from the persistent rain Amsterdam comes as a city
much recommended. A view readily testified to by
many who have walked its pavements, browsed through
its markets, rode its trams, inhaled the various
aromas of its coffee shops or boated through its
canals. Unlike Belfast, its streets are not litter
strewn. Its range of restaurants and eateries enriches
it with a cosmopolitan character matched by the
colours and facial features of those who live and
work there. A Guardian columnist stated that
the Dutch attitude to marijuana, euthanasia, prostitution
and immigration has endowed Holland with a reputation
as a pioneer in the field of human freedom.
all cities Amsterdam has its downside. The drug
dealers are more of nuisance than a menace waiting
like heroin trolls on some of the city's bridges.
The beggars and pickpockets abound at Amsterdam
Central, with importuning eyes or darting hands.
Keeping wallets and passports secure while maintaining
a steady eye on two adventurous teenagers eager
to launch themselves on the city is not recommended
to those prone to high stress levels. Set a bag
down for a second or two in the most innocuous of
circumstances and it has gone. In our case, all
we lost were a few photographs of the children posing
beside some of the more illustrious inhabitants
of Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. It did not deter
us from coming back.
recent weeks Amsterdam has demonstrated that holiday
snap shots figure pretty low down the scale of what
can be lost in the city. Filmmaker and free speech
advocate Theo Van Gogh lost his life, felled by
the knife and bullets of a theocratic fascist as
he cycled to work, his head almost severed in a
technique refined here in Belfast thirty years ago
by UVF war criminal Lenny Murphy. A blood sacrifice
to some non-existent god of hate. Proof, if it were
needed, that man made god in his own image
hateful, haughty and spiteful.
second high profile political murder in the Netherlands
in recent years, Theo Van Gogh's killing was, in
the view of a former mayor of Rotterdam, an attempt
to silence the power of the word. But
it failed. His films and TV shows by the time of
his death were said to be rarely watched.
His columns ended up appearing 'only on the internet
and in giveaway publications.' His murder has now
ensured that his voice has reached out to an audience
well beyond his fertile imagination. A classic case
of fascism killing the player only to stage the
evidence of the theocratic fascist intent to silence
the power of the word, van Goghs slayer impaled
the filmmakers body with a knife to ensure
those first on the scene to assist the victim would
find a skewered note threatening with death a Somalian
woman and ex-Muslim, now a Dutch politician, who
had scripted a film produced by Van Gogh. Eleven
minutes in duration, Submission infuriated
the theocratic fascists in its depiction of violence
against women in Muslim culture. Scripted onto the
almost naked bodies of female actors were words
from the Koran instructing men who had wives you
fear may be rebellious, admonish, banish them to
their couches, and beat them. The heavy sarcasm
mocking Allah for having provided the spiritual
inspiration for such defilement must have produced
the type of effect amongst the theocrats that images
of Jewish people pissing on Hitler would have done
for the SS.
the film one character describes her adultery with
a man she met. Our happiness did not go unnoticed.
Neither did it go unpunished. A reaffirmation of
the Mencken view that there is only one honest
impulse at the bottom of Puritanism, and that is
the impulse to punish the man with a superior capacity
for happiness. This impulse rightly met the
implacable opposition of Theo van Gogh. It also
ended his life.
by Variety.com as the enfant terrible of the
Dutch film industry who was notorious for his anti-Islamic
views, on two occasions Van Goghs films
won the country's most prestigious film award. He
was also the author of a book Allah Knows Better.
Being sacked by virtually all the major Dutch newspapers
for which he had at one time worked, also featured
on his CV. Too many readers had insisted on their
right to be offended. He raged about the medieval
backwardness of Islamic fundamentalists, dismissing
them as goatfuckers. His latest film,
to be shown posthumously, 06/05, is about Pim Fortuyn,
the anti-immigration political leader murdered by
an animal rights activist two years ago. Van Gogh
once faced a legal action as a result of a case
taken by a Jewish person who felt his comments were
anti-Semitic. Christians also complained about him.
He was irrevocably devoted to freedom of speech
which he pushed 'to its limits and beyond.' And
with 'magnificent disregard' for the feelings he
might be offending he pressed on with highlighting
what he saw as the destructive tension between an
'over-radical Islam in an over-tolerant Netherlands.'
His contribution to democracy lay not in what he
actually said but in his willingness to do what
Ariel Dorfman once urged when he spoke out against
those who maintained that Chilean democracy was
so fragile that it should not be touched. Well,
no. Youve got to bring people into the process
of defining democracy, testing it and pushing it.
If you dont its not true democracy.
former Muslim who scripted Submission, Ayaan
Hirsi Ali, has already been the recipient of a number
of fatwas. Like Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen
before her, death has been sent to stalk her because
she refuses to think as the theocratic fascists
ordain. A victim of female circumcision at the tender
age of five she was later sent by her family to
Germany to become the victim of an arranged marriage.
Having none of it, she fled to Holland where she
articulated views that won her the undying enmity
of the religious tyrants. She dismissed the Prophet
Muhammad as a lecherous tyrant
in the modern sense because of his marriage
to a six-year-old girl when he was 53. Islam, she
condemned as a backward 12th-century religion
a medieval, misogynist cult incapable of
self-criticism and blind to modern science.
She was slightly more measured in her description
of the Koran: in part a licence for oppression.
She further protested that orthodox Muslim men routinely
inflict domestic violence on women, and pursue both
incest and child abuse which is then covered up.
She expressed the view that those responsible should
be brought to justice but then fell into the trap
of the censor by advocating the banning of fundamentalist
matters not in the slightest whether the views of
Theo van Gogh or Ayaan Hirsi Ali are right or wrong.
Society has a right to hear them. Quite often freedom
to hear is being attacked rather than freedom to
speak. If the holocaust denier David Irving were
to have hired a hall in Cork in 1999, invited no
audience and addressed only himself, mobs would
not have besieged the venue. It would not be worth
the effort to stop Irvine speak. But on the night
it was deemed worth the effort to stop others hearing
him and making their own minds up about the nonsense
he spews and tries to pass off as historical analysis.
van Gogh and Ayaan Hirsi Alis healthy contempt
for fundamentalism possess a vibrancy that should
be directed in equal measure to those handing out,
what an Irish columnist once termed the certificates
for correct thinking. When it comes to the
quick, free speech is ultimately more valuable than
political correctness. The latter invariably facilitates
the emergence of a new class of ideological thought
police who stifle debate for the very purpose of
intellectually disarming us so that we may not have
the weapon of critique necessary to haul them to
account for their own abuses. The right to be obnoxious
is crucially intertwined with developmental democracy.
The right not to be offended gives a censorious
veto to those with the power to define their own
interests as sacred and subsequently beyond critique.
Democracy, if it is to flourish and not be tutored
or castrated, should celebrate the profane and take
the winds out of the sails of the self-serving sacred.
a gathering in Amsterdam Square the citys
mayor, Job Cohen, in a symbolically charged address
urged the crowd not to gather for a moment
of silence, but to say loud and clear: freedom of
expression is dear to us, and it must continue.
He exhorted the filled square to express as
loud as possible that freedom of expression is our
we don't want silence
society enveloped by silence is a society cursed
with an ability only to hide the problems that plague