Murder in Holland "The Second Chapter of a Tragedy"

News Tuesday of the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh shocked Holland and the world, coming just two years after the assassination of politician Pim Fortuyn. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, Dutch author Leon de Winter discusses the tragedies and how they may reshape the country's centuries-old liberal traditions.

Leon de Winter

Leon de Winter

To say many in the Netherlands disliked filmmaker Theo van Gogh would be an understatement -- he was almost better known for his outrageous, often tasteless statements as for his movies. But after the news came of his savage murder on Tuesday, the country fell into a deep state of shock. Politically or religiously motivated killings are unusual in the Netherlands, and the event evoked painful memories of the 2002 murder of politician Pim Fortuyn.

The culprit shot Van Gogh, a distant descendent of the famous Dutch painter, six times with a pistol and then stabbed him. Police later apprehended a 26-year-old Moroccan in the slaying, who domestic intelligence agents believe is connected to Dutch Islamic extremist circles.

Ironically, or perhaps significantly, the 47-year-old van Gogh was, at the time of his death, completing a documentary film that described the background behind the murder of Fortuyn, whose Islam-critical slogans during the 2002 parliamentary election nearly brought multicultural Dutch society to the boiling point.

Van Gogh also had divisive opinions about the Muslim community. A few weeks before his death, he declared he was considering emigrating because the Netherlands was becoming "like another Belfast with burning churches and mosques." He described militant Muslims who opposed head scarf bans in schools as "medieval goat fuckers." His more than two dozen films were better received than a lot of his opinions, and some even called him the "Fassbinder of Holland," a reference to the famous German filmmaker.

SPIEGEL ONLINE spoke to best-selling Dutch author Leon de Winter about the deep crisis the wave of killings has brought to traditionally liberal Holland. In the interview, de Winter warns there may be more to come.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Was Theo van Gogh's murder politically motivated?

Leon de Winter: The way it seems now, it was a religious murder, and a religious murder has, of course, political implications. The suspect is a fanatical Muslim. I heard that he attached a knife with a note to the body which had verses of the Quran on it.

What was the reaction in Holland?

The whole nation is in total shock. It is the second chapter of the tragedy that started with Pim Fortuyn, whom we regard more and more as a radical libertarian. He was described wrongly as a right-wing politician in foreign countries.

How would you characterize van Gogh?

He was an artist provocateur. I myself was the object of his very sharp comments many, many times. He often went way too far. To give you an example of the subtleties of Mr. van Gogh: He would write that when I make love to my wife I put some barbed wire around my penis and shout "Auschwitz, Auschwitz."

That's beyond poor taste.

He was really insulting to many, many people. It was part of his personality. But we live in a very free state and you have to accept, to a certain degree, that people will offend you. You have two ways of defending yourself: you can write back like me or you go to court like many other victims did.

Do men like Fortuyn and van Gogh help define Holland's identity as a liberal society?

No doubt about it. The question is how other people react to these kinds of insults. People who didn't learn the hard or the soft way what tolerance and liberty mean. The suspect was deeply insulted by the film van Gogh made with Hirsi Ali, our member of parliament who is originally from Somalia. She openly called Muhammed a Pedophile because he was married to a 9-year-old bride.

Did you find the movie offensive?

Dutch filmmaker van Gogh made a film critical of some elements of Islamic culture before he was killed in Amsterdam.

Dutch filmmaker van Gogh made a film critical of some elements of Islamic culture before he was killed in Amsterdam.

Not at all. For the first time in my life I wrote in my weekly column something positive about van Gogh because I thought it was a subtle film, it was carefully made. It was very clear without being provocative. I even wrote that people who find this provocative have a terrible problem.

What problem?

They're not fit to live in Dutch society.

What are the consequences of this murder?

Again, we have to reconsider how to deal with our immigrants. People with these ideas belong to a subculture, and we have to make very clear to the leaders of Islam communities that the limits of Western democracy can't be trespassed by these kinds of acts. Fortuyn's murder came from the radical left; this one comes from radical Islam.

Why do you think these murders happen in Dutch society?

It's the tolerance. We didn't force it upon the minority groups because we celebrated this culture of anything goes. Do what you like as long as you don't hurt others, which is wonderful way of life. But the immigrants didn't go through the bloody centuries of our evolution. They have to start all over again. So this brings lots of conflicts.

Can Dutch society be as open in the future or are there going to be new restrictions?

This was one of the main topics of Pim Fortuyn. He said: I don't care who is here and who lives here as long as they are as liberal as we are. I want to force my liberalism onto them. I don't want to be limited by their beliefs. Van Gogh had the same attitude.

Would you say this murder is the confirmation of Fortuyn's position?

Yes, absolutely. There are many people who have received death threats like van Gogh. We haven't seen the end of this yet, I'm afraid.

What will have to be done now?

I am stupid child of enlightenment. I always find only one solution: education, education, education. We have to try to explain to the immigrants that most Dutch are secular, that we don't believe in God and that because of that we think and act differently from them. Can we get there? I hope so. But deep in my heart I am very frustrated.

Do you expect a backlash against Muslims in the Netherlands?

That doesn't need to happen. It would be wrong to fault a group for the crime of an individual. We are way too disciplined for that. But there will be many discussions.

Interview conducted by Carsten Volkery


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