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Chapter Two - Starry Night
“…they will always judge me or talk about me from different points of view, and you will always hear the most divergent opinions about me. And I blame no one for it, because relatively few people know why an artist acts as he does. But in general, he who searches all kinds of places to find picturesque spots or figures - holes and corners which another passes by - is accused of many bad intentions and villainies which have never entered his head.” - Vincent van Gogh, Brussels, 2 April 1881
November 2, 2004
To his neighbors it was a familiar but still mildly comedic sight, the fleshy 47 year-old Theo van Gogh, cigarette jutting petulantly from his lips, leaving his home in Watergraafesmeer and peddling off on an “old man’s bicycle” - straw basket attached - towards his office at Column Productions, his film company.
Van Gogh was the great grandnephew of Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh. In appearance though, he differed physically in many ways from his ancestor. Especially absent was Vincent’s hawk-like haunted visage and gaunt profile. In its place, Theo loomed a compelling and at times imposing figure. He had the look of a patrician, ruddily complected and raw-boned with tousled blond ringlets of hair scattered across his head in no particular pattern.
While one could hardly escape the gaze of those piercing grey green, deeply set eyes which shone with a combined fury and child-like passion, as his opponents inevitably discovered, above all there was van Gogh’s acid tongue.
Along with inheriting more than a bit of Vincent’s artistic sensibility and inspiration perhaps he as well bore the mark of his ancestor’s demons. Judging from outward appearances van Gogh’s life was chaotic, he pitched and swayed, swirling from project to project - actor, director, polemicist, bon-vivant…at all times the libertine whose calculatingly offensive personality ably served a finely-crafted sense of outrage that both aided and encumbered him.
Van Gogh’s caustic jibes and printed tirades were legendary, but mostly reserved for public figures, especially those whom he considered pompous and overly proud. He particularly detested the studied correctness of the political class, whom he called “salon socialists” and others whom he felt to be phonies or moral cowards, of which there are many in Holland.
Organized religion did not escape his invective. Christians were at times blistered with scorn. He derided them as simple minded, “followers of that rotten fish from Nazareth.” He served up the same to Dutch Jews, even going so far as having once described the imagined “wet dream” of a Jewish adversary, in which he claimed she wanted to be “fucked by Joseph Mengele.”
Vicious stuff, sometimes of such mean intent as to be irredeemably vile. Nonetheless, he delighted in pushing the limits of tolerance in a country known for its extreme open-mindedness and questioning attitude. In van Gogh’s world, there were more than enough objects deserving of excoriation, to be incised with language so over the top as to be comedic and brutal simultaneously.
What was language to him but another tool, a bare canvas upon which to splash, gouge and model toward one end - communication, to be able to break through the clatter of life?
If this latter day van Gogh’s renderings contained over-saturated, garish colors, so much the better to make a point. In his mind subtlety made little headway in a universe distinguished by its unsubtle nature and a country which was changing before his eyes, unshockable as if by edict, yet shocking in its constitution, sublime acquiescence and passivity.
His most incendiary language however was reserved for members of Holland’s large Muslim immigrant population, many of whom had come from Northern Africa, especially Morocco. For the fundamentalists among them, those who had tended towards fanaticism and especially the bellicose imams, he used the term “geitenneukers” - goat fuckers - a coinage that had been in limited slang usage but which he gleefully popularized.
However, as was usually the case, van Gogh’s blunt criticism contained a more reasoned core, though couched in his usual combativeness:
“It’s not my fault that some fellow-citizens hang to the fundamentally uncivilized faith of a little-girl-fucker who roamed the desert in 666. We may thank Allah that there are hundreds of thousands of reasonable Muslims in this country who don’t blemish His name. But they too are intimidated by the apparently pittoresque village officers of Mecca’s thought police, who try to sell the imagined blood that steams from their sewers by whining about ‘respect.’”
Van Gogh’s life was a celluloid crucible of his own forging; a documentary - starring himself - constantly running inside his head. Even now, preoccupied as he was in early November with the air turning cold, as early fall mornings in Holland often are, the scenes flowed in a way no hard-copy edit could even approach - the proud van Gogh, no the imperial van Gogh, Agamemnon’s champion, a later-day Achilles, borne on an armored chariot, spiked projections jutting from its axles, poised to harvest the rotten fish’s disciples and lay low all that deserved it.
This dawn saw Theo rushing off to the studio to work on what would be his twenty-fifth film, “6/5” which chronicled the assassination of Dutch MP Pym Fortuyn - another iconoclast, proudly gay and a van Gogh idol, whom he inelegantly referred to as that “divine bald head,” in his rough but in this case, loving parlance - murdered two years earlier, on May 6, 2002 by a vegan, animal rights extremist and Muslim apologist, Volkert van der Graaf.
Fortuyn was as critical of the modern Dutch experience with Muslim immigrants as was van Gogh, but his criticism was more cerebral than that of the film maker’s, more studied. This was understandable given that Fortuyn was a PhD whose zest for inquiry caused him to stray from his Marxist roots to an eventual embrace of capitalism.
About Fortuyn’s assassination, a political act that stopped a movement, van Gogh penned:
“…The rage of Van Dam, Kok, Van Kemenade, Melkert and all those other salon socialists was probably also related to the notion that Left seemed to lose its natural dominance in the public debate in the weeks before the sixth of May. It was as if Fortuyn would break the power of the paralyzing Sixties in one blow. The gentlemen panicked, as for the first time in Dutch history the outcasts of the nation threatened to actually come into power. That wasn’t part of the plan. Fortuyn was the hated face of this impending revolt. Left was flooded away and had only its worn jargon left. A lot of babbling about ‘extreme right’, ‘racism’, ‘reliving fascism’ and silently creating the climate in which murder becomes an act of heroism. There is something perverse about the fervor with which Volkert van der G. [Fortuyn’s murderer] was denounced a ‘madman’. A madman excuses our guilty conscience from the thought that we might have overreacted a little bit…”
Though Holland considers itself a freethinking country, like most left-wing institutions and societies, it is supremely intolerant of alternative viewpoints.
Call it situational tolerance.
One aspect of this intellectual flatulence is seen in Europe’s anti-hate speech laws which have given governments that supreme prosecutorial tool, criminalization of thought. Though this legislation ostensibly grew out of the Nazi experience and the desire to prevent its recurrence, the blindness of dealing with such a complex phenomenon with reflexive legislation can’t be underestimated.
It is particularly ironic that a draconian, near Nazi level of control has been brought forth as a method of preventing the resurrection of the twisted iron cross.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights [adopted post-Nuremberg in 1948] was the precedent upon which all of the anti-hate laws draw their sustenance. As legal scholar Jieskje Hollander observed [when commenting on the specifics of article 10(2) of this legislation] though the UDHR generally recognized free speech, it was qualified. Unrestrained free speech - the genuine article - wasn’t similarly protected.
“This paragraph gives us a range of reasons for which the right to freedom of speech can and should be restrained. The right to express oneself freely comes with certain special duties and responsibilities…If speech is used recklessly or with malicious intent it will threaten the security of society in various ways, it will threaten the constitutional state and it will harm the individual.” [see, Hate Speech, a Historical Inquiry into its Legal Status, Jieskje Hollander, p. 31]
We are left with the irreducible absurdity of defining free speech in such a manner as to suppress it.
In effect therefore, Holland’s vaunted laissez faire exterior houses a totalitarian heart - free-thinking reduced to thinking in a state or societally approved manner.
It was around this rotting core that both Fortuyn and van Gogh railed, seeing their countrymen silenced - many voluntarily wearing a ball-gag - into inaction against what they saw as an invasion by a hostile horde.
Two years after the murder of Fortuyn, van Gogh assembled a 10 minute film that proved to be so controversial that it seemed he was intentionally courting disaster.
That work titled Submission, [a literal translation of the Arabic word Islam] featured a heavily veiled Muslim woman, with only her eyes showing, suffering in a stylized manner the Shari’a approved sentence for fornication, 100 lashes. Van Gogh used semi-nudity to enhance the obscenity of the punishment as did the covering of her body with Quranic verses, elaborately stylized as inky black tattoos. Throughout the work, other women are similarly treated for various infractions of Islamic religious law.
This juxtaposing of what to many if not most traditional Muslims is the sacred alongside the profane, generated the outrage that van Gogh sought. That the script was co-written by a fallen Muslima, Ayan Hirsi Ali, made the degree of societal discomfort all the more delectable one might surmise.
Was that short film, publicly broadcast only months before, on van Gogh’s mind as he rolled along the street in front of Amsterdam’s East Borough office? Though, unfortunately that query can never be answered, we surmise that it couldn’t have been far from his consciousness.
What is known however was that as he traversed the space in front of the political office complex, the stadsdeelkantoor, on his creaky bicycle he wasn’t alone. He was being stalked, hunted by a determined young Muslim, Mohammed Bouyeri, outraged beyond all measure by the very existence of works like Submission.
Bouyeri, then a 26 year old native-born citizen and the son of Moroccan immigrants had earlier joined a cell of the Dutch terrorist Hofstadgroep [aka Hofstadnetwerk].
It modeled itself along the ideological lines of the Takfir-wal-Hijra, drawing inspiration from Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood [though technically, the noun takfir is applied to one who has been expelled from Islam as an apostate or guilty of gross heresy/blasphemy. Historically this has been used as a juridical method to provide scriptural grounding to allow warfare between nominally Muslim nations or peoples]. Bouyeri had served time in Dutch prisons where it’s believed that he adopted the Takfir ideology, which is to lay low, blend in and assume an unremarkable lifestyle, then at the critical point, when the kufr guard is down, to leap, slash and annihilate.
Bouyeri charged on foot towards the startled van Gogh, firing a 9mm HS 2000 semi-auto pistol as he closed the distance between himself and his victim, rapidly directing nine rounds towards the stunned bicyclist, seven of which found their way home.
Van Gogh struck, crashed to the ground as if thrown. Though seriously wounded and bleeding profusely, he remained conscious and lucid, pleading with Bouyeri while on his knees, “please don’t do it, don’t do it, we can still talk about it.”
Imagine the shock, the clever van Gogh…words, his beautifully sinister tool, utterly failing him.
Remorselessly, Bouyeri advanced, deed not yet completed, a long kitchen type knife now in hand. He then administered the brutal coup de grace, butchering van Gogh on the sidewalk like an animal, slicing through his throat all the way to the spinal column, nearly severing the film maker’s head.
An onlooker called out saying, “You can’t do that,” but Bouyeri replied in chilling calmness, uttering a political warning, "Yes, I can. Now you know what's coming to you."
Calmly and methodically, the killer then pinned a rambling, five-page manifesto - a declaration of war against the governments of the West and Dutch politicians - on the now lifeless body, contemptuously plunging the murder weapon and another knife for good measure, through the note and deep into the right side of van Gogh’s barrel-like chest.
Translated, the note is a chilling manifesto of exultation, a calling to arms of Bouyeri’s comrades.
"I surely know that you, O America, will be destroyed - I surely know that you O Europe, will be destroyed - I surely know that you O Holland will be destroyed - Drenched in blood these are my final words - Pierced by bullets - As I had hoped - I am leaving a message behind -For you…the fighter - The tree of Tawheed is waiting - And longing for your blood - Take up the challenge - And Allah will help you overcome - He gives you the garden - In place of this earthly rubble - To the enemy I also have something to say - You will certainly try to resist - But even if you go on a Tour of the world - Death is Lurking right behind you - The Horsemen of DEATH are at your heels - And the streets will be covered red with Blood - To the hypocrites I say will end with this - Wish for DEATH or else keep quiet ...and sit...”
At trial Bouyeri confessed to the ritual murder, adding that he wanted to become a martyr for his religion. Unrepentant, he promised similar mayhem if released. Furthermore he testified that he felt commanded by the Qur’an to “chop off the head” of anyone who insulted Islam or its prophet.
The assassination was declared to be an act of terrorism, making his eventual release unlikely. Reflecting the surreal, clipped-tone nature of the ultra-high security proceeding, the bespectacled, antiseptic appearing presiding judge pronounced the sense of the court.
"The murder of Theo van Gogh provoked a wave of revulsion and disdain in the Netherlands. Theo van Gogh was mercilessly slaughtered."
The lack of any real conviction in the judge’s tone made one think that he might as well as have been dictating a take-out order for dinner. The hyper-attenuated court atmosphere complete with bomb-sniffing dogs but only a handful of observers, assumed at times a parody.
Making a cultural statement far larger than might have been obvious at the time, at one point during testimony a demand was made for state funded compensation for the “mental anguish” supposedly suffered by two of Holland’s feminized policemen. While on the witness stand these two admitted that they had hidden in terror on the floor of their squad car during the final shootout which resulted in the defendant being apprehended.
Bouyeri was convicted on July 26, 2005 and sentenced to life in prison. Holland having long ago abolished the death penalty, ultimate justice was denied, something which under any other circumstance surely would have surely been grist for a van Gogh tirade.
Though the film maker’s journey was so ingloriously shortened, he wasn’t the only one in transit that morning; the Netherlands and in a larger sense all of Europe was trailing behind him, drawn along figuratively in his wake - a retinue.
The United States was in motion too, it was a day of decision, the quadrennial presidential election - the first national election since the September, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC.
The contest had already been dismissed, derisively and superficially prejudged by continental media outfits such as Holland’s Telegraaf which declared it, "a modern-day crusade, with democracy as its sacred mission…with divine providence on America's side,” and then darkly intoning “The growing role and influence of faith in the election campaign has been a source of concern.”
That “concern” took the form of contempt in the European press, which derived great satisfaction in stereotyping America as “Jesusland,” which was now locked in a monumental electoral struggle, the combatants caricatured to varying degrees.
John Kerry; the erudite, French speaking, continental looking candidate, preaching a secular message which included the clear implication - wildly popular in Europe - that America’s rough hewn frontier borne lack of sophistication, should become tempered, domesticated.
The thrust of the critique being that America should emulate Europe or at least move a great deal in that direction.
Germany’s Financial Times could hardly conceal its admiration for the Democrat challenger:
“His first cousin is a French mayor. His father was a diplomat. He spent school years in Switzerland, among other countries, and now and then vacationed in Brittany. His wife grew up in a Portuguese-controlled part of Africa. He thinks the death-penalty is bad and thinks the Kyoto Protocol, intended to protect the global climate, is good. If the Europeans were allowed to vote for the US President this coming November, a triumph for the Democratic challenger John Kerry would be assured…”
Pitted against him, was George Bush; obtusely portrayed as an antagonistic misanthrope. They fancied him a cowboy - Bible thumping and barely literate…despite his Harvard MBA. In their minds Bush was an attack dog, kept - for everyone’s sake - on a short leash, only controllable by Dick Cheney and assorted handlers.
…now he was loose and on a tear in the Middle East…
Britain’s Guardian portrayed him as a Christian fanatic invoking the wrath of an angry Deity -“God told me to end the tyranny in Iraq.”
There was less philosophical space between the Guardian’s caricature of a born-again soldier of Christ and that of van Gogh than one might have imagined because though the film maker was sublimely dismissive of religion, he was in no way similarly disposed towards faith itself.
Faith drove him - absolute assuredness of purpose is what sped him along every morning or forced him to speak out as he had been doing regarding the cultural upheaval that had accompanied the Muslim defilement of Holland.
“The Amsterdam police have no interest in coming to the defense of the native Dutch who are being attacked by an increasingly aggressive minority. And [mayor] Cohen couldn't care less. I suspect that our mayor is an incorrigible cynic and a mercenary opportunist to boot, and ask myself for how long the Dutch will be welcome in Amsterdam." - “Our Mayor,” Theo van Gogh
But Holland was changing faster than even Europe’s most ardent insurrectionists dared hope. This was doubly pleasing because they understood that their stark vision would bleed outwards towards America. The cultural mavens knew that the Netherland’s debauched permissivism was to Europe as Europe is the West, the flow inexorably proceeding towards the same fate, separated only by the thinnest slice of time.
©2017 PipeLineNews.org, LLC, William Mayer. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.