AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – The Netherlands mourned filmmaker Theo van Gogh killed last week by a suspected Islamic militant, while Dutch Muslims rallied to urge reconciliation on Tuesday after a wave of attacks on mosques and churches.
A 26-year-old Dutch-Moroccan has been charged with the murder last Tuesday of film director Van Gogh, whose criticism of Islam enraged Muslims. His funeral, attended by friends and family, was broadcast live on national television.
About a thousand people stood outside the crematorium on a frosty evening in Amsterdam to watch the service on a television screen. They carried flowers and candles and held placards including one that read: “Never submit to fundamentalism.”
“It is time for the silent majority to speak out because the fundamental rules of our society are at stake,” Bram Peper, a former mayor of Rotterdam, told the funeral service.
Since Van Gogh was shot and stabbed as he cycled to work, a wave of arson attacks has targeted at least eight mosques. A small bomb also damaged a Muslim school in Eindhoven on Monday.
Van Gogh’s father and sister told the funeral the film director would have deplored the attacks on Muslim buildings.
Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende demanded a return to the Dutch tradition of tolerance.
“Let us keep cool heads. Let us break through the spiral of violence and insecurity,” he told Dutch television. “This violence is unacceptable. I am angry that this has happened here. The Netherlands has always been a fine country with respect for different cultures.”
In the latest attack on Tuesday, arsonists set fire to a Muslim school in the southern Dutch village of Uden, where the attackers left a message referring to Van Gogh’s killing, Dutch television said. Nobody was hurt but NOS showed firefighters battling flames leaping out of the roof of the building.
Earlier in the day, two churches in the central towns of Utrecht and Amersfort and two others in the city of Rotterdam were slightly damaged in what appears to be tit-for-tat attacks.
A little-known Islamist group threatened to hit the Netherlands on Tuesday after the attacks on Muslim buildings. The Netherlands had already been the subject of several threats by Islamic militants over the presence of 1,300 troops in Iraq.
“Stop the attacks on our mosques, schools and the Muslim community in Holland…before you pay a heavy price,” said the statement attributed to the Islamic Tawhid Brigades, which claimed responsibility for bombings last month in Egypt.
Dutch Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk met Muslim groups on Tuesday to discuss the escalating tension. The Netherlands is home to almost a million Muslims or about 6 percent of the population.
About 60 young Dutch Muslims wearing orange shirts with the slogan, “We won’t put up with extremism any more,” cycled through Amsterdam to protest against Van Gogh’s murder.
They then joined a Dutch-Moroccan rally of several hundred in a park near the street where Van Gogh was killed.
“It is action, reaction. Extremism is not only Islamist but also the right wing,” said Mustapha Laboui, a 39-year-old Dutch-Moroccan. “It’s not good to divide people into foreigners or Dutch. We have to solve these problems together.”
In Groningen, one of the towns where a mosque was attacked, a Muslim community leader was due to join Jewish elders at a demonstration against racism and anti-Semitism to mark the Nazi “Kristallnacht” attacks on Jews on Nov. 9, 1938.
Van Gogh was cremated in a simple wooden coffin strewn with flowers. His production company said he would not have wanted a repeat of the flamboyant funeral two years ago of murdered politician Pim Fortuyn, whose white hearse was showered with flowers as it drove through the streets.
Hundreds of people have laid flowers, candles and messages at the spot where Van Gogh was killed. They also left cactuses, a tribute to the filmmaker’s prickly nature, and bottles of beer. Dozens of people circled the site on Tuesday.