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 Assassination
Monuments The Scream
Residence Amsterdam, Netherlands
Nationality Dutch
Occupation Film director, film producer, television director, television producer, television presenter, screenwriter, actor, critic, interviewer, author, columnist, blogger, activist
Years active 1980–2004
Notable work Blind Date, Interview, Submission, 06/05
Children Lieuwe van Gogh (born 1992)
Parent(s) Johan van Gogh (father)
Anneke van Gogh (mother)
Relatives Theo van Gogh (great-grandfather)
Vincent van Gogh (great-granduncle)
Henk Vonhoff (uncle)
Johan Witteveen (first cousin once removed)
Willem Witteveen (second cousin)
Website Official site

Theodoor "Theo" van Gogh (Dutch: [ˈteːjoː vɑŋ ˈɣɔx];[1] 23 July 1957 – 2 November 2004) was a Dutch film director, film producer, television director, television producer, television presenter, screenwriter, actor, critic and author.

Van Gogh worked with the Somali-born writer and politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali to produce the short film Submission (2004), which criticized the treatment of women in Islam and resulted in an outrage from the Dutch Muslim community. On 2 November 2004, van Gogh was assassinated by Mohammed Bouyeri, a Dutch-Moroccan Muslim who objected to the controversial film. The last film van Gogh had completed before his death, 06/05, was a fictionalized exploration of the assassination of Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn (1948–2002) which was released in December 2004, a month following van Gogh's assassination.

Early life[edit]

Theo van Gogh was born on 23 July 1957 in The Hague, Netherlands to Anneke and Johan van Gogh. His father served in the Dutch secret service ('AIVD', then called 'BVD'). He was named after his paternal uncle Theo, who was captured and executed while working as a resistance fighter during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during World War II.[2] Theo van Gogh was the great-grandson of Theo van Gogh, the brother of painter Vincent van Gogh.


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 made his debut 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 film, De noorderlingen ("The Northerners", 1992). He made numerous films (see below), many on political themes. From the 1990s, van Gogh worked in television.

His last book (2003) was Allah weet het beter[3] ("Allah Knows Best"), in which he strongly condemned Islam. He was a well-known critic of Islam, particularly after the September 11 attacks in the United States. He supported the nomination of writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali for the Dutch parliament, who was elected. Born in Somalia, she had immigrated to the Netherlands to escape an arranged marriage. She became a writer and liberal (former PvdA Labour Party) politician.

In the 1980s, van Gogh became a newspaper columnist. Through the years he used his columns to express his frustration with politicians, actors, film directors, writers and other people he considered to be part of "the establishment". He delighted in provocation and became a controversial figure, frequently criticizing Islamic cultures. He used his website, De Gezonde Roker ("The Healthy Smoker"), to express 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".[4]


Working from a script written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, van Gogh created the 10-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. In the film, women's naked bodies, with texts from the Qur'an written on them in henna, in an allusion to traditional wedding rituals in some cultures, are veiled with semi-transparent shrouds as the women 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, saying that they had appropriated the ideas of Iranian-American video artist Shirin Neshat, whose work used Arabic text projected onto bodies.[5]

Following the broadcast, both 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 about himself.[6]

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,[7] who was assassinated in 2002.[8]


Place where van Gogh was killed.
Ten years after the murder, the bullet holes were still visible in the bicycle lane in front of Linnaeusstraat 22 (picture taken 2 November 2014).
Demonstration at the Dam square after van Gogh was killed.
Demonstrators. The sign, translated, says "Theo has been murdered".

Van Gogh was shot and stabbed by Mohammed Bouyeri while cycling to work on 2 November 2004 at about 9 o'clock in the morning. Bouyeri also injured some bystanders and left on the scene a note containing death threats to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who went into hiding. It also threatened Western countries and Jews, and referred to ideologies of the Egyptian organization Takfir wal-Hijra.[9][10]

Bouyeri, a 26-year-old Dutch-Moroccan citizen, was apprehended by police after a chase. Authorities alleged that he had terrorist ties with the Dutch Islamist 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 at trial on 26 July 2005 and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole.[11]

The murder sparked outrage and grief throughout the Netherlands. Flowers, notes, drawings and other expressions of mourning were left at the scene of the murder.[12]


The cremation ceremony took place on 9 November. Fearing he might not survive a planned flight to New York, Van Gogh had spoken about his funeral wishes with friends shortly before his death.[13] Maarten van Rossem was asked by Van Gogh's relatives to speak, something he found difficult in that he wanted to avoid sounding apocalyptic.[14] Van Gogh's father suggested that his son would have liked the media attention provoked by his murder.[13]


The day after the murder, Dutch police arrested eight Muslims allegedly 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 allegedly praising the murder and making death threats against other people.[1]

At the same time, starting with four attempted arson attacks on mosques in the weekend of 5–7 November, there were retaliatory violent incidents against Muslims,[2][15] including a bomb that exploded at a Muslim school in Eindhoven.[16] 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.[3] An arson attack destroyed a Muslim primary school in Uden in December 2004.[4] By 8 November, Christian churches were reported as targets of vandalism and arson attacks in turn. A report for the Anne Frank Foundation and the University of Leiden, accounted for a total of 174 violent incidents between 2–30 November; it said that mosques were the target of violence 47 times, and churches 13 times.[5]

The murder widened and polarized the debate in the Netherlands about the social position of its more than one million Muslim residents. It also put the country's liberal tradition further into question, coming only two years after Pim Fortuyn's murder.[16] 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) is a memorial for Theo van Gogh and a symbol of the freedom of speech

Geert Wilders, an Independent Dutch member of parliament, advocated a five-year halt to immigration from non-Western societies, 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".[17]

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.[18] The police denied receiving any report of attacks.[19][20]

Legacy and honors[edit]


In the English-speaking world, controversy arose after Rohan Jayasekera's article on van Gogh was published in Index on Censorship. The Associate Editor of the magazine 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![6]

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.[7]

Cohen's account of the conversation was repudiated by the editor of the Index on Censorship, who responded with a letter to The Observer.[8]



  • 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 Murdered 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, and featuring a love affair between a white upper-class girl and a young 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 Moroccan descent, who play themselves.
  • 06/05 (2004), a fictional film exploring the historic 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. ^
  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. ^ "Free speech fundamentalist on a martyrdom operation". Archived from the original on 1 September 2007. Retrieved 2009-10-26. (originally from Index on Censorship)
  8. ^ Censor and sensibility (The Guardian)
  9. ^ Letters to the Editor – Free to Speak (The Guardian)


  1. ^ Van in isolation: [vɑn].
  2. ^ Butter, Jan-Cees; Houtman, Joost (2013). De foute ster: Moord en doodslag in de showbusiness [The Faulty Star: Murder and Manslaughter in Show Business] (in Dutch). Lebowski Publishers. ISBN 9789048816989. Retrieved 2 November 2014.
  3. ^ Van Gogh, Theo (2003). Allah Weet het Niet Beter. ISBN 9789050561112.
  4. ^ "Theo van Gogh – Controversial film-maker". London: The Independent. 4 November 2004. Retrieved 29 April 2010.
  5. ^ Groen, Janny (1 September 2004). "Hirsi Ali en van Gogh van plagiaat beticht" [Hirsi Ali and van Gogh accused of plagiarism]. de Volkskrant (in Dutch). De Persgroep Nederland. Archived from the original on 17 October 2007. Retrieved 2 November 2014.
  6. ^ Hirsi Ali, Ayaan (2007). Infidel. p. 314.
  7. ^ Eyerman, Ron (2011). "The Murder of Van Gogh". The Cultural Sociology of Political Assassination: From MLK and RFK to Fortuyn and van Gogh. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 9780230118232. Retrieved 2 November 2014.
  8. ^ Simons, Marlise (7 May 2002). "Rightist in Netherlands Is Slain, and the Nation Is Stunned". The New York Times. The Hague. Retrieved 2 November 2014.
  9. ^ "Controversial filmmaker shot dead". London: The Independent. 2 November 2004. Retrieved 29 April 2010.
  10. ^ "Ayaan Hirsi Ali: My life under a fatwa". London: The Independent. 27 November 2007. Retrieved 29 April 2010.
  11. ^ "Life for van Gogh killer fails to ease Dutch fears"
  12. ^ Expressions of mourning for Theo van Gogh[permanent dead link], kept at the Amsterdam City Archives
  13. ^ a b "De crematie van Theo van Gogh" (in Dutch). NOS. 9 November 2004. Retrieved 17 July 2012.
  14. ^ "Biografie Maarten van Rossem" (in Dutch). Retrieved 17 July 2012.
  15. ^ Castle, Stephen (9 November 2004). "Bombing of Muslim school linked to murder of film-maker". London: The Independent. Retrieved 29 April 2010.
  16. ^ a b
  17. ^ Deutsch, Anthony (20 November 2004). "Netherlands Opposing Immigration". The Hague: HighBeam Research. Associated Press. Retrieved 2 November 2014. (Registration required (help)).
  18. ^ Van Wonderen, Mark (28 July 2005). "Marokkanen slaan Lieuwe van Gogh in elkaar" [Moroccans beat up Lieuwe van Gogh] (in Dutch). Planet Internet. Archived from the original on 16 June 2008. Retrieved 2 November 2014.
  19. ^ "'Lieuwe van Gogh niet mishandeld'" ['Lieuwe van Gogh not abused']. Het Parool (in Dutch). Amsterdam: De Persgroep Nederland. ANP. 28 July 2005. Archived from the original on 3 February 2017. Retrieved 2 November 2014.
  20. ^ "Politie ontkent nalatigheid zaak zoon Van Gogh". Elsevier. Archived from the original on 1 January 2006. Retrieved 14 February 2012.
  21. ^ "Monument Theo van Gogh onthuld (video)". Archived from the original on 29 September 2008. Retrieved 14 February 2012.
  22. ^ "Full text of speech by Hans Teeuwen". Hansteeuwen. 22 October 2006. Retrieved 29 April 2010.
  23. ^ "page about De Schreeuw on the website of Stadsdeel Oost/Watergraafsmeer" (in Dutch). Government of Amsterdam (Oost-Watergraafsmeer). 29 May 2007. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 2 November 2014.
  24. ^ "Monument Theo van Gogh beklad met zwarte stift". Retrieved 14 February 2012.
  25. ^ "Dutch labour party ends political correctness". Digital Journal. Retrieved 29 April 2010.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

About the movie "Submission"[edit]

Articles about the murder[edit]