Charlie Hebdo in Amsterdam?

Take a look at this distinguished elderly gentleman! Would someone with a grandfatherly face like that ever hurt even a flea?

Don’t worry: I won’t tell you that he has ever hurt anything, whether a flea or otherwise. On the other hand, he’s the target of many. This is Kurt Westergaard, one of the most “notorious” of those “Danish cartoonists” whose work back around 2005 touched off riots, death and general destruction around the world in support of the absurd notion that the Mohammed of Islam is something that is beyond criticism or ridicule. And of course Westergaard himself was the target of an attack back in 2010, where only the padlocked door to the “saferoom” he had established in his house enabled him to fend off the knife-wielding attentions of some sort of crazed fanatic or another.

Well, it turns out that Westergaard will be the featured speaker at the Vrije Woord (“Free Word”) Festival happening tonight at Amsterdam’s premier venue for that sort of public presentation, De Balie, right on the Leidseplein. De Balie officials only announced his presence this very morning, out of security considerations; previously there had only been talk of some “mystery speaker” and, somehow, the attendant possible necessity for the screening of attendees as they arrived.

That’s still a little less than a full 12 hours’ worth of notice, and as we have seen (as in the assassination on US Election Day, 2004, of the film-maker Theo Van Gogh), Amsterdam has plenty of Muslim fanatics. Can they get their act together in time to make Westergaard sorry he ever even considered visiting the Netherlands’ delightful (co-)capital? There will be security there in abundance, of course; indeed, usually De Balie is open seven days a week, if only for its cafe, but the building has been closed today and will only re-open when the Festival starts at 19.30.

This piece in the newspaper Het Parool notes that there has been no withdrawal from tonight’s festival by anyone who bought a ticket, although De Balie made that option available. Apparently some employees at De Balie have refused to work tonight, however, for whatever reason. Also, according to this other Parool article, the Netherlands chapter of international writers’ organization PEN got early confidential word at the end of March that Westergaard would be coming and withdrew its co-participation – the event had “become too big,” according to its chairwoman.

In a related story, you may have heard how around 150 writers are now protesting the intended awarding of the “Freedom of Expression Courage Award” to the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo at an upcoming gala put on by the American PEN. But really, now: what is it – among many other things – that Charlie Hebdo and that Kurt Westergaard are satirizing? It has to do with the very fact of all the fanatics out there that make it necessary to layer on the security, to make people fear for their lives, just to make the point that – exactly like the Christian God in, for example, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and countless other works of Art – the Muslim God and Mohammed are not to be immune to satire and ridicule, and that those for whom this is unacceptable had best start accepting it or move back to wherever it is they originally came from.

So all power and plaudits to Kurt Westergaard, and to Charlie Hebdo. But keep an ear out on your May Saturday night for word of the latest killings, this time in Amsterdam.

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