Dutch Language Blog

Tolerance in the Netherlands? Posted by on Oct 29, 2014 in News

Since I moved to the Netherlands, I have been reading and researching about the country. I am impressed by the stories of surviving the hunger winter during World War II, of the stories from immigrants from very different parts of the world that come to the Netherlands to work hard, of the general feel of tolerance and freedom for which this country is known for.

However, there is a part of the history that isn’t as impressive. The book Murder in Amsterdam by Iam Buruma tells one of those stories. Theo van Gogh (great grandchild to Vincent van Gogh’s brother, Theo van Gogh) was a film producer, writer, journalist and an overall big personality in the Netherlands. Theo was, however, very critical of immigrants in the Netherlands, particularly immigrants for Morocco. He was also very critical of Islam, which is why he joined forces with a former Dutch politician, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, to make the movie Submission in which the violence against women in some Islamic societies was questioned.

 This film brought van Gogh and Hirsi Ali a lot of attention; they began receiving death threats because some felt they had insulted Allah. Sadly, this didn’t end in threats. On November 2nd, 2004, Theo van Gogh was murdered while he was riding his bike on his way to work. The man who killed him, Mohamed Bouyeri is serving a life sentence.

Ian Buruma’s book is an interesting analysis of what happened before and after the murder. Buruma looks into van Gogh’s life and public actions as well as Bouyeri’s. In an attempt to remain neutral so that the evidence speaks for itself, Buruma seems at times vague or unsure of his claim. However, I think this is a minor set back of the book. Buruma includes a lot of interesting research that gives light to both sides. Although the book deals with a dark chapter of the Netherlands, it leaves the reader with important questions about tolerance, freedom of speech and religion.

Buruma, I. (2006). Murder in Amsterdam. New York: Penguin Press.

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About the Author: Karoly Molina

Since I was a little girl, I was fascinated with languages and writing. I speak English, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and a little bit of French. I am a writer, reader, language teacher, traveler, and a food lover! I now live in The Netherlands with my husband Riccardo, our cat Mona, and our dog Lisa, and the experience has been phenomenal. The Dutch culture is an exciting sometimes topsy-turvy world that I am happily exploring!


  1. Errol:

    The Van Gogh murder is shocking. I didn’t know about it.
    As you said, the hunger winter of WWII is an amazing example of the Dutch people’s ability to survive. The whole episode of what the Dutch went through during WWII fills me with awe. That’s what I would like to read more about.

    • Karoly G Molina:

      @Errol Errol, I previously wrote about Harry Mulisch and a very good novel he wrote about the war. Maybe this is something you are interested in!

  2. Valerie:

    Dear Karoly,

    Please allow me to correct you.

    Your blog says: “Vincent van Gogh (grandchild to Vincent van Gogh’s brother, Theo van Gogh) was a film producer, writer, journalist and an overall big personality in the Netherlands.” This is inaccurate. It was Theodore van Gogh, born July 23 1957 in den Haag who was murdered on November 2, 2004 in Amsterdam. Theo was the great-grandson of Theodorus van Gogh, brother of the famous Vincent.

    Have a look:


    Best wishes,

    • Karoly G Molina:

      @Valerie Valerie,
      I don’t even know how I made this mistake. Would you believe me if I told you I actually read this book twice: one time for pleasure and the second for a presentation for my masters? THANK YOU for correcting me!

  3. Valerie:

    Hi Karoly,

    You’re welcome! My husband is a genealogist and has researched the van Gogh line. Please note that Theo who was murdered was the great-grandchild of Vincent’s brother Theo, not the grandchild.

    The book sounds like a very interesting read!

    • Karoly G Molina:

      @Valerie Valerie, you are life-saver! Thank you for your corrections 🙂

  4. Charles Den-Baars:

    My Father also suffered and starved during WWII…But not in the Netherlands. He was in Jakarta, Indonesia when the Japanese invaded in early 1942. And he spent most of the next 3 and a half years in a terrible camp named Ambarawa, where he had maybe a handful of mostly rotten food to survive on per day!! He weighed about 90 lbs when he finally escaped only a few days before mobs of separatists murdered innocent POWS in their cells as the already surrendered Japanese stood by… my Dad told my brothers and i many horror stories about what he went through, and how he had to add insects, lizards, and rats to his almost non-existent diet or he would have surely died! So to this day, i feel guilty when i have to waste food, i almost never do that… There was also a “hunger-summer” for Dutch colonists in Indonesia, don’t forget…

    • Karoly G Molina:

      @Charles Den-Baars Charles,
      Thank you for sharing this heartbreaking story. I had no idea about this part of history, and I am so thankful you shared it with us. Your dad is a hero and I am so glad he survived and shared with you his story. He is definitely someone I would love to meet!