"Education by murder" describes the slow and painful way people wake up to the problem of radical Islam. It took 3,000 deaths to wake up Americans, or at least to wake up the half of them who are conservative. Likewise, it took hundreds of deaths in the Bali explosion to semi-wake up Australians; it took the Madrid assault for Spaniards, and the Beslan atrocity for Russians. Twelve workers murdered in Iraq awoke the Nepalese.
But it took just one death to wake up many Dutch. Indeed, one gruesome killing may have done more to arouse the Netherlands than September 11, 2001, did for Americans.
Theo van Gogh.
The reason for this lies in the identity of the victim and the nature of the crime. He was Theo van Gogh, 47, a well-known radical libertarian, a filmmaker, television producer, talk show host, newspaper columnist, and all-around mischief-maker who enjoyed the distinction of being a relative of one of Holland's most renowned artists, Vincent van Gogh. In recent years, Theo garnered attention by critiquing Islam (in a 2003 book Allah Knows Best
and a 2004 film Submission
He was murdered at 8:40 a.m. on November 2 in his hometown of Amsterdam while bicycling down a busy street to work. In the course of being shot repeatedly, Van Gogh beseeched his killer, "Don't do it. Don't do it. Have mercy. Have mercy!" Then the killer stabbed his chest with one knife and slit his throat with another, nearly decapitating van Gogh.
The presumed murderer, Mohammed Bouyeri, 26, a Dutch-born dual Moroccan-Dutch citizen, left a five-page note in both Arabic and Dutch attached to Van Gogh's body with a knife. In it he threatened jihad against the West in general, ("I surely know that you, Oh Europe, will be destroyed"), and specifically against five prominent Dutch political figures.
Police investigators quickly realized that the assassin was an Islamist whom they knew well and had been following until just two weeks earlier; they also placed him in the "Hofstadgroep" network and charged him and six of his associates with "conspiracy with a terrorist intent." The authorities additionally asserted that these had possible connections to the Takfir wa'l-Hijra and Al Qaeda terrorist groups.
That a non-Muslim critic of Islam was ritually murdered for artistically expressing his views was something without precedent, not just in Holland but anywhere in the West. Dutch revulsion at the deed shook the deep complacency of what is perhaps the world's most tolerant society. The immigration minister, Rita Verdonk, one of the five persons threatened, publicly rued the country's having long ignored the presence of radical Islam. "For too long we have said we had a multicultural society and everyone would simply find each other. We were too naïve in thinking people would exist in society together."
Jozias van Aartsen, parliamentary leader of the VVD party, went further, warning that "jihad has come to the Netherlands and a small group of jihadist terrorists is attacking the principles of our country. These people don't want to change our society, they want to destroy it."
One day after the murder, 20,000 demonstrators gathered to denounce the killing, and 30 people were arrested for inciting hatred against Muslims. The interior minister, Johan Remkes, announced that he could not rule out unrest. "The climate is seriously hardened." Proving him right, the next two weeks saw more than 20 arson and bombing attacks and counterattacks on mosques, churches, and other institutions, plus some major police raids, giving the country the feel of a small-scale civil war.
Dutch attitudes toward Muslims immediately and dramatically hardened. A poll found 40% of the population wanting the nearly million-strong Muslim community no longer to feel at home in the Netherlands. Double that number endorsed more stringent policies toward immigrants.
De Telegraaf, a leading paper, published an editorial unimaginable before the van Gogh murder calling for "a very public crackdown on extremist Muslim fanatics." Even left-wing politicians woke up to the need to speak "harsh truths" about immigration, focusing on the disproportionate criminality of Muslims.
Islamist terrorism in the West is counterproductive because it awakens the sleeping masses; in brief, jihad provokes crusade. A more cunning Islamist enemy would advance its totalitarian agenda through Mafia-like intimidation, not brazen murders.
But if Islamists do continue with overt terrorism, the tough Dutch response will everywhere be replicated.
Nov. 16, 2004 update: For more information on this subject, see "Further Developments Concerning Theo van Gogh and Holland's 'Education by Murder'."