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Mohammed B., the man accused of killing Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam last week, was born and bred in the Netherlands. Known as a “relaxed, friendly and intelligent young man,” a good student, a volunteer social worker, and a serious student of information technology, he came from a close family, and the death of his mother three years ago hit him very hard.

He began to devote more time to religious studies, and in the last year became increasingly fanatic. He abandoned his social work because he refused to serve alcohol, and because the foundation where he volunteered organized events where both sexes were present. He was on welfare when he killed van Gogh.

We have seen this sort before. Mohammed B. is the Dutch-Moroccan version of the British-Pakistani killer of Daniel Pearl. Both came from good families that had to all appearances successfully assimilated into Western society. Both were well educated and upwardly mobile. Both had money and opportunity. Neither suffered unusual discrimination. Both lived in politically correct, meticulously tolerant societies that permitted no intrusion on their private lives. There was no apparent reason, either psychological or sociological, why either should have become a killer. Yet each freely chose — freely chose — to become a terrorist.

Each also chose to perform a ritual murder. Both beheaded (or, in the van Gogh killing, all-but-beheaded) their victims. This has long been a trademark of radical Islamist terrorists, whose videos of beheadings were used recruit new jihadists to their ranks long before they were broadcast around the world. The recruits join the jihad precisely because they want to behead the infidels and crusaders who are the objects of their hatred. Mohammed B. added a macabre twist: he left a message of hatred for Jews, Christians, Europeans and Americans impaled to van Gogh’s chest with the murder weapon, a bloody dagger.

Mohammed B. was no lone wolf; within a few days, Dutch police had arrested seven other members of what they claimed was a terrorist group, and Spanish authorities said they believed the order for the ritual murder had come from terrorist leaders in their country. If that is correct, the van Gogh slaughter wasn’t merely the result of local circumstances, but rather the product of a continental network of like-minded fanatics.

As the outstanding Italian journalist Magdi Allam sadly noted in the Corriere della Sera a few days after the event, the murder of van Gogh probably marked the end of Europe’s multicultural utopian dream, because it forces politically correct Europeans to face an identity crisis that is eerily symmetrical with the same sort of crisis that has been afflicting Muslims for the past 30 years. Both were provoked by Western victories: The humiliation of Arab armies by Israel in 1967, and the defeat and dissolution of the Soviet Empire in 1991.

The Six-Day War and the ensuing collapse of the dream of a pan-Arab empire catalyzed a resurgence of fundamentalist Islam and its intense intolerance of social, religious and political freedoms. In Allam’s neat formulation, al Qaeda represents the privatization and globalization of Islamic terrorism in its crudest and most hateful form. Yet it appeals to many Muslims, including some living and even born in the West, because they find it spiritually fulfilling, and also because there is no spiritual force in Europe capable of challenging it.

As things stand, the Europeans are so enthralled by cultural relativism and political correctness that they are totally unwilling to challenge any idea, even the jihadists’ program of creating a theocratic state within Western civil society. The terrorist groups consider themselves autonomous, a community of believers opposed to the broader community of unbelievers and apostates.

The killing of Theo van Gogh is a textbook case of what happens when a tolerant but confused society takes political correctness to its illogical extreme. For Mohammed B. did not choose terrorism all by himself. He was indoctrinated and recruited in a mosque where he was pumped full of the Wahabbi doctrine predominant in Saudi Arabia. The murder of van Gogh was an instant replay of the many murders carried out by Zarqawi and his followers in Iraq, extolled by fanatical Muslim Imams. As Allam reminds us, not all mosques are fundamentalist, extremist, or terrorist, but all the fundamentalists, extremists, and terrorists got that way in mosques.

The Dutch — like every other Old European society I know — were unwilling to recognize that they had potentially lethal enemies within, and that it was necessary to impose the rules of civil behavior on everyone within their domain. The rules of political correctness made it impossible even to criticize the jihadists, never mind compel them to observe the rules of civil society. Just look at what happened the next day: An artist in Rotterdam improvised a wall fresco that consisted of an angel and the words “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” The local imam protested, and local authorities removed the fresco.

That’s what happens when a culture is relativized to the point of suicide. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan once remarked of an American politician, “He can no longer distinguish between our friends and our enemies, and so he has ended by adopting our enemies’ view of the world.” This has now befallen Europe, which cannot distinguish between free societies — their natural friends — like the United States and Israel, and has ended by embracing enemies such as the radical Islamist regimes and elevating Yasser Arafat to near beatific stature.

The process by which the Old Europeans arrived at this grave impasse has been going on ever since the late 19th century, when the intelligentsia revolted against “bourgeois society” and its values, and sought for deeper meaning in acts of nihilistic violence, in fascism and communism, and in vast wars that engulfed the rest of the world. The Europeans might have confronted their spiritual crisis after the Second World War (some brave souls, like Albert Camus, tried), but the Cold War tamped it down.

With a huge enemy on their borders, the Europeans finessed the issue, opted for a soulless materialism (that has given them a nanny state and a birth rate that promises to extinguish them in relatively short order), and pretended that the core of Western civilization was irrelevant to their lives.

When the Cold War ended, the crisis was still there, but they projected it onto us. The United States “needed an enemy,” they scoffed, because otherwise we could not define our mission. But they were the ones who had lost their enemy, and thus had to face their own terrible contradictions and moral failures. Now they deride us because of our presumed archaic faith. They even equate American religion with the fundamentalism that now menaces them inside their model cities and threatens their enormously self-satisfied secular utopia.

Holland is now in the grips of violent reaction. Mosques and religious schools are firebombed. Emergency measures have been enacted. The Dutch are groping for a “solution,” but they are still ducking the real problem, which, to their consternation, we are dealing with more effectively and far more self-confidently. “The multicultural crisis,” Magdi Allam wisely reminds us, “should teach us that only a West with a strong religious, cultural and moral identity can challenge and open itself to the ‘others’ in a constructive and peaceful way. And that the goal must be a system of shared values within a common identity.”