December 1, 2018
Murder in Amsterdam
Ian Buruma in his book Murder in Amsterdam talks about the controversy regarding the assassination of Theo Van Gogh. Van Gogh made a film called Submission. In the film verses from the Koran were projected onto women’s naked bodies. This was a not so subtle attempt to show the oppression of women in Muslim communities. On November 2, 2004 Van Gogh was shot in the stomach while bicycling to work. His death was very drawn out, he staggered across the street and was shot several more times, then his killer brought out a machete and cut his throat. His killer was a Moroccan Dutchman, Mohammed Bouyeri, he pinned a note to Van Gogh’s chest that contained radical Islamist rhetoric.
There was another murder in this book that took place before Van Gogh’s. On May 6, 2002 an animal rights activist gunned down Pim Fortuyn, a politician that opposed immigration and gay liberation. Ironically the morning Van Gogh was killed he was on his way to work on 06/05 a “Hitchcockian thriller about the assassination of Pim Fortuyn,” (37). Van Gogh wanted to focus in his film about Fortuyn the outburst that followed his death. Fortuyn’s rival for Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, struggled to find words to describe the situation. When asked he could only come up with “un-Dutch” (37).
Buruma grew up in The Hague but moved to the United States. After these events the country that he returns to is unrecognizable to him. It is transformed by large numbers of Muslim immigrants from Turkey and Morocco. The Netherlands have liberal immigration policies and despite that the multicultural experiment has not gone well. Buruma struggles to find out why. Throughout the book he sits down with social workers, historians, politicians, and writers, of all various backgrounds (meaning some are Dutch, immigrants, or children of immigrants). With these encounters in mind he traces the evolution of the Netherlands. The Netherlands go from a racially similar country to a multicultural sanctuary for immigrants, mainly Muslims.
One of the people he talked with was Bellari, a psychiatrist. Bellari did some research into the mental health of immigrants, specifically cases of depression and schizophrenia. Bellari found that women were more prone to depression, while men were more susceptible to schizophrenia. But what was interesting was that it was only “second generation Moroccans that were born and educated in the Netherlands that suffered from schizophrenia.” (140). Bellari gives a few plausible explanations for this. One of them is a sense of humiliation, immigrants are more likely to see a psychiatrist only when things have gotten too bad. But his main theory is that the “problem lies in the adaptation of a strictly regulated society to a freer, more open one. This can lead to disintegration of the personality.” (140).
Buruma goes into the personal histories of the victims and their assassins, looking for the social reasons that led to murder. In this search the reoccurring theme is immigration and the discord surrounding it. Mr. Fortuyn was very radical in his belief. He dropped doubt into the public about immigration, he felt that the Dutch had gotten too liberal and tolerant of Islamic cultural practices. While Van Gogh made a point of offending Islam. Van Gogh held very different beliefs and liked to offend the political establishment among other things. This was his downfall, he overstepped with his film Submission and faced the consequences of it. Van Gogh says that the Dutch savor irony because their political establishment is dull, they enjoy the politics of outrage. This sentiment is not felt by the country’s Muslim immigrants. Buruma writes, “Van Gogh, more than anyone, had warned about the dangers of violent religious passions, and yet he behaved as though they held no consequences for him.” (98).
The hatred of Islam goes deeper than the radicals who act out. Fortuyn was very public with his hatred of Islamic immigrants, and the Islamic faith. Buruma puts it best, “Fortuyn’s venom is drawn more from the fact that he, and millions of others, not just in the Netherlands, but all over Europe, had painfully wrested themselves free from the strictures of their own religions. And here were these newcomers injecting society with religion once again.” (68). The fact that the Dutch people have struggled and gotten rid of their faith and adopted “Marxist illusions”. This results in the people becoming disillusioned, they hated to look at the Islam’s and see what they had given up.
Muslim immigration was the main type of immigration that showed the most visible unease. The areas that were filled with poverty and shabbiness, were now becoming foreign as well. It became the norm to see these areas as not problematic until they became foreign. But the tricky part of this was that to worry about the social consequences only after the immigrants moved in was to run the risk of being called racist. With World War II still fresh in our minds when Fortuyn started making unkind remarks about Islam, people started comparing him to the Nazi party. Buruma being raised in the Netherlands makes him sensitive to the nuances of what’s going on. He maintains that the argument over immigration cannot be understood without seeing the long shadow of World War II and Anne Frank; “Never again, said the well-meaning defenders of the multicultural ideal, must Holland betray a religious minority.” (51).
Buruma explores the displacement and cultural alienation of Van Gogh’s killer, Muhammed Bouyeri, along with other young Muslim men that are drawn to Islamic fundamentalism. While other societies have been rigid, Dutch freedom has often proved to be oppressive, and here is where Buruma suggests that Islam might not be the main point, “More important was the question of authority, of face, in a household where the father could give little guidance, and in a society from which a young Moroccan male might find it easier to receive subsidies than respect.” (206). Fortuyn had a solution for this, foreigners who did not want to subscribe to Dutch values should leave. People like Van Gogh were not willing to move on the subject and any efforts to appease or accommodate Muslims on issues such as gay rights, or women’s rights, and many people supported this. The support for this stemmed from a fear of giving up Dutch values to favor the beliefs of the majority immigrants.
The murders of these two citizens, has left the country wondering how to move on. History is trying to repeat itself, with the radical beliefs of those like Fortuyn against the Islamic people. But with World War II only 50 years in the past, people are scared of generalizing a group of minorities, but when that group acts out against the beliefs of the people of the nation, they are living in what are we left to do? Buruma tries to answer this but in the end, he hopes that reason and moderation will prevail, and both sides of this debate will end in peace. While the sentiment Buruma makes is sweet, it still leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of those fighting for their rights.
Buruma, Ian. Murder in Amsterdam. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2014.