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Jewish World Review August 1, 2005/ 25 Tammuz, 5765

Suzanne Fields

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Between the Sex Pistols and the Koran | The name "Van Gogh" calls up visions of sunflowers and starry nights. But in Europe — especially in the Netherlands — "Van Gogh" recalls the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, a distant relative of the 19th-century painter, who was brutally, obscenely murdered by an Islamist terrorist in broad daylight last year in Amsterdam.

Mohammed Bouyeri, 27, the attacker who shot him, stabbed him, slit his throat and spiked a five-page manifesto to his chest with a dagger, was sentenced last week to life in a Dutch prison. The son of Moroccan immigrants showed no remorse: "I was motivated by the law that commands me to cut off the head of anyone who insults Allah and his prophet."

Like the London terrorists, he was homegrown and educated in the country where his parents sought a better life. The murder highlights how one of the most "tolerant" countries in Europe, proud of its multicultural diversity, has not only not brought about an appreciation for assimilation but has instead fostered the differences that encourage hatred. The Europeans, like the English after the bus and subway bombs of July 7, have begun to fear the Muslims in their midst, opening debate from left and right over their permissive immigration laws.

Germans from both ends of the political spectrum, for example, ask whether "Jihad behind the dikes" could spread across the continent. Der Spiegel, the weekly newsmagazine, says the episode "has unleashed a debate on immigrants and cultural values that will continue to simmer in Holland and Europe for years to come." An editorial in the newspaper Die Welt warns that the Dutch must face the reality that their "liberal and tolerant society has often been too passive in defending its own values — so much so, in fact, that it has allowed a parallel society to be built."

Pressure is at last exerted on moderate Muslims to speak out forcefully against terrorism, to re-examine what it is in their religion, however misguided it may be, that encourages violence. Theo van Gogh's offense, for example, was making a movie called "Submission," a 10-minute film about the suppression of Muslim women. In it he portrayed an abused woman in a transparent chador, her naked body covered with excerpts from the Koran prescribing punishments for women who don't obey strict Muslim law.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Dutch member of parliament who was born in Somalia, wrote the script for "Submission." A fatwa has been issued against her, and she must have bodyguards with her 24 hours a day. Undeterred, she vows to make more movies about the plight of Muslim women. She knows of what she writes, having suffered genital mutilation as a child at the hands of a grandmother following the dictates of her religion. "The intolerable cannot be tolerated," she says.

The murderer of Theo van Gogh targeted Ayaan Hirsi Ali with a death threat in the manifesto spiked to the filmmaker's body, but she doesn't consider the fatwa as directed only at her, "but against Holland, against the entire Western world. We are all targets. In the eyes of radical Muslims, any country in which Muslims can be criticized openly is an enemy of Islam."

She tells how the Moroccan neighborhoods of Amsterdam, where Van Gogh's murderer lived, is a closed community. Immigrant parents can't speak, read or write Dutch and know nothing of the larger community around them. They listen only to Arabic television spewing hatred against the West. In their schools, their children are taught that holy war against unbelievers is a noble way of life.

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When I was recently in Berlin, Zafer Senocak, a popular poet and essayist who was born in Ankara in 1961 and has lived in Germany since 1970, spoke of the schizophrenia of Muslims like himself who live in secular societies where they daily confront the "irreconcilable contradictions between the Sex Pistols and the Koran." Muslims have been brought up in a religion that inhibits creative thinking, where tradition is handed down in the form of memorization and emulation: "This has created an ideology starved of creative energy, which is predestined to break out in violence and to set latent aggression in motion."

For devout Muslims, diversity is exhausting, and the male rituals that religious fanatics find in murder and mayhem present a dangerous and appealing alternative to forging identity with their new countries. "What is needed is not so much a dialogue between religions as between Muslims," Senocak wrote in an essay in Die Welt. "But where will this happen? And who will lead it?"

These are the urgent questions we're all asking, questions easier to ask than to answer, but questions demanding answers soon.

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© 2005, Suzanne Fields, Creators Syndicate