Murder in Amsterdam

by Ian Buruma

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What is the connection between the Holocaust and Dutch reaction to Muslim immigrants in Murder in Amsterdam?

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Ian Buruma's Murder in Amsterdam is not a novel. It is a nonfiction contemplation on the increasingly lethal clash of cultures that has accompanied the migration of millions of Muslims from Africa and the Middle East to Western Europe. Buruma's book is centered on the murder of Theo van...

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Gogh by Mohammed Bouyeri, a classic model of the disaffected Muslim immigrant angry over what he perceives as the moral decrepitude of the liberal Western society to which he emigrated. As Buruma tells the story, there are precious few "'good guys." Van Gogh, he painstakingly illustrates, was no saint. His great uncle was Vincent van Gogh, the impressionist and highly influential artist. His familial lines, however, did not conceal the fact that Theo van Gogh was an extreme racist whose writings were filled with anti-Semitic and, later, anti-Islamic diatribes and insults. Among the targets of his vituperation was the memory of the Holocaust, the deliberate extermination of six million Jews and millions more homosexuals, communists, Slavs, and others. 

Another element of Buruma's narrative is the career of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born Dutch politician who became well-known for her criticisms of Islamic practices degrading to women, such as the practice of female genital mutilation and the subordinate role women play in many Islamic societies. Additionally, Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn, whose own racist, anti-Muslim views resulted in his assassination in 2002, is prominently featured in Murder in Amsterdam. Fortuyn's popularity among Dutch citizens critical of the increasingly prominent role of Islam in their society is an extension, Buruma and others suggest, of Dutch attitudes toward Holland's Jewish population before and during World War II, when many of the country's Jews were deported to concentration camps (most famously, Anne Frank).

Consequently, the connection between Murder in Amsterdam and the Holocaust lies primarily in Buruma's indictment of what he considers a history of Dutch xenophobia and racism. The inability or unwillingness, he argues, of Western countries to assist non-Western immigrants in assimilation fosters the kind of intolerance and extremism that manifests itself in murders like that of Theo van Gogh and acts of terrorism.

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Murder in Amsterdam revolves around the murder of Theo Van Gogh by Mohammed Bouyeri because of his participation in the making of the film Submission (2004) where he was the director. The author of the content, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, was concerned about the Islamic abuses of women and the film was part of the protest that angered the Muslim community in the Netherlands. Hirsi developed Enlightenment ideals while in the Netherlands, causing her to sharply criticize some of the Islamic teachings and their application.

Theo Van Gogh was the great-grandson to Vincent van Gogh, the famed painter. He introduces the connection of the Holocaust through a program titled Beeldreligie (screen religion) where there is a depiction of a student reading the bible but with the words “God” substituted with “screen”. This elicited threats of violence from the Dutch Nazis. The author brings the complicity of the Dutch with the Nazis and their liberal approach within their society. This has created a complicated attitude of the Dutch towards the Muslim community as depicted by outlawing the Muslim burqa from all public places while still trying to maintain liberal views as required by Dutch social settings.

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