The theory of multiculturalism holds that no culture is superior to any other culture. As long as people practice tolerance, this theory goes, different cultures can live together side by side. But what if intolerance itself is part of one of the cultures?
That question has been answered for all eternity by a young citizen of Holland by the name of Mohammed Bouyeri. Bouyeri is a 26-year-old native of Holland who is of Moroccan descent. He is of the Muslim faith. The strict interpretation of that faith holds that those who say certain things that offend the faithful must be killed. So on the morning of Nov. 2, Bouyeri armed himself with a gun and a knife and set out through the streets of Amsterdam to track down a man who had said such things.
At the same time, Theo van Gogh was bicycling through the streets of that most liberal city on Earth, home to hashish houses and legalized prostitution. Van Gogh, a distant relative of the painter of that surname, is a filmmaker. One of his recent films illustrated the way in which women are treated in the Muslim world. Various imams in Holland's Muslim community had criticized the film and called for its makers to be killed.
The 26-year-old Bouyeri intercepted van Gogh along his route, the police later reported. He shot him six times. He then slit his throat, nearly beheading him. Bouyeri then used the knife to pin a note to van Gogh's chest. The note contained threats to kill several other Dutch political figures who had been critical of the Muslim community.
The assassination set off waves of violence in normally placid Holland. Mosques were firebombed. Churches were firebombed in return.
I discussed this last week with Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, a writer for the London Daily Telegraph who has been covering the story. Evans-Pritchard told me the Dutch were particularly shocked because the attacker was a man who, from outward appearances, seemed integrated into Dutch society.
"He was born in Holland and raised in Holland and was studying computer science," said Evans- Pritchard. "Until two years ago, he seemed to be a well-adjusted lad. But he flipped. Now they find he's part of a cell that is a suicide squad."
The liberal Dutch were shocked by subsequent news reports that showed a vast network of radical imams was operating within Holland. Worse, the radical imams were subsidized by the government in the interests of promoting tolerance. For decades the Dutch government had adopted an open-borders policy toward Muslim immigration despite the inconvenient fact that Holland's liberal values violate the tenets of their religion.
Van Gogh's was the second assassination to arise out of that culture clash. Two years ago, an openly gay politician named Pim Fortuyn was killed by a left-winger who objected to Fortuyn's aggressive attacks on Holland's high levels of Muslim immigration. Though that killing was equally shocking, many Dutch liberals avoided thinking of the implications of Fortuyn's arguments by dismissing him as a right-winger, Evans-Pritchard said.
"As soon as you start attacking multiculturalism, you get pegged as a right-winger," said Evans-Pritchard. In fact, the reason that Fortuyn had turned against Muslim immigration was that one of his gay lovers had been beaten up by young Muslims.
"He wasn't a right-winger, he was a gay Marxist professor," Evans-Pritchard said of Fortuyn.
But the Dutch multiculturalists simply couldn't accept that the experiment had gone wrong. "They were in complete denial about what had happened in this multicultural utopia they thought they had created," he said.
This second assassination has brought many of them out of denial, though some are obstinate.
One leading left-wing politician last week proposed reviving the blasphemy laws so that people like van Gogh can be shut up before they offend the Muslim minority. But Evans-Pritchard said the majority of Dutch people now seem to realize that something is wrong with their society when so many political figures and writers have to go into hiding. The most prominent is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somalian refugee woman who wrote van Gogh's film "Submission."
"She is just incredibly brave," said Evans-Pritchard, who has interviewed Ali. "She already has fatwas on herself for criticizing Islam and she goes on doing it. She complains that Muslim women are beaten up all the time. Her argument is that the radical Islamic activists have abused the Dutch system of tolerance. They're exploiting the freedoms of Holland to destroy Holland."
Evans-Pritchard said European feminists are having a tough time dealing with the issue. "The feminist movement in Europe is completely split, with a large part coming to the view that multiculturalism is incompatible with feminism," he said.
The van Gogh killing has had reverberations all over Europe. Politicians in other countries are taking steps to avoid becoming another Holland.
"It now turns out the one place where they accommodated every demand has been the biggest failure."
There's a lesson in this for all the multiculturalists out there -- and also for all those who advocate open borders. Who knows? Someday that message might even work its way to the White House.