Multiculturalism in the Netherlands and the Murder of Theo Van Gogh

By Hylarides, Peter C. | Contemporary Review, February 2005 | Go to article overview

Multiculturalism in the Netherlands and the Murder of Theo Van Gogh


Hylarides, Peter C., Contemporary Review


THE second political murder in less than three years has sent a shock wave through the Netherlands. In May 2002, the flamboyant politician Pim Fortuyn was murdered by a left-wing animal rights activist. This time, the victim was the outspoken filmmaker and champion of free speech Theo van Gogh, a distant relative of the famous painter Vincent van Gogh. He was shot several times whilst cycling to his office in Amsterdam by Muhammad Bouyeri, a Muslim with dual Moroccan and Dutch citizenship. The killer then stabbed Mr van Gogh, slit his throat and left a note on his body, in which he also threatened to kill Ayaan Hirsi Ali; she is a Dutch MP of Somali descent and member of the Liberal Party (VVD) who regularly criticized the position of women in Islam and even described the Prophet Muhammad as a 'pervert' for marrying his third wife Aisha, a six-year-old girl, when he was 53. Both Mr van Gogh and Ms Hirsi Ali had worked on a short film, which infuriated the Muslim community in the Netherlands. In Submission: Part One, a Muslim woman is forced into an abusive arranged marriage and raped by her husband. The most offensive image in the film is her naked body painted all over with verses from the Koran, whilst Ms Hirsi Ali recites from the Holy Book in Arabic.

Theo van Gogh's murder puts the issues of immigration and failed multiculturalism, once again, at the forefront. The Netherlands, known in the world as one of the most tolerant nations, is in a quagmire. Since the death of Mr Fortuyn, a good friend of Theo van Gogh, who had warned vehemently against the compatibility of Islam and a secularised society, politicians of opposing parties now cast severe doubts on the desirability of the current form of multiculturalism and continued immigration. After all, Muhammad Bouyeri appeared to be an integrated citizen who had grown up in Amsterdam, studied computer science and worked as a youth counsellor. After his mother died of breast cancer, however, he changed his appearance and attitude. He began to wear Arab robes and started to visit a Mosque that was known to preach extremism. There he came into contact with like-minded souls from Egypt, Algeria and Syria. He was monitored by the Dutch intelligence service (AIVD) since 2002 but was never a suspect of the highest order.

Tolerance and liberal values have a long history in the Netherlands. Since the revolt against Spanish rule in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, the Dutch Republic became known as a haven of religious freedom in a Europe that was still mired in repression. Admittedly, in comparison with modern society, one can say that Dutch tolerance in that era should not be oversimplified or exaggerated, but it is true that many religious denominations were able to practice their religion in some shape or form without too much interference from the authorities. When, in the seventeenth century, Jewish merchants were forced to flee Portugal they were free to set up their own synagogues in Amsterdam, without interference from the government. Huguenots, who suffered severe persecution for their faith in France, were welcome in the Dutch Republic. Even Catholics, whose freedom of movement was officially limited after the revolt against Spain, were able to practice their religion behind closed doors. This tolerance became second nature to the Dutch and resulted in a society that can be described as 'live and let live'. When we take a big leap from the seventeenth to the twentieth century, we see one severe interruption in the tradition of tolerance: the German occupation during the Second World War saw a division between those who fought for freedom and those who collaborated with the Germans. The majority of Dutch Jews were sent to German concentration camps and did not return. 'Never again' was the general opinion after the war. The experience with the Nazis made it abundantly clear for the Dutch that intolerance ought to be banned forever from Dutch society. …

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