Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Aftermath or post mortem

Dust seems to settle. Time for reflexion, looking back, commenting upon and analyzing the flood of images that almost drowned us over the last six weeks. Unfortunately, reflexion reaches no further than commmon sense talk on tv. A special edition of the once slightly notorious tv program 'The Blue Light', hosted by Anil Randas, was broadcasted in which Randas looked back on a selection of images of the assassination of Theo van Gogh and its political and social impact.

However, a critical analysis of the images themselves and the discourses in which they functioned was a bit too much asked to the small assembly of intellectuals who sat around a table with each having a tv monitor in front of him or her (yes, there was one woman, a maroccan-dutch journalist of the Volkskrant). The analyses were mostly mere descriptions of what everybody could see with their own eyes, and the commments prolonged the discussions these images had provoked earlier instead of taking some distance and trying to reflect upon their cultural and political significance as images.

The by now notorious image of an elderly imam refusing to shake hands with minister of Integration Verdonk, because his religion forbade him to shake hands with a women, made the members of the panel align with positions others had taken earlier ('did she act right?'). The only critical question was whether this scene had been staged, since the minister must have been aware of the attention the media would pay to her visit to this conference, but any doubt about the integrity of the minister was shiftly dismissed. But 'intentionality' is no longer an issue in a world of 'real virtualilty' (Castells) in which images create rather than reflect a reality and tend to live a life of their own which is no longer governed by any intention of whoever.

The same goes for the discussion of the way talk show host Andries Knevel goaded a dutch young man who was converted into a muslim into admitting that he wouldn't mind if MP Wilders would die of cancer. The 'historian' Boekhorst, who tended to reduce every event to the realm of his personal experiences ('when I was a student I used to live above a Maroccan family and the wife was a prisoner of her husband...'), and so certainly succeeded in keeping the discussion at the level of 'you're perfectly right, neighbour', called this scene 'news' because it conveyed something to him he didn't yet know. First of all, it is quite incredible that an academic historian, who doesn't miss an opportunity to have himself exposed as an 'expert' on islam, Irak, and the threat Islam poses to the west, would never have heard of muslims who don't feel much sympathy for politicians, writers and artists who want to curb what they perceive as the 'islamization' of the West. Second, and more importantly, as a historian he should first of all critically question the documents and evidence he is being confronted with. Who is this young convert, and why is he in this program? What makes him so 'news worthy'? Who does he represent? Has he anything whatsoever to do with the murder of Theo van Gogh, is he connected to the 'Hofstadter group', etc. The mere fact that a document or a tv program tells you something you didn't know doesn't turn that information into a 'news worthy' fact: in fact, it doesn't necessarily turn that fact into a fact at all, as any serious historian knows and Boekhorst should know too.

Well, it turned out that this self appointed imam had been interviewed by a regional newspaper, that was interested in the reasons why a young dutch man, who was brought up as a catholic, would convert to islam. The journalist, however, soon intuited that this young man was psychologically disturbed, and reported that in his article. Knevel should have known this: this act of journalism was remarkably similar to practices of the American CBS channel, which were revealed in a documentary broadcasted by VPRO tv only a couple of months ago. Iconically, this young muslim was also choosen because of his resemblance to the description of Mohammed B, the killer of Van Gogh: short shaven skull, bearded, and dressed in a muslimm skirt. Van Ven, as the young man is called, exactly fitted the description eye wittnesses had given of Mohammed B. Although actually and factually Van Ven had nothing whatsoever to do with the murder of Van Gogh, the connection was made entirely through visual and verbal analogies. This is what a historian who takes his profession seriously should have noticed, instead of acting like the naive, surprised citizen who is surprised to learn that some right wing politicians are not very popular among the people they prefer to attack. Boekhorst disqualified himmself in this program in more than one way. Unfortunately the other members of the panel were no better.

The problem probably is, that people who (would like to) work for television are not the best qualified to reflect critically on tv. Vanity, vanity... and a missed chance.

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