Searchlight, December 2004
At 8.45 on the morning of 2 November, the controversial Dutch columnist and filmmaker Theo van Gogh, 47, was cold-bloodedly murdered in Amsterdam while cycling to work.
Police later arrested a 26-year-old Dutch- Moroccan, Mohamed Bouyeri, who had shot Van Gogh and then stabbed him to death in a killing grimly reminiscent of the murder of right- wing populist Pim Fortuyn in 2002.
Bouyeri had slashed Van Gogh's throat, left a five-page letter with his motivation, pinned to his the body with a knife, and tried to escape through a park. Police, however, were able to catch him after a shootout in which he was hit in the leg and a bystander and police officer were wounded.
Police later searched five houses in Amsterdam and arrested nine people who were known to have had contact with Bouyeri. The nine were suspected of cooperating in the murder and forming a terrorist organization but, later in the week, two of them were released, without being charged.
The secret service, the AIVD, says the suspected killer had had contact with a radical Islamic fundamentalist milieu around Samir Azzouz, (18) arrested in June on suspicion of preparing an attack on the Dutch parliament building in The Hague. Although the AIVD knew about van Gogh's killer, he was not being actively monitored.
Van Gogh was, indeed, an outspoken columnist and TV personality who defended freedom of speech 'by all means'. 'By all means' frequently meant, for him, insulting and offending people, most of all the Netherlands' Muslim community. As a result, argument, fights and controversy always surrounded his confrontations with other religions.
Why it was necessary for Van Gogh, who saw himself as a 'political fool', to insult people so badly is not clear. What is clear, though, is that he had embarked on a kind of "crusade" against Islam, branding Muslims in the Netherlands as a 'Fifth Column of goat-fuckers'.
As a filmmaker, Van Gogh's most recent project was a short film called Submission, about the abuse of Islamic woman in the name of the Koran, a movie he made together with the equally controversial VVD liberal democrat parliamentarian, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Hirsi Ali has been criticised for attacking Islam in a bid to emancipate Muslim women.
The letter found attached to Van Gogh's body was, in fact, a death-threat to Hirsi Ali, saying she will be next. Also leaders of the VVD were threatened. Also mentioned were the 'influence of Jews on politics in the Netherlands' and Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen of Amsterdam and Ahmet Aboutaleb, his councillor for integration. The latter has also been moved to a safe house. Hirsi Ali is one of the politicians who stood up after Fortuyn's demise to try, in their words, to 'democratise' Islam in the Netherlands and is under heavy police guard in a safe house after receiving numerous death threats. Van Gogh, on the other hand, always refused protection, although he, too, was regularly threatened on the Internet.
Although Van Gogh made movies like Submission, he also filmed projects about migrant youngsters who lose track of society, become criminal and then try to become 'resocialised'. He also made a much-appreciated TV series about a relationship between a Moroccan boy and a Dutch girl, screened two years ago on public television.
His latest - just finished - project was a film, called 0605, about the murder of his inspiration, Pim Fortuyn, whom he saw as a partner in his defence of freedom of speech and in his fight against what he termed 'backward Islamic culture'. 0605 will be broadcast in December.
On the evening of the murder, over 20,000 people gathered in central Amsterdam at the request of Van Gogh's family and the city's mayor Cohen, for a loud protest in defence of the freedom of speech. Cohen himself, also a past 'victim' of Van Gogh's verbal jibes, spoke together with Integration and Refugee Policy Minister, Rita Verdonk, and warned Islamic extremists "This is is far enough!"
In The Hague, at the same time, 35 ultra-rightist youths were arrested at the railway station, on their way to a 'protest' demonstration, called by the fascist New National Party. It goes without saying that right-wingers and fascists will try hard to profit from the currently inflamed atmosphere of Islamophobia, racism, revenge and threats but, a meeting in Amsterdam, the day after Van Gogh's killing organised by the 'Platform for freedom of speech' a rag-bag of right-wing websites, Fortuynistas and NieuwRechts, only mobilised 40 people.
Friends of Van Gogh firmly distanced themselves from the event, claiming that Van Gogh 'would have been very upset about this action'. Two days later, however, 40 members of the fascist Nationale Alliantie demonstrated In Rotterdam.
In the days following the murder, Geert Wilders, who split from the right-wing liberal democratic VVD, launched his plan for an anti-Islamic party and overtook the VVD in the polls. He has since been threatened and has also been moved to a safe house. Three people were later arrested, after a call to "behead" Wilders appeared on the Internet. At the end of October, a 23-year-old Dutch Moroccan was sentenced to 9 months imprisonment for threatening Hirsi Ali on the same web site.
The Netherlands' vice-prime minister, Gerrit Zalm, has now called for 'war against Islamic extremists', an extremely bad move because it creates nothing more than fear and paranoia and could prompt attacks on Islamic people and property. The VVD's leader, Jozias van Aartsen, meanwhile, claims that the Netherlands has not had to face an enemy like this 'since 1940'.
This kind of exaggerated rhetoric is fuelling extremism on both sides and is grossly irresponsible. On the weekend of 6 and 7 November, numerous mosques were targeted for arson attacks and, in Eindhoven, a bomb exploded at an Islamic school. That particular school has suffered attacks before, in 2003 and 2004. For the first attack, five racist youngsters were subsequently arrested and convicted. Nobody was injured in the attacks but, in some places, the damage was severe and the shock was enormous.
In some towns, young people were arrested, but nothing was disclosed about their motives. In two cases, however, it was clear; in Rotterdam leaflets were found picturing Muslims as pigs and, in the south of the Netherlands, a mosque was daubed with swastikas and White Power symbols.
On 8 November, two churches were attacked, possibly out of revenge. One of the churches was also damaged in the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the USA. Several hundred Muslims also demonstrated in The Hague under the slogan, 'No bullets but words' and there were Muslim demonstrations against violence in other towns.
On 9 November, while some commemorations of Kristallnacht took place in towns like Breda and Hoorn, a Muslim school in the small town of Uden, near Eindhoven, was burned to the ground. Graffiti reading 'R.I.P. Van Gogh' and the White Power symbol were left behind. Local white racist youth have been blamed, but no arrests were made in this latest event to shock the country. In the days after this arson attack, churches in Rotterdam, Huizen and Boxmeer and mosques in Heerenveen and Noordwijk were attacked but without serious damage.
In Uden, 6,000 rallied to denounce the burning of the school and later 500 people formed a human chain around the Islamic school that was bombed in Eindhoven. In the morning of 13 November the locals of a mosque in the Southern town of Helden burns to the ground, and again all fingers point to the 'White Power'-youth, which is quiet strong in that region. In total some 20 attacks on mosques and churches have been reported. The police claim to have made numerous arrests but are still not revealing anything about the political motives of the perpetrators. Civilians, both Dutch and Dutch Muslims are now guarding mosques, Islamic schools and churches across the Netherlands.
On the night of 10 November, police from a special counter-terrorist unit tried to arrest two persons in an "anti-terrorst operation" but failed, leaving 4 officers wounded, after a hand grenade was hurled at them. A siege in the middle of The Hague followed, mobilizing up to 500 police officers, including snipers and causing evacuation of most of the people living in the area. At the end of the day, the police managed to arrest both people, having to shoot and wound one. On the same day, in a less publicized, operation four people were arrested in Amsterdam and one in Amersfoort. Later, the justice department revealed that these people had plotted to kill the parliamentarians Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Geert Wilders.
Deeply worrying is also the tidal wave of venom on the Internet where messages, numbered in thousands, supporting Islamic terrorism compete with even greater numbers of violent threats to the Muslim population in the Netherlands.
Some sites for sending condolences to Van Gogh's family have had to close down because of the deluge of racist comments. Most of the verbal poison is aimed at the Moroccan community and Muslims but, on ultra right-wing sites, the 'left church', as Fortuyn called everything to the left of the liberals, is blamed for 'pampering' migrants and being too soft on multi-ethnic issues.
A pathetic attention-seeking move was made by LPF chairman Sergej Moleveld, who was arrested after sending a death threat to the former LPF-leader, Mat Herben, and himself, sin name of an Islamic group. Moleveld has probably finished off the LPF with this action.
All the ongoing calls for defence of free speech as the core of democracy will be useless, however, if these reactionary prejudices and emotions mentioned above are allowed to win. Respect, tolerance and mutual understanding, it should be remembered, are equally core aspects of democracy and have to be defended, by the authorities and by society as a whole.
Besides that it is now clear that the nihilistic, anti-Modernist, fundamentalist, anti-Semitic, homophobe sect of violent, internationally operating, Islamic extremists, claiming their 'right on war' on religion, has reached Dutch soil with strength.
By Jeroen Bosch of Alert! and Antifa-Net