Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance by Ian Buruma (2006)

When Mohammed Bouyeri  killed controversial Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh in 2004 (he shot him several times then  cut his throat, and kicked his corpse several times for good measure), he then "walked away, without hurry, easy as could be, as though he had done nothing more dramatic than fillet a fish.  Still calm, he made no attempt to escape.  While he reloaded his gun, a woman who happened by screamed 'You can't do that!' 'Yes, I can,' Bouyeri replied... 'and now you know what you people can expect in the future.'"

I less than 20 miles away when Farook and Malik committed mass murder at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino.  After finding out the acts were acts of terrorism, I immediately thought I wanted to re-read Burama's book about the killing of Theo Van Gogh.  Because what Bouyeri said was true:  "you people" - means Westernerns like me - "can expect" more acts like this in the future.  We've had many since Van Gogh's murder, and will probably have many more.  Buruma's exploration of these clashes of culture, between the European Enlightenment and a hatred of what it stands for, between multiculturalism and nationalism.  The world hasn't gotten and safer since Burman wrote  this book. France and the United States are the brink of electing fascists or proto-fascists, Great Britain is possibly voting to leave the European Union, there is a humanitarian / political crisis going on in Europe with more Muslim refugees from the war-torn, climate-change impacted Middle East.  This clash is even worse.

Buruma doesn't leave us with any solutions, and a dozen years later, there still aren't any easy solutions.

Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of ToleranceMurder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance by Ian Buruma
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wanted to re-read this book after the terrorism in San Bernardino. The world is neither safer nor saner since Buruma wrote this book. The Netherlands stands in for the West, as similar types of attacks, some small but deadly, other large and impactful, have occurred again and again since Theo Van Gogh was murdered in 2004. Buruma doesn't give us any answers here, but it still makes for fascinating and interesting reading on the clash between the Enlightenment and hatred for what it stands for, between nationalism and multiculturalism (prevalent now in France and the United States), the slip sliding of right and left into murkier areas of political thought. No one comes out perfectly clean in Buruma's book, perhaps because this is a dirty, messy issue without any clear, simple solutions.

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