Theo van Gogh: Free Speech Martyr

Theo van Gogh: Free Speech Martyr November 2, 2014

Ten years ago the Dutch filmmaker, television host, atheist and provocateur Theodoor “Theo” van Gogh, was murdered by a Muslim extremist for blasphemy against Islam.

On 2 November 2004 van Gogh was murdered while cycling to work in the morning. Like many Muslims at the time, the murderer-assassin, Mohammed Bouyeri, accused van Gogh of blasphemy against Islam for producing the controversial and provocative film Submission.  The short film, an avant-garde critique of the treatment of women under Islam, sparked global controversy and Muslim outrage.

Bouyeri shot van Gogh eight times with a handgun, cut van Gogh’s throat with a large knife, and tried to decapitate him. After stabbing the large knife deep into van Gogh’s chest, he attached a note to the body with a smaller knife. The note was addressed to and contained a death threat to the Somali-born writer and politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who Van Gogh had worked with on his short film Submission.

After van Gogh’s assassination, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who scripted the film, went into hiding.

Bouyeri, a Dutch–Moroccan Islamist connected to the Dutch Islamist Hofstad Network, was convicted of murder and is serving a life sentence without parole for the assassination.

The ten-minute short film Submission deals with violence against women in Islamic societies. The title, “Submission,” is a translation of the word “Islam” into English; it refers to Muslims’ submission before God. The film tells the stories of four abused Muslim women.

In the film, women’s naked bodies, with texts from the Quran written on them in henna, in an allusion to traditional wedding rituals in some Islamic cultures, are veiled with semi-transparent shrouds as the women kneel in prayer, telling their stories as if they are speaking to Allah.

In a recent telephone interview, Ayaan Hirsi Ali  contended that the fundamental issues raised by Submission — including the oppression of women in Islam — haven’t gone away. She said she wouldn’t rule out making a sequel.

Theo van Gogh is remembered as a hero, a free speech martyr, and a potent reminder of the dangers associated with religious superstition in general, and Islam in particular.
Theo van Gogh portret by Leconte
Theo van Gogh portret by Leconte


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