The Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered in Amsterdam on Nov. 2, 2004. His murderer, Mohamed Bouyeri, said he killed in the name of Islam. Many saw the idea of a multicultural society irreparably damaged.
Van Gogh's murder was horrifying, but some good could come of it
The murder one year ago of the controversial filmmaker by a Dutch-Moroccan man who said he killed in the name of Islam unleashed a shock wave in the Netherlands, which both overturned comfortable notions about that country's society and resulted in attacks on mosques and other Muslim facilities.
The unease also reached Germany, which, although not directly affected, was greatly haunted by an event that seemed so unlikely for the country next door, seen by many as a role model for tolerance.
A man passes by a memorial to Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh
Many were certain that along with the death of van Gogh, a highly visible "agent provocateur," the myth of the multicultural society had died as well. It was a myth that the Dutch had long and successfully tended and which was observed with some jealously by the Germans. The thinking was often: if only we had that here.
Worst fears haven't surfaced
But one year after the murder, the prophecies of doom that coursed through the media and society have gotten quieter. Not because it has been an easy year: the terrorist attacks on the London subway system forced the recognition that radical behavior and terrorism are not only phenomena in far off Afghanistan or the Euphrates.
More recently, new unrest has broken out in France after panicked young Muslims, allegedly being chased by police, were electrocuted in a power substation.
Despite those events, the murder on an Amsterdam street has perhaps had the opposite effect of what was feared. The horrible event has led to new reflections about Europe, namely, that western European society has been multicultural for a long time and is going to stay that way.
Active efforts needed
There has also been a realization that success in both living together in such a society and in integrating immigrants does not happen all by itself. It requires the active, and most importantly, willing participation of all parties involved.
Parallel societies or integration of different traditions?
The majority population will not be able to simply ignore or talk away the appearance of so-called parallel societies. Only when one actively strives toward integrating immigrants will societal and cultural isolation be lessened. That is no easy task and requires openness and tolerance toward people of different colors, beliefs and languages.
Even the second and third generations of immigrants need respect and attention. The murder of van Gogh and the attacks on London, carried out by people who lived for a long time or were even born in Europe, have made that very clear.
But immigrants have to contribute to this goal as well. Those who want to live in a "foreign" country for the long term have to learn to overcome this sense of "foreignness" by getting to know the country better and trying to integrate into its society. "Integrating" should not and cannot mean dissolving completely into the melting pot. The right to cultural and religious traditions is inalienable and must be protected by law, but they cannot stand above the law.
These reflections are not new, but they have been brought back into the spotlight in the year since van Gogh's murder. Instead of burying the multicultural society, such thinking is a good start on the path of making long-known, but long-suppressed truths a daily reality.