MURDER IN AMSTERDAM: THE DEATH OF THEO VAN GOGH AND THE LIMITS OF TOLERANCE by Ian Buruma (Penguin), 278 pages, $32.50 cloth. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Theo Van Gogh was a horrible person. Cruel and brutish, he turned insult into art, making a living from being a prick.
An enraged Muslim militant, Mohammed Bouyeri, shot him off his bicycle one morning two years ago, casually walked over to the wounded filmmaker and, as Van Gogh begged for his life, slit his throat.
The killing shook the Netherlands to its core. What was Holland, that bastion of liberalism, becoming? That is the central question in Ian Buruma's short book Murder In Amsterdam: The Death Of Theo Van Gogh And The Limits Of Tolerance.
Buruma found a nation agonizing over what many see as an assault on its existence by a growing group of immigrants who refuse to play by its rules.
The spectre of assassins like Bouyeri haunts the dreams of intelligence agencies around the world. A middle-class Westernized kid, he went from weed and women to embracing the belief that it was his duty to murder perceived enemies of Islam.
For some on the right, the Muslim presence conjures up a reflexive xenophobia and racism. Leftists see political Islam as practised by extremists and their apologists as a counter-Enlightenment theology that is anti-Semitic, anti-free speech, anti-democratic and intolerant.
And there is the irony. Shouldn't an entrenched democracy be tolerant of intolerance, without fear that its institutions will crack? But what if that theology becomes violent or murderous? What if it is revolutionary? How tolerant should a society be?
A recent proposal in the Dutch Parliament to ban the burka in public indicates which way the Dutch are leaning.
Murder In Amsterdam asks some of the great philosophical questions of our time. The answers determine the character of a society - not just in Holland, but in all Western democracies.
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