Submission is a 10-minute film in English directed by Theo van Gogh and written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The film’s title is a direct translation of the word “Islam“.The film tells the story of four fictional characters played by a single actress wearing a veil, but clad in a see-through chador, her naked body painted with verses from the Koran. The characters are Muslim women who have been abused in various ways. The film contains monologues of these women and dramatically highlights three verses of the Quran,(4:34 2:222 and 24:2) that authorize mistreatment of women, by showing them painted on women’s bodies.
Hirsi Ali has said “it is written in the Koran a woman may be slapped if she is disobedient. This is one of the evils I wish to point out in the film”. In an answer to a question about whether the film would offend Muslims, Hirsi Ali said that “if you’re a Muslim woman and you read the Koran, and you read in there that you should be raped if you say ‘no’ to your husband, that is offensive. And that is insulting.”Director of the film, Theo Van Gogh, known as a highly controversial and provocative personality, called the film a “political pamphlet”.
While the film drew both praise and outrage over its portrayal of the abused women, as a criticism of Islam it drew the following comment from The Village Voice movie critic Dennis Lim, “It’s depressing to think that this morsel of glib effrontery could pass as a serious critique of conservative Islam.” Another critic referred to the stories told in this film as “simplistic, even caricatures.” Film Threat movie critic Phil Hall, on the other hand, stated that “If its methods were harsh, nonetheless “Submission” was bold in openly questioning misogyny and a culture of violence against women because of Koranic interpretations. The questions raised in the film deserve to be asked: is it divine will to assault or kill women? Is there holiness in holding women at substandard levels, denying them the right to free will and independent thought? And ultimately, how can such a mindframe exist in the 21st century?”
After the movie’s broadcast on Dutch public TV, newspaper De Volkskrant reported on claims of plagiarism against Hirsi Ali and Van Gogh, made by internet journalist Francisco van Jole. Van Jole said the duo had “aped” the ideas of Iranian-American video artist Shirin Neshat. Neshat’s work, which made abundant use of Arabic text projected onto bodies, had been shown in the Netherlands in 1997 and 2000.
On November 2, 2004, Theo van Gogh was assassinated in public by Mohammed Bouyeri, a Dutch Muslim of Moroccan descent. A letter, stabbed through and affixed to the body by a dagger, linked the murder to Van Gogh’s film and his views regarding Islam. It was addressed to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and called for jihad against kafir (kafir is an Arabic word for unbeliever), and so, against America, Europe, the Netherlands, and Hirsi Ali herself. Following the murder of Van Gogh, tens of thousands gathered in the center of Amsterdam to mourn Van Gogh’s death. There were fire-bombings of mosques and Muslim schools, and counterattacks against Christian churches. Besides Bouyeri, eleven other Muslim men were arrested and charged with conspiracy to assassinate Hirsi Ali.
After the murder of Theo van Gogh, Submission gained international fame. It was withdrawn from the International Film Festival Rotterdam. The film had been scheduled to be shown on Sunday during a discussion on freedom of speech in film at the festival. Because of the violent murder of Van Gogh, the producer of Submission, Gijs van de Westelaken, said, “We do not want to take any chance of endangering anyone else who participated in the film.” The film was shown on television in a number of European countries.
Hirsi Ali has stated she would like to make a sequel to the movie because “By not making ‘Submission Part II,’ I would only be helping terrorists believe that if they use violence, they’re rewarded with what they want.” When asked if she would submit to threats against her life, she said “Not me.”