Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Pop History Moment: The Murder of Theo Van Gogh

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On this day in 2004, Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered on an Amsterdam street corner by a terrorist named Mohammed Bouyeri; the cause of Bouyeri's rage against Van Gogh was (at least in part) due to a film he made, in collaboration with Somali-born Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, entitled Submission, which was justifiably critical of the fundamentalist Islamic treatment of women...

Van Gogh was shot eight times with an HS 2000 handgun, and died on the spot; Bouyeri then cut his victim's throat, nearly decapitating him, and stabbed him in the chest. He was apprehended later the same day, after himself being shot and wounded by police. In the days to come many fellow members of the Hofstad Network, a Dutch Islamic terrorist organization he had co-founded, were also arrested. In July 2005 Bouyeri was sent to prison for life.

The violence of Van Gogh's death reverberated through Holland for weeks, resulting in many unfortunate counter-attacks against mosques and counter-counter-attacks against churches; for a country still reeling from the 2002 assassination of Pim Fortuyn, a Dutch politician who was a) openly-gay, and b) an outspoken critic of what he viewed as the intolerance imported into Dutch society by Muslims in particular, Van Gogh's martyrdom to the cause of free speech was a bitter blow.

That Van Gogh was intemperate - even bigoted - in his criticism of Islam is unfortunate, mainly because a well-spoken and thoughtful critic who is killed under such circumstances is a far more effective martyr than one who throws around words like geitenneuker (goat-fucker) as Van Gogh often did when describing Muslims. That his bigotry was born out of a perfectly understandable frustration with the hatred fostered by fundamentalist religion of all kinds did not give him permission to add to the problem with harsh words and hatred of his own; indeed, understanding, not to mention compassion, might have saved his life.

A memorial to Theo Van Gogh entitled De Schreeuw (The Scream) - unveiled in March 2007 - now stands in Amsterdam's Oosterpark, a short distance from the corner of the Linnaeusstraat and Tweede Oosterparkstraat where he was murdered. It stands as a reminder that the current Islamic crusade against Western Civilization isn't merely aimed at our Western-ness - our politicians, laws, and institutions - but also at our civilization - our artists, philosophers, and dreamers - as well.
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