Like the murder of Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn two years ago the recent murder of filmmaker and writer Theo van Gogh has been abused by conservative politicians to decry the political and cultural tolerance which the Dutch have developed in the course of history. To justify and mask their calls for a more repressive, segregated state they have interpreted both murders as direct attacks on the Dutch democracy in general and on freedom of speech in particular. An interpretation that is widely supported and spread by the press in tautological, self-interested publications.
Neither Fortuyn's nor van Gogh's murder had anything to do with an attack on freedom of speech. Fortuyn was stopped in his ambition for power by a radical animal rights activist who saw Fortuyn as a threat to his cause and to society, and van Gogh was butchered by a fanatic Muslim who used van Gogh's corpse - to put it bluntly but realistically - as a vehicle for a death-ridden message and test of faith to ex-Muslim politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
True, both Fortuyn and van Gogh appealed to their right to freedom of speech in their populist statements: Fortuyn pleaded for prevalence of freedom of speech over the first article of the Dutch constitution, which prohibits any kind of discrimination, and van Gogh stretched his freedom of speech to a point where nihilistic opinions bordered on sensationalist and racist slogans and jokes. However, neither of their murderers showed interest in these dubious practices of free speech: Fortuyn's killer apparently valued animal life higher than human life, and van Gogh's butcher never even bothered to mention van Gogh's name in the message to Hirsi Ali that he pinned to her friend's corpse.
For that reason we find the media-inflated images of Fortuyn and van Gogh as champions, or even martyrs, of freedom of speech ambiguous and deceptive. What is automatically contained in these widely revered images of freedom and democracy is Western superiority over Islam (Fortuyn) and a nihilistic, destructive desire (van Gogh). They are images that promise freedom and power and at the same time appeal to suppressed desires and fears within Dutch society. Chimerae cultivated and cherished by conservatives, neo-conservatives and the media. Mirages guaranteed to win votes and to sell.