Like any fine caricaturist, Theo Van Gogh the columnist was a penetrating observer. He didn’t bluntly insult people. He captured the fleeting but telling ‘facial expression’ and then magnified it many times. Not everybody enjoyed being under his scrutiny… He was assassinated by a Muslim terrorist in November 2004. To put in perspective what Van Gogh had written about Islam in Holland, I have collected and translated a few essential quotes.
Van Gogh (born in 1957 as great-grandson of the famous painter’s brother Theo) was a well-mannered interviewer and a good listener. He was of the opinion that ‘good tv interviewers pull a vacuum of loneliness into which the interviewed shed a glimpse of their unhappiness’. As a movie director, he cared about his actors and was stimulating and cooperative. But as a columnist, he ruthlessly attacked the slightest bit of hypocrisy that he sensed in a person.
This article contains a translated sample of Theo van Gogh’s quotes, taken from his columns. Vicious, vitriolic character attacks on Dutch politicians and media personalities. A bad boy, indeed. And a pretty darn good columnist too. I hope that, reading these quotes, the adolescent joy will come across of crossing that line of good taste.
First, a rather tame example:
The most annoying example of a moral theologian at work among our interviewers is Wilfried de Jong, a bellowing indignated, who pretends to turn television into Art, with himself as the ‘correct’ protagonist. De Jong knows everything in advance and has until now never been caught displaying even a single bit of interest in his guests. […]
Wilfried de Jong is the type of person that climbs from servant to master and prospers in dictatorships. His programs are of some interest to people who take an interest in exercises in totalitarian thinking.
I should mention that Van Gogh is writing about a respected TV-interviewer of quality programs. He was a far from obvious target and while reading these lines, many must have shaken their heads in disagreement. But the core of truth in Van Gogh’s caricature gradually dawned on me, until it finally hit home years later. This was on the occasion that De Jong publicly humiliated, on a live TV-show, soccer player Patrick Kluivert, who had long been the scapegoat of the nation. Indeed, quite a display of totalitarian thinking.
Stylistically, Van Gogh often used the trick of feigning reverence or pity, only to strike back twice as hard in the next sentence.
On the front page ‘the plagiarism’ of Margriet de Moor was mentioned. The author claimed that she had acted ‘in good faith’, and although of course she lied, I didn’t experience the malicious delight I usually feel when our Literators have once again been unable to resist a colleague’s candy jar. That is, the books of Mrs. De Moor are written so helplessly that one wishes her readers a permanent plagiarism.
He had his favorite targets, whom he kept attacking whenever he thought it appropriate – or when he was bored. He was quite happy to quote from his own pieces. Perhaps because he had to excel himself each time, the caricatures could evolve into the bizarre:
Mrs. Barend, recently described by me as ‘a plastified mummy who had still lived on Anne Frank’s attic’ came stumbling in behind little Frits: an old man walked his corpse. I found them two pathetic persons, with their: ‘I don’t want to see him on Boudewijns funeral’, and I had to remind myself that compassion is our highest virtue, even for an Auschwitz-pimp who wants to ban me from funerals.
Van Gogh mostly attacked well-respected public figures and spared people who were already under attack by the intelligentsia. He especially despised the ‘champagne socialists’, whose pity with the poor and immigrants he felt was gratuitous.
The Second World War was an ever-present system of reference in these debates. As a moral touchstone, and also by providing a handy jargon for polemic prose. Because of their connotations, words like collaboration, transportation, etc. were hard to resist. Van Gogh saw no problem in using these analogies. However, he mocked others for unjustly using the war in debates:
In lack of arguments, madam Grewel often talked about her experiences during the Occupation, on which she based her moral superiority in matters such as traffic poles, euthanasia and bad weather. […] I have to admit that I found her too stupid to respond to when she railed at me in De Groene [magazine], but also that I greeted her friendly once the final decline had begun and she publicly displayed, in true progressive spirit and like a shaven numbskull, the disadvantages of cancer. With her death, the shadiest efforts of social democracy have gone.
The assassination of Fortuyn
During the rise of the charismatic populist politician Pim Fortuyn (1948 – 2002), the aspect of bored playfulness in his writing made way for something more fundamental. Something urgent was at stake and polemic became a more grim matter – more than just a means of stirring things up, more than a matter of taking stabs at local politicians and B-celebrities.
Van Gogh chose sides with Fortuyn, as the only one of the opinion leaders. Two months before the assassination of Fortuyn, Van Gogh had written:
The funny thing is: Fortuyn and his sympathisers are constantly accused of ‘inciting hatred’, but it is rather the other way round. That Prince Pim still hasn’t been shot on behalf of the politically correct crowd, by some saviour, may be called a true miracle.
The day after the assassination of Fortuyn, Van Gogh wrote a column in which he congratulated the ones he thought were to blame:
What to do with such fine democrats? They aren’t worth spitting on and remind us of antisemites, real ones I mean.
A few months later he wrote a long article, an analysis of the political circumstances that had led to the murder – entitled: Good riddance.
There was a lot of hot air in Fortuyn’s revolution, but it was undeniable that he brilliantly defied all laws in dealing with the electorate. A future prime minister who declared he would continue to visit dark rooms… never before had the political been more personal and the personal more political. […]
The rage of Van Dam, Kok, Van Kemenade, Melkert and all those other champagne socialists was probably also related to the sense that the Left was losing its natural dominance in the public debate in the weeks preceding the sixth of May. It was as if Fortuyn would break the power of the paralyzing Sixties all at once. The gentlemen panicked, as for the first time in Dutch history the outcasts of the nation threatened to actually come into power. That wasn’t the plan. Fortuyn was the hated face of this impending revolt.
The Left was swept away and had only its trite lingo left. A lot of babbling about ‘extreme right’, ‘racism’, ‘the revival of fascism’, thus creating a climate in which murder becomes an act of heroism. There is something perverse about the eagerness with which Volkert van der G. [Fortuyn’s murderer] was denounced a ‘madman’, by politicians as well as the media. A madman frees our guilty conscience from the thought that we might have overreacted a tad. […]
The question comes to mind if in other so-called democratic countries the free press would line up so servilely behind the establishment. […] the lackeys of the government hobbled on, indignant beyond belief. But the people wouldn’t listen anymore. Couldn’t the people be dethroned? […]
In Marcel van Dam’s paradise, there is no place for ‘inferior people’. It’s a place where, as the Germans say, ‘klammheimliche Freude’ reigns when a certain baldy is disposed of. Dirty faggot, he had it coming. […]
Many called Fortuyn’s funeral a case of ‘mass hysteria’. Maybe this is true, but personally I was reminded of the last journey of Falcone, the Italian Mafia fighter for whom thousands of scared citizens clapped their hands raw. There was one difference: in Fortuyn’s case, the Mafia sat in the Church, with in the front row a yawning prime minister, who left through the side exit. While he left with his head down, the crowd outside were chanting You’ll never walk alone. Due partly to Kok’s cowardness – whose policy, soaked in humanitarian small talk, caused seven thousand muslims to be murdered as ‘our boys’ stood there and watched [Srebrenica], – Holland has become very special. Kok has specialized in condolences, with impressive displays of conscience. An expert in condolences, that came in handy now.’
In the article, Van Gogh mentioned his telephone conversations with ‘the divine bald one’ (Van Gogh liked to address Fortuyn with the words ‘Oh beloved Leader’) and sighed how he would have loved to see the republican, as Prime Minister, shake hands with the Queen, who reputedly hated him.
How I would have granted him the sour smile of that creature.
Hirsi Ali and the Islam
Van Gogh befriended Ayaan Hirsi Ali and supported her cause of denouncing Islam as backward:
It is the paradox of our society that our (just) tolerance gives free play to fanatics who more than anything want to dominate the Free West. Member of parliament Hirsi Ali was completely entitled to speak as she did. The attacks on her are echoes of the retarded Middle Ages. How shady can a muslim be?
Although he had scoffed religious individuals and communities before, notably Christians and Jews, he was especially hard on the Islam in the later years of his life. The phones must have rung off the hook at the so-called ‘anti-discrimination hotline’:
It’s not my fault that some fellow-citizens cling to the fundamentally intolerant religion of a little-girl-fucker who roamed the desert around 666. We may thank Allah that there are hundreds of thousands of reasonable Muslims in this country who don’t defile His name. But they too are intimidated by the at first sight pittoresque rural constables of Mecca’s thought police, who try to sell the blood that steams from their sewers by whining about ‘respect’.
He ridiculed the policy of appeasement of the mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen.
It’s kind of cute, a politician with aspirations of becoming prime minister who shits his pants so much for Allah’s callous hand that he keeps passing around the hat for the multicultural society. Maybe Cohen could enhance the harmony in Amsterdam by playing doormat to the Mosque goers, on which the true believers could wipe their feet. A wave of compassion will go through his party and once again we humble autochthones will experience the delight of our multicultural society.
In the summer of 2004, he directed Hirsi Ali’s anti-Islam film Submission. It was aired about two months before his assassination. At this point it was probably hard for Van Gogh to keep insisting he was just a ‘village idiot’ who wouldn’t be harmed.
In a collection of his columns, published in 2003, he had written in the preface:
This book is called Allah knows best because it is my dark suspicion that the new Middle Ages of Mecca are on the verge of outbreak; and because I, being a professional atheist, feel very unsafe in a climate that is dominated by ambitious mayors who are merrily ‘appeasing the masses’ and drinking tea with dubious mosque boards, while on the 4th of May Moroccan youngsters play soccer with funeral wreaths. Ever since 9/11, remember, the knives are out and the fifth column of goat fuckers marches on relatively unhindered. What else can I say? We live in a nightmare of good intentions and misunderstood idealism.
Three years before his death, in a non-polemic, melancholic column, Van Gogh had written about the ideal woman. In a puzzling, seemingly isolated sentence, he announced:
I will die on the street, even though such is uncomfortable.
The quotes in this article are my own translations, taken from columns that Van Gogh published in various media, among which his own website theovangogh.nl (Dutch) and the free newspaper Metro. They were later republished in two collections of columns, called De gezonde roker (The healthy smoker) and Allah weet het beter (Allah knows best).