Dutch call for end to violence amid memorial for slain filmmaker
Officials say fire at Islamic school may have been set
AMSTERDAM -- Suspected arsonists set an Islamic elementary school on fire yesterday amid a string of attacks following the killing of a Dutch filmmaker by an alleged Islamic extremist.
Firefighters were struggling last night to extinguish the flames at the Bedir school in the southern town of Uden, where someone had scrawled "Theo rest in peace" in the building in homage to filmmaker Theo van Gogh.
Mayor Joke Kersten told Dutch television she didn't know the exact cause of the fire but suspected arson. She said the school had not been the target of prior attacks.
Dutch Muslims and Christians urged an end to a cycle of retaliatory vandalism of mosques and churches yesterday as van Gogh was cremated, a week after his slaying.
In a memorial service shown live on television, friends and family told stories about Van Gogh's playful nature and his love of provoking debate.
About 150 people gathered at De Nieuwe Ooster Crematorium. Hundreds more watched on a screen outside. Mourners left flowers, cigarettes, and beer at a makeshift memorial where the 47-year-old filmmaker, a relative of Vincent Van Gogh, was killed.
"Our country is confused and grieving," said Bram Peper, a former mayor of Rotterdam, calling Van Gogh's slaying an attempt to silence "the power of the word."
Van Gogh, a master of irony, was cremated to the music of the Lou Reed song "Perfect Day." He leaves his parents, former wife, and 12-year-old son.
"He had a big mouth, but everybody liked it because he was one of a few people who said what he thought," mourner Hans Debrichy said.
The Netherlands has been tense following his death, with attacks on both mosques and churches. Molotov cocktails caused minor damage at churches in Rotterdam, Utrecht, and Amersfoort on Monday night following a half-dozen similar attacks at Muslim buildings, including a bombing at an Islamic school before dawn Monday. No injuries were reported.
Van Gogh, who received death threats for his film "Submission," which criticized the treatment of women under Islam, was shot and stabbed while bicycling on a busy Amsterdam street. The killer cut his throat and -- in a note impaled on Van Gogh's chest -- threatened more attacks in the name of radical Islam.
Mainstream Muslim groups condemned the killing and asked the government to protect mosques after the explosion at the Muslim school in Eindhoven on Monday.
Jan-Gerd Heetderks, dean of the Netherlands' Protestant churches, said "the violence, the aggression must stop. And that goes for people who get the idea that they should damage Muslim mosques or schools, too."
Van Gogh's killing, and the violent response, has shocked many in the Netherlands who prided themselves on being part of what they considered a peaceful and open society.
It evoked memories of the 2002 assassination of Pim Fortuyn, a populist right-wing, anti-immigration politician. His slaying triggered a hardening of the government's attitude toward newcomers and the expulsion of thousands of asylum seekers. The slaying prompted an outpouring of rage aimed mostly at the Muslim minority, which makes up about 6 percent of the Dutch population.
Six men are in custody on suspicion of forming a terrorist conspiracy to kill Van Gogh, including the 26-year-old alleged killer, Mohammed Bouyeri, who was arrested in a shoot-out with police. Bouyeri has both Dutch and Moroccan citizenship.
A newspaper reported yesterday that a suspected terrorist network believed responsible for Van Gogh's killing had access to confidential secret service intelligence.
The NRC Handelsblad newspaper, citing an internal secret service investigation, reported that a friend of Bouyeri received an unmarked envelope last summer with information about extremist networks of which Bouyeri was allegedly a member.
The Dutch secret service admitted information had been leaked when police found confidential agency information at a house in Utrecht during a terrorism-related search in September.
Bouyeri is allegedly a member of a radical Islamic group said to have ties to terrorists in Spain and Syria.
Van Gogh was a cherub-faced cynic who loved to irritate -- and sometimes insult -- those he felt were too sensitive.
"I'm deeply religious; I worship a pig," he once said. "I call him Allah."
During his award-winning career, he lost several jobs for crossing the boundaries of good taste, and Jews, Christians, and Muslims had filed complaints against him.
On his TV interview show, "A Nice Chat," Van Gogh wore suspenders, chain-smoked, and gave his guests cactuses as parting gifts.
Parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who wrote the script for "Submission" and was threatened in the killer's note, went into hiding after the killing.
"Don't feel guilty, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Theo was threatened long before 'Submission,' " said Van Gogh's mother, Anneke, her voice cracking slightly. "Make sure that he is not forgotten: Freedom is not for people who are afraid."