Thu, Nov 04, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Controversial Dutch filmmaker stabbed, shot to death

THE GUARDIAN , AMSTERDAM

Theo van Gogh, the Dutch artist's great grand-nephew and a provocative filmmaker, was shot dead in a street in Amsterdam Tuesday, police said, apparently because of a film he made about Islamic violence against women.

Van Gogh, 47, was stabbed and then shot several times by a man who witnesses said arrived on a bicycle as the film-maker was getting out of his car outside council offices in the Linnaeusstraat, in the east of the city, at 8.45am, a city police spokeswoman, Elly Florax, said. He was dead by the time ambulances arrived.

The suspected killer, a 26-year-old man with dual Dutch and Moroccan nationality, fled into the nearby Oosterpark and was later arrested after a gunfight with police that left an officer and a bystander wounded. The man was last night under police guard in hospital, being treated for gunshot wounds to the leg.

As the Dutch prime minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, appealed for calm, one witness told Dutch media that the suspect had a long beard and was wearing Islamic or Arabic garb. The Amsterdam public prosecutor said the man had left a letter on Van Gogh's body, but declined to reveal its content until technical and forensic tests had been completed.

Van Gogh had recently drawn fierce criticism and received death threats for his latest fictional drama, Submission, in which a Muslim woman is forced into an arranged marriage, abused by her husband, raped by her uncle and then brutally punished for adultery.

The film, shown on Dutch television, was scripted by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali refugee given Dutch citizenship after fleeing an arranged marriage 12 years ago. Now a rightwing member of the Dutch parliament, Hirsi Ali has renounced her faith for its treatment of women and offended many Muslim groups.

The Netherlands has around 1 million Muslims in a population of 16 million. Immigration, integration and Islam are all highly emotive issues. According to polls, a majority of the Dutch feel afraid of the rising number of Muslims in Holland and threatened by Islamic militants.

Balkenende said: "Nothing is known about the motive," he said. "The facts must first be carefully weighed. Let's allow the investigators to do their jobs."

He praised Van Gogh as a proponent of free speech who had "outspoken opinions," but said it would be "unacceptable if a difference of opinion led to this brutal murder."

Born in Wassenaar, a suburb of The Hague, Van Gogh -- who courted controversy throughout his life with ill-concealed joy -- arrived in Amsterdam at the age of 17 to attend film school, but the two shorts he submitted were rejected and he was advised to seek psychiatric help.

Nonetheless, in a 25-year career, he made 10 original and intelligent feature-length films. Some critics said he never fulfilled the promise of his first film, Luger (1981), mainly because he spread himself too thinly.

Van Gogh was employed at one time or another by every leading Dutch newspaper and magazine; almost all fired him for offending their readers' sensibilities. His latest outlets were the daily freesheet Metro and a popular Web site, De Gezonde Roker (The Healthy Smoker).

But in the course of several hundred TV shows, Van Gogh also showed himself to be a sensitive and self-effacing interviewer.

"Two people inhabited him," his actor friend Cas Enklar said. "A courteous and adorable gentleman, and a devil who liked nothing better than making enemies."

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