Dutch blasphemy law faces the chop
16 November 2004
AMSTERDAM — An attempt to strengthen the blasphemy law in the wake of the murder of filmmaker and columnist Theo van Gogh seemed to have backfired on the Dutch government.
A majority in the 150-seat Parliament have indicated they support a motion introduced by small government party D66 to scrap the blasphemy law that was introduced in the 1930s.
Only the Christian parties — Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende’s Christian Democrats and the much smaller ChristenUnie and SGP — want to keep the ban. Together the Christian parties have only 49 seats.
Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner, a member of Balkenende’s CDA, made the case at the weekend for tightening the law against blasphemy. The move comes two weeks after Van Gogh was murdered.
Van Gogh – who likened Muslims to “goat fuckers” and “pimps of the Prophet” – was shot and stabbed to death on an Amsterdam Street on 2 November.
A Muslim man who holds Moroccan and Dutch nationality has been arrested for the murder.
It has been suggested the murder was carried out in direct response to the film Submission, which Van Gogh made with Somali-born MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The 10-minute film features Muslim women in see-though veils telling about domestic abuse suffered at the hands of their husbands and other male relatives.
Denouncing Van Gogh’s killing, Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende and other ministers of his three-party coalition emphasised the importance of freedom of speech as a cornerstone of Dutch democracy.
Speaking to a CDA conference, Donner said his plan had nothing to do with the murder of Van Gogh, but he said he was worried by increasing attacks on Jewish and Muslim beliefs in recent weeks.
On Tuesday, newspaper De Volkskrant published a letter asking Donner to define what he means by “scornful blasphemy”. The letter, signed by leading writers, comics and artists, asked the minister to explain his motives and reasoning for the move to strengthen the law.
“Must we now, apart from terrorists, also fear your civil servants,” the artists asked Donner.
The writers called for a public debate on the issue and questioned whether Donner wanted to differentiate between the protection afforded to religious believers from the protection for non-believers. He was also asked whether a new ban on “scornful blasphemy” would also apply to other philosophies like free thinking and atheism.
“If that is not the case, we want to know why,” the letter stated.
Immigration and Integration Minister Rita Verdonk, of the Liberal Party (VVD), has distanced herself from Donner’s plans, as has VVD parliamentary party leader Jozias van Aartsen.
Commentators have noted that Donner is following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Jan Donner, who was justice minister in the 1930s for the Anti-Revolutionary Party (now part of the CDA).
Shocked by a call by a Communist newspaper to ban Christmas, Jan Donner introduced the blasphemy law which is now on the statute books.
[Copyright Novum Nieuws 2004]
Subject: Dutch news