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A Murder Leads to a Clash of Civilization

(February 24, 2005) The Netherlands has long been known as Europe’s most open and permissive society, where window-shopping for prostitutes in Amsterdam and smoking marijuana in so-called coffee shops throughout the country is widely accepted.

Theo van Gogh was murdered in the early morning of November 2, 2004 in Amsterdam. He was shot with eight bullets, his throat was slit, and he was then stabbed in the chest. Two knives were left inplanted in his torso, one pinning a five-page manifesto to his body. The note called on Muslims to rise against the “infidel enemies” in the West, to attack leading Dutch politicians, Jews and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born member of Dutch Parliament with whom van Gogh made a film accusing Islam of condoning violence against women.

Eyewitnesses said that Bouyeri approached van Gogh while both were bicycling on a busy street, shot him, chased him across the street, shot him again, then cut his throat nearly to the spinal cord with an enormous kitchen knife before pinning the note to his chest. Bouyeri twice ignored pleas for mercy from van Gogh, prosecutors said, and yelled “now you know what’s coming for you” at a bystander who challenged him.

Theo van Gogh Theo van Gogh

The accused murderer of van Gogh is Mohammed Bouyeri, a 26-year-old man of Dutch and Moroccan nationalities. He was captured by the police after a shootout, shooting one officer who was saved by a bulletproof vest. Although born in Amsterdam, well-educated and apparently well-integrated, Bouyeri became a Muslim extremist and had alleged terrorist links. Prosecutors said that Bouyeri had dreams of replacing the Dutch government with an Islamic theocracy, and was supported by a dangerous network of like-minded fanatics.

As a newspaper columnist, van Gogh was known for being provocative and politically incorrect. Working from a script by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, van Gogh created the 10-minute movie Submission. The film is about violence against women in Islamic societies. After the movie was released, both van Gogh and Hirsi Ali received numerous death threats. Van Gogh did not take these very seriously and refused any protection. He once told Hirsi Ali; “As soon as such considerations dissuade you from expressing your opinion, isn’t that the end of free speech? That is grist to the mill of the Islamists.”

Until his death Van Gogh was working on a movie about the murder in 2002 of the populist Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn, another ethnic Dutchman who was also a fierce critic of fundamentalist Muslims. Fortuyn's anti-Muslim views called for an end to all immigration and pledges to come down hard on crime struck a chord with voters despite the country's celebrated reputation for liberalism and religious tolerance.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Following the murder of Van Gogh Dutch police arrested at least a dozen Islamic radicals, accused of belonging to the “Hofstad” terror network. The defendants, mostly Dutch Muslim men of North African ancestry, were arrested following van Gogh’s execution-style slaying – a murder that stunned the nation and triggered waves of retaliatory attacks against Muslim sites. More than 60 mosques and churches were victims of arson attacks in one week. The attacks reflected increasing hostility toward foreigners in a country once renowned for tolerance. One Dutch politician referred to the Islamic radicals, “The enemy are religiously motivated fanatics who see their violence as above politics and divinely sanctioned.”

The “Hofstad” terror network is accused of being linked in the murder of van Gogh and plots to attack prominent politicians. In a telephone tap recorded, one of the members said after the murder of van Gogh: “We slaughtered a lamb in the traditional Islamic fashion. From now on, this will be the punishment for anyone in this land who challenges and insults Allah and his messengers.”

Interior Minister Johan Remkes has said that the Hofstad gang also have ties to Islamist groups in Belgium, Spain and Switzerland, including those behind the deadly bombings in Madrid and Casablanca. Several members of the group are alleged to have traveled to Portugal during the European soccer championships last summer with the intention of carrying out an attack. They had been arrested by Portuguese police and deported back to the Netherlands.

Another member of the group was arrested before the van Gogh murder. He possessed bomb-making equipment and detailed maps of Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, the Borssele nuclear reactor, the Intelligence Service and the Defense Ministry, prosecutors said.

Mohammed Bouyeri Mohammed Bouyeri

The trial of these alleged terrorists will be the first trial where prosecutors will make full use of new terrorism laws giving authorities far-reaching powers of investigation and introducing much harder sentences for terror-related crimes. The Dutch government has also drafted a Patriot Act-like law which enables it to strip citizens of their citizenship and deport them if they engage in extremist acts.

The murder has also led to a wider and more polarized debate about the position of the more than one million Muslims in the Netherlands. In a recent opinion poll, 35 percent of the native Dutch questioned had negative views about Islam. Many native Dutch citizens fear that Holland will lose its traditional tolerance and Western liberalism. Population growth studies and projections sow fears that the Muslim community is growing much faster than that of the Dutch. In the four largest Dutch cities, the majority among children under 14 are Muslims. It is projected that the major Dutch cities will soon have a majority Islamic population and that Holland might become increasingly influenced by Islamist viewpoints on many issues, including the role of women in society.

Independent Dutch member of parliament Geert Wilders advocated a five-year halt to non-Western immigration in the wake of the murder of Theo van Gogh stating: "The Netherlands has been too tolerant to intolerant people for too long, we should not import a retarded political Islamic society to our country". He also favors closing down offensive mosques and deporting clerics who preach hate. What worries the more enlightened and liberal people of the Netherlands is the creation of laws that make it possible to strip its citizens of their citizenship, which doesn't belong at all in their views of the law of the state.

Anti-Islamic politicians Geert Wilders and Ayaan HirsiAli have gone into hiding and are constantly protected by bodyguards. Two Islamists were arrested for putting a video on the Internet that promised 72 virgins in paradise for the “beheading” of Geer Wilders. Dutch police have since found death lists by local Islamic terrorists with the names of at least six prominent Dutch politicians.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali later wrote “The attacks on America and Spain were dismissed as something that could happen over there, but not here. Theo’s naiveté wasn’t that it couldn’t happen here, but that it couldn’t happen to him.”

For centuries, the Netherlands has been seen as “gidsland” (a ‘guiding country’), a model for the rest of Europe. Today in the Netherlands, that formula has disappeared from the vocabulary.

Because of the laws in the Netherlands, the photograph of the accused murderer of Mr. van Gogh, Mohammed Bouyeri, is the first to be seen. What it does show is what religious fanaticism can do to a seemingly normal person.
Harry Hayes

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