Murder in Amsterdam

Buruma, Ian. Murder in Amsterdam: the Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance. London: Atlantic Books, 2006.

Reason read: the big Holland tulip festival is in May…although this has nothing to do with flowers.

Mohammed Bouyeri was 26 years old when he not only shot Theo van Gogh several times but slashed his throat with a machete as well. He ended his assault by stabbing a note into Van Gogh’s lifeless body – however the final insult was kicking the corpse before calmly walking away. The note, oddly enough, wasn’t addressed to Van Gogh (rightly so since the dead man couldn’t read it) but to anti-Islam politician Hirsi Ali who claimed the Koran was the source of abuse against women. That’s not to say there weren’t plenty of folks in Holland who wished Van Gogh dead. He thrived on being controversial to the point of revolting. Buruma knew Van Gogh in certain circles so I can only imagine what it was like to write about his death as an acquaintance. But, the actual crime is only the centerpiece for the much wider topic of controversies surrounding what happens when nonconformist immigrant populations with differing religions and cultural politics clash against other stringent societies.

As an aside, whenever I thought about the subtitle of Murder in Amsterdam (The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance) I had Natalie Merchant’s lyrics from “This House is On Fire” in my head, “You go passing wrong for right and right for wrong people only stand for that for just so long”. She is not asking what is the limit of tolerance. She is telling you there IS a limit.

Lines that lingered, “When smugness is challenged, panic sets in” (p 15), “Unsure of where he belonged, he lost himself in a murderous cause” (p 23), “Part walking penis, part phony aristocrat, Fortyn became a presence, in TV studios, on radio programs, and at public debates that could not be ignored” (p 59), and (last one), “The sense of being “disappeared” can lead to aggression, as well as self-hatred; dreams of omnipotence blend with the desire for self-destruction” (p 140).

Author fact: Buruma also wrote a book called Voltaire’s Coconuts. With his sense of humor (and not having read the book) I wonder what coconuts he’s referring to….

Book trivia: there are no pictures of Theo van Gogh nor maps of the area in which he was murdered.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Hollandays” (p 96).

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