We won't be scapegoats for Van Gogh killing

23rd November 2004, Comments 0 comments

Expatica speaks to non-Dutch residents to gauge their reactions to the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh earlier this month.

Van Gogh's killing shocked the nation.

"All Moroccans here are being blamed. I was already discriminated against, but the situation became worse after 11 September [the terror attacks in the US in 2001] and it has worsened again. Some people go out of the way to avoid me on the street or quickly look away, but not everyone is like that."

Mohamed, 51, has lived in the Netherlands for 30 years. He was very disappointed to learn a 26-year-old Dutch-Moroccan man had been arrested for the brutal assassination of Van Gogh in Amsterdam on 2 November.

Mohamed says he is not opposed to freedom of speech. "People can say anything about me — they can abuse me for being a 'rotten Moroccan' — but they must stay away from my religion."

"It is all about respect," he says.
The individual murderer must be punished, argues Mohamed, but all other Moroccans in the Netherlands should not be made to suffer.

"Mind you, are young people like the murder suspect Mohammed B. — who were born here — really Moroccan? They feel Dutch, but they are discriminated against and we have seen the result of their rage."

Home-care nurse Asra has also encountered discrimination and admits some people will not let her into their house because she wears a headscarf. "And I now notice the tension between myself and my colleagues; they can't talk freely if I am around. Sometimes I hear very insulting remarks made behind my back."


Van Gogh's short film Submission — made together with Somali-born critic of Islam Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali — is believed to have been the prime motive for his murder. It denounces domestic violence in the Islamic community.

Asra, a 35-year-old Moroccan woman, was not surprised by Van Gogh's assassination. She describes Submission — which depicted women in see-through clothing with anti-female texts from the Koran written on their bodies — as "contemptuous".

"I thought straight away that someone might be murdered. It [the film] is so sexual, how can someone do that? Ayaan dug Theo's grave. She is totally wrong," says Asra, who has lived in the Netherlands for 15 years.

"Why doesn't she go back to her own country and organise a revolution there? She has had nasty experiences with Islam, but that doesn't mean that the religion is wrong. She simply needs psychiatric help."

Mohamed is also sharply critical of the film: "What does a girl from Somalia think that she can tell us? Female circumcision does not occur among Moroccan Muslims and she should keep away from a centuries-old tradition such as male circumcision".

Mohamed says Moroccan immigrants have to fight for their rights and he claims the Dutch government is not doing enough to help them fit in.

He also laments that Moroccan lobby groups are run by what he says is older people from Moroccan villages who are not very educated. "These people don't know politics and the Netherlands wants to keep it that way."
Both Mohamed and Asra claim the Dutch media only writes what Dutch people want to hear.

Asra also dismisses media reports of widespread Islamic fundamentalism and extremist networks around the world. She says people in various countries are simply fighting for their rights.

Conspiracy theories

Meanwhile, a 39-year-old Afghan asylum seeker, Hayat, claims Van Gogh was killed by the CIA or by the Dutch domestic intelligence agency AIVD. "It is a political game. The US is behind this and everything is manipulated; fundamentalism does not exist, it has been set up with American money."

Hayat also claims the US wants everyone to look unfavourably on the Muslim world and Dutch media is obediently co-operating. "There is absolutely no freedom here, yes, short skirts and naked breasts, but you are not allowed to write what you want."

Having lived in the Netherlands for six years, Hayat is not fearful for the future. "In Afghanistan, I was hunted by the Taliban because they wanted to kill me. So this is nothing."

In contrast, Iranian refugee Puran, 32, is very frightened. "I have lived in the Netherlands for eight years and I thought I was safe here. I have experienced so much misery in Iran that I don't want that again. If it happens again, my life is gone."

She is quick to point out though that Islam literally means peace and that the Koran urges Muslims to have respect for other religions.

Puran also says the Dutch public has blown the death of Van Gogh out of proportion. Admitting the seriousness of the crime, she also believes unrest is being created by making it bigger than it was.

According to Zeynep, 26, who was born in the Netherlands to Turkish parents, the Turkish community in the Netherlands experienced less tension than people from Moroccan backgrounds. Nevertheless, she feels threatened on the street.

Critical of Deputy Prime Minister Gerrit Zalm's "declaration of war" on Islamic extremism made by earlier this month, Zeynep fears it will spark further violence following the series of tit-for-tat attacks on mosques and churches.

Lamenting Muslims are not taught to look critically at their faith because imams tell them Islam is perfect, Zeynep says Muslim organisations must show the public they are not extremists and clearly condemn Van Gogh's murder.

Western views

Despite being shocked by the murder, James, a 34-year-old British man who has lived five years in the Dutch capital, has not noticed a change on the street.

"The problem is that many Turks and Moroccans do not adjust, they don't integrate. But I learnt Dutch when I moved here."

James notes the protests in France against the bans on headscarves in school have dissipated and the public has become accustomed to the change. By the same token, he says, freedom of expression did not suddenly disappear in the Netherlands and Muslims will adjust.

Austrian Oliver, 33, also downplays the murder. "It was not a large attack in which hundreds of people died. The Netherlands is much too unimportant. But the media immediately made it big and manipulated the people."

While admitting that it might be possible to link the murder to international Islamic terrorism, Oliver says all Muslims can't be blamed.

"I was very shocked by the sudden hate against Muslims among my colleagues. People who have been neighbours for 20 years suddenly became enemies. Dutch tolerance is just a thin layer."

23 November 2004

[Copyright Expatica 2004]

Subject: Theo van Gogh, immigrant reactions

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