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December 02, 2004

The Murder of Theo van Gogh, Reaction to the Killing and the Threat of Radical Islam

Posted by Douglas Murray

Theo van Gogh was murdered for making a film about the abuse suffered by a Muslim woman at the hands of her husband. Yet liberal opinion has largely kept silent about this outrage. Bestselling author Douglas Murray argues that this is symptomatic of a wider refusal by opinion leaders – and European governments - to face up to growing threat of radical Islam.

Anyone who has followed events in Europe since March, when Islamic extremists murdered 191 Spanish civilians, should probably not be surprised by reactions to the slaughter (in this case the only appropriate word) of Dutch film-maker Theo van Gogh on the streets of Amsterdam on 2 November.

When the Spanish people ousted Prime Minister Aznar in March they gave a mandate to a new government whose reaction to the mass-slaughter of its own people was the instinctive offering of placatory bonuses to all who share the jihadist's goals. Withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq; a drive to massively increase state funding of Mosques; a cash-boost for the teaching of Islam in schools at the same time as a slashing, by a half, of state-funding of the Catholic church. Islamic terrorists detonated bombs in Madrid in March, and by September Prime Minister Zapatero was at the UN explaining why this meant Spain needed to listen to Muslims more. The new message of European weakness is all there: if we are attacked, we must justify why we deserved it, and certainly not stand up to or in any other way antagonise those responsible.

And if Madrid weren't warning enough, the fact that the old continent is in a bad way has just been confirmed by reaction to the slaughter of a great proponent of free speech, where the great multitudes of free-riding, unthreatened, liberals have kept silent, wilfully grabbed the wrong end of the stick or actually justified his murder.

Coverage of Theo van Gogh's killing was minimal outside of the Netherlands until, lamentably, a small number of Dutch decided to take things into their own hands and attack Muslim targets. Apart from being wrong, this was a gift to the media, who once again tried to make the story into those perennial favourites: 'the rise of the far-right', 'inherent racism' on the part of the citizens of Europe and so on. All this was to be expected under the media's self-imposed rule of tip-toeing around the Islamic problem. But no one could have expected just how hard it would be to find clear condemnations of the killing alongside honest analysis of why the shooting, stabbing and near-decapitation of the second outspoken opponent of Islamic fundamentalism in the Netherlands in the last two years might have occurred.

The Guardian ran a story about Hirsi Ali (van Gogh's collaborator on his short film, Submission) under the headline I feel terribly guilty and very much afraid, just one among the many papers that consistently implied or stated that van Gogh had brought it upon himself. The BBC, like the Dutch Prime Minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, continually declared that "Nothing is known about the motive" of the 'Moroccan' killer (as if the note with quotations from the Koran stabbed with a butcher's knife into van Gogh's chest wasn't a hint). And Index on Censorship reached an organisational low with a piece by Rohan Hayasekera effectively justifying this particular (one would have thought undemocratic) way of censoring van Gogh: Free speech fundamentalist on a martyrdom operation. The theme running through all this was that Submission was 'provocative', and that 'therefore' van Gogh was responsible for his own slaughter.

That any European today could believe an opinion to be offensive enough to justify the opinion-holder's murder is a presumption as far beyond comprehension as it is devoid of reason. But anyone who still panders to this ignoble line of argument should watch Submission (available free on the internet) and attempt to continue arguing this. Less visually provocative than your average evening of pre-watershed Channel 4, this allegedly 'racist' film is an eloquent and straightforward testimony of the terrible abuse suffered by one Muslim woman. It is simple, shocking in the way only such a documentary account could be, and contains, in Hirsi Ali's script, a deep commitment to exposing a continuing and continually ignored wrong. After a career much-given to sensation and provocation, van Gogh was killed for making a film which tackles a problem very few people would deny exists, but which even fewer people are willing to do anything about. Van Gogh's breaking of a shameful silence was not just brave, it was deeply admirable, and lies in the true tradition of journalism, defending and speaking for those who have been, and still are being, deprived of a voice.

And so one should like to know where, for instance, all the pseudo-rebels and 'career-sacrificing' men and women of Hollywood are on this one? Where is Michael Moore? - a man who made such a stand by attacking George Bush in 2004, when no one else would - a man who managed to earn himself even more millions while pulling off the near fantastical trick of being simultaneously distributed by Miramax and claiming that he was being silenced. In the run-up to the Iraq war and the recent election, you couldn't find a representative of the acting profession in the States who wasn't claiming to be risking their career for doing a campaign slot on behalf of that well-known radical John Kerry. Where are these brave foot-soldiers now? Where are they when a member of their own business (who paid from his own not very deep pocket for his low-budget film) paid with his life for making a stand on behalf of oppressed Muslim women? The silence from Hollywood has, as they say, been deafening.

If the non-reactions of Hollywood can be ignored, those of the Dutch authorities should not be. Their desperate attempts to avoid the real problem are perhaps epitomised by a noble and one would have thought uncontroversial painting put up on a wall in Rotterdam by local muralist, Chris Ripke. Painted immediately after news of van Gogh's murder emerged, the mural depicted a dove and the simple legend "Thou shalt not kill". The Imam of a Mosque which happened to lie nearby claimed the slogan was inciteful and racist, complained to the Rotterdam police, who agreed, ordered the destruction of the incendiary piece, arrested television cameramen caught filming the offensive article and wiped clean the journalist's tapes at the same time they wiped clean the offensive wall. Another local artist, who put up a portrait of van Gogh the day after the murder, proved to have provided a focal-point of the wrong kind when crowds of Muslims gathered together to spit on it and chant in support of Hamas. Even the small coverage this last incident got in the Dutch papers claimed the group were (not Islamists, but) 'Moroccans'.

Though the threat to Europe is clear, the triangulations being employed to ignore it are proving not just increasingly difficult, but dangerous to sustain.

The problem is radical Islam, and, by association, the colossal and un-integrated Muslim communities of Europe who breed and conceal (both wittingly and unwittingly) fanatics in their midst. Attempts to pretend the issue is about race and not religion are futile: they don't persuade the Muslim communities, and they don't persuade the rest of us. If you don't acknowledge who the enemy is, there's very little chance you're going to be able to defeat him.

Even when members of the Dutch government tried talking tough, they have, like every other government in Europe, neglected to act especially tough. There is a reason for this – they have no idea of what to do. Balkenende has started talking, late in the day, about "taking away the Dutch passports" of people involved in "extremism", but it's hard to locate any actions by his or any other European government, including Britain's, which demonstrate a real will to root out this problem. Too much fear of offence-giving exists here, but greater still (though they are entirely unwilling to acknowledge this) is a genuine concern that this may be a bigger problem than they are able to deal with.

In Belgium where (as across Europe) anti-Semitic attacks and murders have continued to escalate since the start of the present 'Intifada', the government finally reacted, the week after van Gogh's murder, by banning the far-right Vlaams Blok party. Not only does this go against the statistical fact (as demonstrated earlier this year by the European Monitoring Commission) that the overwhelming number of anti-semitic attacks are being carried out by a disproportionately small population of European Muslims, it also displays Europe's profound unwillingness either to drop the potent image of the last enemy, or to wake up to the existence of the new one. The Belgian government has acted to ban the 'neo-Nazi' parties, yet have done next to nothing to stop the Islamic fundamentalists. In Belgium, as in the Netherlands, politicians who have criticised the less appealing aspects of Islam have received death threats, and Belgian Senator Mimount Bousakla, like Hirsi Ali in Holland, has been forced into hiding. At the same time, members of organisations like the Arab European League (AEL) operate freely, despite their petrol-bombings, riotings, and kristallnacht imitations, such as the night in April 2002 when members of the AEL smashed up Jewish-owned shops in Antwerp and gathered outside chanting support for Hamas and Osama bin Laden.

Since European governments are not even acknowledging the nature of the problem, the debate has not even begun to address the vital question - what is to be done? I would highlight just three of the many active measures which could be immediately adopted by any European government with the will and foresight to - not necessarily solve, but - relieve, the increasing problem of Muslim-populous Europe. All would, on the evidence in the Netherlands, which has demographically and culturally been Europe's litmus-test for some years now, be extremely popular with the general public.

Firstly, all further Muslim immigration into Europe should be stopped. If another genocide, such as Saddam Hussein's, were to occur, the ban would, temporarily, be lifted. Since the Netherlands faces the demographic and cultural disaster of a Muslim majority in the next fifty years, we might safely conclude that those already inside the fortress are quite numerous enough.

Secondly, extremists, once located, should be swiftly deported. This could be performed on the most mundane of criteria. Abou Jahjah, head of the AEL, claimed asylum into Belgium with what he now admits was a made up story about a threat to him from Hizbollah. Now he is in he confesses to being an economic migrant. Is there any reason why a strong Belgian government could not now deport him and those like him on the simplest 'lying on visa application' technicality? Is there any reason why other European governments should not do so?

Finally, contrary to Mr Zapatero's initiatives, no European country should state-fund either Mosques or Islamic schools. This particular mode of currying favour not only encourages greater influxes of immigrants, it also demonstrably increases the exact ghetto-isation which leads radicalised and disenchanted Muslim youths into the unmonitored hands of extremists.

Will any of these things happen soon? It doesn't seem likely, even in the Netherlands, where the 'mood on the street' is that, after losing both Pym Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh, this matter has to be dealt with. But the Dutch government isn't in a doing mood, indeed it seems determined to stand inert and all but ineffectual as the tide swells to knock it aside.

A profound change is beginning in Europe – a change which governments are keen to ignore and which the media have shown themselves incapable of addressing sensibly. The people of the Netherlands have had enough. Unlike the government, they know exactly what they have had enough of. And so a dangerous gap has opened up, a gap that is widening across the continent. The gap lies between the political panderings and multi-culti clichés of the politicians, and the derided but overwhelmingly powerful desire of the European populace to protect their heritage, their culture, and their privileged and hard-fought-for way of life.

The governments of Europe are not speaking for people on this issue. This is not just a democratic shame, but the origin of a potential, and avoidable, disaster. Van Gogh's murder, as much as his life, should remind all of us who live in free countries that the blessing of free speech which we so take for granted is a thing we must use, and use determinedly, to summon up more than a sigh.

Douglas Murray is a bestselling author and freelance journalist. His forthcoming book - Neoconservatism: Why We Need It - will be published November 2005 by the Social Affairs Unit.


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I disagree that Europe isn't stepping up to face the threat of radical Islam; recent headlines have shown the opposite in several instances. I wrote at length about it here: http://secessiondaily.blogspot.com/2004/12/barbarians-at-gates.html

Posted by: John Fitzgerald at December 4, 2004 12:50 AM
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A dire situation - it is as if Europe were suffering from some strange autoimmune disease, attacking its own tissues instead of defending the body against alien attack.

My own instinct tells me that this is, in some strange way, guilt-driven, like mediaeval monks undergoing gruesome penances in trying to scourge away their sins. If only we had a contemporary Martin Luther to see through it all!

Posted by: Robert H. Olley at December 7, 2004 08:19 AM
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I agree entirely. What are we coming to when deportation seems a reasonable option for the extremists of a major religion? Surely it's about time we addressed the Islamic issue?

It's very nice of us to be sponsor and protect Muslim immigrants. That's what they should expect. However I would like to hear what Muslims are doing to encourage and protect moderate Christians in Islamic countries.

Posted by: M.B. Simpson at January 20, 2005 03:41 PM
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1. “Theo van Gogh was murdered for making a film about the abuse suffered by a Muslim woman at the hands of her husband.”

Possibly, but it’s just as likely that he was murdered because he referred to Muslims as “goat-fuckers” in a televised debate.

2. “The BBC, like the Dutch Prime Minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, continually declared that "Nothing is known about the motive" of the 'Moroccan' killer (as if the note with quotations from the Koran stabbed with a butcher's knife into van Gogh's chest wasn't a hint)”

In fact the Professor of Arabic studies at Amsterdam University said that the Koranic texts ‘seemed to have been chosen randomly’, given that they were not related to each other and were not relevant to the act of killing. He went on to state that someone who “only had a passing knowledge of Islam” had written the note

3. “The theme running through all this was that Submission was 'provocative', and that 'therefore' van Gogh was responsible for his own slaughter.

Well Submission was supposed to be provocative, why else would they show images of the Koran being projected onto a naked woman’s body? I’m sure if a Muslim made a movie projecting passages of the bible on to a naked body, some Christians would be upset too.

4. “The Imam of a Mosque which happened to lie nearby claimed the slogan was inciteful and racist, complained to the Rotterdam police, who agreed, ordered the destruction of the incendiary piece, arrested television cameramen caught filming the offensive article and wiped clean the journalist's tapes at the same time they wiped clean the offensive wall.”

This is an urban myth that did the rounds of anti-Muslim hate sites for a couple of weeks after the incident. In fact no complaint from any Imam had ever been received. Council workers removed the mural because the artist had not had permission from Rotterdam council to place a mural.

5. “Another local artist, who put up a portrait of van Gogh the day after the murder, proved to have provided a focal-point of the wrong kind when crowds of Muslims gathered together to spit on it and chant in support of Hamas. Even the small coverage this last incident got in the Dutch papers claimed the group were (not Islamists, but) 'Moroccans'.”

Yes, I saw this on TV, it was not “crowds of Muslims” but a group of five or six Moroccan school-kids trying to impress their mates.

6. “Apart from being wrong, this was a gift to the media, who once again tried to make the story into those perennial favorites: 'the rise of the far-right', 'inherent racism' on the part of the citizens of Europe and so on.”

Well given that those who burned down the mosques and Islamic schools daubed the walls with “White Power” symbols, don’t you think they have a point?

7. “Will any of these things happen soon? It doesn't seem likely, even in the Netherlands, where the 'mood on the street' is that, after losing both Pym Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh, this matter has to be dealt with.”

Fortuyn’s murderer was an animal rights activist opposed to the L.P.F.’s policies towards little furry animals. Nothing to do with Islam

8. “But the Dutch government isn't in a doing mood, indeed it seems determined to stand inert and all but ineffectual as the tide swells to knock it aside.”

Mr. Murray has obviously never heard of Rita Verdonk!

9. “In Belgium where (as across Europe) anti-Semitic attacks and murders have continued to escalate since the start of the present 'Intifada', the government finally reacted, the week after van Gogh's murder, by banning the far-right Vlaams Blok party.”

This is deeply disingenuous; the Vlaamse Blok was not banned by the Belgian government, and not in response to the van Gogh murder. Its demise was cause by it’s losing an extremely long-running court battle.

Posted by: The Purple Cow at December 1, 2005 12:15 PM
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