'Laughing Killer': Bouyeri and the Murder of Theo van Gogh

On 2 November 2004 Mohammed Bouyeri killed Dutch writer and film director Theo van Gogh. He shot him, slit his throat and planted a knife in his chest with a letter to Ayaan Hirsi Ali attached to it. In Bouyeri’s view, violence against the infidels was not only allowed by Islam, or necessary to free Muslims from oppression by the ‘infidels’, but a direct command from Allah. According to him this order is clear and prescribed in the text ‘The Obligation’ referring to the obligation to kill ‘those who insult the Prophet’. This text is based upon the writings of Ibn Taymiyyah, an Islamic scholar who lived at the height of the Mongol threat and whose work was translated by Mohammed Bouyeri. Bouyeri’s reading of that text convinced him that comments such as uttered by Hirsi Ali, Wilders and Van Gogh about Islam and the prophet Muhammad, were insults such as Ibn Taymiyyah had referred to, and that consequentially the only proper response was to kill them. Such a punishment is thus not inspired by the insult of Muslims as such. If that were the case, the Muslim doing the executions would be following his own impulses. Instead, what he should be doing is obeying Allah’s will. After all, it was Allah Himself who had ordained this punishment. Any ‘good’ Muslim would have to act upon this order, or end up being an infidel. His reading of this text was heavily disputed by Salafi Muslims but at that time he and his group were already outside the circles of the Salafi in the Netherlands to a large extent.

Bouyeri clearly saw himself as an instrument of Allah and in his open letter to Hirsi Ali pinned upon Van Gogh’s body he claimed following the footsteps of the Prophet Muhammad. One of the most remarkable references in his letter (and again strongly contested by other Muslims) was to the Prophet as the ‘laughing killer’: Peace and Blessings on the Amir of the Mujahidin, the Laughing Killer Mohammed the Prophet of God (God’s Peace be Upon him) [Vrede en zegeningen op de Emir van de Mujahideen, de lachende doder Mohammed Rasoeloe Allah (Sala Allaho alaihie wa Sallam)]. This is a very unusual epithet, so unusual that it is worthwhile to have a look where it might have come from since it apparently does not appear in any of the accepted hadith books.

A similar reference is found after Bouyeri’s act in the letter claiming responsibility for the London bombings: ‘In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate, may peace be upon the cheerful one and undaunted fighter, Prophet Muhammad, God’s peace be upon him.’ The phrase in Arabic (ad-Dahûk al-Qattâl), can be translated as ‘the cheerful one and undaunted fighter’, meaning constantly laughing and lethal and ‘murderous, deadly, lethal’. An interesting reference to this text comes from Iraqi suicide bombers since a similar text can be found among them: ‘May peace be upon the cheerful one and undaunted fighter, Prophet Muhammad, God’s peace be upon him.’ Furthermore, Bouyeri’s reference may also be based upon a statement by Omar Bakri, former leader of the radical Al Muhajiroun in the UK. In an interview with Jamestown Foundation he was asked about the 9/11 attacks and whether they were Islamic or not. Omar Bakri Mohammed responded:
The Jamestown Foundation: Al-Muhajiroun in the UK: An Interview with Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed

A: The Prophet Muhammad once said to the enemy: I have come to terrorize you; he said: “O, people of Qureish I have come to slaughter you’; in another quote he said: ‘I am the Prophet who kills while laughing’.

Q: Are you sure these traits are attributable to the Prophet Muhammad?

A: I can quote to you the authentic references. Anyway for me “terrorism” is not necessarily a bad word; it depends on the context and whether it is based on the commands of Allah.

and on Living Islam I found this:
Various Shorter Texts by Shaykh Gibril Haddad

he [referring to Omar Bakri, MdK) states:

“ana al-dhahUk al-qattAl”

which i have seen translated as “i am the cheerful one, the dauntless fighter and would this be the most accurate rendering into english?

Ana al-dahuk al-qattal: “I am the oft-smiling one and I am the fierce warrior.”

Yes, this is related with its chain from Ibn `Abbas by the Shafi`i and Maliki philologist and litterateur Ahmad ibn Faris (d. 395) in his brief _Asma’u Rasulillah (salla Allahu `alayhi wa-Sallam) wa- Ma`aniha_ (Kuwait: Markaz al-Makhtutat, 1989). Al-Suyuti adduces the latter’s chain in his _Riyad al-Aniqa_ and al-Dhahabi mentions the report in the volume on Sira of his massive _Tarikh al-Islam_.

Note: “Dahuk” is germane to “qattal” in the sense that “al-dahhak,” which also means “the oft-smiling one,” is synonymous with “he of scathing courage in battle” as mentioned by al-Qastallani according to al-Nabhani in _al-Asma fima li-Sayyidina Muhammadin min al-Asma_.

Blessings and peace on the Prophet, his Family, and his Companions.

[SP 2006-05-12]

As said this was heavily disputed by other Muslims (including Salafis) and I haven’t found a reference anywhere in the major sources. It also doesn’t really matter. What matters here is what Bouyeri meant to do, meant to perform with this statement. By the term ‘laughing killer’ Bouyeri probably meant to be a ‘cheerful and undaunted fighter’, a person who goes to battle cheerfully and undaunted because he ‘knows’ God supports him. He does not fight because of feelings of rage against his enemies but because God wants him to. With this Bouyeri at the same time demonstrates his attempt to emulate his personal idea of the prophet and to build on the tradition of (what he saw as) contemporary true Muslims: the freedom fighters in Iraq. For him it was of crucial importance not to fight out of anger or frustration but solely because God asked him; he re-defined himself as an instrument of God.

This explanation of the Van Gogh’s murder can be sustained by an analysis of the particular form of the deed, performed as a ritual killing, and by the expectations of the perpetrator to be killed afterwards by policemen. The ritual killing of Van Gogh can be seen as a sacrifice for Allah and the expectations to be killed can be seen as a way to look for the status of martyr by Bouyeri. The West often refers to Islamic ‘suicide bombers’. According to Bouyeari and others fighters and victims of the occupation by the United States and Israel, people who kill themselves are ‘martyrs’ and not suicide bombers. A sacrifice gives a life that can not be reinstated but it is given to request new or alternative forms of live, health, birth of a child etc. Muslims have gone astray according the Bouyeri and the likes and reciprocity in the sacrifice makes it possible to restore the relation with Allah. From the point of view that a sacrifice as a ritual reasserts the norms, the murder can be seen as a peace offering, a gift with which a return can be claimed. Moreover, the intention of Bouyeri was offering his life for the cause of defending Islam in such a way as to achieve the most favourable return. The martyr has the assurance of paradise, the act alone automatically gives entrance to heaven.

For Bouyeri and his fellow members of the Hofstad network, their ideology as displayed in their texts, shows a fusion between global and local contexts and a mixture of all kinds of influences and re-interpretations of text of Hizb ut Tahrir, Salafiyya and American Christian Fundamentalists. They are clearly inspired by identification with the global ummah and the concomitant transnational religious movements, but also with a global public platform, perceived to be hostile towards Islam. This combination echoes in their assessment of the significance of the expressions of specific Dutch protagonists of which Hirsi Ali was, in this analysis, the principal actor. The group’s interpretation of Islam can be seen as a reversal of the main message in the Dutch Islam debates we addressed above. In particular, it is a turnaround of the views of Hirsi Ali; the negative image of Muslims is transferred into a strong and assertive one, providing, for Bouyeri and his companions, for a positive identification. Bouyeri’s radicalized version of Islamic activism based upon transnational and local influences is therefore a way to give meaning to the social realities surrounding him and can be seen as a cross-fertilization between an idealized Islamic past and a dark present.

A large part of this text is based upon, and taken from:
New Book: Local Battles- Global Stakes

Edien Bartels and Martijn de Koning, abstract
Submission and a Ritual Murder; The transnational aspects of a local conflict and protest
On 2 November 2004, Theo van Gogh, a Dutch columnist, filmmaker and producer of the film Submission was murdered in Amsterdam by a Moroccan-Dutch Muslim. However in order to understand the significance of the film Submission and the murder of its producer, Theo van Gogh, we should look beyond these local and national frames, and beyond the local significance of this conflict. In this chapter we will show how a transnational take on both topics, the film Submission and the murder of Theo van Gogh, can contribute to a better understanding of how and why these local events occurred.

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