The author of several searching books on current political issues (Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies, 2004, etc.) ruminates on religion, culture and the rule of law.
Buruma (Human Rights and Journalism/Bard College) is uniquely well-equipped for this attempt to understand the 2004 murder of controversial filmmaker van Gogh (a distant relative of the painter) by a young Muslim. Buruma was 24 when he emigrated from the Netherlands in 1975, and he moves with ease through the complexities of Dutch political, social and religious history here. Mohammed Bouyeri, 26, was enraged by van Gogh’s 11-minute film, Submission; he saw blasphemy in its stark, outrageous depiction of Islam and in its statements about the religion’s treatment of women. So he shot and stabbed van Gogh on an Amsterdam street. Buruma takes us through rapidly changing neighborhoods, showing us how vast these emigrations, especially from Islamic countries, have created what he calls “dish cities”—communities where people connect not to other residents of Amsterdam but to the Middle East via the internet and satellite TV. The author interviews people on all sides of the immigration controversies, from apostate Muslims to true believers to white Dutch citizens who are distraught about the changes in their country. Young immigrant Muslims cannot blend readily into the culture and usually do not wish to; they are often deeply offended by Amsterdam’s permissive policies on sex and drugs. Near the end, Buruma takes a close look at Bouyeri’s personal history and finds that radical Islam provided him some certainty amid the chaos of his life. The author worries deeply about the alienated, uneducated young who “feel that death is the only way home.”
A troubling description and analysis of what can happen when cultures collide.