On Tuesday 2 November Theo van Gogh, a provocative right wing columnist and film-maker, was murdered in Amsterdam. His killer was a 26 year old man from a Moroccan background. The murder has led to a vicious racist backlash.
The press has portrayed this as a symmetrical war between Muslims and non-Muslims—but Muslims have mainly been on the receiving end.
In the last two weeks there have been more than 20 attempts to burn down Islamic buildings, and countless street fights have been reported.
On 9 November an Islamic primary school was burned to the ground in Uden, a small village in the south of the Netherlands.
The backlash is being fuelled by politicians and the media. Following the murder the vice-premier and finance minister declared a “war on the jihad”, giving racist thugs the confidence to put their hatred into practice.
Right wing politicians have called for a ban on immigration. Even politicians on the left felt pressured into calling for “strong measures” against terrorism and for a crackdown on “backward Islam”.
The right wing have appealed to “freedom of speech” to justify more repression. They say van Gogh died because he practised this freedom.
In reality he only demanded freedom of speech for himself. Muslims who have tried to counter his attacks have been denied any possibility to do so.
There are hardly any voices against Islamophobia heard in the mainstream media.
Van Gogh, who referred to himself as a “nihilistic reactionary”, has taken every opportunity to whip up racism. In the 1990s he had to fight a long court case after making anti-Semitic remarks and joking about the Holocaust.
In the wake of 11 September 2001 he shifted his wrath towards Muslims. In his weekly newpaper columns he referred to Muslims as “goatfuckers”.
The murder of Theo van Gogh follows the murder of Pim Fortuyn, a right wing politician admired by van Gogh, in 2002.
Part of the reason for these killings is that the perpetrators feel there is no viable alternative in this racist climate.
It is no surprise that some individuals are pulled towards desperate acts.
But something positive is happening in the Netherlands as well. After Fortuyn was killed the right dominated the political scene for months.
Now, only hours after the murder of van Gogh, black and white people from the area countered racist arguments at the murder scene.
In the city of Eindhoven the neighborhood organised a human shield around one of the Muslim schools that was attacked. In two weeks the Dutch Social Forum will end with a big demonstration against racism and war.
Since 2002 a mass movement against the right has emerged on the streets of Holland. The recent series of strikes and trade union marches against the government were thoroughly multicultural, and had the spirit of Florence and Genoa. This is the solidarity we have to build on.