Grief and anger over Theo’s murder

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born member of the Dutch Parliament, collaborated with Theo van Gogh on the film “Submission,” which deals with Muslim women who suffer abuse. Van Gogh was murdered in Amsterdam on Nov. 2, and the son of a Moroccan immigrant has been charged. Hirsi Ali is in hiding under police protection.

My initial reaction of shock and disbelief has given way to a feeling of intense grief. I’m grieving over Theo’s death. Grieving because now he can’t move to America with his son. Because he had to die to focus attention on the presence of individuals whose religious conviction is many times more valuable than human life. I’m grieving because once again the Netherlands has lost its innocence, an innocence of which Theo was the exponent.

The attacks on America and Spain were dismissed as something that could happen over there, but not here. Theo’s naivete wasn’t that it couldn’t happen here, but that it couldn’t happen to him. He said: “I’m the village idiot; they won’t touch me. Be careful, you’re the apostate woman.” I’m grieving because my friends and I can’t congratulate him on his new film “0605,” of which he was so proud.

But I’m also angry, that he is dead and I’m alive. I know I’m alive because I have personal protection and he didn’t. I’m angry that he had to suffer a ritual killing. I’m angry when I listen to the chief officer of justice saying he had no instructions to protect van Gogh. I’m angry at the weak excuse that van Gogh didn’t want any protection himself because I know that people at risk, politicians, are forced to have such protection whether they want it or not. This safeguards not only their lives, but also public order and national security.

Could Theo van Gogh’s death have been avoided? Were there sufficient indications that he should be protected? On Aug. 30, a day after the transmission of “Summer Guests,” including “Submission, Part 1,” Theo van Gogh’s photo was put up on an Islamist Web site under a photograph of me. My photo was captioned “The Wicked Infidel Mortadda,” his “The Wicked Infidel Ribald.”

Twenty-two researchers were put to work to find out who was responsible. I made a statement to the police, and the culprit was sentenced to nine months in prison. Was Theo consulted about this? Did no one consider that revenge was imminent, not only because of the film, but also because one of them had been imprisoned?

I am angry because I know that the perpetrator is not alone: He is a member of a network of Muslims who are deeply wrapped up in their belief, who walk around with intentions to kill innocent people. Furthermore the perpetrator could prepare his killing in the knowledge of friends and acquaintances, people who would never murder anyone themselves, but who do not care about Theo’s death. This fact makes Van Gogh’s murder so different from the threats of animal rights activists against politicians or the letters containing bullets sent to the police. These two menaces can be controlled. Islamic terrorism, both in the Netherlands and abroad, is able to thrive because it is embedded in a wider circle of fellow Muslims. I’m angry that this fact is never fully understood by the people responsible for our security.

I feel guilty that I approached Theo with the script for “Submission.” And that he’s dead because of it. In the cold light of day I know that only the perpetrator is guilty of his death. Instinctively, that is confusing. Theo and I discussed at length the possible consequences for both of us. He said, “As soon as such considerations dissuade you from expressing your opinion, isn’t that the end of free speech? That is grist to the mill of the Islamists.”

I was prepared to go a very long way to make people sit up and take notice: the Dutch authorities, who have to realize that radical Islam and its supporters have established themselves in the Netherlands; the Muslim population, which must learn to see the unsightly birthmarks of its own religion.

The Muslim population must realize that its disadvantages are not so much a function of a weakened belief in God, or of discrimination, as the radicals would have it, but partly their own doing. The treatment of the individual, the position of women, the creation of ghettos like Islamic schools, these are all factors that explain why Muslim communities lag behind others.

Theo agreed with me on all these points. In his own way and as a filmmaker he tried, as much as possible, not to shut out Islamic youth but to connect with it.

I feel guilty that I abused his lack of fear, because I know that anyone who tackles the holy scripture is in great danger. A man has been killed in a most abominable manner, simply because of what he believes. This is relatively new for the Netherlands, but in Islamic countries, it’s a normal part of life.

Although today the extremists are still a very small minority among our Muslim fellow citizens, the potential influence of the extremists within that group is huge.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s comments were first published in Dutch in NRC Handelsblad.

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