Even by the grisly standards of ritual killing, it was shocking. On 2 November in Amsterdam the Dutch iconoclast and film-maker Theo van Gogh was dragged from his bicycle in broad daylight and murdered. His killer, a bearded Dutch-born Islamic radical of Moroccan descent, shot him six times and, as he pleaded for his life, slit his throat through the spinal column with a butcher’s knife, almost decapitating him. The assassin then impaled a five-page declaration of ‘holy war’ into van Gogh’s chest.
The slaughter of the film-maker — who was also a TV chat-show host, a Big Brother contestant, a newspaper columnist, and the great-great-grand-nephew of Vincent — plunged Europe’s most liberal, tolerant and multicultural society into (in the words of its Prime Minister, Jan Peter Balkenende) ‘a maelstrom of violence’.
The government declared ‘war on extremism’, and quickly uncovered a network of Dutch Islamic radicals who were plotting to kill other leading ‘enemies of Islam’ and were linked to the terrorist attacks in Casablanca and Madrid. Two politicians were taken into police protection, one of whom was the subject of a video on the Internet offering paradise for anyone who decapitated him. Three policemen were injured when they came under grenade and gunfire attack by Islamic radicals in a 15-hour siege in The Hague. Religious violence spread. More than 20 mosques, churches, Islamic and Christian schools and Muslim community centres were attacked by arsonists and vandals. Muslims and non-Muslims now live in a country afraid of itself, and what it has become.
At least, though, the Left in the Netherlands has seen that there is a clash between liberal democracy and cultural relativism; that some cultures are simply not compatible with Western traditions of freedom and tolerance; and that the old distinction between evil right-wingers and cuddly left-wingers no longer makes sense.