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Working from a script written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Van Gogh created the ten-minute short film Submission. The movie deals with violence against women in some Islamic societies; it tells the stories, using visual shock tactics, of four abused Muslim women. The title, Submission, is a translation of the word “Islam” into English; it refers to Muslims’ submission before God. In the film, women’s naked bodies, with texts from the Qur’an written on them, are veiled with semi-transparent shrouds as they kneel in prayer, telling their stories as if they are speaking to Allah.
In August 2004, after the movie’s broadcast on Dutch public TV, the newspaper De Volkskrant reported that the journalist Francisco van Jole had accused Hirsi Ali and Van Gogh of plagiarism, saying that they had appropriated the ideas of Iranian-American video artist Shirin Neshat, whose work used Arabic text projected onto bodies.
After Submission was broadcast, Van Gogh and Hirsi Ali received death threats. Van Gogh did not take the threats seriously and refused any protection. According to Hirsi Ali, he said, “Nobody kills the village idiot”, a term he frequently used in self-reference.