Theo Van Gogh was no ‘critic of Islam’

Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh’s murderer was today sentenced to life imprisonment. This is just as well: killing people for making films is a Bad Thing, irrespective of the films’ content (which is just as well for Michael Winner).

However, I’m somewhat fed up with all the sanctimonious humbug that gets talked about Mr Van Gogh. Even among the reasonably sensible press, and especially among more hawkish, anti-Muslim commentators, he gets referred to as “a critic of Islam” – as if he were someone akin to Irshad Manji, and as if he’d been killed for voicing unpleasant truths about the religion or for suggesting that the religion required reform.

I’m not normally a great fan of speaking ill of the dead, but this is absolute nonsense. Long before he attracted Muslim ire, he attracted hatred from feminists and Jewish groups for making books and films that deliberately offended women and Jews. His idea of a good joke was to say “I suspect that [Jewish] Ms Gans gets wet dreams about being fucked by Dr Mengele”.

Although he never stopped hating (or at least, baiting) the Jews, he’d diverted his attention towards the Muslims by the late 1990s, coming up with the witty and enchanting nickname “goatfuckers” to describe all followers of the religion, and writing a book based on roughly the same theme. The film which encouraged Mohammed Bouyeri to stab him involved desecrating the text of the Koran (in Muslims’ eyes) by writing Koranic verses on a naked woman’s body. That isn’t ‘being a critic of Islam’, that’s ‘trying to really annoy Muslims for a laugh’.

Mr Van Gogh’s ambition and goal in life was to offend and annoy everybody he could; there was no higher purpose to any of his actions. It’s still appalling that he was killed, and I’d fight to the death for anyone’s right to tell religious people they’re clowns (and to mock their symbols and icons). After all, all religions are silly cults that deserve ridicule, Islam as much as Christianity, Hinduism or Wicca. Nonetheless, to portray him as some kind of investigative journalist rather than a juvenile provocateur (if you’ve read my blog, you can probably insert an obligatory ‘takes one to know one’ gag here) is simply incorrect.

Like a petulant drunk who gets his head kicked in for spitting in the local crack dealer’s pint, Theo Van Gogh deserves to be remembered as an idiot who still shouldn’t have been murdered. He doesn’t deserve to be remembered as some kind of free-speech hero.

  1. Jamie K said:

    Dead right. Inter alia, this is just the murder of Bernard Manning.

  2. The guy who killed him was a petulant fool and should be locked up forever…

    But one’s racism is not excused by one’s willingness to slander as many groups as possible. 5678 wrongs does not make a right. I wonder if he told light hearted jokes about white atheists? I doubt it.

    (Although I’d like to be proved wrong.

  3. Dutch said:

    You’re a bit right, but still missing the plot.

    When the Goddelijke Kale (“The Godly Bald One”) entered politics, he took along with him a charade of fools, epigons, and charlatans (and almost by chance the odd serious politician).

    Theo van Gogh was an admirer of the aforementioned Fortuyn. Even more after he was murdered.

    And that’s where the plot is. Pim Fortuyn was seriously opposed to Islam. Van Gogh idolized him, and his politics. This alone was enough to qualify him as a political force in the land of fools that the Netherlands was at that time.

    And Van Gogh could be dead serious if need be. He made some serious movies and made a widely acclaimed, but never really popular tv program where he interviewed people (including politicians) for nearly an hour or so.

    And the movie he made with Ayaan Hirsi Ali was a serious movie, it was definitely not “‘trying to really annoy Muslims for a laugh’”. That movie was as much hers as his, but the ideology was shared. And she was appointed by Time Magazine as someone very important (or whatever) in part because of that movie.

    So if you only look at his writings, he may be the fool and agitator. But if you look at his movies and tv work he was a serious person. And he was well known enough to be taken seriously.

    And in a country where a bunch of fools had entered the government under the name of the guy he worshipped, one should not underestimate the influence of people like him.

    It probably would have passed, just as the fools were thrown out of government, and in the latest polls also out of parliament, but that is water under the bridge.

    Thus in short, he could be serious, especially in his movie work, and shared the political views of Fortuyn and later Hirshi Ali. And given the circumstances in the Netherlands at that time, he was someone to take serious, not just some random agitator.

  4. To Dutch: one of Mr Van Gogh’s films included the barrel of a gun put in a women’s vagina, one contributing factor to life-long clashes with feminists. More on Van Gogh here.

  5. Guy said:

    I just put a translation of Mohammed Bouyeri’s speech on my blog. One excerpt:

    “It is not true that I was offended as a Moroccan because he (Van Gogh) called me a goat fucker. What I did, I did out of conviction. If it had been my father or my little brother, I would have done the same. Should I be released from prison, I would do exactly the same.”

    And yes, Van Gogh was an avid agitator and over-all emmerdeur. But he too acted out of conviction.

  6. Steve said:

    His death shows that you can get away with offending feminists and Jews. They just shout at you a lot. Offend Muslims and sooner or later, one of them will kill you.

  7. chris said:

    As Steve said, he offended everybody. But it was only the Muslims that turned this offence into murder. And if he was really acting like a drunk that spits in the local crack dealer’s pint, should we really be defending the crack dealer?

    Everybody has known since Salman Rushdi that if you do anything to offend Islam you get a death sentence, but should we really just accept that and so try to avoid offending them, or point out that murdering your critics is not part of western civilisation.

  8. Everybody has known since Salman Rushdi that if you do anything to offend Islam you get a death sentence, but should we really just accept that and so try to avoid offending them, or point out that murdering your critics is not part of western civilisation.

    I’ve seen quite a few incidents since then where people have offended Islam or Muslims in some way (particularly since 9/11) and have come off none the worse. The Rushdie affair took place during the lifetime of Khomeini whose various agents and front groups operated in a number of countries and started a lot of trouble, and at a time when Iranian-Western relations were on a different footing compared to now. In fact, I can’t remember anyone being killed by Muslims for offences against Islam in the western world before Van Gogh.

  9. chris said:

    Perhaps that is because like Rushdi they have to live under protection and on the run, so as not to suffer the same fate as van Gogh. Ayaan Hirsi Ali springs to mind or if you want death there are several confirmed cases:

    Hitoshi Igarashi – Japanese translator of The Satanic Verses, was stabbed to death in July 1991

    Thirty-seven guests died when their hotel in Sivas, Turkey was burnt down by locals protesting against Aziz Nesin, Rushdie’s Turkish translator.

    Farag Foda – shot dead by militants from an Islamic fundamentalist group after being branded as an apostate

    Rashad Khalifa – declared an apostate in a fatwa issued by 38 Islamic scholars in Saudi Arabia murdered in 1990 in Tuscon, Arizona

  10. Mira said:

    It may well be true that Van Gogh was the first person killed for offending Muslims, in the west. But that’s to ignore the reality of the death threats pronounced and in place against other ‘offenders’ – Rushdie, Manji, Hirsi- and the chilling truth that, given the opportunity, there are enough nutcases who are serious enough to have a go at these targets.

    It is also worthwhile to remember that in the non-western world from Nigeria to Pakistan to Bangladesh, many lives have been lost over perceived insult to Islam/the prophet and numerous writers and artists have had to live with the constant and REAL threat of death from mobs mobilised by the mullahs.

    Van Gogh was crude and unsubtle in his attacks and an undoubted equal opportunity provocateur. But his film and rants against the hypocrisy and intolerance of certain muslims certainly counts as valid criticism of an ideology he perceived as totalitarian.

  11. mani said:

    in my opinion Van Gogh should not have ridiculed other peoples religion becouse everyone was born different and in different parts of the world. it is unfair thjat he was killed but if it wasnt for his attitude towards msulims and jews he wouldnt have got killed becouse i didnt see him taking the mick out of christians or hindus.

  12. Paul Coyle said:

    I get a kick out of Muslims saying don’t criticize our religion. No religion is as hateful as Islam. They hate the pagans, the atheist, the Buddhist, the Jews the Christians..

    Furthermore, I can’t think of a mode of thought, called Islam, that is more in need of sever criticism and belittlement. Read the Koran. It is the Mien Kamph of religion.

  13. Mani –
    you say his attitude to ‘Jews and Muslims’ got him killed.I think it was just the latter, you know, old chap. Something tells me that Mr Bouyeri wouldn’t have objected to any anti-Semitism on Theo’s part, in fact quite the opposite. By the way, believe it or not, noone is ‘born’ a Muslim, or an adherent of any other religion. One is either indoctrinated into a religion or chooses it freely.