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The price of free speech

by
April 2007, no. 290

Murder in Amsterdam: The death of Theo van Gogh and the limits of tolerance by Ian Buruma

Atlantic Books, $24.95 pb, 278 pp

Book 2 Cover Small (400 x 600)

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Free Press, $34.95 pb, 365 pp

The price of free speech

by
April 2007, no. 290

In The Netherlands, freedom of speech is enshrined in Article 23 of the Constitution, a document written in blood, firstly in the fight against the Spanish in the sixteenth century, then amongst ourselves – Calvinist against Catholic. Radical Calvinism created the welfare state and made possible euthanasia, same-sex marriages and a slew of rights not available in other countries.

Theo van Gogh, born into a celebrated family, made himself famous, and infamous, in the Netherlands for his outrageous opinions, such as accusing the Jewish lord mayor of Amsterdam, the son of Holocaust survivors, of being a Nazi sympathiser. According to Ian Buruma, the author of Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance (2004), when van Gogh made the controversial film Submission with the Muslim activist turned politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Buruma thought that this would be seen as another of his national ‘village idiot’ gestures. There was no intention to draw more than imaginary blood. Van Gogh had lived his whole life secure in the knowledge that in the Netherlands he was onze Theo (our Theo), and that what he was free to deride because of Article 23 also protected him. But to Muslim fundamentalists, freedom of speech is anathema. God, and his representatives, decide what is and can be said. In this mindscape, this very freedom of speech, as espoused in the Netherlands, proves that the country is an infidel state.

Elisabeth Holdsworth reviews 'Murder in Amsterdam: The death of Theo van Gogh and the limits of tolerance' by Ian Buruma, and 'Infidel' by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Murder in Amsterdam: The death of Theo van Gogh and the limits of tolerance

by Ian Buruma

Atlantic Books, $24.95 pb, 278 pp

Book 2 Cover Small (400 x 600)

Infidel

by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Free Press, $34.95 pb, 365 pp

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