Dutch politicians, religious leaders and the relatives and friends of slain filmmaker Theo van Gogh marked the first anniversary of his death in the Netherlands Wednesday.
Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende urged unity in a speech to the more than 400 people who gathered on the Amsterdam street where van Gogh was killed a year ago.
“We should not let ourselves be divided by a small group of people which writes its message in blood, a small group of people with a cynical message of terror that want to drive us to hatred,” Balkenende told the crowd.
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“Threats and violence make deep wounds in society. They lead to anger and bitterness; that is understandable. But we must go on – together,” he said.
A number of tributes were left on the sidewalk in van Gogh’s memory: flowers, notes, stuffed animals and a cactus plant, apparently a reference to the prickly questions he asked in editorials, on talk shows and in his films.
The 47-year-old van Gogh – a controversial filmmaker and outspoken critic of Islam and immigration, who is also a distant relative of painter Vincent van Gogh – was shot and stabbed during the morning rush hour a year ago. Police arrested Mohammed Bouyeri, a dual Dutch-Moroccan citizen, later that day.
Van Gogh’s murder came three months after Dutch TV aired his film Submission, which criticized Islam of being tolerant of violence against women. After the broadcast, he and Somali-born Dutch politician Hirsi Ali, who wrote the script for Submission, received death threats.
Ali spent months in hiding after van Gogh’s murder, which shook the entire country, which is known for being tolerant and peaceful. There was a rash of attacks against Muslim buildings, followed by retaliatory assaults on Christian churches.
In July, an Amsterdam court found Bouyeri guilty of killing van Gogh. During the trial, Bouyeri waived his right to a defence, confessed and told the court he acted on religious conviction and added that, if released, he would kill again.
The court gave Bouyeri its harshest sentence – life imprisonment – and in August, he waived his right to an appeal.