Murder in Amsterdam : Liberal Europe, Islam and the limits of tolerance

by Ian Buruma

Paper Book, 2006




New York : Penguin Press, c2006.


On a cold November day in Amsterdam, an angry young Muslim man, the son of Moroccan immigrants, killed celebrated and controversial Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, great-grandnephew of Vincent and iconic European provocateur, for making a movie that "blasphemed" Islam. The murder horrified quiet, complacent, prosperous Holland, a country that prides itself on being a bastion of tolerance, and sent shock waves across Europe and around the world. Ian Buruma returned to his native Netherlands to try to make sense of it all and to see what larger meaning should and shouldn't be drawn from this story. The result is a true-crime page-turner with the intellectual resonance we've come to expect from this well-regarded journalist and thinker: the exemplary tale of our age, the story of what happens when political Islam collides with the secular West and tolerance finds its limits.--From publisher description.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member janey47
I STRONGLY recommend this book. I find Sam Harris's and Richard Dawkins's calls for the abolition of religion to be vast oversimplifications of serious issues. One thing I really like about Baruma's book is that he raises questions rather than trying to find one sweeping solution that makes us, the secular humanists, nod in self-satisfaction. I don't believe in "God," I don't believe in an afterlife, I'm not a member of any religion, but --

-- I don't think that religion *can* be abolished;
-- I don't think anyone who has proposed it has given any sensible account of what it would be replaced with, other than to say something silly like "People should think for themselves." (Since when have the majority of people ever demonstrated an ability to think critically?);
-- I do think that culture rather than religion accounts for a whole host of the problems commonly attributed to religion; and
-- I do think that the majority of people belonging to religions garner positive messages from them and use the rules provided by religions to frame an ethical life.

So all that said, Murder in Amsterdam looks at the problems posed by multiculturalism in Holland, which has shown itself in recent years to be a peculiar petri dish of many of the issues.

Strongly, strongly recommended.

Don't read ahead, but the last page is perfect. But only perfect if you've read the whole book first.
… (more)
LibraryThing member dr_zirk
Buruma has written a key text on the integration of Muslims into Western European society, and how things can go awry when cultural misunderstandings lead to violence. The author lets most of the opinions (and there are lots of them) flow from his interview subjects, and the thread that emerges suggests that the core problem may be the over-willingness of liberal Dutch society to pander to immigrants, even those that show little interest in integrating in the daily "norms" of Dutch life. The idea emerges that a "tougher" approach to the integration of immigrants, similar to that practiced by the United States, might be the solution. In the end, the saddest part of this story is that the Dutch intelligence services appear to have been aware of Van Gogh's murderer prior to his ultimate act, although he was not taken seriously as a potential trouble-maker. This is a thoughtful, insightful text, and very timely as the West struggles to figure out "what to do" about Islam.… (more)
LibraryThing member Devil_llama
A good discussion of the murder of the Dutch filmmaker, Theo Van Gogh, following his production of a short film on Islam with Ayaan Hirsi-Ali. The author tries to avoid making judgements on the individuals involved, though there are times when his opinion slips through in the way a phrase is worded or an idea presented. Overall, it's a relatively balanced look at the murder, though perhaps with a little foray into blaming the victim from time to time.… (more)
LibraryThing member Patrick311
This is a fascinating and thorough look at the contemporary social/political scene in Holland, where a massive influx of rural Moroccan immigrants, some of whom practice takfir, a particularly extreme form of Islam, challenges the ulta-liberal government's policies of tolerance and multiculturalism and the country's traditions. This issue came to a head in 2004 with the famous assassination of filmmaker and provocateur Theo Van Gogh. Buruma is very balanced, examining the issue from many sides and never taking one side as "right" and the other as "wrong." He's uniquely situated to write such a book, as he is Dutch by birth, but has lived abroad for the past three decades. This gives him an insider view with a bit of a detached gaze. The fundamental question of the book -- can a liberal society, one that believes in the value of diversity and of tolerance for other cultures, accept and incorporate a culture that doesn't share certain of its most important beliefs (in this case equality between men and women, acceptance of homosexuality, and separation of church and state) or are there certain things that are non-negotiable? -- seems to be something that must be addressed if we're to understand how Islam is changing Europe. Indeed, reading this book as an American who's never been to the Netherlands, I felt I was getting half the picture, and a distorted one at that. The American idea of immigration is so different from the Dutch one, especially for this reader, who lives in Los Angeles and takes for granted that Spanish shares nearly equal footing with English in the public sphere. But Holland is different, as it harbors a level of guilt for its relative complacency during the Holocaust (Anne Frank continues to be the ultimate Dutch trump card, her name ending all debate in a moment of shamed silence), and its more recent role as colonial oppressor in Suriname and Indonesia. This book is a fundamentally European book, just as the author argues, at one point, that Islam is now a European religion. One of the people Buruma profiles in the book, explains that "The heart of Islam is in the Middle East, but its head is in Europe," meaning that liberal European culture has given Muslims the intellectual space to feel out how it will interact with the West, with modernity, and with itself, the freedom to decide whether it will grow to reconcile life in a modern, multicultural society or whether it will ultimately reject it.The reason I give this book only 3 stars is that it felt repetitive at times, hammering home the same lessons about the "Dutch character" over and over, and in the end, it offered little in the way of a solution. While it isn't the author's job to find an answer to such an enormous question, I would've liked to have seen more than what he eventually concludes, that giving young Muslim men more economic opportunities to succeed and a chance to feel more accepted in Dutch society will curtail the spread of extremism. This seems like the typical leftist response to social ills, "All political strife and all crime is the result of economic disparity." It's not that I don't believe this to be true (it certainly couldn't hurt to give them greater economic opportunities, for example), but I would've liked to have seen something a bit more forward-thinking from a book that so often surprised me.… (more)
LibraryThing member Coelacanth
I’m an American and was mystified by the murders of Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh in the Netherlands. A flamboyantly gay conservative anti-immigrant politician? A filmmaker who said horrible and outrageous things—I wondered how anyone could take him seriously. This book puts them both in context and makes sense of it.
LibraryThing member xenchu
This is the story of the murder of Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam and its aftermath and consequences for Holland and perhaps the world. It is about the tensions in Dutch life between liberal Dutch society and muslim culture.
LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
Mohammed Bouyeri was 26 years old when he not only shot Theo van Gogh several times but slashed his throat with a machete as well. He ended his assault by stabbing a note into Van Gogh's lifeless body - however the final insult was kicking the corpse before calmly walking away. The note, oddly enough, wasn't addressed to Van Gogh (rightly so since the dead man couldn't read it) but to anti-Islam politician Hirsi Ali who claimed the Koran was the source of abuse against women. That's not to say there weren't plenty of folks in Holland who wished Van Gogh dead. He thrived on being controversial to the point of revolting. Buruma knew Van Gogh in certain circles so I can only imagine what it was like to write about his death as an acquaintance. But, the actual crime is only the centerpiece for the much wider topic of controversies surrounding what happens when nonconformist immigrant populations with differing religions and cultural politics clash against other stringent societies.… (more)
LibraryThing member m.belljackson
With the exception of tedious and repetitive interludes, MURDER IN AMSTERDAM is finely detailed and informative.

It is also terrifying, notably for those of us who fear that Ayaan Hirsi Ali may be more right than right-wing.


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