh not with two minutes silence, but by 'kicking up a row and making themselves heard' on Dam Square this evening. Many Muslim organizations have said they will attend the rally.