MURDER IN AMSTERDAM (a BUGGER! communique)

The following is a response to the media blitz concerning recent events in Holland, most notably the murder of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh and the rise of Hirsi Ali’s political star. A recent book, MURDER IN AMSTERDAM by Ian Buruma is to be published on the anniversary of September 11, and covers these events. The Buggers are a Dutch political & art action group who issue communiqués on various topics of global concern. Here is their most recent bulletin, a commentary on MURDER IN AMSTERDAM.

BUGGER!

The fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is seized upon by some publishers
and authors to launch books that are expected to benefit from the huge media
attention that the event is going to generate. It is no surprise to find a
number of publications scheduled for September 2006 that deal with
“terrorism”. Terrorism sells. Cynical, but true. We haven’t forgotten,
though, who designed and marketed the current “terrorism” brand in the first
place. The Pentagon, the White House, and their secret services have used it
from the start to justify their aggressive power plays and ideologies both
at home and abroad, and to serve US corporate interests, especially in the
oil and war business. So, when a book on terrorism is published, especially
at a time like this, it is useful to know what kind of publication we are
dealing with. Does it use the terror brand only for commercial purposes?
Does it contain some form of criticism or at least show awareness of the
origin of the brand that it bears? Or is it just another contribution to the
global branding of “terrorism” and consequently of “the war on terror”? We
found the latter to be true of Murder in Amsterdam [1] by the Anglo-Dutch
writer Ian Buruma, which is going to be released on the emotionally charged
date of September 11th.

Murder in Amsterdam deals with the murder of Dutch filmmaker and columnist
Theo van Gogh by Dutch Muslim Mohammed Bouyeri in November 2004. According
to the blurb Van Gogh’s murder was the emblematic crime of our moment,
the exemplary tale of our age, the story of what happens when political
Islam collides with the secular West and tolerance finds its limits
. No
mean event then, this murder, a matter of global significance. Or, as Buruma
sums up in his account: First came the Salman Rushdie affair, Then New
York was attacked. And now Theo van Gogh, our Salman Rushdie, was dead
.
One of the most striking features of this book is indeed the aggrandisement
of the event that it deals with and the people involved. Comparing Theo van
Gogh with Salman Rushdie, or his murder with the 9/11 attacks, of course,
does not testify to clear judgment but to wishful thinking and the desire to
be part of global politics. Aggrandisement reaches the point of
ridiculousness not only in the portrait of Van Gogh (great-grandnephew of
Vincent and iconic European provocateur, a provovative child of the
sixties, an heir of the Provos
), but also in that of his friend,
Somali-born, ex-Muslim politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali (delicate African
beauty, public defender of the Enlightenment, Hearing Ayaan talk
reminded me sometimes of Margaret Thatcher: the same unyielding
intelligence)
. Provos? Enlightenment? Margaret Thatcher? Come again, Mr
Buruma? [2]

Central to the composition of the book are the portraits of four
protagonists: Theo van Gogh, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Pim Fortuyn, and Mohammed
Bouyeri. Buruma paints Van Gogh’s portrait with the filmmaker’s native
Wassenaar in the background: a verdant suburb of rolling lawns, gravel
drives and large villas, where pink roses were still in bloom and the
rippling water was covered in white lilies
. Hirsi Ali is met in Café de
Flore on the Parisian left bank, where young men and women go by in their
thin summer clothes, holding hands, kissing, and generally carrying on in
pursuit of private pleasures
. These settings form a stark contrast with
Buruma’s sketches of Dutch “dish cities”, districts mostly inhabited by
people of Turkish and Moroccan descent, wired to the Islamic world through
satellite TV
. Mohammed Bouyeri, who killed Van Gogh in the streets of
Amsterdam, pinned a death-ridden message to Ayaan Hirsi Ali to his corpse,
and then tried to get himself killed in a shoot-out with the police [3],
grew up in one of these districts: a heavily Muslim area that had become
notorious for its high crime rate²
, a place where a few young men hung
around a shabby-looking kebab joint
and women in black headscarves carried
plastic bags from a local supermarket
². Buruma visits the dish cities,
³hotbeds of religious bigotry² as one of his friends calls them, at great
risk. They are either seen from Hirsi Ali’s bulletproof car when Buruma
meets her on a second occasion, or from the car of Van Gogh’s friend Gijs
van de Westelaken while another friend, Theodor Holman, jokes about being
assassinated too.

Over this caricatural landscape Buruma drapes the low and grey skies of
Dutch Calvinism and post-war guilt, to which he attributes the stifling
political correctness and penchant for watery political compromise of this
country. They are skies against which the colourful and tall figures of Van
Gogh, Hirsi Ali, and politician Pim Fortuyn stand out heroically, and that
provide shelter for drab little puritan losers like Mohammed Bouyeri and
Volkert van der Graaf, a radical animal rights activist who murdered Pim
Fortuyn in 2002. Buruma is at his best in his portrait of Pim Fortuyn. His
report of how this master of emotional kitsch, peddler of nostalgia, and
show-off with the gaudy style of a showbiz impresario could rise in
popularity on an anti-Muslim agenda and financed by louche businessmen is
faithful enough. But there’s more to Buruma’s sketch of this populist
politician than an accurate account. Fortuyn’s openly professed
homosexuality is emphasized as having added to his popularity and the
mystique of a man who came from nowhere ­ from Heaven perhaps ­ to save his
countrymen
. It’s a silly idea, of course, that only serves as a pretext
under which Buruma can slip notions of sexual liberation and activity into
his portrait of this shaven-headed dandy, this walking penis, just like
he does, albeit less conspicuously, in his portraits of Van Gogh and Hirsi
Ali.

In his earlier essay Extremism: the loser’s revenge, subtitled Can sexual
inadequacy or deprivation turn angry young men into killers?
[4] Buruma had
already staged Mohammed Bouyeri as an example of a sexually deprived,
suicidal murderer. The essay draws upon the theme of Hans Magnus
Enzensberger’s The Radical Loser [5], which Buruma admires but finds
lacking in one thing: a sexual factor, the psychology of the great
masturbator, the murderous gay thug, the drooping despot.
At first sight
Buruma’s point seems fair enough: who would want to turn away from the
possibility that sexual frustation make up part of the psychology of
suicidal murderers? But it turns out to be no more than simplistic and
politically biased dabbling in psychoanalysis when combined with some of
Buruma’s other statements on suicide violence, such as: Even those who have
good reason to blame their poverty on harsh forms of U.S.-backed capitalism
do not normally blow themselves up in public places to kill the maximum
number of unarmed civilians. We do not hear of suicide bombers from the
slums of Rio or Bangkok
. [6] Or this: Sexual deprivation may be a factor
in the current wave of suicidal violence, unleashed by the Palestinian cause
as well as revolutionary Islamism. The tantalising prospect of having one’s
pick of the loveliest virgins in paradise is deliberately dangled in front
of young men trained for violent death². [7] And finally: Access to MTV,
the internet, DVDs and global advertising reinforces the notion that
westerners live in a degenerate garden of sinful delights. This makes the
lot of millions of young Arab men even harder to bear, and can provoke a
mixture of rage and envy
. [8] They are tellingly generalizing and
patronizing statements that have nothing to do with psychoanalysis
whatsoever, and seem oblivious of the standard cultural studies of Sigmund
Freud and Herbert Marcuse.

Though not openly expressed and masked by the portraits of a number of minor
and hybrid characters, the main theme of Murder in Amsterdam is again the
opposition of enlightened and sexually liberated westerners to backward and
sexually deprived Muslims. In itself Mohammed Bouyeri’s portrait in Murder
in Amsterdam
may seem pretty objective, in combination with those of Van
Gogh, Hirsi Ali, and Fortuyn, the picture of a drab loser and wanker
emerges, whose envy of the sexual fulfilment of his opponents turned into
murderous rage. It’s a familiar opposition, seen and heard many times before
in the war on terror propaganda. “Murder in Amsterdam” is another
conscious attempt to mobilize feelings of superiority in the West and
sexualize the agression against Muslim states. It’s a two-dimensional
cartoon, complete with the stereotypical liberated women and gays. There
isn’t all that much difference between the drift of Buruma’s book and the
military pornography produced in Abu Ghraib. Mr Buruma, grow a beard! Ms
Hirsi Ali, bring out your leash! [9]

The Buggers

[1] Ian Buruma ­ Murder in Amsterdam (The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance), The Penguin Press, New York. All quotations in this pamphlet were taken from the uncorrected advance manuscript of the book and may differ from the final printed version.
[2] see our pamphlet #7 on Theo van Gogh and Pim Fortuyn: Pamphlet #7
[3] see our pamphlet #10 on the murder of Van Gogh: Pamphlet #10
[4] Ian Buruma ­ Extremism: the loser’s revenge, The Guardian, February 25th, 2006
[5] Hans Magnus Enzensberger – ‘Der radikale Verlierer’, Der Spiegel, November 7th, 2005
English version:
The Radical Loser/ Der Radikale Verlierer
[6] Ian Buruma ­ The Origins of Occidentalism, the Chronicle of Higher Education, February 6th, 2004
[7] Ian Buruma ­ Extremism: the loser¹s revenge, The Guardian, February 25th, 2006
[8] Ian Buruma ­ Extremism: the loser¹s revenge, The Guardian, February 25th, 2006
[9] see our Pamphlet #4 on the Abu Ghraib photographs

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PO Box 25212
3001 HE Rotterdam
The Netherlands
email: the.buggers@sea-urchin.net
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