"History is philosophy teaching by example." (Lord Bolingbroke)

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Tuesday, November 09, 2004

For the Dutch: the "Iron Has Entered Their Souls"

It is hard for us Americans and even for the nearby British to grasp the concept of the revered artist in countries that within living memory lost a generation of artists to the Nazis or to the Bolsheviks. The Netherlands reveres its artists that have been given license not to be found in many other places. Theo Van Gogh was a pampered child of Dutch tolerance of artistic license. He crashed into the wall of Islamic intolerance, dying on the streets of his home town of all places.

We have no conception of the status accorded to the artist in countries that have known totalitarian dictatorship within living memory. The Nazis and the Communists liquidated or exiled the intelligentsia wherever they could. Persecution cast a shadow across the Continent from which it has still not wholly recovered.

Hence the reverence in which the artist is held. Hence the cult of dissent at any price, however absurd, pretentious or childish. Hence the aversion to censorship of any kind, including self-censorship. For a post-traumatic culture, the artist is a high priest. The murder of an artist for the sake of his art shocks secular Europe rather as martyrdom once shocked Christendom. Theo van Gogh is a secular martyr.

What did he do to deserve murder and mutilation in his own country? He offended a minority immigrant group by pointing out a flaw in such a manner that the group considered his effort "blasphemy," and, for them, the punishment for blasphemy is ALWAYS death.


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