Submission (2004 film)

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Produced by Theo van Gogh
Written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Language English
Original channel VPRO
Release date
  • August 29, 2004 (2004-08-29)
Running time 11 minutes

Submission is a 2004 English short film directed by Theo van Gogh and written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (a former member of the Dutch House of Representatives for the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy); it was shown on the Dutch public broadcasting network (VPRO) on August 29, 2004. The film's title is a direct translation of the Arabic word "Islam" (see also the etymology and meaning of the word). As a result of the film, van Gogh was assassinated by a Muslim fundamentalist.


Image of a woman's body with Koranic verses written on it from the film Submission. The actress plays the role of a Muslim woman (dressed with a transparent black clothing), having been beaten and raped by a relative. The bodies are used in the film as a canvas for verses from the Quran.[1]

The film tells the story of four fictional characters played by a single actress wearing a veil,[2] but clad in a see-through chador, her naked body painted with verses from the Koran.[3] The characters are Muslim women who have been abused in various ways. The film contains monologues of these women and dramatically highlights three verses of the Koran that give authority to men over women (4:34 2:222 and 24:2), by showing them painted on women’s bodies.


Hirsi Ali has said "it is written in the Koran a woman may be slapped if she is disobedient. This is one of the evils I wish to point out in the film".[4] In an answer to a question about whether the film would offend Muslims, Hirsi Ali said that "if you're a Muslim woman and you read the Koran, and you read in there that you should be raped if you say 'no' to your husband, that is offensive. And that is insulting."[5]

Director of the film, Theo Van Gogh, who was known as a highly controversial and provocative personality,[6][7] called the film a "political pamphlet."[8]


The film drew praise for portraying the ways in which women are abused in accordance with Islamic law, as well as anger for speaking against Islamic canon.[9] It drew the following comment from movie critic Phill Hall, "Submission was bold in openly questioning misogyny and a culture of violence against women because of Koranic interpretations. The questions raised in the film deserve to be asked: is it divine will to assault or kill women? Is there holiness in holding women at substandard levels, denying them the right to free will and independent thought? And ultimately, how can such a mindframe exist in the 21st century?"[10] Movie critic Dennis Lim, on the other hand, stated that, "It's depressing to think that this morsel of glib effrontery could pass as a serious critique of conservative Islam."[11] An other (unnamed) critic referred to the stories told in this film as "simplistic, even caricatures."[9]

After the movie's broadcast on Dutch television, newspaper De Volkskrant reported claims of plagiarism against Hirsi Ali and Van Gogh, made by internet journalist Francisco van Jole. Van Jole said the duo had "aped" the ideas of Iranian-American video artist Shirin Neshat. Neshat's work, which made abundant use of Arabic text projected onto bodies, had been shown in the Netherlands in 1997 and 2000.

Assassination of Theo Van Gogh[edit]

On November 2, 2004, Theo van Gogh was assassinated in public by Mohammed Bouyeri, a Dutch-Moroccan Muslim with a Dutch passport. A letter,[12] stabbed through and affixed to the body by a dagger, linked the murder to Van Gogh's film and his views regarding Islam. It was addressed to Ayaan Hirsi Ali and called for a jihad against kafir (Kafir is a disbeliever or infidel), against America, Europe, the Netherlands, and Hirsi Ali herself. Following the murder of Van Gogh, tens of thousands gathered in the center of Amsterdam to mourn Van Gogh's death. There were fire-bombings of mosques and Muslim schools, and counterattacks against Christian churches. Besides Bouyeri, eleven other Muslim men were arrested and charged with conspiracy to assassinate Hirsi Ali.[13]

After the murder of Theo van Gogh, Submission gained international fame. It was withdrawn from the International Film Festival Rotterdam. The film had been scheduled to be shown on Sunday during a discussion on freedom of speech in film at the festival. Because of the violent murder of Van Gogh, the producer of Submission, Gijs van de Westelaken, said, "We do not want to take any chance of endangering anyone else who participated in the film."[14] The film was shown on television in three European countries.[15]

Hirsi Ali has stated she would like to make a sequel to the movie because "By not making 'Submission Part II,' I would only be helping terrorists believe that if they use violence, they're rewarded with what they want." When asked if she would submit to threats against her life, she said "Not me."[16]

See also[edit]

Women in Muslim societies:

Other controversies:


  1. ^ Submission by Theo van Gogh
  2. ^ Review of Submission by Phil Hall
  3. ^ SPIEGEL Interview with Hirsi Ali: "We Must Declare War on Islamist Propaganda" - International - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News
  4. ^ Hirsi Ali on Film over Position of Women in Koran
  5. ^ Slaughter And 'Submission', Creator Of Dutch Film Vows Sequel Despite Muslim Death Threats - CBS News
  6. ^ Lim, Dennis: The Village Voice, November 16th, 2004 "he was most famous for being a radical-libertarian loudmouth. A political columnist who got fired from almost every newspaper in the country, he delighted in blurring the line between free speech and hatemongering—he insisted on calling conservative Muslims 'goatfuckers.'"
  7. ^ Review of Submission by Phil Hall "In his own career, van Gogh was a minor figure within Dutch culture who was known for writing rude political columns and creating films designed to challenge the sensibilities of Dutch audiences–which was no mean feat, given that nation’s excessively liberal social environment."
  8. ^ Simons, Marlese. “Ex-Muslim turns her lens on a taboo”, The New York Times ” 'Of course it's a political pamphlet; that's undeniable,' said Theo van Gogh, who directed the film and insisted....."
  9. ^ a b Simons, Marlese: Ex-Muslim turns her lens on a taboo, The New York Times
  10. ^ [1]
  11. ^ Lim, Dennis: The Village Voice, November16th, 2004
  12. ^ 'Jihad Manifesto' - A call to destroy America and all "unbelievers", English translation - letter left on Theo Van Gogh's body by the militant Islamist killer, Militant Islam, November 5, 2004
  13. ^ Slaughter And 'Submission' - Creator Of Dutch Film Vows Sequel Despite Muslim Death Threats, CBS, Aug. 20, 2006
  14. ^ Submission: Part I (2004) (TV) - News
  15. ^ Televisions stations that have aired the film include VPRO (the Netherlands, August 29, 2004), DR (Denmark, November 11, 2004), and RAI (Italy, May 12, 2005).
  16. ^ Slaughter And 'Submission', Creator Of Dutch Film Vows Sequel Despite Muslim Death Threats - CBS News

External links[edit]