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<nettime> Albert Benschop on Internet and the murder of Theo van Gogh
Geert Lovink on Tue, 3 Jan 2006 21:13:27 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Albert Benschop on Internet and the murder of Theo van Gogh

An interesting report has just been translated into English (from 
Dutch) and published on the Web. It gives a  very detailed account 
about the way in which Dutch Muslim fundamentalists discussed and 
planned actions on the Internet, before, during and after November 2, 
2004, the day that Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh was killed in 
Amsterdam. The report is written by Albert Benschop, an Internet 
sociologist who is teaching new media at the Unversity of Amsterdam 
(UvA) and the Hogeschool van Amsterdam (HvA).

Chronicle of a Political Murder Foretold
Jihad in the Netherlands
By dr. Albert Benschop
University of Amsterdam
translation: Connie Menting


The conclusion of the report is called The Power of the Internet and 
goes like this:

According to the Dutch Central Statistical Office there were about one 
million muslims in Holland in September 2004. About half of the Turks 
(45%) and Moroccans (51%) made use of the internet. These percentages 
are considerably higher among Turkish and Moroccan youngsters between 
15 and 24 years of age, 97% and 85% respectively. So the internet is an 
extremely popular medium among younger allochthonous people.

Both in the build-up to and digestion of the murder of Theo van Gogh 
the internet plays an important role. We have seen that the internet 
was intensively used by various, more or less radical islamic 
movements, in order to create a climate with aggressive words, in which 
a political murder of a critic of the fundamentalist islam could take 
place. We have seen how radicalised islamic youngsters used internet to 
hatch their networks of hatred and disseminate their hostile message. 
This gave rise to a climate for violent jihad, in which the murderer of 
Theo van Gogh could be recruited. A climate in which Mohammed B. and 
his friends of the Hofstadgroup could be trained to attack personal 
targets, for instance Theo van Gogh, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Geert Wilders, 
and political targets, such as the house of parliament and the 
decadence of the Amsterdam Red Light District. ?All blasphemers out of 
the world, starting with the Netherlands.?

On the other side we also saw that fortuynist, right-wing extremist, 
neo-nationalist and neo-nazi groupings and small groups used internet 
to sell their political goods. With their xenophobic, islamophobic and 
racist statements they created a climate of hatred of foreigners, long 
before the murder of Van Gogh, in which multicultural society had to be 
violently sacrificed for a nostalgic longing for a mono-cultural, white 
society. It was a deliberate pursuit of a climate in our country, in 
which non-European foreigners and in particular muslims wouldn?t feel 
at home or welcome anymore. ?All muslims out of Europe, starting with 
the Netherlands.?

The extremes touched each other. Not only in the mirrored ideological 
representation of a country in which ethnic and religious groups are 
not able to live with each other anymore, but also due to a fundamental 
dogmatic attitude, allowing no room for dialogue or non-violent 
political controversy. In this logic of escalation a culture of the big 
mouths was generated, in which reasonableness and nuances were lost.

After the murder of Theo van Gogh the already poisoned climate came 
sharply into focus. Weblogs and discussion forums were only used to 
express passionate emotions in rugged language. But they were also and 
in particular platforms for the expression of political ?incorrect? 
proposals and measures.

?The most popular weblogs like GeenStijl, Retecool and Volkomenkut lead 
the way in revealing new facts, although these facts appear to be 
mainly old and familiar. The broadcasting companies dutifully lurch 
after them? [Geert-Jan Bogaerts]. In the chase after the identity of 
the murderer of Theo van Gogh a picture of Mohammed Bouker was 
published on several weblogs. Although this person had nothing to do 
with the case (apart from having the same initials), this was enough 
reason for the editorial staff of the Limburger to liven up their 
Saturday edition [6.11.04] with a portrait of the alleged killer. A 
capital error for a quality newspaper that usually takes its 
journalistic responsibilities seriously. The next day, after the error 
had come to light the newspaper apologised in public to the person 
involved. The chief editors announced that an internal investigation 
would take place into ?how this could have happened? [limburger.nl].

The traditional news suppliers of newspapers and broadcasting companies 
noticed that their monopoly on news service and interpretation of the 
news was undermined by what was taking place on the internet. ?Internet 
puts pressure on paper and television,? Geert-Jan Bogaerts wrote. ?The 
traditional news suppliers (newspaper empires, broadcasting companies) 
are seeing their monopoly crumble away. The modern news consumer makes 
use of new techniques on the internet, such as RSS and web diaries. 
Users can determine themselves when they want to take in the news, and 
which channel they want to use for this purpose. If the traditional 
news monopolists want to survive, they will have to adapt their 
organisation to it in a better way? [Volkskrant 27.11.04].

The free gathering of news performed by the individual and associated 
bloggers increasingly influences the public debate. They publish 
contributions that are picked up straight from the street, but also 
information that has been adopted from unknown or well-known media. The 
good with the bad are published and made accessible to a wide public. 
Unconfirmed rumours can roam the internet for days. For professional 
journalists this is an abomination. It proves once more how important 
it is for journalists to deal professionally with available 
information, by carefully checking their sources. If you don?t, the 
news supply degenerates into a rumour machine. ?The internet implies 
that journalism should make higher demands than ever on the assessment 
and selection of information and especially on the transparency of 
sources? [Elsbeth Etty, NRC, 17.2.04].

However, the internet cannot just be dismissed as a rumour machine, in 
which one and all can voice their possibly self-invented little facts 
and opinions. The internet is also and especially a communication 
medium, in which lies are exposed very quickly, in which wrong 
information is quickly corrected, in which limited information is 
quickly completed, and in which untenable or dubious opinions are 
quickly contradicted.

We have seen before how the internet can contribute to the 
reinforcement and intensifying of media hypes, and how it is employed 
as an increasingly powerful source of media hypes. But we have also 
seen how the internet helps shatter and correct media hypes. The 
internet is and remains a medium with greatly contradictory effects. 
This isn?t so much caused by the medium itself ?after all the internet 
is not a subject possessing the capacity to act and for that reason 
cannot do or produce anything?, but by the way in which the internet is 
used by people and groups with various and often contradictory 
interests, needs, opinions, desires and aspirations.

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