In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
Next Monday the 2nd of November it will be 11 years since Holland’s most outspoken cineaste, Theo van Gogh, was murdered by a Muslim terrorist. This event had shocked the nation. The first time I heard about it I thought it was a joke. I was in the train; I just came back from the beach in Zandvoort, and had a wild yellow flower from the dunes in my hand. Then I heard some young folks in the train say that a Muslim terrorist murdered Theo van Gogh. The moment I heard this I sank into myself and the flower that I held in my hand. I looked at the petals; the crown, the yellow powder on my fingers and dozed off into a surreal moment. Theo van Gogh was dead.
At that time I was a law student at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam. Just a short while before his death I remember walking in the Universities’ bookstore where his book ‘Allah knows better’ was spread all over the counter. I paged through it. I thought it was yet another attempts to discriminate Muslims. I had a hijab at that time and felt first hand how it feels to be an outsider; a recognizable Muslim.
Another time I was in the metro on my way to the university campus. Two young students of the type that we call ‘corpusballen’ here in Holland; privileged, white young men who study at top Universities on their way to become members of the elite that rules Dutch society. They were laughing very loud while reading a column of Theo van Gogh. They loved the way he made fun of Muslims. I could only hear ‘geiteneukers’ and wild laughing. ‘Geiteneukers’ literally means ‘goatfuckers,’ the term was created by Theo to refer to Muslims. I was sitting next to them with my headscarf on. It was a painful moment, but I said nothing.
A few weeks later a Muslim friend of mine came to me to invite me to come to an event on the campus that was hosted by Theo. By that time I had enough. I told her I was not in the mood to go to debate with yet another Muslim basher. That was how I saw Theo van Gogh. I knew little of his work or mission. I just believed he was ‘one of those’. I couldn’t have been more wrong in my conclusions.
The day he was buried I was in Amsterdam, in the garden of the “Achterhuis’ under the old chestnut tree of Anna Frank. I didn’t know it was Theo’s burial that day. I was there for a spiritual and artistic project, which I was directing. I had the vision to portray women in a natural surrounding, while holding a lamp burning on olive oil from the holy land of Palestine. I wanted to unite women from all kinds of backgrounds and photograph them under Anne’s ancient tree. The first woman to be portrayed was a Muslim. It was ‘Laylatul Qadr’ that night. The holiest night in Islam. It was freezing cold and I couldn’t find any Muslim woman to photograph. Friends cancelled off. So I bribed my little sister with a little bit of money (which she later gave to our mum). It was sunset; the loud ring-necked parakeets in the old tree flew off to their shelters. There was a magical, biblical atmosphere in the garden that contained nothing but this gigantic colossal tree and it’s fallen leaves and chestnuts under it on the ground. In a corner there was a pigeon house. My sister was dressed in white cotton hand made cloth and held the seashell my mother found in our garden in her hand. I filled shell with olive oil and and lighted it. It was the only light in the garden. Later, when I went home I found out that Theo van Gogh’s cremation was that very same evening.
His mother is all I can remember of the televised cremation ceremony whose fragments were broadcasted in the evening news. I saw a mother who deeply loved her child. An outspoken, honest, tough and loving lady who loved her son very, very, very much. She defended her son against the intellectuals who said that Theo had a hand at his own death by being outspoken about Islam. There she was, an elderly lady speaking about her child who had been brutally taken away from her, but her eyes and demeanor gave away that she was a warrior woman who will fight with everything she has for what she believed in. And she believed in her son.
Her son was one of the very few people who dared to not only defend the democratic value of freedom of speech, but also lived this value in everything he did. Theo came from a long line of Christian pastors and it was his great grandfather who was the brother of Vincent van Gogh, the former pastor who became a famous artist only after his death.
Theo often called himself the pastor of the nihilistic congregation. His mission was freedom. He over and over again preached for freedom in everything he did. He did this by the way he dressed himself, by the way he talked, the movies he made, the programs he made. His life was in everything an expression of the one thing he believed in: freedom. Many times he went far, very far, too far for many, like when he made ‘sick’ jokes about Jews in Auswich. He was not an anti-Semite. Not at all. He made those comments, because he had to, as the preacher of the nihilistic congregation every holy house had to be washed clean from its untouchability. In his eyes freedom of speech was at stake and as a fervent preacher he had to take the lead in taking down all ‘idols’ off their pedestal. He did this with the royals, politicians, famous people, the Bible, Jews, Muslims, black people, White people, the Elite, feminists, corporations, politics, the ‘leftist-church’ etc. In a way he was the Don Quichotte of the Netherlands. A very colorful figure to say the least.
What I didn’t know then, I know now. Theo was not just a rebelling artist with a big mouth; he was also an artist with a mission. His mission was freedom for all, including mine. He fought against the Dutch elite that tried to limit his and other people’s freedom. Without freedom I cannot be a Muslim, without freedom I cannot do whatever I want as a woman, without freedom no religion can be expressed freely, without freedom the pigeons can’t fly and when the pigeons can’t fly there will be no peace. I read his articles, I read the interviews he gave and the personality I uncovered from the puzzle was a very loving man, a sweet father and a mumbling feminist who deeply loved women, but did his best to hide it. I discovered that Theo was a misunderstood prophet of the modern age. In the complex time we live in and the more and more diverse socities we live in nothing should be more sacred then freedom, because only freedom can be the basis that unites us all. Theo may not have walked on water as easily as Jesus did or seperate it as easily as Moses, Theo may not have a holy book to recite from, Theo may not have talked with loving and sweet words, but he was a messenger, a rebellious, astute and child-brat like messenger, and like with many messengers before him, nobody listened.
With a wink,
De Gezonde Moslima