Slaughter And 'Submission'

Creator Of Dutch Film Vows Sequel Despite Muslim Death Threats

Last November, a brutal murder shocked Holland and the world. On a busy Amsterdam street in broad daylight, prominent filmmaker Theo Van Gogh was shot, stabbed and mutilated in front of dozens of witnesses.

A young Muslim radical was arrested.

What was described as a ritual slaughter set off alarm bells throughout Europe and the United States, where millions of devout Muslims live as minorities in secular society.

For the Dutch, who have prided themselves for centuries on a tradition of tolerance, it was a painful awakening. The trial of the alleged murderer, which is about to begin, will undoubtedly raise some fundamental questions for the world's most liberal state.

And it all began with a movie called "Submission."

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Muslim woman, is a member of the Dutch parliament, and a relentless critic of the way Islam treats women. She says the movie "Submission" is the strongest statement she's made.

"Surely that must have been a gross insult to devout Muslims, to see those pictures," says Safer of the images that appear in "Submission."

"It depends," says Hirsi Ali. "If you're a Muslim woman and you read the Koran, and you read in there that you should be raped if you say 'no' to your husband, that is offensive. And that is insulting."

Such provocative interpretations of the Koran have made Hirsi Ali a lot of enemies among radical Muslims. She lives in hiding with round-the-clock security. But last March, she gave Correspondent Morley Safer an exclusive interview in a room in the Dutch parliament.
In the past, Hirsi Ali has called the prophet Mohammed a "perverted tyrant." She remarks, "he has said a few things that are not compatible with democracy." She has also called a part of the Koran "a license for oppression."

Even before the movie was broadcast, Hirsi Ali worked in parliament under guard. After the broadcast, she received a new wave of death threats, and the government increased her security. There were threats against Van Gogh, too, but he laughed them off. This was Holland, after all, the world's capital of free speech.

Van Gogh was murdered as he cycled to work on a bike path in Linnaeus Street in Amsterdam one morning last November. He was shot several times by a bearded young man. As he lay dying, Van Gogh was reported to have begged for mercy, and said, "Can't we talk about this?" But the man shot him again, slit his throat and stabbed him, pinning a letter to his body.

Holland was in a state of shock. Tens of thousands massed in the center of Amsterdam to mourn Van Gogh's death, a sense of lost innocence and enormous anger. There were fire-bombings of mosques and Muslim schools, and counterattacks against churches.

Mohammed Bouyeri, 26, was charged with murder. Eleven other Muslim men were arrested and charged with conspiracy to assassinate Hirsi Ali. That letter pinned to Van Gogh's body was addressed to her. It said that she would be destroyed, along with Holland and the United States.

Did Hirsi Ali think that Van Gogh would become a target?

"Before we talked about making the film I said, 'Do you realize the danger?' " says Hirsi Ali. "But he was adamant about making it. He was adamant about putting his name on the title."

The Dutch government got Hirsi Ali out of the country while the people of Holland grappled with the aftermath of the murder. Almost overnight, the tolerant nation was transformed, and long-simmering resentment against the country's Muslim minority erupted.

"The death of Theo was actually a kind of a smart bomb. Everybody is threatened when they speak out," says Theodor Holman, a columnist and radio commentator. He was also one of Van Gogh's closest friends.

Van Gogh's death, Holman says, really shocked the country: "He had his own television show. He had a radio show. He made movies. So he embodied what you can do in this country and what you can say."

And that means just about anything goes. Coffee shops sell cappuccino, hashish and marijuana, and it's legal. In storefronts, prostitutes offer anything you fancy, which is also perfectly legal. Gay life and gay marriage are also protected by law.

This was all a reflection of a centuries-old tradition of religious and social tolerance that included, until very recently, a policy of openness to the world. For decades, Dutch immigration laws were the most easygoing on earth. Those laws have become more restrictive in recent years, but in the wake of Van Gogh's death, there is a call for extreme measures, which were once unthinkable in Holland.

"A poor man's Patriot Act is in the making," says Holman. "A Dutch way of having a Patriot Act."

Holland once had a reputation, historically, of being a welcoming country. Has that changed? "I think that is gone now," says Holman. "I hope it will return. But it has gone now."

It's changed particularly for new Muslim immigrants. Out of a Dutch population of 16 million, there are 1 million Muslims, mostly Moroccans and Turks, who are now Dutch citizens. With high unemployment, and with huge numbers who never learned the language, most Muslims live in a separate world, in barren suburbs known as "dish cities," named for the satellite dishes beaming sometimes inflammatory Arab television into homes, and fostering a militant Islam. The man charged with killing Van Gogh grew up in such a place.
  • Rebecca Leung

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