On Tuesday morning 2 November 2004, Dutch director Theo van Gogh paid for his continual strong criticism of Islam with his life. He was ‘ritually’ murdered by a Muslim fundamentalist. Ever since, the film world both inside and outside the Netherlands has been in a state of confusion, wondering: where do we go from here?
The notion of ‘freedom to film’ is under fire. Could the attack lead to self-censorship? Two weeks after the death of Van Gogh, filmmakers held a moving debate on this question organised by the Filmkrant listings paper. Director Albert ter Heerdt admitted, ‘ We have already been censoring ourselves for a long time now’. In his successful low-budget film Shouf Shouf Habibi from 2004, he humorously tackles some tough issues concerning conflicts between the Moroccan and the Dutch culture. However, Ter Heerdt now says that in this comedy he scrupulously avoided making any jokes about Islam itself, at the express advice of leading actor and initiator Mimoun Oaïssa.
For the time being, the planned follow-up to Shouf Shouf has been delayed until the autumn of 2005, ‘due to the recent developments’. This step was taken to prevent even greater polarisation, explains the filmmaker. This is because the story deals with issues that for Muslims are very controversial, such as the emancipation of women. It is for this reason that Ter Heerdt first wants to make ‘a serious ‘Ken Loach-type’ of film’.
In contrast, Belgian director Guy Lee Thys is still willing to tackle the thorny issue of Islam in a light-hearted way. He is currently working on a documentary about the tumultuous aftermath of his love tragedy Kassablanka from 2002, in which a girl from a strictly Islamic environment and the son of a racist Flemish nationalist have a modern day Romeo and Juliet-type relationship. 'The project was gradually expanded to look at the issue of: at which point is someone shocked when Islam is being discussed?’, Thys told the Belgian newspaper De Gentenaar on 25 November. 'Is it the right time to discuss these issues? I feel that the time is right to stimulate the debate again, especially after the murder of Dutch director Theo van Gogh. But it has to be done in an amusing way. After all, we are still allowed to laugh together, aren’t we?'
Van Gogh’s murder has certainly not gone unnoticed by our German neighbours either. Producer Ralph Schwingel, for example, believes that he might have to ‘throw away’ his film comedy Kebab Connection , due for release in 2005, if such an attack were to take place in Germany. Nowadays, he cannot see his prize-winning film from 2004 called Gegen die Wand, about a Turkish-German woman that does everything that Allah has forbidden, without thinking about the murder of Van Gogh. 'But here you can’t call someone ‘goat-shagger’ and get away with it', he adds in a November 22 interview with the Dutch newspaper Trouw. 'It is because of our history that we are more inhibited about insulting social groups and sections of the population.'