November: Pondering the price of freedom

by Beacon Staff • October 31, 2007

November, a month punctuated with days of remembrance, has arrived. As the leaves fall, Americans remember their veterans and early settlers, as well as one fallen president-John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated this month in 1963. It is a time to honor and recognize those who have led and lost, struggled and sacrificed.

Attention, then, should be paid to another great man who passed prematurely in November 2004.

Granted, he was not American, but he was, nonetheless an advocate for this country's fundamental virtue: the liberal and egalitarian society. His life and death are especially worthy of observation at this juncture in history, when the United States is locked in combat with radical Islam.

Theo van Gogh was a Dutch filmmaker and social critic (and, yes, a relative of Vincent, the painter). He became famous-or infamous-for his intense scrutiny of Muslim fundamentalism.

Van Gogh was concerned with the growing presence of religious extremism in Western Europe and was sickened by those Muslims whom espouse oppressive, puritanical religion. Disturbed by the extremists' cliquishness, misogyny and general anti-liberalism, he resolved to plumb and expose what he saw as Islam's sinister depths.

Against the backdrop of major terror attacks in America, England and Spain, he crafted a 10-minute documentary titled Submission.

The film's script was written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born former-Muslim Dutch politician known for her sharp, feminist-inspired critiques of Islam.

Submission presents firsthand accounts of violence against women in the Muslim world, putting on display the wild misogyny which flourishes amongst many Muslim men.

Predictably, the film sparked a firestorm of controversy in the Netherlands and beyond. Both van Gogh and Hirsi Ali became the subjects of innumerable death threats from individuals whose compulsions rendered them unwilling to understand-let alone respect-the basic human right of free speech.

Van Gogh-a man intimately familiar with extremist Islam's penchant for violence-did not take the vitriol seriously. His nonchalance would be his undoing.

On Nov. 2, 2004, a Moroccan-Dutch man, Mohammed Bouyeri, confronted a surprised van Gogh on the street, withdrawing a handgun and firing eight shots, according to BBC reports. Van Gogh crumpled to the pavement.

Bouyeri then slashed van Gogh's throat and plunged two daggers into his victim's chest-one of them pinning a 5-page letter to the corpse.

A rambling and twisted epistle, it calls for, among other things, the assassination of Hirsi Ali and the destruction of the West.

Van Gogh, only 47, was cremated soon thereafter. His funeral service was held to the tune of American rock and roll-a fitting choice for van Gogh, who had often expressed his admiration for the US and its tradition of freedom and individualism.

Following the murder, Dutch authorities uncovered the responsible terror cell. Its subsequent neutralization is cause for meager celebration; many like it continue to function, plotting further atrocities.

Theo van Gogh was a partisan in this generation's rehashing of the ancient struggle against violent fundamentalism. His murder must serve as a reminder of radical Islam's abject cruelty and formidable drive. Followers of this ideology pose a genuine threat to the stability of the free world, especially in Europe, where assimilation-as evidenced by 2005's lower-class and largely Muslim uprisings in France-is becoming increasingly difficult.

It would be more than a little overboard to suggest a day of national remembrance for van Gogh. Instead, lovers of freedom and egalitarianism everywhere should quietly mark and thoughtfully observe his death.

Let Nov. 2 be a solemn day, a day to consider how precious the free society truly is, and just how easily it can be lost.