Saturday, November 13, 2004

The Netherlands: Theo van Gogh

Things are a little crazy here right now. Not Côte d’Ivoire crazy (civil war) but America crazy (frightened, irrational public). The trigger for this (if you will excuse the expression) is the shooting (and stabbing) of columnist, documentary filmmaker and champion smoker, Theo van Gogh. It was a horrible and shocking murder on the streets where he lived.

The fall-out has almost been as shocking as the murder - including bombs and arson in Islamic schools, presumed to be the work of racist groups. The arrested suspect was a Moroccan member of a fundamentalist Islamic group and it has heightened the tensions surrounding the growing Islamic population here. Muslims were a common target of Theo.

Theo was often provocative, even sometimes just downright racist and insulting, but his murder is shocking in a country where people really do believe in freedom of speech. The Dutch attitude is let everyone speak and people will make their own minds up and ignore anything that’s stupid.

Exactly like Pim Fortuyn before him, upon his death, Theo van Gogh has changed from being someone who was charismatic yet provocative to sometimes uncomfortable levels, to being an heroic martyr. And far from being silenced, there is now nothing but talk of him and his work. His films - in particular Submission, about the lack of voice for traditional Muslim women - are being shown again. Similarly, Pim Fortuyn’s party won more seats in the election just after his murder than it probably would have had he lived.

After over a week, things have calmed down, but there are still tensions. And it has been a week where the ugly sides of life have been seen. Of people turned evil by an inability to reconcile the values around them with that of their over-consuming devotion to their own system of belief and of people turned evil through anger and pre-formed hatred.

More comedy soon. Please.

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