Today marks the tenth anniversary of the brutal murder of Dutch writer, filmmaker, and free-speech advocate Theo van Gogh. He died at the hands of a Muslim fundamentalist, Mohammed Bouyeri, who silenced Theo’s criticism of Islam with bullets and a butcher knife. For the crime of making a movie (with Ayaan Hirsi Ali) that called out Islam’s widespread misogyny, Theo was assassinated in public, in broad daylight — Bouyeri calmly and methodically almost severing his victim’s head while horrified bystanders looked on.
Like the Islamic death sentence received by Salman Rushdie, it was a defining moment in one of the defining fights of our time.
Back when I lived in Amsterdam, I’d met Theo a few times and interviewed him once (about local architecture, of all things; he was quite the renaissance man). I was struck by how easily he carried himself in all kinds of different company. As combative and fierce as he could be in print, in person he was a very social and genuinely curious man, always probing, trying out ideas and theories, soaking up new information. He was blunt but kind, passionate but not wrathful, eager to drive home a provocative point but careful not to twist the knife, so to speak. In short, he was the antithesis of his assassin.