(FBIS) A day after the brutal killing of controversial Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh by a suspect linked to Islamic extremists, many are left wondering what has happened to the Netherlands’ famed tolerance and fear a polarisation in society.
“The murder could be the start of a spiral in which different communities come to view each other as enemies,” the Christian Trouw daily warned Wednesday [3 November].
Theo van Gogh, who had received threats over a controversial film he made about Islam, was shot and stabbed to death Tuesday while cycling on an Amsterdam street. His alleged assailant, identified as having dual Dutch and Moroccan nationality, was arrested shortly after the attack.
The suspect is being held in isolation and cannot receive anybody except his lawyer. The lawyer had a first meeting with his client Wednesday, but is legally not allowed to discuss the case, Dutch media reported.
Late Tuesday Dutch Interior Minister Johan Remkes said the suspect had ties with Islamic extremists in the Netherlands but did not belong to the hard core group of some 150 extremists being monitored by the intelligence services.
After it became known that the alleged gunman was of Moroccan descent, politicians and commentators feared ethnic tensions and called for calm.
“There is a risk of stigmatisation of certain communities . . .. It is in nobody’s interest to have conflict between people with different backgrounds,” Remkes warned.
Van Gogh, 47, was widely known for his criticism of Islam and recently caused uproar with a short film linking domestic abuse with the perceived subservient position of women in the Islamic faith.
It is assumed that the filmmaker, who was the great great nephew of 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, was killed because of his outspoken criticism of Islam but officially the authorities will not comment on the motives.
Van Gogh was a staunch critic of the multicultural society as a whole. Many Jewish organisation branded him an anti-Semite and he was generally known as a arch provocateur.
Out of a population of 16 million the Netherlands has some 900,000 Muslims and of those some 300,000 are of Moroccan descent. In the Moroccan community there is a growing fear that they will be singled out for revenge.
“Everybody is shocked by the murder. On the other hand . . . there are people who wonder if there will be a war against Moroccans,” Abdou Menabi, chairman of the Urban Assembly of Moroccans in Amsterdam said, voicing the concerns of many.
At the short memorial gathering for Van Gogh in Amsterdam, attended by some 20,000 people, many Muslims showed up especially to demonstrate that they condemned the killing.
Ikram, a 31-year-old mother, came to the rally with a sign saying ‘Muslims against violence’.
“I was debating whether or not to come, but I decided that as a Muslim and as a Moroccan I should take up my responsibility to show that we do not support this act,” she told AFP.
On Wednesday many papers likened the killing of Van Gogh to the assassination of rightwing populist politician Pim Fortuyn on May 6, 2002.
Both men had outspoken views on Islam and many other issues and were always trying passionately to stir public debate.
“After Pim Fortuyn, another person has been killed who held strong views on controversial issues and did not hide them,” the popular daily Algemeen Dagblad said.
“A mass demonstration of Dutch Muslims could be the symbolic start of a necessary cleansing,” it suggested.
In Amsterdam several Moroccan organisations have called a protest rally in a mosque for Wednesday afternoon.
The umbrella organisation of Moroccan mosques in the Netherlands UMMON, with some 90 members issued a message supporting the freedom of speech to be included in Friday sermons by all imams.
“The freedom of speech is a protection for minorities and if we attack that that is wrong,” UMMON chairman Driss el Boujoufi told ANP news agency Wednesday.