It started almost as a Dutch cliché: murder on a bike.
When 47 year old Theo van Gogh was cycling to work on Tuesday morning in Amsterdam, he was overtaken by a younger cyclist, dressed in an Arabian djellabah. The 26 year old, a "Dutchman of Moroccan descent", pulled a gun, shot and wounded van Gogh. The latter dropped his bike and stumbled across the street, followed by the younger man, who shot him again.
Then the whole scene turned into Jihad. The assaillant jumped on van Gogh, pulled a knife and slit his throat. He planted the knife into van Gogh`s chest and a second knife, with a note containing Koranic verses, into his stomach.
If this had been a movie scene, it could have been one of van Gogh`s own. Like Vincent, his great-great-grandfather`s brother, Theo van Gogh was an artist who tended to shock people. He made his first movies in the early 1980s. They were orgies of blood and sadism.
In van Gogh`s first film, Luger (1981), a women had a pistol put into her vagina and was blasted away. Most people, however, realising that the blood on the screen was mere ketchup and red paint, were more upset about the kittens that the moviemaker had put in a washing machine. They were real. If animal rights activists had been around in the 80s, van Gogh might already have been shot twenty years ago.
Theo van Gogh was a foul-mouthed, ugly man who described himself as "a ram of fat." He particularly liked to upset religious people. He began with insulting Christians, but as this was not considered particularly shocking in the tolerant Holland of the late 20th century, he soon moved on to insulting Jews.
Van Gogh had noticed that it was politically incorrect to say anything unpleasant about Jews, so he decided to make them his prime target. Anne Frank, he said, was the Dutch people`s own "holy virgin." In a column he wrote that cremated Jewish diabetics must have smelled of caramel, and when a Jewish woman protested, he told her she fantasised about "sex with Dr. Mengele."
In an interview in 1996 van Gogh acknowledged he was "a piece of sh-t," but added "and so are you."
By the turn of the century, having shocked enough Jews, van Gogh went after the new "sacred cow" of the multicultural elite: the Muslims. On his website "De gezonde roker" (The healthy smoker), chain-smoking van Gogh called Muslims "goat f-ckers." Their prophet Muhammed, he said, was "a f-cker of little girls," their God "a pig called Allah," and Dyab Abu Jahjah, the charismatic leader of young Dutch and Flemish radical Muslims, "the prophet`s pimp."
What the Muslims needed most, according to van Gogh, was a moviemaker making a "Life of Brian" about their religion, so that people could have a good laugh at their expense. He added that he would love to make such a film.
When asked, after the murder of his friend Pim Fortuyn by an animal rights activist, whether he was not afraid of being killed as well, van Gogh said: "No. Who would want to kill the village idiot?"
As it turned out, his big mistake was that, unlike Christians and Jews, Muslims do not seem to be very tolerant of village idiots. Consequently, van Gogh was butchered in the holy month of Ramadan by a fanatic who had just finished his morning prayers in the mosque.
Is it a coincidence that the murder happened on 2 November, exactly 911 days after the murder of Fortuyn on 6 May 2002? It is ironic that van Gogh was murdered only a few days after completing the documentary "0605" about Fortuyn`s assassination.
The immediate reason for Van Gogh murder, however, was the ten minute documentary "Submission." The film, which deals with the abuse of Muslim women and was broadcast on Dutch television in late August. It showed abused women whose naked bodies were visible through their transparent chadors and gowns. On their bodies Koranic verses had been calligraphed describing the physical punishments prescribed by the Koran for women who "misbehave".
The film was written by the Somali-born Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a strong opponent of Islam`s treatment of women, and financed by van Gogh, who spent 18,000 euros (£12,500) of his own money on making it. Both Hirsi Ali and van Gogh received death threats by fanatic Muslims following the film`s release three months ago.
Van Gogh`s assassination has shocked the Christian, Jewish and secular segments of the Dutch population. This is ironic because these are exactly the segments of the population that had learned to live with van Gogh`s rants and were no longer shocked by the man who so much wanted to upset.
They are shocked now, not by Van Gogh but by how some of their new compatriots, the growing group of Muslim fanatics, reacted to him.
There is a deep divide between the two cultures, that of the "old" Dutch and that of the newcomers—a divide to which "the village idiot" tried to draw attention but the extent of which even he did not fathom.
The only Dutchman who does is Afshin Ellian. Now a professor of law at the university of Leiden, he fled the Iran of the ayatollahs in 1982 as a sixteen year old. In a response to the van Gogh murder, Ellian said that what is happening in Holland today is what he had fled Iran for and what is happening currently in Iraq.
"This is Jihad. Will I have to flee again soon?" he asks.
Ellian, too, has already received death threats.
Paul Belien [email him] is a Flemish historian and journalist.