Friday, November 26, 2004

Beyond Theo van Gogh

Another round of self-flagellation is underway on parts of the web, this time for alleged liberal indifference to the Nov. 2 murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh. Seems Blue Staters are too busy drawing pictures of Bush as Hitler and wailing about voter fraud in Ohio to condemn van Gogh's killer, Mohammed Bouyeri, a Dutch Moroccan who shot van Gogh to death on an Amsterdam street, then slit his throat. This was the brutal reaction to van Gogh's short film "Submission," his collaboration with Hirsi Ali where a Muslim woman's abuse at the hands of Islamic men is recounted through literal and metaphorical statements and imagery. This, along with van Gogh's crude public slams of Muslims as "goat fuckers" certainly didn't endear him to that segment of Dutch society (van Gogh said equally harsh things about Christians and Jews).

Now, it's obvious that van Gogh's murder is an outrage, an assault on free speech by a theocratic nut and must be condemned by anyone committed to an open society. So I condemn his murder. I don't care what he said or filmed, no one deserves the death penalty for nasty, insensitive statements. His murderer should receive a fair trial and if found guilty, should be punished to the full extent of Dutch law.

Now that I've performed my required act of public outrage, what say those like Christopher Hitchens and Andrew Sullivan about the ongoing murder spree of journalists in the Philippines and Latin America? For all their banging on about van Gogh's death, you'd think they might shed a tear or two about Arnel Manalo and Roger Mariano. Or how about a few words denouncing the free-fire zone for journalists in Colombia (a state pumped up with US military aid)? Seems these people, and the many more like them, would garner some public sympathy from those who cannot contain their rage when a European filmmaker meets a similar fate. Indeed, given that these are journalists who died in the field, you'd think the condemnations would be even harsher.

Then again, maybe not.

Selective outrage, esp the kind that reinforces the domestic political status quo, is always in fashion among our media elites. It also flatters those outraged, which is very important for those navigating the NY/DC media waters. How else do you think they can appear on cable chat fests without wincing from pure shame?

There are many Theo van Goghs. Typically, our corporate moralists feel pain for only one.