Theo van Gogh (film director)

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Theo van Gogh
Theo van Gogh
Theo van Gogh in 2004.
Born Theodoor van Gogh
(1957-07-23)23 July 1957
The Hague, Netherlands
Died 2 November 2004(2004-11-02) (aged 47)
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Cause of death
Monuments The Scream
Residence Amsterdam, Netherlands
Nationality Dutch
Occupation Film director · Film producer · Screenwriter · Television presenter · Interviewer · Actor · Author · Columnist · Blogger · Activist
Years active 1982-2004
Notable work(s) Blind Date
Religion Non-religious (Atheism)
Children Lieuwe van Gogh (born 1992)
Parents Johan van Gogh (Father)
Anneke van Gogh (Mother)
Relatives Theo van Gogh (Great-grandfather)
Vincent van Gogh (Great-granduncle)
Henk Vonhoff (Uncle)
Official site

Theodoor "Theo" van Gogh (Dutch: [ˈteːjoː vɑŋ ˈɣɔx]) (23 July 1957 – 2 November 2004) was a Dutch film director, film producer, columnist, author and actor.

Van Gogh worked with the Somali-born writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali to produce the film Submission, which criticized the treatment of women in Islam and aroused controversy among Muslims. On 2 November 2004 he was assassinated by Mohammed Bouyeri, a Dutch-Moroccan Muslim.

The last film he completed before his death, 06/05, was loosely based on the assassination of the Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn.

Early life[edit]

Theo van Gogh was born in The Hague, Netherlands. He was the great-grandson of Theo van Gogh, the brother of the famous painter Vincent van Gogh. His father, Johan van Gogh, was a member of the Dutch secret service ('AIVD', then called 'BVD'). Theo's uncle, also named Theo, was executed by the Germans as a resistance fighter during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during World War II.[citation needed]


After dropping out of law school at the University of Amsterdam, van Gogh became a stage manager. His self-proclaimed passion was film-making, and he débuted as a director with the movie Luger (1981). He was awarded a Gouden Kalf for Blind Date (1996) and In het belang van de staat ("In the Interest of the State") (1997). For the latter, he also received a "Certificate of Merit" from the San Francisco International Film Festival. As an actor he appeared in the production De noorderlingen ("The Northerners", 1992).

After that, he worked for television. Van Gogh also wrote provocative columns for Metro and other newspapers. He wrote polemic prose. His website was called De Gezonde Roker ("The Healthy Smoker").[2] The site's name, which is also the title of one of his books, was an allusion both to his notorious chain smoking and to the "politically correct" negative stance towards smoking in society.

His last book (2003) was Allah weet het beter (Allah Knows Better), in which he strongly condemned Islam. He was a well-known critic of Islam, particularly after the September 11, 2001 attacks. He supported the nomination of the liberal (former PvdA Labour Party), Somalian-born female politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali for the Dutch parliament.

In the 1980s, Van Gogh became a newspaper columnist, and through the years he used his columns to vent his anger at politicians, actors, film directors, writers and other people he considered to be part of "the establishment". He was a controversial figure who delighted in provocation. He filled his website, "De Gezonde Roker" ("The Healthy Smoker"), with harsh criticism of multicultural society. He said the Netherlands was so rife with social turmoil that it was in danger of turning into "something Belfast-like".[1]


Working from a script written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Van Gogh created the ten-minute short film Submission. The movie deals with violence against women in some Islamic societies; it tells the stories, using visual shock tactics, of four abused Muslim women. The title, Submission, is a translation of the word "Islam" into English; it refers to Muslims' submission before God. In the film, women's naked bodies, with texts from the Qur'an written on them, are veiled with semi-transparent shrouds as they kneel in prayer, telling their stories as if they are speaking to Allah.

In August 2004, after the movie's broadcast on Dutch public TV, the newspaper De Volkskrant reported that the journalist Francisco van Jole had accused Hirsi Ali and Van Gogh of plagiarism,[citation needed] saying that they had appropriated the ideas of Iranian-American video artist Shirin Neshat, whose work used Arabic text projected onto bodies.

After Submission was broadcast, Van Gogh and Hirsi Ali received death threats. Van Gogh did not take the threats seriously and refused any protection. According to Hirsi Ali, he said, "Nobody kills the village idiot", a term he frequently used in self-reference.[2]

Personal life[edit]

Van Gogh was a member of the Dutch republican society Republikeins Genootschap, which advocates the abolition of the Dutch monarchy. He was a friend and supporter of the controversial Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn, who was assassinated in 2002.[citation needed]


Place where Van Gogh was killed
Demonstration at the Dam square after Van Gogh was killed
Demonstrators. The sign, translated, says "Theo has been murdered".

Van Gogh was murdered by Mohammed Bouyeri as he was cycling to work on 2 November 2004 at about 9 o'clock in the morning, in front of the Amsterdam East borough office (stadsdeelkantoor), on the corner of the Linnaeusstraat and Tweede Oosterparkstraat (52°21′32.22″N 4°55′34.74″E / 52.3589500°N 4.9263167°E / 52.3589500; 4.9263167).[3] The killer shot van Gogh eight times with an HS2000 handgun. Initially from his bicycle, Bouyeri fired several bullets at Van Gogh, who was hit, as were two bystanders. Wounded, Van Gogh ran to the other side of the road and fell to the ground on the cycle lane. According to eyewitnesses, Van Gogh's last words were: "Mercy, mercy! We can talk about it, can't we?"[4] Bouyeri then walked up to Van Gogh, who was still lying down, and calmly shot him several more times at close range.[5][6] Bouyeri then cut Van Gogh’s throat, and tried to decapitate him with a large knife, after which he stabbed the knife deep into Van Gogh's chest, reaching his spinal cord. He then attached a note to the body with a smaller knife. Van Gogh died on the spot.[7] The two knives were left implanted. The note was addressed and contained a death threat to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who was subsequently forced to go into hiding, threatened Western countries and Jews and also referred to the ideologies of the Egyptian organization Takfir wal-Hijra.[8][9]

The killer, Mohammed Bouyeri, a 26-year-old Dutch-Moroccan citizen, was apprehended by the police after a chase, during which he was shot in the leg. Bouyeri has alleged terrorist ties with the Dutch Hofstad Network. He was charged with the attempted murder of several police officers and bystanders, illegal possession of a firearm, and conspiring to murder others, including Hirsi Ali. He was convicted on 26 July 2005 and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole.[10]

The murder sparked a storm of outrage throughout the Netherlands. Flowers, notes, drawings and other expressions of mourning were left at the scene of the murder.[11]


The cremation ceremony took place on 9 November. He had spoken about his own funeral with friends shortly before his death because he had feared he would not survive a flight to New York.[12] Maarten van Rossem was asked by Van Gogh's relatives to speak, something he found difficult in that he wanted to avoid sounding apocalyptic.[13] His father spoke about how van Gogh would have liked all the media attention his murder had caused.[12]


The day after the murder, Dutch police arrested eight Muslim radicals belonging to a group later referred to as the Hofstad Network. Six detainees were Dutch-Moroccans, one was Dutch-Algerian, and one had dual Spanish-Moroccan nationality. The Dutch Complaints Bureau for Discrimination on the Internet (MDI) received many complaints about websites praising the murder and making death threats against other people.[3]

At the same time, starting with four attempted arson attacks on mosques in the weekend of 5–7 November, numerous apparently retaliatory violent incidents and arson attacks took place, targeting Muslims.[4][14] The Dutch Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia recorded a total of 106 violent incidents in November against Muslim targets. The National Dutch Police Services Agency (KLPD) recorded 31 occasions of violence against mosques and Islamic schools between 23 November and 13 March 2005.[5] An arson attack destroyed a Muslim primary school in Uden in December 2004.[6] By 8 November, Christian churches became targets of vandalism and arson attacks. A report for the Anne Frank Foundation and the University of Leiden, which counted a total of 174 violent incidents between 2–30 November, notes that mosques were the target of violence 47 times, and churches 13 times.[7]

The murder widened and polarized the debate in the Netherlands about the position of its more than one million Muslim residents and how they would be affected. In an apparent reaction against controversial statements about the Islamic, Christian, and Jewish religions—such as those van Gogh was renowned for—the Dutch Minister of Justice, Christian Democrat Piet Hein Donner, suggested Dutch blasphemy laws should either be applied more stringently or made more strict. The liberal D66 party suggested scrapping the blasphemy laws altogether.

De Schreeuw (The Scream) Memorial commemorating Theo van Gogh and a symbol of the freedom of speech

The Independent Dutch member of parliament Geert Wilders advocated a five-year halt to non-Western immigration, saying: "The Netherlands has been too tolerant to intolerant people for too long. We should not import a retarded political Islamic society into our country".[8] In opposition to such sentiments, campaigns for a kleurrijk Nederland ("colourful Netherlands"), such as Stop de Hetze[15] (Stop the Witch Hunt), were started.

Geert Wilders and Ayaan Hirsi Ali went into hiding for several weeks. Wilders has been under the protection of bodyguards ever since and Hirsi Ali eventually relocated to the United States.

Theo van Gogh's son claims he has been attacked on several occasions by young people of Moroccan and Turkish descent, and that the police did not provide him with help or protection.[16][dead link] The police denied receiving any report of attacks.[17][18]

On 18 March 2007, a sculpture in memory of Theo van Gogh was unveiled in Amsterdam, entitled De Schreeuw ("The Scream"). It is located in the Oosterpark, just a short distance from where van Gogh was murdered.[19][20][21][22]

A private trust, the Foundation for Freedom of Expression, was established to help fund protection for critics of Islam and Muslims.[23]

Murder and Index on Censorship[edit]

In the English-speaking world, controversy arose after publication of Rohan Jayasekera's article in the magazine Index on Censorship. The Associate Editor said that Van Gogh was a "free-speech fundamentalist" who had been on a "martyrdom operation[,] roar[ing] his Muslim critics into silence with obscenities" in an "abuse of his right to free speech". Describing van Gogh's film Submission as "furiously provocative", Jayasekera said his death was:

A sensational climax to a lifetime's public performance, stabbed and shot by a bearded fundamentalist, a message from the killer pinned by a dagger to his chest, Theo van Gogh became a martyr to free expression. His passing was marked by a magnificent barrage of noise as Amsterdam hit the streets to celebrate him in the way the man himself would have truly appreciated.

And what timing! Just as his long-awaited biographical film of Pim Fortuyn's life is ready to screen. Bravo, Theo! Bravo! [9]

Both left- and right-wing commentators criticized the article. In December 2004, Nick Cohen of London's Observer wrote:

When I asked Jayasekera if he had any regrets, he said he had none. He told me that, like many other readers, I shouldn't have made the mistake of believing that Index on Censorship was against censorship, even murderous censorship, on principle – in the same way as Amnesty International is opposed to torture, including murderous torture, on principle. It may have been so in its radical youth, but was now as concerned with fighting 'hate speech' as protecting free speech.[10]

Cohen's account of the conversation was repudiated by the editor of Index on Censorship in a letter to The Observer.[11]



  • Engel ("Angel", 1990)
  • Er gebeurt nooit iets ("Nothing Ever Happens", 1993)
  • Sla ik mijn vrouw wel hard genoeg? ("Am I Beating My Wife Hard Enough?", 1996)
  • De gezonde roker ("The Healthy Smoker", 2000)
  • Allah weet het beter ("Allah Knows Best", 2003)
  • De tranen van Mabel ("Mabel's Tears", with Tomas Ross, 2004)


  • Luger (1982)
  • Een dagje naar het strand ("A Day at the Beach", 1984)
  • Charley (1986)
  • Terug naar Oegstgeest ("Back to Oegstgeest", 1987)
  • Loos ("Wild", 1989)
  • Vals licht ("False Light", 1993)
  • Ilse verandert de geschiedenis ("Ilse Changes History", 1993)
  • 1-900 (1994)
  • Reunie ("Reunion", 1994)
  • Eva (1994)
  • Een galerij: De wanhoop van de sirene ("A Gallery: The Siren's Despair", 1994)
  • De eenzame oorlog van Koos Tak ("Koos Tak's Lonely War", 1995)
  • Blind Date (1996)
  • Hoe ik mijn moeder vermoordde ("How I Killed My Mother", 1996)
  • In het belang van de staat ("In the Interest of the State", 1997)
  • Au ("Ouch", 1997)
  • De Pijnbank ("The Rack", 1998)
  • Baby Blue (2001)
  • De nacht van Aalbers ("Aalbers's Night", 2001)
  • Najib en Julia (2002), a television play based on William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, about a love affair between a white upper-class girl and a pizza-delivery man of Moroccan descent.
  • Interview (2003), a film in which a cynical journalist interviews an actress-cum-socialite.
  • Zien ("Seeing", 2004)
  • Submission (2004)
  • Cool (2004), a film about young offenders, some of them of Moroccan descent, in which the offenders play themselves.
  • 06/05 (2004), a film mixing fact and fiction around the assassination of Pim Fortuyn.
  • Medea (2005), a modern-day adaptation of Medea.

Unfinished projects[edit]

  • Bad (A "lesbian road movie"). Production was planned for 2005
  • Duizend en één dag ("A Thousand and One Days"). A drama series about young Muslims struggling with their faith. Although this project had not even reached pre-production, Van Gogh had already found a broadcaster for the series: Dutch Muslim Broadcasting Organisation NMO.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Theo van Gogh – Controversial film-maker". London: The Independent. 4 November 2004. Retrieved 29 April 2010. 
  2. ^ Hirsi Ali, Ayaan, Infidel, 2007, p. 314.
  3. ^ Gunman kills Dutch film director. Retrieved 21 July 2009.
  4. ^ 4 nov 2004
  5. ^ Reconstructie van de moord op Theo van Gogh, Nova, 25 Jan 2005
  6. ^ Stand van zaken onderzoek moord Theo van Gogh, OM, 26 Jan 2005
  7. ^ "Terror on Trial in the Netherlands". November 2, 2004. Retrieved April 29, 2010. 
  8. ^ "Controversial filmmaker shot dead". London: The Independent. 2 November 2004. Retrieved 29 April 2010. 
  9. ^ "Ayaan Hirsi Ali: My life under a fatwa". London: The Independent. 27 November 2007. Retrieved 29 April 2010. 
  10. ^ "The Murder of Theo Van Gogh. Mohammed Bouyeri sentenced", TRUtv Crime Library
  11. ^ Expressions of mourning for Theo van Gogh, kept at the Amsterdam City Archives
  12. ^ a b "De crematie van Theo van Gogh" (in Dutch). NOS. 9 November 2004. Retrieved 17 July 2012. 
  13. ^ "Biografie Maarten van Rossem" (in Dutch). Retrieved 17 July 2012. 
  14. ^ Castle, Stephen (9 November 2004). "Bombing of Muslim school linked to murder of film-maker". London: The Independent. Retrieved 29 April 2010. 
  15. ^
  16. ^ "#KPN Vandaag". Planet. Retrieved 2012-02-14. 
  17. ^ [1][dead link]
  18. ^ "Politie ontkent nalatigheid zaak zoon Van Gogh". Elsevier. Retrieved 2012-02-14. 
  19. ^ "Monument Theo van Gogh onthuld (video)". Retrieved 14 February 2012. 
  20. ^ "Full text of speech by Hans Teeuwen". Hansteeuwen. 22 October 2006. Retrieved 29 April 2010. 
  21. ^ page about De Schreeuw on the website of Stadsdeel Oost/Watergraafsmeer (in Dutch)[dead link]
  22. ^ "Monument Theo van Gogh beklad met zwarte stift". Retrieved 14 February 2012. 
  23. ^ "Dutch labour party ends political correctness". Digital Journal. Retrieved 29 April 2010. 


  1. ^
  2. ^ Muslims in the European Union: Discrimination and Islamophobia, p. 78 (European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia)
  3. ^ Golf van aanslagen sinds dood Van Gogh (Brabants Dagblad)
  4. ^ Muslims in the European Union: Discrimination and Islamophobia, pp. 78–79
  5. ^ Muslims in the EU: Cities Report, The Netherlands. Preliminary research report and literature survey, p. 7 (Open Society Institute – EU Monitoring and Advocacy Program)
  6. ^ Ontwikkelingen na de moord op Van Gogh, p. 3 (Anne Frank Stichting; Universiteit Leiden)
  7. ^ Netherlands opposing immigration[dead link] (The New York Times)
  8. ^ Free speech fundamentalist on a martyrdom operation (originally from Index on Censorship)
  9. ^ Censor and sensibility (The Guardian)
  10. ^ Letters to the Editor – Free to Speak (The Guardian)

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

About the movies "Submission" and "06/05"[edit]

Articles about the murder[edit]