Family, friends pay last respects to Van Gogh

AMSTERDAM — Family, friends and colleagues have paid their final respects to the murdered Theo van Gogh in a dignified ceremony attended by 500 invited guests at a crematorium in Amsterdam.

Several hundred fans also gathered on Tuesday to bid farewell to the popular filmmaker, television presenter and columnist. Van Gogh was shot and stabbed in Amsterdam on 2 November. His throat had also been slashed.

Van Gogh’s mother Anneke had the first word at the 5pm ceremony, saying that “the barbarian has robbed us of one of the dearest things that we had”. She also criticised columnists for writing that Van Gogh had gone too far in his outspoken statements and who had also declared that “we may not hate”.

But Anneke van Gogh said her family had reacted positively to a much criticised speech by Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk at a spontaneous commemoration of Van Gogh at Dam Square on the night of his murder.

Verdonk had said Van Gogh often expressed his arguments in rude and course terms, but freedom of expression was the cornerstone of Dutch society and everyone had to decide “which side they were on”. She also said several Muslim and minority groups had chosen to condemn the killing publicly.

Together with anti-Islamic MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Van Gogh made a 10-minute film “Submission” several months before his murder. The film’s strong condemnation of the alleged physical abuse of women by Muslim men is seen as a strong motivating factor in Van Gogh’s murder.

A 26-year-old Dutch-Moroccan man with alleged links to Islamic extremists, Mohammed B., has been arrested for the murder, but Van Gogh’s mother said on Tuesday that “dear Ayaan” did not have to feel guilty.

“You must also help ensure that Theo is not forgotten. Liberty is not for frightened people,” she said in referring to Hirsi Ali.

Van Gogh’s two sisters spoke about their memories of their brother. In two remarkable speeches, both women spoke with warmth and humour.

“I remember one Christmas when he bought the biggest Christmas tree in Amsterdam. It was so big, it did not fit in our lounge,” Josine said, adding that if Van Gogh had something to celebrate, he celebrated it with vigour.

In another anecdote, Josine also said Van Gogh was vain: “If we said to him that he would become bald, he leapt up and walked to the mirror. He said then always: ‘According to my hairdresser that is not so’. But he always looked worried.”

Dutch politician Bram Peper and Maarten van Rossum also spoke at the ceremony, with Van Rossum describing Van Gogh as a hospitable, generous and interested man.

Van Rossum recalled an anecdote of his time with Van Gogh. Sacked by local broadcaster AT5 while working on a programme, Van Rossum said both he and Van Gogh went and celebrated with a dinner in the Amstel Hotel where vast quantities of red wine were consumed.

The final speaker was Van Gogh’s father, Johan , who was clearly emotional and recalled the death of his brother who was killed in World War II while fighting the Germans. “He also fought for free speech,” Johan van Gogh said.

The 45-minute ceremony was rounded off by the song “A Perfect Day” by Lou Reed. Guests — including celebrities Katja Schuurman and Paul de Leeuw plus Liberal VVD leader Jozias van Aartsen and Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen — were given a chance to walk past the coffin one last time.

At the end of the ceremony and at the request of Van Gogh, the gathered guests drank a glass of full-bodied red wine.

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