Monday, November 21, 2005

The Australian: Muslim fanatics terrorise a nation

The Australian: Muslim fanatics terrorise a nation

Islamist murders and threats have transformed the once-tolerant Netherlands into a place of armed bodyguards and fear, writes Anthony Browne


A FILM about gay rights should hardly raise an eyebrow in The Netherlands, which for centuries has prided itself as a beacon of freedom of expression and was the first country to legalise gay marriage.

But when Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali refugee turned Dutch MP, started making a new film about the oppression of homosexuals under Islam, the threat to everyone taking part was deemed so great that she decided there would be no faces shown on screen and no end credits and that the entire production team would remain anonymous.

Ali, a “lapsed Muslim” who revealed this week that she had finished the script, lives in a safe house under 24-hour protection.

The precaution is as wise as the courage is extraordinary: Theo van Gogh, the director of Ali’s previous film, about domestic violence under Islam, was killed — repeatedly shot and almost decapitated in broad daylight in the streets of Amsterdam by an Islamic extremist.

Impaled on a knife in van Gogh’s chest was a five-page note declaring holy war on The Netherlands and threatening death to other public figures deemed “enemies of Islam”.

A year after his murder, The Netherlands is a country transformed. Previously, only the Queen and Prime Minister had police protection, and ministers cycled to their ministries.

Now, many politicians, writers and artists are considered to be in such danger that they have permanent armed guards and are driven around in bomb-proof armoured cars. The Interior Ministry has set up a special unit assessing death threats from Islamic extremists and providing protection squads.

[...]

Across town, police are investigating the shot fired at the window of Rita Verdonk, the Immigration Minister, who has become a hate figure among Muslim communities for introducing some of the strictest immigration laws in Europe, and insisting that Muslims should integrate.

Amsterdam councillor Ahmed Aboutaleb, a Dutch-Moroccan who has said that Moroccans who do not like The Netherlands should leave, is also under permanent protection. "He never gives interviews on that issue," a spokeswoman said.

Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen has tried to build bridges with the Muslim community but, as the country's highest-profile Jew, he also needs 24-hour protection.

At Leiden University law school, professor Afshin Ellian, an Iranian refugee who has called for reform of Islam and even suggested that comedians should make jokes about it, is hustled through the electronically locked doors to his office by two bodyguards.

"In The Netherlands, terrorists want to threaten not only the public ... they also want to kill public figures, such as artists, academics and politicians," he said. "It is not special in terms of Islam -- in Iran, it is normal to kill people who criticise Islam, as in Egypt and Iraq. It is legitimised by Islamic political theology, which says it is all right to kill someone if they are an enemy of Allah. But this is happening in Europe."

Academics and authorities in The Netherlands are trying to understand why, in their country, Islamic extremism has gone down the path of assassination, while in Britain and Spain it has produced bombings.

The rise in the death threats started in 2002 when Pim Fortuyn, a flamboyant, gay, right-wing maverick, called for a halt to Islamic immigration. He complained that police did not take the death threats against him seriously. He was killed not by a Muslim, but by a left-wing activist who said he did it "for the Muslims".

It was the first political killing in The Netherlands for three centuries and was seen as a one-off. But the murder of van Gogh two years later convinced people that the threat of political killing had become permanent.

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