AMSTERDAM, Netherlands - The man selling key rings and disposable cameras and novelty T-shirts ran his fingers through his full gray hair when he considered recent events in his country, and then he looked up from the counter in front of him.
His eyes were moistening, and he spoke quickly to avoid, it seemed, full-on tears.
"Look around and you think you see Dutch tolerance," he said from his small shop near Amsterdam's central train station, where he shares a street with blaring bars, sex boutiques and "coffee shops" filled with smoke from marijuana and hashish.
"The real Dutch tolerance you cannot see," continued Fred Richter, 58. "It is inside us. It is part of who we have always been. Now, I'm not so sure."
There is a lot of such uncertainty in the Netherlands, a lot of genuine anguish. With a recent killing linked to Islamic fundamentalism and violent cultural skirmishes in their second week, a country long admired as a jewel for its peacefulness, its tolerance and its open-armed acceptance of weekend visitors and immigrants alike, is in a fit of introspection.
The threat of Muslim militancy became a reality here with the killing Nov. 2 of a documentary filmmaker who had harshly criticized the treatment of women in the name of ultra-conservative Islam.
And now, like much of Europe - but perhaps with greater emotional depth than anywhere else on the continent - the Dutch are grappling with how to respond to a killing committed in the name of religion, while preserving their national character.
The anguish is for good reason: More than any other issue that people can recall, Islamic fundamentalism, and how the Dutch respond to it, will determine how much their way of life will change.
"We are at the point of no return," said Uri Rosenthal, a Dutch senator who leads the government's Crisis Research Institute. "Whatever the ultimate response turns out to be, we will be a different place in one way or another."
People who know the Netherlands only by the anything-goes atmospherics of Amsterdam can be forgiven for largely missing what this country is about: The tolerance here is not a result of openness about sex and drugs; the sex and drugs are a result of the tolerance.
That open-mindedness has long extended to immigrants, welcomed by the hundreds of thousands with some of the most generous financial help from any government in the world.
About 1 million Muslims are among the Netherlands' 16 million residents. Some, but by no means all, of those Muslims speak fluent Dutch, and the immigrant communities live far better than those, for example, in the suburbs of Paris.
But with their numbers, an undercurrent of tensions had been growing, which erupted when Theo van Gogh, a provocative but acerbic documentary filmmaker and columnist, was killed on an Amsterdam street. His killer then used a knife to pin to van Gogh's body a note threatening a collaborator of the filmmaker on the movie.
Van Gogh, a distant descendant of the painter Vincent van Gogh, was killed after his latest documentary was aired criticizing - in the harshest of words, and using a naked female Muslim model with words from the Quran painted on her body - the treatment of women in the name of ultraconservative Islam.
Police arrested eight young Muslims of North African origin in the killing; last week, the government reported that the group had visited Pakistan, possibly for training for "jihad."
In what has become the new European shorthand for terrorism, the government said the group might have been planning "another Madrid," referring to last year's train bombings in the Spanish capital that killed about 200 people.
"Nobody, of course, condones such a murder, but if there is a healthy side it is that we are now forced to confront our problems and set our path on how to solve them," said Jean Tillie, a political scientist at the University of Amsterdam.
"What worries me is the climate in which we are doing this. When fear enters politics, there is a danger. And there is no question that people are afraid and that fear has entered our politics."
Said Laila El-Hadri, who is 19, born in Amsterdam to Moroccan immigrants and who wears a head covering in accordance with her Muslim faith: "The Dutch always say that they are tolerant, but now their secret is out. Now the looks they have always given me have words with them."
Muslims and non-Muslims can be equally afraid, not just in threats to their way of life but, lately, for their physical safety.
Since van Gogh's death, violence has hit at least 20 sites linked to religious institutions here and in Uden, Rotterdam, Utrecht, Amersfoot, Eindhoven and The Hague, the capital.
Mosques have been defaced. Catholic schools have been burned. Molotov cocktails have been thrown into churches.
For many years, criticism of Islam, Islamic customs and the financial generosity toward immigrants was taboo, said Rosenthal, a member of the ruling center-right coalition.