In which ways are Europeans defined in this novel, especially with respect to the Enlightenment and Islamist fundamentalism?

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cathibee eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Europeans in the novel are described from two main viewpoints; the secular, liberal white European viewpoint, and the more traditionalist, fundamentalist Islam viewpoint. In the novel, Theo van Gogh is portrayed as the representative of secular white society. During his life, he published inflammatory pieces against all the cultures represented in the city, including Jews, Christians, and Muslims.


Rather than being concerned with creating a sense of central value, Van Gogh is instead the portrayal of a lack of any value or belief system, like many Europeans in the city.  From Van Gogh’s and his friends’ viewpoints, this loss of foundation in terms of value or faith is a manifestation of the “spirit of the time,” which they embrace with happy abandon.


Others, like Van Gogh’s Islam killer, however, are not so happy to do this. From their viewpoint, all that religious groups such as Muslims hold dear to their hearts and minds are being mocked and derided by Europeans like Van Gogh.  From this viewpoint, Europeans and their flippant attitude is the reason for intolerance and hatred.  From the European viewpoint, on the other hand, the fundamentalist and non-yielding attitude of religious groups is responsible for the same thing.


There seems to be little hope of reconciliation between these extremes, according to the novel.