Thursday, March 12, 2009
MURDER IN AMSTERDAM
TITLE: MURDER IN AMSTERDAM; The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance
AUTHOR: IAN BURUMA
Details: Non Fiction / Large Print
On the front cover of this book is a quote from a review in the Daily Telegraph; "A bleakly brilliant book" it reads, and that's exactly what "Murder in Amsterdam" is for me.
Being Dutch, but not having lived in Holland for twelve years it is also a frightening book. I don't recognize this place that is described in this book, and I don't feel any relationship with the people as the appear, regardless of their background, or the views they hold.
During visits to Holland over the years I had of course noticed that things were changing, you'd have to be blind and deaf not to. People now feel free to say things out loud that 15 years ago they would have been ashamed to think. The Dutch, who used to pride themselves on their liberalism and tolerance have ceased to exist as far as I can tell. Rather than growing closer together, the various groups in Dutch society seem to be drifting apart at an alarming rate, with violence, both verbal and actual, becoming more common. I'm sad to find that I can no longer imagine myself ever living in Holland again, but I can't.
The murder referred to in the title is one that was committed in Amsterdam in November of 2004, when a young Muslim of Moroccan descend killed Theo van Gogh, who was a very controversial and outspoken journalist and film-maker.The reason for the young man's murderous rage was an eleven minute long movie Van Gogh had made with Ayaan Hirsi Ali (an equally controversial woman of Somali background). A movie which was seen as being blashpemous towards Islam, which had been Hirsi Ali's objective in order to trigger a discussion in Holland about the place of Islam and it's followers in Dutch society.
On the back of the movie and the murder, positions in Holland become more entrenched and polarisation grew at an alarming rate. Buruma, born in Holland but living and working in New York, travelled back to Holland to investigate what was going on.
In this book he investigates the present polarisation while providing links to the past in order to find an explanation for the present situation.
What scares me most about the book or rather about the situation in Holland as described in this book, is that there doesn't appear to be a solution or compromise available. The various sides appear to be so entrenched that middle ground seems to be no-existent and on the face of it the situation appears more likely to get worse than better.
And there is one more conclusion I have to draw after reading this book; I don't know this country, that was home to me for over 30 years. In fact, I'm no longer sure if I have the right to join in the discussion because it appears that I know little or nothing about what is really going on in Holland.