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November 26, 2004

EUROPEAN EYES STARTING TO OPEN



Even by the grisly standards of ritual killing, it was shocking. On 2 November in Amsterdam the Dutch iconoclast and film-maker Theo van Gogh was dragged from his bicycle in broad daylight and murdered. His killer, a bearded Dutch-born Islamic radical of Moroccan descent, shot him six times and, as he pleaded for his life, slit his throat through the spinal column with a butcher's knife, almost decapitating him. The assassin then impaled a five-page declaration of `holy war' into van Gogh's chest.....

At least, though, the Left in the Netherlands has seen that there is a clash between liberal democracy and cultural relativism; that some cultures are simply not compatible with Western traditions of freedom and tolerance; and that the old distinction between evil right-wingers and cuddly left-wingers no longer makes sense. It is one thing to turn a Christian church into a mosque, quite another to get radical Islam to accept liberal democracy. Outside the Netherlands, however, the Left has yet to learn these lessons.

Van Gogh himself was a child of the Left. He did not discriminate when he decided whom to offend. He had deeply upset Christian and Jewish groups, who made written complaints about him. His mistake, however, was to offend Muslim sensibilities. His ten-minute film Submission showed actresses depicting real Muslim women speaking of their experience of domestic violence, including forced marriage and rape by relatives. The women were shown nearly naked, with their skin covered with Koranic verses which endorse domestic violence, such as `And those [wives] you fear may be rebellious admonish, banish them to their couches, and beat them.' (It is because of verses like this that Ken Livingstone's mate, the homophobic, terrorist-supporting cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, endorses wife-beating.) Van Gogh made the film with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somalian woman who sought asylum in the Netherlands to escape a forced marriage and who is now a Liberal MP and a fierce critic of her former religion. She received death threats for denouncing Mohammed as a `pervert in the modern sense' because he married a six-year-old girl, Aisha, when he was 53.

True to his polemicist style, van Gogh said lots of objectionable things about Muslims, such as calling extremists 'goatfuckers'. But that doesn't excuse the Guardian pigeonholing him as a 'loudmouth racist' as a way of avoiding thinking about the complexities of the issue. He was a lifelong socialist, from a leading left-wing family. A journalist friend of his told me at his funeral: 'He was left-wing, but he had his eyes open. He started seeing these dark developments in society, and surprised himself by having right-wing thoughts.' A staunch Dutch feminist who knew him told me that his work standing up for women oppressed by religion had inspired her to dedicate her life to it.

Van Gogh was a friend of Pim Fortuyn, the populist politician murdered two years ago for offences against Islam. The hate-mongering Left demonised Fortuyn as a far-right racist, but he was no such thing. On the contrary, he was a flamboyant left-wing homosexual sociology professor who firmly opposed racism and had many black followers. But he started campaigning against Muslim immigration and denounced Islam as `backwards' when homosexual teachers were sacked in the Netherlands because Muslim parents didn't want their children taught by gays. He was outraged that decades of campaigning for gay rights was going backwards, and that everyone was too frightened to speak out.

What angered them all - van Gogh, Hirsi Ali and Fortuyn - is the way the intolerant left-wing hegemony of political correctness was strangling free speech and democracy - not just causing the problems in the first place, but trying to destroy those who discuss them. At his funeral, van Gogh's mother, Anneke, lambasted the `politically correct thought-police' while his sister spoke about his `aversion to violence and crimes against democracy'.

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