Van Gogh's Film on Muslim Women 

Farida Majid


I watched the Theo Van Gogh film on the internet, and, like many discerning viewers, found it troubling. Formally and visually it is nicely done, as one would expect in a work from the descendant and bearer of the one of greatest names in European art. Even the flashing of the Qur'anic verses on the flesh was filmed artistically, though the very idea, as reported in the press, offended many Muslims.

            For me, the objectionable element was the content in its abstract obtuseness. The narrator's voice intoned the paraphrases of the Qur'anic verses I know so well in a manner that formulated a message that all Muslim women purportedly believe, conform, and live their lives in that particular social arrangement, in that particular version of the literal sense of the Qur'an, and in that particular state of suffocation of their humanity.  "This is Islam, folks, what can you say!" The film's deliberate decontextualization from any real world situation may have been an attempt to flaunt it as an artistic expression, but I could not buy it as such.

            In the wide, wide Muslim world of diverse cultures and traditions, I know too well that any Muslim girl's life could possibly be as bad, not so bad, worse, far worse, or not resembling anything at all of the sort depicted in the film. Stereotyping is a form of propagandizing devise that must not be mistaken as a proffered idea intended to initiate dialogue or for progress or betterment of humanity. Rather, its intention is regressive, using intentional face-to-face insults under cover of "free speech" in assaultive racist expressions.

            Theo van Gogh's film, even now with its addendum of crime and controversy, would do nothing to make the newly hijabized Muslim women's life any easier. It was not made with the goodness of the heart intended towards enabling more Muslim girls feel the sunlight bathing their faces and enjoy the wind rustling through their hair as they walk freely under the open sky. It is a spiteful depiction of a 'perception' of Islam's treatment of women, abstractly composing a composite, an aggregate made up of some unlived guesswork of a life with an artificial enactment of scraps of evidences from scriptural text.

            However, in my opinion, Van Gogh's rabid right-wing activities combined with his Islamophobia reflected in this film is not what got him murdered in that brutal fashion in the hands of an Islamist fanatic. That is too easy a conclusion. The Islamists, I have marked after a prolonged period of observation, quite relish the presence of outright Islamophobia in the West. They feed off it. Where would they be without it? It is their life-line � the 2000 volt electricity-carrying cable that upkeeps their nefarious utilities. Islamists love the racist Islamophobia of the neo-con Imperialists. Look how they have succeeded in being equal partners in the destruction of Fallujah! And the destruction of the rest of Iraq for that matter, which, despite being under a Stalinist type of modern-day Dictator, used to be a secular modern Muslim country in the Arab world where women enjoyed, in education and health care areas, a reasonably acceptable gender-equal status.

            The subversive effect of Van Gogh's film on the Islamists calls for a closer look. The film is not quite a 'critique' of current or past social condition in Muslim societies around the world, though that is how it is being touted in the media. On the contrary, it 'affirms' the woman's position as that which is unchanged, and impossibly unchangeable, in a dour, incomprehensible religion that is called Islam. It is, in another twisted way, the message of the Islamists, i.e., to define the Muslim woman's role in life is the prime duty of the Islamists, and it is their's alone. Due to his own blind Islamophobia, Van Gogh did not, could not, realize that he was somehow taking part in the disseminating of this odious message and thereby sabotaging their mission, upstaging them in a way, and thereby incurring the rage that ended in the gruesome murder. Van Gogh could call the Muslims "goat-fuckers" and all the other slurs he could think of for all eternity, and chances were, that he would still be gloriously alive as alive as our Islam hating neo-cons of United States.

            Only briefly, for those few moments, when the narrator spoke of the desire to feel the sun on her face and the breeze to rustle through her hair, did I think that there was any reaching out to the Truth expressed in the purpose of Van Gogh's film. Only for that brief moment the Muslim woman was not shown merely as a creature of 'male sexual fantasy'. The film's attempt to humanize the 'abstract' Muslim female was otherwise dismally feeble.

I suspect that the murderer of Van Gogh thought so too. The image of a Muslim woman, as depicted in the Van Gogh film, is EXACTLY how the Islamist would like to see women subsist in an idealized Islamized society of their choice. Unbeknownst to Van Gogh, he let their secret out. And he thought he was simply criticizing the "goat-fuckers", how they treat their women being a supporting detail, possibly a minor one compared to the more important issue of stopping the immigration of these dirty Muslims into a  pure Christian Holland!

I do like David Aronovitz's article (the Guardian, Nov. 16, 2004) that sees similarities between the Jews being branded as the "Christ-killer" and the current rush in Europe and America for Muslims being branded as the "killer" of all things that "WE LOVE & ENJOY" such as freedom and democracy. Tough claim after the election victory of the right wing Evangelicals in the United States who are anything but religious pluralists, and in whose hands the hard-earned women's rights are in serious jeopardy!


� 2004, Farida Majid


Farida Majid is a poet, scholar and literary translator living and teaching in New York City, USA.

Farida Majid

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  Replies Name/Email Date  
21198 Re: Commentary: Van Gogh's film - refutation Kisan Tue  11/23/2004