Saturday, November 27, 2004

Friday, November 26, 2004

'Wish you were dead....'

Media not only represent the world, but they increasingly shape it. Much of the panic and hysteria that has haunted the Netherlands for the last couple of weeks is due to hyperbolic reporting, scoop hunting, and the fear of missing out on something 'really important' on the part of the media. Of course, the assassination of Theo van Gogh was a major event, and the killer (probably) was part of a group of muslim extremists who had planned other murders on prominent dutch politicians as well. On the other hand one might doubt the professionality of these youngsters, who apparently killed Van Gogh as a substitute of their real target, who was out of their reach. Real professional terrorists would not have settled for a substitute and thus warned their real targets for what they were up, would they? The arsening of a musim school in a small provincial town was done by two 14 and 15 year old kids, and not, as media and government suggested, by right wing extremist groups.

Extremism is partly a creation of the media themselves. A good example of how it is created was given by Andries Knevel, talkshow host of the in its own right extremist religious broadcasting company Evangelische Omroep. For reasons that are still unfathomable to me he had invited a young former Christian who had converted to the islam. As most converts, he was more of a muslim than ordinary musims, but he was also a religious man who believes in sincerity. Knevel really goaded him into saying that he wouldn't mind the death of a right wing dutch member of parliament, but that he'd rather see him die from cancer than being murdered by a muslim. Here we wittnessed the live creation of a devil by an overzealous christian tv personality.

Of course other journalists started to dig out death wishes by Theo van Gogh and other champions of free speech, who have wished horrible deaths to many a politician or public figure with whom he had a quarrel (and almost every public figure in the Netherlands was on his hitlist).

Luckily the European soccer competitions have startd again, so the media can spend their attention and time to less harmful matters. Though racism is climbing the agenda of the sports programs rather quickly.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Shake hands!

Be sure never to refuse to shake hands with a Dutch cabinet minister. You might cause a national row. Now an extremely conservative imam did this, and this was, of course, a very inappropriate behaviour. After all, western women who go to arab countries are supposed to veal themselves, and to wear decent clothes. Men should also comply to certain forms of behaviour, so why shouldn't we demand a similar form of respect in return? And though in our democracies cabinet ministers are considered 'primes inter pares' rather than highly placed authorities, a minimum of politeness and decorum is required with regard to 'those who are placed above us', as Theo van Gogh used to call these persons. So it is indeed a very rude, inpolite and disrespectfull behaviour of this imam to refuse to shake hands of the minister, however much we may dislike her policies.

Still, these are confusing times. To hear a rap band singing 'We are against senseless violence' and thus up the very 'dissing' which made rap so popular is strange, if not quite incredible, indeed. But that's maybe only me, old grumpy man who expects representatives of cultural movements or subcultures to stick to some of their principles instead of paying lip service to common wisdom.

Thursday, November 18, 2004


Just reading a conversation between Paul Virillio and Derrick de Kerckhove, 'Conflilcts: the threat of the first global civil war'. It is striking how much of it relates to the current situation in the Netherlands. DdK remarks how Bush jr did after 9/11 exactly the opposite of what Clinton did after the first attack on one of the Twin Towers in 1993: Cllinton let the thing go, because he knew that, as McLuhan had said, 'if you don't want a catastrophe, pull the plug', i.e., don't let the media dwell on the event too much.

That's exactly what prime-minister Balkenende did in the first instance: he stayed in Bruxelles where he presided over a meeting of some European Union council and only showed himself one week after the murder of Theo van Gogh. Unfortunately, it has become impossible nowadays to pull the plug: the media cannot be stopped anymore, and since the prime minister had left leadership and initiative to other members of his cabinet, the government almost fell apart, and the media were gradually building up an image of a country on the verge of a civil war. In this, they were certainly helped by the Justice Department that sent what looked like an army into a neighborhood in The Hague to arrest a couple of presumed terrorists. These images helped to underscore the ongoing confusion between 'war on terrorism' and 'civil war', and one may fear that media and politicians are together exactly creating the catastrophe they pretend to prevent. Here we have moved beyond Baudrillardian simulacra: the hyperreal strikes back with a vengeance.

Hi world

Here I am, entering the blogosphere and fulfilling my cybercivilian duties by contributing to the emerging global e-(d)emocracy. Have to admit, though, that I'm not quite sure how and if this will work out.

Anyhow, this world seems in dire need of some dose of sober thinking and clear arguing. Mendacious and belligerent presidents get re-elected, and in my own country a right wing maverick who was assassinated two years ago has been bestowed with the title of 'Greatest dutch person ever' (sorry Rembrandt, Hugo Grotius, William of Orange, Antony Leeuwenhoeck, Spinoza, Van Gogh, Mondrian, Jan Tinbergen, Sicco Mansholt, and other artists, scientists, philosophers and politicians). Old media like broadcast & push television, desperately trying to keep attracting the waning attention of popular audiences must have a lot to do with this. The blue light of the tv screen has definitely obscured the last shinings of what was left of the Enlightment in the Netherlands, where once Descartes sought refuge from the French catholic king. He would surely be pretty surprised to learn that in the year 2004 ministers and members of parliament know nothing better to do than to discuss a obsolete piece of law which forbids to ridicule God. This two weeks after the brute assassination of an outspoken anti-muslim and xenophobic filmmaker Theo van Gogh (yes, relative of ...) who was killed by a muslim extremist who needed an organic stamp for a letter addressed to member of parliament Ayaan Hirsi Ali. We seem to be heading for another period of crusading.

Well, the blogosphere might offer some relieve from all this real world madness, although colleagues of mine have already pointed out that Van Gogh's assassinaton had been amply discussed on extremist websites....