AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) – Dutch Muslims and Christians urged an end to a cycle of retaliatory vandalism of mosques and churches Tuesday as slain filmmaker Theo van Gogh was cremated, a week after his murder by a suspected Islamic radical.
In a memorial service shown live on television, friends and family told stories about Van Gogh’s playful nature and his love of provoking debate.
About 150 people gathered at the De Nieuwe Ooster Crematorium. Hundreds more watched on a screen outside. Mourners left flowers, cigarettes and beer at a makeshift monument where the 47-year-old filmmaker – a distant relative of Vincent Van Gogh – was killed.
“Our country is confused and grieving,” said former Rotterdam Mayor Bram Peper, calling Van Gogh’s murder an attempt to silence “the power of the word.”
Jan-Gerd Heetderks, dean of the Netherlands’ Protestant churches, said “the violence, the aggression must stop. And that goes for people who get the idea that they should damage Muslim mosques or schools, too.” His killing – and the violent response – has shocked many in the Netherlands who prided themselves on being part of what they considered a peaceful and open society.
It evoked memories of the 2002 assassination of Pim Fortuyn, a populist right-wing, anti-immigration politician. His slaying triggered a hardening of the government’s attitude toward newcomers and the expulsion of many thousands of asylum seekers.
The murder prompted an outpouring of rage aimed mostly at the Muslim minority, which makes up about 6 percent of the Dutch population.
Six men are in custody on suspicion of forming a terrorist conspiracy to kill Van Gogh, including the 26-year-old alleged killer Mohammed Bouyeri, a dual Dutch-Moroccan citizen who was arrested in a shootout with police.
A newspaper reported Tuesday that a suspected terrorist network believed responsible for Van Gogh’s killing had access to confidential secret service intelligence.
The NRC Handelsblad newspaper, citing an internal secret service investigation, reported that a friend of Bouyeri received an unmarked envelope last summer with information about extremist networks of which he was allegedly a member.
The Dutch secret service admitted information had been leaked when police found confidential agency information at a house in Utrecht during a terrorism-related search in September.
Bouyeri is allegedly a member of a radical Islamic group said to have ties to terrorists in Spain and Syria.
Van Gogh was a cherub-faced cynic who loved to irritate – and sometimes insult – those he felt were too sensitive.
“I’m deeply religious – I worship a pig,” he once said. “I call him Allah.”
During his award-winning career, he lost several jobs for crossing boundaries of good taste and had complaints filed against him by Jews, Christians and Muslims.
On his TV interview show, “A Nice Chat,” Van Gogh wore suspenders, chain-smoked and gave his guests cactus plants as parting gifts.
“Don’t feel guilty, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Theo was threatened long before ‘Submission,'” said Van Gogh’s mother, Anneke, her voice cracking slightly. “Make sure that he is not forgotten: Freedom is not for people who are afraid.”