Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo Van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance Paperback – Jan 1 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Van Gogh, a provocative media personality in the Netherlands, was shot and stabbed on an Amsterdam street in November 2004 by a young radical, the son of Moroccan immigrants, who accused him of blasphemy against Islam. When Buruma (Bad Elements) returned to his homeland in an effort to make sense of the brutal murder, he quickly realized there was more to the story than a terrorist lashing out against Western culture. Exploiting the tensions between native-born Dutch and Muslim immigrants, van Gogh drew attention to himself with deliberately inflammatory political theater that escalated beyond control. Buruma refuses to blame the victim, though, giving equal weight to critics who insist Islam must adapt to European culture rather than the other way around, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Dutch politician who scripted van Gogh's final film, an avant-garde indictment of the religion's treatment of women. There is a strong sense of journalistic immediacy to Buruma's cultural inquiry, and if the result is a slim volume, that's because his dense, thoughtful prose doesn't waste a single word. (Sept. 11)
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The Netherlands may be the Western country most affected by radical Muslim violence, with two major assassinations since 9/11, those of politician Pym Fortuyn, who had called for restrictions on Muslim immigration (Fortuyn's assassin wasn't Muslim, however), and media celebrity Theo Van Gogh, director of a film lambasting the Qur'an on women. Buruma returned to his homeland after Van Gogh's murder to gain understanding from figures in Dutch and Dutch Muslim politics and society who might provide it, including the Somali-born politician who wrote Van Gogh's fatal film, a Muslim prison chaplain, a teacher, a historian, and another Dutch Muslim politician. Their testimony disclosed that the vaunted Dutch multiculturalism is failing second--generation Dutch Muslims, the cohort to which Van Gogh's assassin and ordinary Muslim hooligans belong. There is enough credible blame for the situation to blanket all institutions and social strata in the Netherlands. Buruma sees the problem as primarily denying second-generation Muslims a home in the country in which they were born. An ideal, absorbing companion to Bruce Bawer's excoriating While Europe Slept (2006). Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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It was the coolness of his manner, the composure of a person who knew precisely what he was doing, that struck those who saw Mohammed Bouyeri, a twenty-six-year-old Moroccan-Dutchman in a gray raincoat and prayer hat, blast the filmmaker Theo van Gogh off his bicycle on a dreary morning in Amsterdam. Read the first page Browse Sample Pages
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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.
I suspect this book will be unwelcome in many circles because it makes a very good case that jihadists come in many forms and sizes, from lunatics like bin Laden to the single acts of murder by an equally crazed Islamist by the name of Mohammed Bouyeri, the assassin of Theo van Gogh on a street in Amsterdam as van Gogh rode his bike to work.
As someone who has spent a lot of time in Holland over many decades, the effect of van Gogh's murder was far greater than that of Pym Fortuyn, who was also killed for being "politically incorrect."
This book does some critical questioning of whether the West will wake up soon enough to understand that the centuries of change in European values have run in the exact opposite direction of millions of immigrant Muslims who seek to return to the "good old days" of Sharia law, even if most of its proponents have never lived under it. The second and third generations of Muslim youth all over Europe, who have alienated themselves from modernity, for a myriad of reasons, are a real threat to the values that the Western "elites" take for granted and are so arrogant that they cannot understand that millions of Muslims think they must be destroyed to save the world for Islam.
Buruma does a good job of explaining how these elites, and their "multicultural" policies of the last few decades have only been sharpening the knives that these new generations of radicals will use to cut the throats of those who defend their "right" to force their women to wear burkas, riot at the drop of a cartoon, kill at the slightest offense to The Prophet.
This book along with Bernard Lewis' many books, Oriana Fallaci's expose of the suicide of the Western elites, are good places to spend some time to realize that we are only a couple of decades into a clash of civilizations that will probably go on for centuries, or until the wildly disparate birth rates of Muslims vs. traditional European Christian and secular populations make places like France and the UK Majority-Muslim countries in a few decades. (France is projected to reach this tipping point in less than two generations.)
The author links the death of Pim Fortuyn with that of Van Gogh, in showing how sudden celebrity brings with it repercussions that the Dutch seemed to feel didn't exist in their liberal society. But then Holland has not always been such a liberal-minded country, and Buruma explores some of the historic roots that led to the steady influx of immigrants that have come to dominate cities like Amsterdam, much to the chagrin of the proud Dutch.
The book is an antidote to the smugness of European liberalism that seems to feel that assimilation is natural in a secular democratic society. Events such as the deaths of Theo Van Gogh and Pim Fortuyn not only wipe the smiles off complacent faces, but send shock waves through the country. Buruma demonstrates how illiberal liberals can be when confounded by the nature of successive waves of immigrants who hold onto their religious beliefs instead of adopting the conventions of the new secular state. Buruma illustrates that for many immigrants religion is all they have to help them face the overwhelming challenges of a new society, and when confronted by the likes of Theo Van Gogh, best known for his unapologetic confrontational style, they not only shout back, but sometimes fire back.
Buruma seems to argue that you can't have it both ways. The ugly backlash against the Muslim community, particularly the Moroccans, that followed the death of Theo Van Gogh, was largely driven by ignorance. Dutch had long held the Moroccan community in contempt, and an event like this seemed to validate their viewpoint. Mohammed, or "Mo" as he was derisively called in the press, became the poster child for the misplaced Moroccan immigrant who couldn't adjust to Dutch Society. The only problem was that "Mo" was as Dutch as many Dutch, having been born in Holland to an immigrant father. He bore more similarity to the alienated youths that shot up Columbine High School in Colorado than he did an unreconstructed immigrant.
Buruma shows that tolerance does indeed have its limits, especially when it really isn't tolerance at all, but rather a resentful acceptance of the immigrant nation Holland has become. In recent years, Social Democrats have suffered at the polls, and upstart political parties like that formed by Pim Fortuyn were able to seize on popular sentiment across the political spectrum. Fortuyn rallied liberals and conservatives alike with his tough talk on immigration, and it was a sad irony that it was Ahsaan Hirsi Ali's own political party that had her nationality revoked by uncovering that she had lied about her surname on her application. It seems that when confronted by homegrown Islamicists, which Ali railed against, Holland doesn't want to take responsibility and this is what Buruma finds sadly disappointing about liberal Dutch society.
Well, in his latest book of investigative journalism, MURDER IN AMSTERDAM, author Ian Buruma deconstructs the rapidly vanishing and cushy notion that "being Dutch" is all about wooden clogs and windmills.
Following two ghastly celebrity assasinations in the early 21st-century, the first of caustic gay politician Pim Fortuyn, followed soon thereafter by the murder of controversial Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh (of "Submission Part I" infamy), Buruma aims his writerly crosshairs smack dab upon the emergence of a new kind of Dutch subculture--radical Islam in the Low Countries, specifically Muslim-Dutch fundamentalism.
While Fortuyn's murder was not, rather, committed by a member of Holland's growing Islamic citizenry, the majority of Buruma's book does deal with the souring relations between native Netherlanders (what Buruma calls the upstanding Calvinist "regenten," in the vernacular) and the newcomers or immigrants whom these "regenten" find in their midst.
The book is a tour-de-force of Holland's population centres where Islamic and non-Islamic migrants and refugees have made their permanent home, the sons and daughters of the one-time "guest labourers" who toiled in Holland's 1960s post-war heavy industry. It deals with the sometimes bipolar existence these various citizens--who hail from many different countries: Turkey, Morrocco, Algeria, and Suriname--and what they experience as part of their working and living days-to-day.
It would seem, Buruma indicates, in the case of its Muslim newcomers, that Holland--and Western Europe, more generally--hasn't comfortably accepted the obvious reality that Islam is now a fully integrated and legitimate "European" religion. Islam is here to stay, Buruma reiterates. Dutch people, he claims, still treat the Muslims present in their midst--in some cases, those who have been there over several decades--as "barbaric" newcomers. It's a state of affairs which seems to exacerbate the disconnect that many, for example, Moroccan or Turkish Hollanders experience.
As Buruma shows with his meticulous research, the phenomenon drives many of these young sons and daughters of the "non-Dutch" Dutchmen into the camps of extreme ideologues, those with manipulative agendas who twist their subjects' already warped sense of communal belongingness into something at once more macabre and demonic.
Dining once too often at the table of hatred and fear, Mohammed Bouyeri, Van Gogh's erstwhile killer, was a protoypical example of a young Muslim-Dutch man who fed once too often on an appretite of poisonous extremist rhetoric. Bouyeri's case is similar to the fate of tens of today's young Moroccan-Dutch, Buruma shows, the children of parents who were never fully accepted and integrated into their surroundings and society, who were never tolerated by their fellow Dutch citizens as fully-functioning members of their community.
Buruma tells us that The Netherlands is no longer that safe and innocent place it once used to be.
The addition of a new--some might say, foreign--element into the societal mix has caused "native" Dutch people to turn inwardly into themselves, shielding themselves and their families from the need to interact with those who didn't quite fit into their narrow-minded conception of religious propriety and culture, resulting in a deadly and vicious circle (as we've clearly seen).
In response, newcomers don't interact with locals, and an environment of dangerous mistrust and suspicion festers.
What I enjoyed most about this read was the in-depth interviews the author conducted with several famous Dutch sociologists, criminologists, and demographers. Reading the lines (and between the lines), one gains a clearer perspective on the conditions extant in today's European Union Holland, perhaps also gaining a better understanding of the conditions which combined to produce a killer such as Bouyeri, or "Mohammed B." as he's known in Holland.
The book was packed with lots to digest, frankly.
Buruma dwells excessively on Holland's WWII past, and makes copious (some would say, excessive) mention of the country's prior relationship with its one-time sprawling Jewish population as a way to either justify, compare, or simplify the "whys" surrounding the behaviour of its burgeoning Muslim populations. This is a radical overemphasis, in this reviewer's opinion, and totally uncalled for and shocking in light of the disproportionate numbers Holland's Jewish population plays in today's Dutch makeup.
While the country's past is revealing in certain specific instances, the book seems to possess an irking refrain which does less to elucidate upon the complex case of Holland's present-day Muslims, than frustrate.
Having said that, I learned heaps.
Buruma reveals plenty of juicy historical bits that could only come off the pen of a sage observer of Holland's present day affairs, from one who is intimately acquainted with his material, as Buruma quite clearly seems to be.
As you'll make your way through, prepare to be shocked. While most of what you'll read from the tongues of some of Amsterdam's more radical Islamic elements isn't anything you haven't heard before, you'll very soon realize (if you haven't already) that an ominous menace is closer at hand than perhaps once believed. Ten bad apples, for example, are tainting an entire society's impression about a particular minority's participation in its collective. Less so about being fair or unfair, this is a travesty.
It goes to show you that a) the Dutch (insert French, Germans, Belgians, Austrians, Spanish, alternately) are clearly **unwilling** to probe deeper than mere surface details in an effort to gain a clearer understanding of "their" various foreigners and b) these same foreigners are unwilling to modify elements of their old country ways and mannerisms to more seamlessly integrate with the relative laissez-faire openness of the West.
Again, these aren't themes we haven't heard bafore. It's just that Buruma draws them out for us in ways which we've perhaps not seen. He supplies these details via more incising corroborating proof, as it were, and I was grateful for that.
Admittedly, I didn't choose this book. It was sent by a lawyer colleague who thought I might gain certain critical insights, considering that I make my present home in Europe. To be sure, radical Islam is not a daily feature of the former Bloc countries of Central and Eastern Europe, and perhaps therefore less of a factor to ponder.
However, once upon a time the Dutch, too, felt that theirs was an unassailable society. The divides which often rended some of their one-time colonial-power neighbours' internal societies would never reach their low-lying shores, many thought. But that misconception has sadly been obliterated over the past twenty years. They've been disabused of that fantasy.
I suppose the lesson for we dwellers of old "mitteleuropa" is: be prepared, be vigilant, be conscious.
That which once seemed impossible, will soon be impossible no more.
--ADM in Prague
Buruma courageously confronts the issues swirling around the subject of Islamic values, modern European liberalism/socialism, accommodating anti-democratic values in a democracy. Just yesterday, the Netherlands took steps to outlaw the veil in public places, which will ensure more spilled blood for sure. What I admired was Buruma's refusal to let the Dutch off the hook for the part they have played in creating their mess. The passages about modern Dutch politics were engrossing, as I know less than nothing about the subject. The chapter on Pim Fortuyn was a masterpiece, he seems like the archetypal figure in this unfolding drama.
Not that Buruma is suggesting this is a Dutch problem, or that the Dutch are in the wrong. It is a world problem, with no easy answers getting worse daily as our own malevolent leaders insist on dealing with the problem with simplicity and deception, invasion and subjection, distortion and lunacy.