Dutch filmmaker who criticized Islam is slain in Amsterdam
November 2, 2004
AMSTERDAM, Netherlands – A Dutch filmmaker who got death threats after his movie sharply criticized how women are treated under Islam was stabbed and shot to death Tuesday on an Amsterdam street.
A suspect in the killing of Theo van Gogh was arrested after being wounded in a shootout with police. The 26-year-old Dutch-Moroccan had a long beard and wore traditional Muslim garb, witnesses said.
Dutch Muslim groups – despite disagreeing with Van Gogh’s views on Islam – condemned the slaying and called for reconciliation. They expressed fears of possible reprisals against Muslims.
Dutch Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner said the suspect “acted out of radical Islamic fundamentalist convictions,” and added that he had contacts with a group that was under surveillance by the Dutch secret service.
Van Gogh, 47, a relative of the painter Vincent Van Gogh, was riding his bike when the suspect shot him twice, police said. Van Gogh stumbled away and the suspect pounced, shooting him several more times at close range.
The attacker then stabbed Van Gogh, placed a note on the body and walked away, police said. The contents of the note were not disclosed.
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A bystander who suffered minor injuries alerted police, and they found the suspect in a park. A shootout followed and the suspect, whose name was not released, was wounded in the leg. Police said he had a record of violent crime.
The national news service NOS said the suspect was friends with an 18-year-old Muslim who is awaiting trial on charges of planning a terrorist attack. The Dutch Justice Ministry said it could not confirm the report.
On Tuesday night, more than 10,000 people went to Amsterdam’s central square for an emotional demonstration of support for Van Gogh and against violence. So many people came by bicycle that there were bike traffic jams.
Instead of a moment of silence, they blew horns, whistles and some banged pots and pans together. Mayor Job Cohen had called for noise in Van Gogh’s memory, saying: “We won’t gather for a moment of silence, but to say loud and clear: freedom of expression is dear to us, and it must continue.”
Van Gogh, a chain-smoking social critic and satirist, received threats after the August television broadcast of his movie “Submission,” which he made with a Dutch politician who had renounced the Islamic faith of her birth.
In the fictional story, a veiled Muslim woman spoke about her violent marriage, being raped by a relative and later brutally punished for adultery. In some scenes, the actress’ naked body is shown through a transparent gown. One scene shows her body with Quranic verses written on it.
Some Muslims and women’s groups said the movie’s depiction of the abuse of women was insensitive.
In a recent radio interview, Van Gogh dismissed the threats and called the movie “the best protection I could have. It’s not something I worry about.”
Police kept watch on Van Gogh’s house immediately after the film’s airing but dropped that precaution because there was no concrete evidence of a threat, public prosecutor Leo de Wit said.
The English-language film was written by Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a lawmaker who has outraged Muslims by criticizing Islamic customs and the failure of Muslim families to adopt Dutch ways.
Her spokeswoman, Ingrid Pouw, said Hirsi Ali was “deeply shocked” by the slaying.
Many Dutch blame violent crime on the country’s Muslim minority; Muslims believe they are unfairly targeted by new anti-immigration and anti-terrorism laws.
Van Gogh is the great-grandson and namesake of Vincent Van Gogh’s brother, Theo. He was a celebrity in the Netherlands who generated controversy and received awards for his films, television programs and newspaper columns.
He was the subject of formal complaints for making alleged anti-Jewish, anti-Christian and anti-Muslim comments in interviews and columns. His provocative statements include mocking a prominent Dutch Jew, making references to “the rotten fish” of Nazareth and calling a radical Muslim politician “Allah’s pimp.”
Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende described Van Gogh as “a man who got involved in public debate and expressed strong opinions.”
“He did not keep quiet about his convictions, even when they were controversial,” Balkenende said in a national address.
The shooting recalled the assassination of anti-immigration politician Pim Fortuyn in 2002, who was killed by an animal rights activist. His death shocked the Dutch, who felt such violent acts didn’t happen in the Netherlands.
But many Dutch said this time they felt angry rather than shocked.
“This has to end, once and for all,” 20-year-old student Orinta van Lent said. “You cannot just kill people on the street in a brutal way when you disagree with them.”