Theo van Gogh was murdered while cycling through Amsterdam on his way to work on the morning of 2 November 2004; it was probably no coincidence that this was also the day when George W. Bush was expected to be voted back into office. Van Gogh was a fourth-generation descendant of the painter, but better known in Amsterdam and the rest of the Netherlands as a film-maker, writer, columnist, chat-show host and all-round controversialist, whose favoured symbol was a cactus rather than a sunflower. He annoyed people enormously, and the regular targets of his scathing columns and comments included the queen and her extended family, the teflon Labour mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen, the 'left-wing church', many of his fellow chat-show hosts and columnists, and various prominent Muslims, Jews and Christians. He was murdered by a young Muslim activist, and his death was to convulse the Netherlands. The first I heard about it as I worked in my office in Leiden University was in a brief email from a mutual contact, a successful businessman and sometime academic who thought the world of Van Gogh and who wrote, as I remember: 'They've got Theo. The heart stands still.' It was, and remains, a shocking and horrible moment.
LRB 14 December 2006 | PDF Download