It takes a bizarre and powerful act of will to not see the Theo Van Gogh murder for what it was: an explicit threat to those who would question any aspect of Islam from anywhere on earth, including the heart of Europe. Even extra-religious aspects such as social norms and behavior are off-limits for examination: do so and die is the message of the conspirators.
Those who work in the field certainly didn't miss the message:
- Van Gogh, murdered last week for a film slamming Muslim treatment of women, set out to be provocative. But such is the apprehension among critics of Islam that even an obscure German professor of ancient Semitic languages keeps a very low profile.
"Christoph Luxenberg" is a pseudonym. The professor hides his work from his own students — even those who recommend it to him, not knowing he is its author. He gives interviews by phone and offers little hint of who he really is or where he lives.
This has served Luxenberg well over the past four years, when his book "The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran" was only available in dense academic German. But he doesn't know what to expect when an English translation appears next year.
....The fate of Islamic reformers in the Arab world is sobering.
In the 1990s in Egypt, the writer Faraq Foda was gunned down for criticising fundamentalists and Cairo University professor Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid was forced to divorce his wife and flee abroad for examining the Koran in its historical context.
Luxenberg thinks the academic nature of his work sets him apart from Salman Rushdie, the British writer threatened with death in 1989 by fundamentalists insulted by his novel "The Satanic Verses", which toys with the idea that the Koran is not infallibly divine.
But although he originally thought he could publish under his own name, Muslim friends warned him not to. He said van Gogh's murder "confirms how right they were".