AMSTERDAM—The Dutch government faced severe criticism from several quarters on Wednesday for its response to the murder of filmmaker and columnist Theo van Gogh.
The Arab European League (AEL) went so far as to liken the appearance of Immigration and Integration Minister Rita Verdonk at a rally in Amsterdam to a “Hitler speech, with only the little mustache missing”.
A Moroccan organisation has also described her speech as very negative and criticised her use of a sort “us and them” rhetoric.
Verdonk was the only one of the three speakers at a special rally in Amsterdam on Tuesday evening to remind the 20,000-strong crowd that the 26-year-old man arrested after the killing held both the Moroccan and Dutch nationalities.
The chairman of the Dutch section of the AEL, Nabil Marmouch, said for Verdonk to follow this remark with a call not to allow the situation to become more polarised was unbelievable. He accused her, along with right wing politicians Geert Wilders and Joost Eerdmans, of working to whip up “more hate”. He also said she was using the killing for her own electoral gain.
The Belgian-Dutch AEL issued a statement on Tuesday night condemning Van Gogh’s murder. Previous statements by the organisation—which says it supports the integration, but not assimilation of Arabs and Muslims into western societies—have caused widespread offence. The AEL recently said that the death of every Dutch soldier in Iraq was a victory.
Marmouch said only the person responsible for Van Gogh’s death was the person who shot him. He also claimed Van Gogh was bent on offending people and that his death had nothing to do with free speech.
“[Van Gogh’s] comments such as ‘the pimp of the prophets’ and ‘goatf*ckers’ [in relation to Muslims] have nothing to do with freedom of expression”. Van Gogh, Marmouch said, was out to offend people: “That is what he did and he was good at it”.
Verdonk also told the crowd on Tuesday that Dutch society had reached a crossroad. “It is up to us all to choose what side we are going to take. Do we, following Theo’s murder begin a process to get revenge? Or do we say ‘we go no further than here’?”
She said several organisations representing minorities in the Netherlands had already chosen the side they were on by openly condemning the murder.
The Union of Moroccan-Dutch Academics (UMAH) said Verdonk had gone “very close to the edge” of acceptable comment by mentioning the suspect’s dual nationality in her speech. Said Bellari of the UMAH said her “us and them” rhetoric and her “fractured reasoning” would harm the cause of integration.
Meanwhile, her colleagues in the three-party coalition government have also come in for criticism. The coalition is made up of the Christian Democrat CDA, Liberal VVD and Democrat D66 parties.
D66 leader Boris Dittrich said the coalition government’s letter to Parliament following the killing raised many more questions than it answered. VVD parliamentary party leader Jozias van Aartsen agreed the letter was acquiescent and unclear on several points.
Independent conservative MP Geert Wilders said Interior Minister Johan Remkes faced a “major political problem” if he could not adequately explain why the alleged killer had not been on a list of the top 10 most dangerous people in the Netherlands.
Wilders referred to media reports that the suspect had been linked to Samir A., a Muslim man arrested for allegedly plotting bomb attacks on Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport and the Dutch Parliament.
MPs of all parties have asked that the murder be debated further.