Friday, July 4, 2008

Nov. 2, International Freedom Of Speech Day

The murder four years year ago of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, described as a “message in blood” by Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, has widened the gap between religious communities and inflamed tensions, a survey shows.

“We shouldn’t let ourselves be divided by a small group of people that writes its message in blood,” Balkenende said at a commemoration service in the Amsterdam street where Van Gogh was shot. Murderer Mohammed Bouyeri said he killed to protect Islam. “Spurring hate is no solution,” Balkenende said.

Van Gogh, a descendent of the brother of the 19th Century Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh, was known for his outspoken criticism of Islam.

He angered many Muslims by making a film that accused Islam of condoning violence against women.

Van Gogh in 1999 started a production company with collaborator Gijs van de Westelaken. Van Gogh’s last movie, “06/05,” reconstructs the murder of Pim Fortuyn, the anti- immigration candidate for the Dutch parliament assassinated on May 6, 2002. He was killed by a Dutchman, Volkert van der Graaf.

The murder of Van Gogh, 47, who made a movie critical of Islam, has caused a “big majority” of people in the four largest Dutch cities to view relations between Muslim and non- Muslim communities as “negative” or “very negative,” according to an MCA survey published today in Trouw. The country counts 950,000 Muslims among its population of 16 million people.

“Van Gogh was always very provocative,” Alexandra Keddeman, an employee at his production company, Column Productions, in Amsterdam, said in an interview. “He wanted to get people to debate with him.”

The movie that led to his death, called “Submission,” shows images of a Muslim woman wearing a transparent veil revealing her breasts. Koranic texts describing punishments for disobedience among women are written on parts of her body.

“Van Gogh was razor-sharp and sometimes repulsive to his opponents, but always involved and engaged,” Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen said at the commemoration service.

Entitled to Speak

People gathered traditionaly at the site of the killing, in Linnaeusstraat, in eastern Amsterdam. “The commemoration is useless if we don’t draw any lessons from it,” Cohen said. He said people are entitled to the freedom to speak.

The MCA survey interviewed 800 people in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht, almost a year after the crime.

Bouyeri, 27, was sentenced to life imprisonment by an Amsterdam court in July, after saying he had no regrets and would “cut everyone’s head off” who demeaned Islam. Bouyeri, a Dutch-Moroccan national, won’t ever receive parole.

In the weeks after the crime, at least 10 Muslim schools and mosques were subjected to arson attacks and vandalism. Authorities also said the threat of terrorism increased.

Dutch police on Oct. 14 staged nationwide raids, arresting seven people suspected of planning terrorist attacks on politicians and buildings. The suspects are members of the so- called Hofstad Group, which prosecutors have linked to Bouyeri.

Prospect of Terrorism

A terrorist attack in the Netherlands is a “realistic” prospect, according to the Dutch National Anti-Terrorism Coordinator. The anti-terrorism group, which falls under the ministries of justice and internal affairs, rates the current threat “substantial,” the second-highest of four grades.

“All of us will remember indefinitely how our country was shocked Nov. 2 2004 after the horrible assassination,” the chairman of the anti-terrorism group, Tjibbe Joustra, said in a speech at a conference in Amsterdam on Oct. 26 2005.

Minister of Finance Gerrit Zalm committed 130 million euros to programs to combat terrorism this year. Most of the money is going to expanding the intelligence services.

I murdered Van Gogh in religion’s name

A Dutch-Moroccan man has confessed in court to murdering a film-maker critical of Islam, breaking his silence in a case that has stoked religious and racial tension in the Netherlands.

Mohammed Bouyeri is accused of killing Theo van Gogh as he cycled to work in Amsterdam on November 2, 2004.

He is charged with shooting and stabbing Van Gogh before cutting his throat and leaving a note pinned to his body with a knife.

“I want you to know that I acted out of conviction and not that I took his life because he was Dutch or because I was Moroccan and felt insulted,” the 27-year-old told Amsterdam District Court.

“I take complete responsibility for my actions. I acted purely in the name of my religion.

“I can assure you that one day, should I be set free, I would do exactly the same, exactly the same.”

Bouyeri, who has shown no emotion throughout the trial and refused to speak, told the court he felt he owed Van Gogh’s mother, Anneke, some explanation.

“I have to admit I do not feel for you, I do not feel your pain, I cannot - I don’t know what it is like to lose a child,” he said.

“I cannot feel for you… because I believe you are a nonbeliever.

“I acted out of conviction, not because I hated your son.”

Prosecutors say Bouyeri, who waived the right to mount a defence, is a radical Muslim dedicated to a holy war against the enemies of Islam. They allege he murdered Van Gogh to spread terror in the Netherlands.

Prosecutors have asked that Bouyeri be sent to prison for life - a sentence that affords no chance of parole.

Beyond that, they are demanding that Bouyeri be stripped of his right to vote or stand for election for the rest of his life, “to literally place him outside of our democracy”.

I demand that United Nations adopt November 2, as International Freedom Of Speech Day.

Teach your children about Theo Van Gough.

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