Theo van Gogh translations
December 23, 2004 9:40 AM   Subscribe

Two months before that fatal May 6th I asked on this site why Pim [Fortuyn] so far hadn’t been shot. Readers were perplexed and asked if I had lost my mind, because something like that "would never happen in Holland". Right.
In an update to their van Gogh file, Peaktalk offers translations [via Zacht Ei] of some excerpts of the writings of murdered filmmaker Theo van Gogh, which previously appeared (in Dutch) on The Healthy Smoker, van Gogh's web site, which now lives on as The Quit Smoker.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (18 comments total)
Meanwhile, van Gogh's last film premieres. Ironically, it's a dramatization of the killing of politician Pim Fortuyn, 911 days before the filmmaker's own life came to its untimely end. An interview [RA] with a close friend of Theo's about the premiere provides a glimpse at the current sentiments.

In other news, a 'pizza terrorist' targets the red light district; the next overnight populist (after Fortuyn) Geert Wilders plans his return to Parliament in the face of threats to his life, and even our favourite neocon outlet wonders what on earth is going on. Welcome to Holland.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 9:42 AM on December 23, 2004

Previous discussion here.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 9:42 AM on December 23, 2004

Leon de Winter:
And so it seems to be. In a strange and appalling way, Mohammed B. did to Mr. Van Gogh what Mr. Van Gogh did to the actresses and extras in "Submission"--the essential difference being that the actresses could wash the words away and leave the studio without a care, while the words on Mr. Van Gogh were pinned by his murderer to his dead flesh.

This difference highlights what many in the Netherlands see as an enormous problem with the fundamentalist parts of Arab-Islamic cultures: an inability to view the world according to abstract principles, to transcend the literally militant passages of sacred texts. To some, the Koran to this day offers no prospect of a free interpretation, or a tolerant one, that can exist alongside the free speech of a liberal society.
posted by dhoyt at 10:11 AM on December 23, 2004

I'm pretty ignorant of the finer points of Dutch culture, but Theo Van Gogh seems like a bit of an intolerant asshole. Calling all Arabs 'goatfuckers'?

When Mr. Jahjas’s soul mates killed nearly three-thousand Americans in the World Trade Center the first point of action for our mayor was a visit to the mosque. At schools, mosques, everywhere in Amsterdam there were parties celebrating this great victory on Satan. Cohen kowtowed for the believers and stated: “you’re all part of us!”, rather than asking the question “what the hell are you doing here?”.

"Soul mates"? Because their skin is the same color, all Arabs should be sent home? Were there really parties celebrating a great victory on Satan everywhere in Holland? Somehow I doubt it. My typical experience is minorities think to themselves, 'Oh hell, what are we going to do now...'.

Or, this little slip of the tongue:

The Dutch police finds it very strange that there are people that dislike it when their wives are being stabbed by a nutcase. Even stranger is the fact that someone whose wife is threatened decides to chase down the terrorist in order to track him down and have him arrested.

I guess it's an english as a second language thing, but a robber and thug is not the same as a terrorist. And I hate the gradual slip of that word into a catch-all 'evildoers' phrase.

I wonder what it is about Arab-Islamic folks in Europe that brings out the political assassins and jihad bringers. Is it just that only the well-off educated ones made it overseas to Canada, since we are uncharitable jerks when it comes to refugees?
posted by anthill at 11:15 AM on December 23, 2004

dhoyt - good piece by one of Theo's 'arch enemies' - purely in the pen-over-sword polemic sense of the word, of course. Hadn't seen it before.

And anthill - it is my understanding that these articles were originally written in English and translated only recently by Pieter Dorsman of Peaktalk.

And the Abu Jahjah (a not very impartial blog piece) he refers to is the head of the Flemish-Belgian branch of the Arab European League.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 12:00 PM on December 23, 2004

Ehh.. for "English", read "Dutch" there. My bad. My point was that he didn't write the English words himself, so there shouldn't be much of a language barrier - I believe he meant to say 'terrorist', and did so in the original version.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 12:02 PM on December 23, 2004

Van Gogh used to use "goatfuckers" because he tended to grow a bit too fond of sentences he liked. In this case it referred to a real dogma of the late Ayatollah Khomeini; who had stated that if a wife was unavailable to do her sexual duties, the husband could relieve himself in a goat or a sheep.

In the same manner he would always call politicians "those placed above us", and if he thoroughly disagreed with someone he would often end his columns with that "one gets backaches from bending for pygmies."

Obviously, one never read him for those phrases.
posted by ijsbrand at 3:35 PM on December 23, 2004

Okay, I'm still not getting how the "goatfuckers" business is anything but offensive xenophobia. Even if Khomeini did make an official pronouncement (we wouldn't use the word "dogma" for that in English, ijsbrand, but I couldn't for the life of me explain why, and it's so rare that your English is less than perfect that I do hope you know I'm just offering that as a style point) that said bestiality was theologically okay (and, frankly, that smacks of urban legend to me), Khomeini represents only one sect of Islam. It's like calling all Christians "snake-handlers" because there are some sects of Christianity that believe in, you know, snake handling.

Not that I think that anyone should be murdered for being offensively xenophobic. I don't. I think that the murder of Mr. van Gogh is an outrage against all writers, artists, journalists, and sane people worldwide.

But I'm not getting the appeal of Mr. van Gogh's work at all.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:31 PM on December 23, 2004

Khomeini represents only one sect of Islam. It's like calling all Christians "snake-handlers" because there are some sects of Christianity that believe in, you know, snake handling.

"Khomeini's sect of Islam" as a percentage of total Muslims.


"Snake handling sect of Christianity" as a percentage of total Christians.

I can tell you're all upset over this but it has to be said: not a very good analogy at all.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 5:49 PM on December 23, 2004

Van Gogh was a rebel in a country that's supposedly free and tolerant - pot! legal prostitution! gay marriage with the right to adopt! euthanasia! - but in reality isn't.

But, I reckon one has to live here to experience how much of political-correct nanny state the Netherlands can be. The example I mostly use is the lottery system existing at our universities to "select" students. In which you can be the best pupil your school has ever had, with nothing but straight A-s, and parents rich enough to buy you a house in the town you want to study, but still can denied the right to study a thing like medicine because you happened to draw a blank in the lottery.

This was a Social democratic invention from the early 1970's that stuck. Because morons shouldn't be denied the chance to become doctors just because they're slow, or some such bull.

In all Dutch strata you'll find, but more subtle than in the lottery system, this idea society can be made if everybody just stuck to the rules.

Because of this, political correctness and therefore unimaginative mediocrity rules. In the late 1980's this meant for instance one couldn't say anything negative about immigrants in the media. When I worked as a journalist it was never mentioned in print the street gangs that made certain parts of Amsterdam no go zones consisted of nothing but boys of a Moroccan background. As that would stigmatise the other Moroccan immigrants.

After 9/11 that completely changed over here as well, but I will not go into that here.

Theo van Gogh collided hard with that safe playing Dutch mediocrity. Every European country subsidizes its movie industry heavily but Van Gogh never got a state grant. He had always done something someone in a commission didn't like.

So in return, he always tried to expose the hypocrisy often hidden behind those playing it safe. And just for this I think he was a great artist.

Theo van Gogh was a great interviewer, because he was open and had no hidden agenda to trick anyone. Still, people would tell him things in public, on television, they hadn't even told their partners.

I think that quality is visible in his best work as well; he could expose the rigidity and the stupidity behind many things we just took for granted. Now, I didn't particularly like the hyperboles he used in his columns, and I am not a fan of most of his movies or TV programs. But I realize he had to scream sometimes to get heard, or to break through our indifference.

When you just hear those screams, you're missing why he made such a racket in the first place.
posted by ijsbrand at 6:31 PM on December 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

Khomeini was a Shi'ite (10% -12% of Muslims worldwide).

It's true that snake-handling churches are very very rare within Christianity, but calling 1 billion people "goat fuckers" because a person who was accepted as the leader of less than 10% of them (Khomeini was not accepted by all Shi'ites, after all) might have said that bestiality was okay still seems like offensive xenophobia.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:32 PM on December 23, 2004

ijsbrand, I can imagine that van Gogh's work makes more sense in the context of Netherlands media and society than it does in translation and in another social context.

I guess it is my hope and belief, though, that there are ways that people can penetrate a smug, self-satisfied, carefully controlled Establishment point of view short of tossing around cruel and inaccurate slanders and perpetuating vicious stereotypes.

And it is certainly true that people with extreme and sometimes irrational views can be useful gadflies. What I fear and loathe, though, are the moments when public discourse is replaced by slanging matches between extremists bellowing insults at each other.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:38 PM on December 23, 2004

still seems like offensive xenophobia.

Seems like a pisstake to me. A well deserved pisstake at that.

"Ha ha ha! Check out the dude who'd leader says it's OK to fuck goats!"

At first I thought van Gogh's comment was pretty awful... but given ijsbrand's explanation (if it's true - you seem to think it's not true) I have completely changed my mind.

Xenophobic? It's bloody hilarious, that's what it is.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:39 PM on December 23, 2004

The Khomeini rule is from his book called "Tahrirolvasyleh", which credibility is heavily debated on the internet, as it is extreme.

Apparently, a Muslim should kill the animal he abused after his orgasm.

But apart from that, Khomeini sentenced Salman Rushdie to death, and the response to that alone showed his might as a Muslim leader.
posted by ijsbrand at 7:04 PM on December 23, 2004

> I'm not getting the appeal of Mr. van Gogh's work

I agree there's not a lot in the translated exerpts to go on. And I wasn't overfond of the film. But bravery in the name of free expression is pretty appealing:

I feel guilty that I approached Theo with the script for "Submission." ... Theo and I discussed at length the possible consequences for both of us. He said, "As soon as such considerations dissuade you from expressing your opinion, isn't that the end of free speech? That is grist to the mill of the Islamists."
(from a Nov. 11 Op-Ed by Ayaan Hirsi Ali)

Discourse can be pretty violent in Europe, less PC than in the US. For example, here in France, there's a highly-visible women's movement called Neither Whores Nor Doormats. Pretty "in your face" name, no? They fight for women's rights, especially in immigrant-dominated communities. Now in France there's a fair amount of strong government support (e.g. the headscarf ban) for the struggle against fundamentalism, but still, there's a lot of pressure to be quiet, not rock the boat, and "live and let live".

Particularly in a country like Holland, which is more "multicultural" and less aggressively secular than France, it could be even more appealing to find someone who speaks out, even if he's rude and extreme.
posted by Turtle at 7:07 PM on December 23, 2004

Khomeini sentenced Salman Rushdie to death, and the response to that alone showed his might as a Muslim leader

Yep. Mr. Khomeini is pushing up the daisies, and Mr. Rushdie is alive and well.

I'm not suggesting that there weren't a bunch of people who took everything Mr. Khomeini said as their marching orders, I'm just saying that those people were WAAAYYYYYY in the minority of Muslims worldwide.

Okay, so let's review the bidding:

There is a fatwa, attributed to Mr. Khomeini, that may or may not be authentic, saying that bestiality may be OK in certain circumstances.

Mr. Khomeini was the spiritual leader of fewer than 10% of Muslims.

Therefore, Mr. van Gogh thought it was cool to call all Muslims "goatfuckers".

Nope. Still not getting how this is funny, or useful criticism.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:18 PM on December 23, 2004

When you just hear those screams, you're missing why he made such a racket in the first place.

A strong point - to me there's no question that he was in certain respects a total asshole - but he was our asshole. (to paraphrase FDR)

As someone who has seen a few of his films, read a lot of his op-eds and seen many of his interview shows (aptly titled "A Nice Conversation", BTW), I found it particularly striking to stumble across this (admittedly tiny and highly selective) collection of quotes which, especially when 'transposed' to English come across as nothing short of mindless, ignorant vitriol.

That doesn't justify his death by a long shot, of course, and I understand it may be hard to grasp, especially for people who have no experience with his other work, why this man who apparently didn't always express himself in the nicest terms had such a special place in people's hearts (even when he was still alive, when as you probably know a tragic death can give someone a 'halo' and sugar-coat people's memories of them).

Let's put it this way. Suppose that Theo van Gogh had never existed as such, but instead a "Theo van Gogh-1", someone who was 5% less vitriolic, expressed himself in 5% less harsh terms than Theo used to do. Would someone have killed that person? My guess is that they just might.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 2:34 AM on December 24, 2004

Theo van Gogh LE?
Theo van Gogh Starter Edition?
Theo van Gogh Lite?

I'm starting to understand where he was coming from and why he admires the American model so much. He wants the ideal meritocracy rather than coerced egalitarianism. And he hated the A-rabs.

Seriously though, that guy (and some of his opponents) would have gotten hit pretty hard with the hate speech laws were they in Canada. But then they'd be politer. And Theo might have liked the National Film Board.

And he might have gotten his ass kicked sooner by the (openly acknowledged) Asian gangs. At least where I live.
posted by anthill at 8:52 AM on December 24, 2004

« Older Don't send a card - just sing!!   |   Predicting 2004 Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments