The Netherlands has always had a well-deserved reputation for tolerance, they have been cited by many as being the most liberal country in Europe if not the world. Against this background, Dutch-born author Ian Buruma explores why, in 2004, filmmaker Theo van Gogh was shot and stabbed to death by a certain Mohammed Bouyeri. The ostensible reason was that Bouyeri, a Dutch Muslim of Moroccan descent, was deeply insulted by a film made by van Gogh and feminist Somali-born politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali regarding the mistreatment of women under Islam. On the whole, the non-Muslim Dutch were shocked and outraged, while Muslims simply had vague feelings of "understanding" for Bouyeri.
Theo van Gogh was a classic "dorpsgek" or village idiot. Being of Dutch descent myself, I know the type only too well. As a provocateur, van Gogh was an equal opportunity insultor; he offended Christians, Jews, Muslims and about every other social grouping. In his film "Submission," which angered the Muslim community, there were verses of the Koran projected onto the body of a naked woman. It was a puerile and tedious excercise, the kind of thing that gives art a bad name. If he had been as clever as he thought he would have known there would be consequences - the provocation worked only too well.
Mohammed Bouyeri was rather typical of European-born Muslims; in fact, he had many similarities with the 7/7 and Madrid bombers, and also, for that matter, the 9/ll bombers, particularly Mohammed Atta. He enjoyed the freedoms of Holland while at the same time feeling estranged from the mainstream. Dating, playing soccer, and smoking pot had its attractions, but when he saw that women had the same rights, he retreated to the mosque and started listening to the radical imams.
The situation of Bouyeri is a microcosm of what is happening with Muslims throughout Europe. In Holland Muslims number 1 million out of a population of 16 million, but in cities they comprise as high as 40 percent of the populaton - and this percentage is growing because they have higher birth-rates. How does a liberal democracy assimilate a culture that fundamentally rejects the rights of women, not to mention civil rights in general?
Buruma gives no easy answers, because there are none. Being Dutch and living in the shadow of Anne Frank, Buruma is well aware of minority rights. He feels - like Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen - that the Dutch could do more to accommodate Muslims, for fear of alienating this large minority. For my part, I think they have already taken the multicultural ideal too far and exposed its weaknesses. If all cultures are equal, the minority culture will feel no need to assimilate into the dominant culture and soon enough you have sectarian strife. The ideals of the Enlightenment should be adhered to and Muslims should be more accommodating. The ideal that all human beings have the same rights regardless of race, sex, or religion should be paramount. These rights should be understood as one's relationship to the state not one's relationship to a social group as in the case of Muslims. Civil rights require that religious laws are not above civil laws. It's high time for European Muslims and non-Muslims to relearn these principles.