AMSTERDAM Amid the flowers and candles laid at the doorstep of a murdered Dutch filmmaker’s house is a handwritten note taped to his door: “Wake up government. This used to be a free country.”
Nearly a week after Theo van Gogh was shot and stabbed by the son of a Moroccan immigrant, there is bewilderment, sadness and anger in the Netherlands.
There is also fear. Van Gogh’s bitingly critical views of Islam made him the victim of what many Dutch are calling the country’s first terrorist attack.
“There is no guarantee that this will not turn into something more violent,” said Paul Scheffer, an acquaintance of van Gogh and one of the country’s leading experts on the immigrant communities in the Netherlands.
The Dutch police on Saturday arrested two men in their 20s for allegedly distributing a video on the Internet that promised “paradise” for the beheading of Geert Wilders, an increasingly popular right-wing politician who often speaks out on the dangers of radical Islam, according to the Netherlands Press Agency. Police also detained a sixth suspect in the van Gogh killing.
With militant mosques scattered around Europe and disfranchisement a common thread among Muslim communities across the Continent, Scheffer said all European countries were vulnerable to attacks similar to that on van Gogh.
“It’s not just a specifically Dutch disease,” Scheffer said. “Violence like this could happen just as easily in Lyon, Copenhagen, Antwerp or Berlin. This is a European problem.”
On Friday, Jozias van Aartsen, of the VVD party, part of the Netherlands’ governing coalition, said jihad “has come to the Netherlands.”
“These people don’t want to change our society, they want to destroy it,” van Aartsen said, calling for a crackdown.
Frits Bolkestein, the European Commissioner who was one of the first Dutch politicians in the 1990s to address problems with immigration in the country, said Sunday that the Dutch intelligence services needed “more money and more people” and that they should focus on the “infiltration” of Moroccan extremist organizations.
Van Gogh’s killing appears to have widened cleavages in Dutch society.
Moroccan immigrants interviewed for this article say they condemn van Gogh’s killing. But they also complain of anti-Muslim feelings and discrimination in the workplace.
Many ethnic Dutch, by contrast, say they worry whether it is safe to speak their minds about Islam and its role in society. Columnists who broach the subject report receiving death threats, and the government last week ordered bodyguards for top officials.
Van Gogh’s presumed killer, Mohammed Bouyeri, 26, shot the filmmaker with a handgun – witnesses say they heard as many as 20 rounds – and also repeatedly stabbed him and slit his throat before pinning to his chest with a knife a five-page text that called for Muslims to rise up against “infidels.”
The brutal method of the killing, recalling the executions of kidnapped foreigners in Iraq, shocked people here just as much as the fact that it took place in broad daylight as van Gogh bicycled down a busy street.
“It took away this feeling of freedom we have,” said Ineke Veldmon, a 55-year-old civil servant.
Jan de Roos, a 23-year-old student, recalled the killing two years ago of Pim Fortuyn, the populist politician who called for a halt to immigration, saying the Netherlands was “full.”
“When Fortuyn was killed everyone thought this would never happen again,” de Roos said. “Well now it has.”
Fortuyn and van Gogh both expressed deeply critical opinions of Islam. Their killings appear to have provoked a backlash against foreigners in general and Muslims in particular, who make up about 1 million people in a country of 16 million.
Ellen Lijzenga, a 42-year-old psychologist who on Saturday placed a red rose on the pavement where van Gogh died, said she had noticed a change in attitudes in her neighborhood since the killing.
“People are more drastic in what they say,” she said. “They want all the radicals expelled from the country. And to tell you the truth I can sympathize with that view.”
Dutch sociologists say this backlash is part of a broader reaction to foreigners in the country.
For years it was taboo in the Netherlands to discuss racial or religious conflicts, let alone advocate sending foreigners home. But the murders of van Gogh and Fortuyn have uncorked decades of frustration over the country’s failure to assimilate a large segment of its immigrant population, mainly from Morocco and Turkey.
“We have had problems with Moroccan boys for 20 or 30 years but it was completely impossible to complain about it because you were accused of being a racist,” said Herman Vuijsje, the author of several books on foreigners in the Netherlands. “This has changed.”
Scheffer, the integration expert, says the signs of social fissures are clear: Dutch schools are segregated, immigrants and their children have a poor command of the Dutch language and unemployment is much higher among immigrants than among the ethnic Dutch.
The specific story of Mohammed Bouyeri has echoes of other disfranchised young Muslim men in European countries who have turned to violence.
Bouyeri is the eldest of nine children. Dutch press accounts described him as “soft-spoken” and “nice” until his mother died several years ago. Bouyeri then grew a beard, began wearing traditional Moroccan robes and started attending the El-Tawheed mosque in Amsterdam, known for its radical preachings.
Bouyeri attacked van Gogh, overtaking him as they both bicycled past a municipal building on Tuesday morning, witnesses told the Dutch press. After shooting and stabbing van Gogh, Bouyeri walked calmly into a nearby park where police found him and apprehended him after a shootout.
The murder took place less than a kilometer from van Gogh’s home in a middle-class neighborhood. Van Gogh, a distant relative of the 19th-century impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh, was a talk-show host and a columnist in addition to being a filmmaker.
But he was best known for shocking people with his acerbic, sometimes crude opinions that were seen as beyond the pale, even by standards of outspoken Dutch society. He regularly offended Jews, Christians and Muslims, styling himself as a modern court jester.
“For many years I have detested van Gogh,” said Leon de Winter, a prominent Dutch Jewish writer in the Saturday edition of Volkskrant newspaper. De Winter criticized van Gogh for “his vulgar language, his rudeness, his provocations and insults.”
Van Gogh’s most virulent criticisms were of Islam. He often used vulgar references to bestiality when referring to Muslims.
In August he produced a short film called “Submission” in which a Muslim woman speaks about her violent marriage and being raped by a relative. Van Gogh made the film with Aayan Hirsi Ali, who wrote a script and is a member of parliament. She was born Muslim but has renounced her religion and has been the target of numerous death threats. In a scene from the movie that Muslims found particularly offensive, the lead actress’s naked body is shown with Koranic verses on it.
“He went too far,” said Aziz Khalid, a 21-year-old of Moroccan origin. “He crossed the line.”
Samira, a 24-year-old daughter of Moroccan immigrants who gave only her first name, said many Dutch were blaming all Muslims collectively for van Gogh’s killing.
“A lot of people feel that we Muslims don’t feel sad for him,” Samira said. “But the person who did this did it alone.
“Van Gogh made some very, very nasty comments. That’s not a reason to rob his life.”