Calls for end to violence at funeral of murdered film-maker

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Dutch film-maker whose brutal murder sparked a spiral of racial violence in the Netherlands was cremated yesterday amid appeals for an end to a spate of attacks on mosques, schools and churches.

The Dutch film-maker whose brutal murder sparked a spiral of racial violence in the Netherlands was cremated yesterday amid appeals for an end to a spate of attacks on mosques, schools and churches.

On a bitterly cold Amsterdam night, the public heeded calls from municipal leaders not to turn up en masse but to follow the ceremony at home on TV.

Theo van Gogh, a descendant of the 19th-century artist, was shot, stabbed and had his throat cut last week. Police later arrested a 26-year-old man who had dual Dutch-Moroccan nationality and was suspected of links to radical Islamic groups, after a shoot-out in an Amsterdam park.

Anneke van Gogh, the victim's mother, told mourners that she could hardly believe the extent of her own hatred when she heard how her son died. "My body was filled with hatred - it was a completely new experience," she said.

But there were concerted efforts to defuse the tensions caused by the killing that sent shock waves through the nation and has led to reprisals, including the bombing of a Muslim school in Eindhoven.

Molotov cocktails caused minor damage at churches in Utrecht and Amersfoort on Monday night after six similar incidents at Muslim buildings, including the explosion in Eindhoven. No injuries were reported at any of the attacks.

Yesterday, more than 70 members of Dutch-Moroccan organisations cycled through Amsterdam, wearing T-shirts proclaiming "We don't tolerate extremism", and Muslim groups agreed to distribute literature to mosques to help combat the growth of radical elements.

The Dutch Prime Minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, described the bombing of a Muslim school in Eindhoven as "abhorrent" and demanded an end to the violence. He called for better dialogue between the communities and ordered police and justice officials to respond to breaches of tolerance.

Mr van Gogh's coffin was draped with flowers and set alongside a bottle of wine and his tattered personal organiser for the funeral service, which was witnessed by about 500 people - about 200 of whom were from the media - at Nieuwe Ooster cemetery in Amsterdam.

The Dutch Deputy Prime Minister, Gerrit Zalm, was among the mourners and a former minister, Josias van Artsen, wept as one of the film-maker's favourite songs "Perfect Day" was played. Two sisters of Mr van Gogh delivered eulogies, while outside hundreds followed the service on giant screens. They included a woman carrying a banner stating "Stop the hate" and an old man in a sweater emblazoned with "Fxxx fundamentalism".

The authorities know the violence may continue and an unknown Islamic group issued a warning on a website of terror attacks against the Netherlands unless reprisals against Muslim organisations end. "We are asking you for the last time and you still have a chance to stop attacks against our mosques, schools and the Muslim community in Holland because otherwise you will pay a high price," the Islamic Tawhid Brigades wrote.

In neighbouring Belgium, the country's High Court upheld a ruling that the far-right anti-immigrant party, the Vlaams Blok party is racist, a decision that will force the nationalist Flemish group to change its name and statutes. The Blok has become a dominant political force in Flanders, winning one-third of the vote in Antwerp, with its anti-immigrant views and its campaign for Flemish separation from Wallonia.

Yesterday the High Court backed an earlier judgment that condemned the Blok for targeting immigrants in racist terms, and fined three associations for distributing xenophobic literature. In readiness for the ruling, the Blok has already revamped its manifesto, softening its anti-immigrant rhetoric and is preparing to relaunch under a new name, likely to be "Vlaams Belang" or the Flemish Interest party.

"We will become stronger ... out of this," the party leader, Filip de Winter, said, adding that only "cosmetic changes" were made to its values. It is currently excluded from power by a so-called "cordon sanitaire", under which all the mainstream parties refuse to deal with it.