The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

No Place For Silence

Rest in peace, Theo, freedom fighter for free speech - card at the site of Theo Van Gogh’s murder.

Anthony McIntyre • 23 November 2004

Apart from the persistent rain Amsterdam comes as a city much recommended. A view readily testified to by many who have walked its pavements, browsed through its markets, rode its trams, inhaled the various aromas of its coffee shops or boated through its canals. Unlike Belfast, its streets are not litter strewn. Its range of restaurants and eateries enriches it with a cosmopolitan character matched by the colours and facial features of those who live and work there. A Guardian columnist stated that the Dutch attitude to marijuana, euthanasia, prostitution and immigration has endowed Holland with a reputation as a pioneer in the field of human freedom.

Like all cities Amsterdam has its downside. The drug dealers are more of nuisance than a menace waiting like heroin trolls on some of the city's bridges. The beggars and pickpockets abound at Amsterdam Central, with importuning eyes or darting hands. Keeping wallets and passports secure while maintaining a steady eye on two adventurous teenagers eager to launch themselves on the city is not recommended to those prone to high stress levels. Set a bag down for a second or two in the most innocuous of circumstances and it has gone. In our case, all we lost were a few photographs of the children posing beside some of the more illustrious inhabitants of Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. It did not deter us from coming back.

In recent weeks Amsterdam has demonstrated that holiday snap shots figure pretty low down the scale of what can be lost in the city. Filmmaker and free speech advocate Theo Van Gogh lost his life, felled by the knife and bullets of a theocratic fascist as he cycled to work, his head almost severed in a technique refined here in Belfast thirty years ago by UVF war criminal Lenny Murphy. A blood sacrifice to some non-existent god of hate. Proof, if it were needed, that man made god in his own image – hateful, haughty and spiteful.

The second high profile political murder in the Netherlands in recent years, Theo Van Gogh's killing was, in the view of a former mayor of Rotterdam, an attempt to silence ‘the power of the word.’ But it failed. His films and TV shows by the time of his death were said to be ‘rarely watched.’ His columns ended up appearing 'only on the internet and in giveaway publications.' His murder has now ensured that his voice has reached out to an audience well beyond his fertile imagination. A classic case of fascism killing the player only to stage the play.

As evidence of the theocratic fascist intent to silence the power of the word, van Gogh’s slayer impaled the filmmaker’s body with a knife to ensure those first on the scene to assist the victim would find a skewered note threatening with death a Somalian woman and ex-Muslim, now a Dutch politician, who had scripted a film produced by Van Gogh. Eleven minutes in duration, Submission infuriated the theocratic fascists in its depiction of violence against women in Muslim culture. Scripted onto the almost naked bodies of female actors were words from the Koran instructing men who had wives ‘you fear may be rebellious, admonish, banish them to their couches, and beat them.’ The heavy sarcasm mocking Allah for having provided the spiritual inspiration for such defilement must have produced the type of effect amongst the theocrats that images of Jewish people pissing on Hitler would have done for the SS.

In the film one character describes her adultery with a man she met. ‘Our happiness did not go unnoticed.’ Neither did it go unpunished. A reaffirmation of the Mencken view that ‘there is only one honest impulse at the bottom of Puritanism, and that is the impulse to punish the man with a superior capacity for happiness.’ This impulse rightly met the implacable opposition of Theo van Gogh. It also ended his life.

Described by as ‘the enfant terrible of the Dutch film industry who was notorious for his anti-Islamic views’, on two occasions Van Gogh’s films won the country's most prestigious film award. He was also the author of a book Allah Knows Better. Being sacked by virtually all the major Dutch newspapers for which he had at one time worked, also featured on his CV. Too many readers had insisted on their right to be offended. He raged about the ‘medieval backwardness’ of Islamic fundamentalists, dismissing them as ‘goatfuckers.’ His latest film, to be shown posthumously, 06/05, is about Pim Fortuyn, the anti-immigration political leader murdered by an animal rights activist two years ago. Van Gogh once faced a legal action as a result of a case taken by a Jewish person who felt his comments were anti-Semitic. Christians also complained about him. He was irrevocably devoted to freedom of speech which he pushed 'to its limits and beyond.' And with 'magnificent disregard' for the feelings he might be offending he pressed on with highlighting what he saw as the destructive tension between an 'over-radical Islam in an over-tolerant Netherlands.' His contribution to democracy lay not in what he actually said but in his willingness to do what Ariel Dorfman once urged when he spoke out against those who maintained that Chilean democracy was so fragile that it should not be touched. ‘Well, no. You’ve got to bring people into the process of defining democracy, testing it and pushing it. If you don’t it’s not true democracy’.

The former Muslim who scripted Submission, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, has already been the recipient of a number of fatwas. Like Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen before her, death has been sent to stalk her because she refuses to think as the theocratic fascists ordain. A victim of female circumcision at the tender age of five she was later sent by her family to Germany to become the victim of an arranged marriage. Having none of it, she fled to Holland where she articulated views that won her the undying enmity of the religious tyrants. She dismissed the Prophet Muhammad as a ‘lecherous tyrant … a pervert in the modern sense’ because of his marriage to a six-year-old girl when he was 53. Islam, she condemned as a ‘backward 12th-century religion … a medieval, misogynist cult incapable of self-criticism and blind to modern science.’ She was slightly more measured in her description of the Koran: ‘in part a licence for oppression.’ She further protested that orthodox Muslim men routinely inflict domestic violence on women, and pursue both incest and child abuse which is then covered up. She expressed the view that those responsible should be brought to justice but then fell into the trap of the censor by advocating the banning of fundamentalist Islamic books.

It matters not in the slightest whether the views of Theo van Gogh or Ayaan Hirsi Ali are right or wrong. Society has a right to hear them. Quite often freedom to hear is being attacked rather than freedom to speak. If the holocaust denier David Irving were to have hired a hall in Cork in 1999, invited no audience and addressed only himself, mobs would not have besieged the venue. It would not be worth the effort to stop Irvine speak. But on the night it was deemed worth the effort to stop others hearing him and making their own minds up about the nonsense he spews and tries to pass off as historical analysis.

Theo van Gogh and Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s healthy contempt for fundamentalism possess a vibrancy that should be directed in equal measure to those handing out, what an Irish columnist once termed the ‘certificates for correct thinking.’ When it comes to the quick, free speech is ultimately more valuable than political correctness. The latter invariably facilitates the emergence of a new class of ideological thought police who stifle debate for the very purpose of intellectually disarming us so that we may not have the weapon of critique necessary to haul them to account for their own abuses. The right to be obnoxious is crucially intertwined with developmental democracy. The right not to be offended gives a censorious veto to those with the power to define their own interests as sacred and subsequently beyond critique. Democracy, if it is to flourish and not be tutored or castrated, should celebrate the profane and take the winds out of the sails of the self-serving sacred.

At a gathering in Amsterdam Square the city’s mayor, Job Cohen, in a symbolically charged address urged the crowd ‘not to gather for a moment of silence, but to say loud and clear: freedom of expression is dear to us, and it must continue.’ He exhorted the filled square ‘to express as loud as possible that freedom of expression is our dearest possession … we don't want silence but noise.’

A society enveloped by silence is a society cursed with an ability only to hide the problems that plague it.





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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

23 November 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

Dropping the Last Veil
Tommy Gorman

No Place for Silence
Anthony McIntyre

The Vacuum

The Unpopular Front: James T. Farrell then, Margaret Hassan now
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Reflection on an Election
Patrick Hurley

New Work on Perry Anderson
Liam O Ruairc

I, a Collaborator
Dorothy Naor

The Murder of Margaret Hassan
Ghali Hassan

The Orange Order and the KKK
Richard Wallace

19 November 2004

Another Fine Mess
Mick Hall

Dr. John Coulter

Address to QUB Vigil for Fallujah
Brian Kelly

Hearts and Minds
Fred A Wilcox

Smell the Coffee, not the Latte
Kristi Kline

Arresting Vanunu While Burying Arafat
Mary La Rosa

Weary of those stubborn indigenous resistance stains? Pretend they're not there...
Toni Solo

The Village
Anthony McIntyre



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