In a discussion on Islam's presence in the West on Amnation I commented that the presence of Muslims is undesireable, due to their habit to kill those who criticise Islam. To back my statement up I translated the commentary of Orientalist Hans Jansen of Leiden University in The Netherlands. The original commentary in Dutch is here. A English translation of the original letter of Mohammed B. is here.
It follows below, starting with a comment on Jansen's text by a Dutch newspaper editor.
First published in “Tijdschrift voor de geschiedenis ”, 118, nr. 3 (2005), p. 483-491, a special on Religion and violence)
[Editor Jan Greven of newspaper Trouw writes on 25 October 2005 regarding my article:
The magazine ends with an analysis by Arabist Hans Jansen of the letter, which Mohammed B. left on the body of Theo van Gogh. Jansen does not reduce to psychological, political, or social factors, but analyses the letter as a religious document. He is the exception. Which disturbs the peace. All articles bring the same message: change the world and religion as a source of violence will automatically disappear.
Mohammed B.’s letter points to something else. According to the introduction the special was meant to add to a better understanding of today’s complex reality through writing history. Is this goal being achieved? Or does the special rather show that the current historical interpretation of religion, no matter how decent and interesting, falls short to understand today’s reality of Mohammed B.? I think it is the latter.
Jan Greven ]
The letter by Mohammed B., attached to the corpse of Theo van Gogh
Mohammed B., the man who murdered Theo van Gogh on 2 November 2004 in Amsterdam, assumed that he would pay with his life for this deed. This did not happen, because in the shoot out between the police and the assassin the police managed to take Mohammed B. out without killing him. With hindsight it is questionable whether we should be happy about this, for a living hero in jail may be the object of a macabre cult. This is what happened in Israel with the murderer of Rabin, a certain Yigal Amir. Just having to report the existence of the cult, which the newspapers will have to do for years, will cause adversariality in society that we do not need.
As he assumed that he would not be able to explain or justify himself in person, Mohammed B. has left a five page document illuminating his deed . Actually the document was attached to Theo van Gogh’s body with a knife. Geert Mak calls this document “a note” and has written a book on the aftermath of the assassination, without touching upon the subject of the “note”. It may often be a good tactic to kill an enemy by superior silence, but in this case the enemy is not sufficiently irrelevant to make this tactic work. Moreover it is unclear who the enemy is. Just Mohammed B.? Does he have allies, sympathisers or even accomplices? Without police investigation and reading the “note” we will hardly find out.
From Islamic or radical Islamic circles there have hardly been relevant explanations of the murder on Theo van Gogh, other than the letter itself. Apologies directed at non-Muslim Dutchmen are almost unthinkable; because there is in Dutch society nothing that could be used to justify a murder and certainly not foggy utterances such as “Dutch society refuses to acknowledge Islam with one voice”. After all what is the opposite? For The Netherlands as one to embrace Islam? Or as a form of criticism on the many (usually ineffective) measures by the State to assimilate and integrate Muslim immigrants murdering a filmmaker/columnist is hardly relevant. Those who want to know the motives of Mohammed B. have hardly anything to go on aside from this letter.
Mohammed B. has a Berber surname meaning something like “Short neck”. We should not seek deeper significance in the meaning of the name, but it is interesting that Mohammed B. is a Berber and not an Arab. There are no precise figures, but it seems that Moroccan Berber youth in The Netherlands and elsewhere have all kinds of trouble, perhaps even more than their Moroccan-Arab neighbours. Berber youth sometimes choose radical Islam on their search for identity. On the other hand, Berbers are strongly overrepresented amongst Dutch Moroccans, which may skew the picture.
At home Mohammed B. most likely spoke a Berber language with his parents. Mohammed B. knows Arabic too and the letter shows that he is also capable of inserting Arabic texts into the Dutch text with all the vocal and reading signs which the Arabic language prescribes. That is an achievement which not every Arabic language student at a Dutch university will able to match. He writes Dutch well, although there is sometimes a somewhat stilted quality to his prose, as the original pious Arabic verses, which he knows well, are close to the surface.
The title of the document is ”OPEN LETTER TO HIRSHI ALI”. It is strange that he misspells the name of Member of Parliament Ayaan Hirsi Ali. But indeed almost everybody in the Netherlands pronounces her name “Hirshi”, rather than “Hirsi” possibly under the influence of names like “Hirsch Ballin”. Moreover Moroccans often hear the Dutch “s” as a “sh”, as the Moroccan “s” and “sh” are much further apart than the “s” and “sh” in Dutch and English. This is why many older Moroccans say “shave” rather then “save” . Misspelling Ayaan’s name may well be used as an insult, but that seems farfetched in this case, as the other names in the document are spelled correctly. The spelling error is almost certainly caused by the Dutch mispronunciation of “Hirsi”.
Any letter written by a Muslim, should start with the phrase: “In the name of Allah, the Merciful”, in some translation or other. This letter starts like this as well. In fact every act by a Muslim should start with this phrase, something which is prescribed to the faithful in the New Testament: “start all things in the name of the Lord”. Right after this phrase a well-chosen verse from the Quran could have been inserted, but Mohammed B. chose to omit it. He does keep another convention: a prayer for the prophet Mohammed follows. Peace and blessings over Mohammed are beseeched from God. An author may choose with which honorifics he will honour the prophet offering a preview on the subject matter of the letter. The convention exists in order to forestall confusion as a result of the possibility that the introductory prayer is about anyone else than the prophet Mohammed, (as has been the case).
The Prophet Mohammed (+/- 570-632 AD) is called the “Emir of the Mujahideen” here which can be translated as: “The commander of the Jihadi”. This is in a sense a traditional title. Odd though, is the second title “The Laughing Killer”, which due to the weight of convention on letters must refer to the prophet himself. This lugubrious phrase is not Quranic and almost certainly not from the Tradition (Hadeeth). The Tradition is very voluble and it may be possible that the expression “the laughing killer” may be found somewhere, but the expression is certainly not common. Hadeeth and Quran do not value “laughing”. He who laughs does not mentally clearly establish the seriousness of what he is doing. Quran states at least three times that laughing often kills the heart. At least seven times Hadeeth maintains that the prophet prefers crying over laughing. The phrase “the laughing killer” therefore causes wonderment. It might be interesting to find out where Mohammed encountered this phrase.
What follows is a whole line of Arabic transcribed in Latin script, to be translated as “Mohammed the messenger of God (the protection of God be over him and God giveth him peace)”. The document continues traditionally: these wishes and prayers for salvation are not just made over Mohammed himself, but also over his family, the people he used to associate with during his life and all Muslims following Mohammed until the Last Day. Then follows: “there is no aggression, but against the aggressors”, apparently the Dutch translation of a phrase which can easily be traced back to an Arabic phrase which is not Quranic, but appears often in religious texts.
After these introductory texts follows a short formulae, which in an Arabic letter separates the preamble from the body of the document. This formula has been rendered in Dutch by Mohammed with: “the following”, although usually translators prefer “and further” or something along those lines. Follows another short prayer for peace of those who “follow guidance”. “Guidance” is here a translation of the Arabic “huda”, in Dutch well-known in a word like “Madhi”; “guided [right by God]”. It is according to the conventions of Arabic texts, despite the capitalisation, certainly not a reference to the leadership of a terrorist cell that Mohammed B. was possibly a part of, or something like that. The underlying image is a caravan wandering through the desert, with God as the Guide and under His Guidance.
Mohammed B. comes to the point. He writes an open letter to VVD MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whom he calls an “unbelieving fundamentalist”. It is interesting to see that “fundamentalist” has become derogatory in Mohammed B.’s circles too, apparently. The most important feature, by which we recognize fundamentalists, is their willingness on the basis of their ideology to come to deeds . It remains to be seen whether Mohammed B. uses the F-word incorrectly. He further addresses himself to the “Taghouth” party VVD . “Taghout” is the standard Arabic nomenclature for politicians or political parties which are regarded as anti-Islamic. During the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979 the USA was the great Satan and the Iranian allies of the USA were the Taghout. The word has been used for all rulers in all capitals of the Islamic world – but only by the fundamentalist opposition. The word appears eight times in the Quran, usually refers to idolatry, but perhaps already in Quran 4:60 to authorities refusing to stand aside and make room for Islam. Mohammed B. argues next that the remarks of Hirsi Ayaan Ali “terrorize Islam” and constitute a “crusade against Islam”. “Terrorizing” is usually used differently in the Dutch language, but we have to understand that the remarks of Ayaan instil fear in the hearts of (some) Muslims in The Netherlands. Only one reason can be found. There are Muslims who are scared that Ayaan indeed finds willing listeners under Dutch Muslims.
In Muslim texts the Crusades are usually represented as the equivalent of Jihad, but this moral equivalence is incorrect. The crusades took place during a short period of time in European history in a limited area (Palestine), Jihad however is universal and of all times. Jihad against Africa, Asia and Europe had been going on for centuries, at the time when the crusades still had to commence. The last crusader has been dead and buried for centuries, while Jihadis are still thick like flies in certain parts of the world. Next Mohammed B. utters the accusation that Ayaan Hirsi Ali has been rewarded for her work against Islam with a seat in Dutch parliament. She is being used to “spui” (“spew forth”) “animosity regarding Islam and the most noble man Mohammed”. “Spui” is a very particular Dutch word referring to the “polder” image . That Ayaan is able to do this, is blamed on the Islamic “Umma”, the community, which “is forsaking its task to resist injustice and evil and is sleeping of its drunken stupor”. This is an allusion to the Islamic duty to order what is good and to prohibit evil, as is written in Quran 3:110. Orders and prohibition have naturally to be enforced, which is that which Mohammed B. does. In a culture in which alcohol is prohibited the second part of the accusation, that a “drunken stupor is being slept off” is rather severe. It does not go too far to state that average Muslims will feel intimidated.
Mohammed B. further states that his letter is an attempt to silence evil. It is a pity he has not stopped at the letter and put his trust in God. In this paragraph he twice uses the phrase “if God wills it”, which is a prescribed formulae for statements concerning the future. Only a real atheist would leave out this phrase, many Muslims believe. Mohammed B. says that he holds it against Ayaan that she has proposed to “screen Muslims on ideology for job applications”. Mohammed B.’s choice of words makes it crystal clear that he himself realises that he is not spreading a religion, but an ideology. Any appeal to the constitutional freedom of religion that he or his lawyers or his companions would like to make is undermined in advance by Mohammed B. himself. There is freedom of religion in The Netherlands, which is widely respected. This is less so for the freedom of ideology. Fascism and Marxism are not well respected, or worse.
Next follows nearly a full page of standard anti-Semitism, including maimed Talmud quotes circulating on the internet. Especially Van Aartsen, leader of the VVD and the mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen are mentioned. It is to the legal specialists whether these anti-Semitic statements are a punishable offence according to the Dutch penal code.
Before reaching the end of the second page Mohammed gets a new thought. He reminds readers of a TV-broadcast in which Ayaan Hirsi Ali asks Muslim children on an Islamic school to make “a choice between their creator and the constitution”. This was not exactly what happened. The children were asked whether they should be more obedient to the laws of Islam or the laws of the Kingdom. Ayaan’s phrasing may not have been fine tuned to the children, but this is of course a problem which occurs with every religion with a legalistic structure. It would not be strange if an Islamic school would pay attention to this question. Mohammed passes the seriousness of the question by and shouts that Ayaan has used the answer of these “pure, young souls” have “immediately been abused“ for another “crusade”. Unfortunately he leaves it at that. An expose concerning which laws take precedence according to Mohammed B. would have been appropriate at this junction and have clarified matters. The assassins of Sadat (1981) have dared to address this matter in their self-justification letter. Naturally they choose Islamic law.
Now the atmosphere grows dark. Everything knows its end and dies, writes Mohammed B. “Death … is the common theme of all which exists” reads the text on top of page three of the document. A free paraphrasing of Quranic fragments which describe the Day of the Last Judgement. “Fear will fill the atmosphere that day” is the last sentence of the paraphrase. “Atmosphere” is not a word which fits this idiom. That Mohammed B. uses it anyway shows that his college education has not been in vain . A loose translation of Quran fragments follows, which are printed centre page. It is Quran 81:1-14, but verse 5 is omitted and then Quran 80:34-42. Both fragments deal with the terrors of the Last Judgement painted in what may be called flashing, tacky colours.
Then Mohammed B. follows Quran 2:94-95, daring Ayaan to “chose death” to prove that she is really confident of her own words. After all Mohammed B. requests God to “grant him death”, to “gladden him with martyrdom” (middle page 4). Mohammed B. thinks that if Ayaan does not accept this challenge, she shows herself to be “a committer of injustices”. It seems that logic her is far and wide to be found at face value, and Quran 2:94 and 2:95 are difficult verses indeed.
Quran 2:94 ends with “wish ye then death, if ye are right” – which possibly has to be understood as “Stand ye with your life for what you believe”. Quran 2:95 states: “but they shall not want to on account of their previous deeds”. That the main protagonists, almost certainly the unbelievers, are referred to with “ye” in verse 94 and “they” in verse 95 does not allow for easy understanding either. What the Quran most likely says here, is that the unbelievers do not want to die for their conviction, because they are guilty of unbelief (and will receive heavy retribution after their death).
MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali (or any other MP) is not eager to die for her membership of Parliament. Muslims such as Mohammed B. on the other hand are eager to shed their life for what they view as the good cause, which possibly gives Islam a tactical – strategic advantage in conflicts with others. That those who do not believe in heavenly compensation of martyrdom rather not become martyrs is a true statement and certainly relevant in Islam’s fight against the Non-Muslims. Verses 2:94 and 2:95 may look out of place and the challenge to Ayaan is difficult to comprehend for those without an intimate knowledge of the Quran, but in its own context it is definitely no nonsense and certainly pertains to the struggle that Mohammed B. has picked up for himself.
Mohammed B. now returns to the decline of Islam, judging that this decline has an upside. “Islam is like a dead plant, which through years of pressure and extremely high temperatures is turned into a diamond”. On the hardness of this diamond, according to Mohammed B., Ayaan will batter herself to pieces and “Islam will be victorious through the blood of the martyrs”. Islam will then “with the sword drive evil back to its dark cave”. With all this flowery speech it is a good thing to remember that “evil” here are the Non-Muslims. The present “struggle which has commenced” judges Mohammed B. “is different from all previous struggles”, for “the unbelieving fundamentalists started it”. The text does not give a clear indication what Mohammed B. is referring to. “All previous struggles” can only be understood as a reference to Jihad which took Islam in the centuries after Mohammed’s death from Mecca and Medina to Portugal, the Balkans and Pakistan. It is more difficult to see what Mohammed B. views as the beginning of the “struggle which commenced”. He cannot refer to the assassination of Theo van Gogh, which had not taken place at the time that the document was written. Moreover it must be something that has been initiated by the “unbelieving fundamentalists”. It can almost only be the criticism of Islam, initiated by Hirsi Ayaan Ali. And “unbelieving fundamentalist“ is a choice of words which Mohammed B. has previously used to refer to Hirsi Ayaan Ali in this letter.
In a European context the criticism of Islam is nothing special. Compared to what has been said about Christianity it is not impressive at all. Over the other religions, aside from Islam, which have believers in Europe there has been criticism and ridicule for decades and even centuries, without the faithful getting seriously upset. It happens that people get angry, but people do not take to arms. And in Islamic literature Christianity is attacked in a rude, crude and rough manner. Mohammed B. has a very odd way to use two different yardsticks here. Muslims may criticise and ridicule Christianity and Judaism , but criticising, let alone ridiculing Islam is not allowed. Even the worst enemy of Ayaan has never said she ridiculed Islam, concerned is only her academic criticism of Islam and her freedom to leave Islam like any other religion.
Murderers like Mohammed B. are thusly truly concerning themselves with the freedom of the debate about religions. He turns himself, by addressing his letter to a MP, straight against the Dutch system as it exists. Opening the debate about Islam is regarded by Mohammed B. as fundamentalist aggression. That is promising for academic freedom and the debates on the opinion pages. Truly Mohammed B. continues the somewhat childish sounding “unbelieving fundamentalists started it” with: “no discussions, no demonstrations, no parades, no petitions” only “death will separate Truth from lies”. To comply with this requirement The Netherlands will become a completely different country without discussion, demonstration and petitions, three fundamental rights of democracy.
The last page of the document starts with a Quran quote: Quran 62:8: “Death, for which the unbelievers flee, will overtake them. Then they will be brought back to [God], He who knows what is hidden and what is observable (=He who knows everything ). Oddly enough Mohammed B. misses a word again, he omits the “observable”. If a Non-Muslim would be so careless with a text it would certainly lead to complaints, if not worse.
Mohammed B. continues to quote Moses, the main protagonist of the exodus of the Israelites. To call the Israelite Moses by his name goes too far, it would seem. Mohammed B. mentions “a great prophet”. Quran 17:102 where Moses, in a scene which led to the well-known “let my people go” tells Pharaoh: “I do really believe, o Pharaoh that you are doomed”. “Pharaoh” is in Quran and in present Islam a standard code for an unjust, Anti-Islamic ruler or power. Mohammed B. wants to explain this, so he writes “we will use similar words [synonyms for Pharaoh, HJ]” which he does immediately and four times: I know for sure that you
Oh USA, oh Europe, oh Netherlands, oh Hirsi Ali are doomed. Is it treason for the possessor of a Dutch passport to pronounce the wish that The Netherlands will perish? The legal councils will know the answer.
Follows a fifth time “I know for sure that you, unbelieving fundamentalist will perish”. This cannot refer to Ayaan, for she was mentioned the fourth time and Mohammed uses female addresses when referring to Ayaan in his letter. Could it be that he is referring to Theo van Gogh who has remained unmentioned in this letter? It almost cannot be else.
Follows an Arabic phrase in Latin script which is used as frequently as it is difficult to translate: “God suffices us and good is he as a Carer, good is he as a Master and good is he as a Helper”. The letter closes with a signature, three Arabic words in Latin script: “the sword of the religion, the partisans of Tawhid”. (Arabic: Saifu d-deen al-muwahheed”, though Mohammed spells it differently. Tawhid is the classical term for the “Unity”, the Islamic dogma about the total unity of God. It could be a reference to the Tawhid mosque , but probably it is not.
The last, sixth page contains a poem, which indeed rhymes. In this poem Tawhid is also mentioned spelled this time as Tawheed . This time it is certain to be a reference to the unity of God. Mohammed B. calls his fellows the “knights of DEATH”. Well, it is difficult not to pass judgement on such a qualification. What should we do in this world, which is for the living, with the “Knights of death”? The one-but-last line of the poem is remarkable: “to the hypocrites I say: ”wish ye DEATH of shut up and … sit”. The capitalisation of “death” is still Mohammed B.’s. “Hypocrites” is a translation of the Arabic munafiqun, generally used to indicate saltless fellow warriors of Islam. The line about “hypocrites” is certainly referring to those who are usually called “moderate Muslims” and not to Ayaan or Theo van Gogh. The three dots are in the original. The “sit” is called into being partly by the rules of rhyme, yet there is more. It could be an allusion to Quran 9:45-46, where the Quran praises those who do Jihad and tells the ones who do not feel like it that they should sit at home. But another more Dutch explanation seems better. “Sit” is written in the imperative, it is the command that a macho dog owner gives his dog. For the moderate Muslims it is a good and fitting thing to know that Mohammed thinks about them like that. (As you know, Islam regards dogs as unclean).
That the document closes with a poem, is entirely in style. The murderers of Sadat ended the document in which they explained their theology/ideology with a poem . But as this poem usually appeared on the last page it got lost in many editions. That it belonged to the original document, is certain in the case of the murderers of Sadat. With some exertion of the brain it may be proved that Theo van Gogh is mentioned in the document prepared by his killer, though not by name. But what is the general drift of this document? In the first place that the author categorically opposes the Dutch system in its entirety, regarding it “Taghout” (authority that refuses to recognise the superiority of Islam). In its stead Mohammed B. places the use of religious violence. The letter may contain an allusion to Theo van Gogh, the victim of the murder, but the letter wastes not one word to mention the little film Submission. The letter addresses a MP because Members of Parliament represent and symbolize the existing democratic order. Without the murder this document would have been thrown in a waste paper bin by a staffer of a political party. Now it has been distributed to the editors’ rooms of all Dutch media.
Secondly any debate on the nature of Islam is regarded by the author as a cardinal sin. This goes rather far. Until recently the mainstream teaching was that leaving Islam was a cardinal sin. However that has now been extended to anyone who criticises Islam. This does not entirely go against tradition. The Islamic theologian Ibn Taimiyya (about 1300 AD) of Damascus has written a pamphlet about a Christian who said something about Islam and the title of the book was: “The drawn sword, over those who insult the messenger of God”. The drift of the title is clear: those who insult the prophet must die. This Ibn Taimmiyya is not an obscure theologian of the Middle Ages; he is regarded by Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabis as their great source of inspiration. It is Saudi-Arabia which, wittingly or unwittingly, concretely finances Jihadist Islam. The arrogant way in which Mohammed B. almost unnoticed addresses his fellow Muslims as dogs is also in line with Wahhabist traditions , who (in the days before oil wealth ended financial worries of the Arabians) kept themselves occupied with Jihad against the Muslim occupants of the Arabian peninsula and the South of Iraq, because the movement on the basis of dogmatic considerations thought it was correct to regard these Muslims as Kafir (“unbelievers”). Waging Jihad in this regard means firstly “to rob”, further possibly “kill” and “sell as a slave”.
The traditional Islamic theological nomenclature for “regard as Kafir” is Takfir. Takfir and Tawhid are the two spearheads of Wahhabi ideology. The AIVD is right to state that the assassin of Theo van Gogh and the extremists are coming from the camp of the Takfir movement. This is not the most attractive face of Islam.
The Wahhabists have been compared to the Ku Klux Klan. That comparison was meant as a consolation: “the Wahhabis are not that important”. In a certain way that is true. But we must not forget that the struggle between the Land of the Free and the KKK cost many lives. Also the struggle against “the knights of Death” of Mohammed B. and possibly the Wahhabis will not be for those of squeamish inclination and has already cost one person a life: the life of Theo van Gogh.
Amsterdam, January 2005