Saturday, October 16, 2010, 7:16 P.M., CET: “The liberal project began to fail when it began to lie.” – Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1991.
My reflections on the outcome of the Geert Wilders trial.
Friday, October 15, 2010, 6:12 P.M. CET: Hurrah! Maybe it’s 10 minutes to midnight instead of five minutes to midnight: Wilders found not guilty on all counts. UPDATE, 7:42 P.M.: Leon de Winter provides a more precise explanation of what, exactly, happened today:
Wedneday, October 13, 2010, 2:40 A.M. CET: Johan Norberg on the utter madness of the Swedish elite, as illustrated by its revulsion over the Swedish Academy’s recognition of a writer who is that appalling, unacceptable thing – a talented non-Stalinist!
I was supposed to take part in a very special event last Thursday in Rome called “For the Truth, for Israel,” but missed my plane. At least I managed to write a piece connected with the event for the Italian newspaper Il Foglio. Here it is in English; here, in Italian translation, along with pro-Israel pieces by the wonderful Phyllis Chesler and others.
Here’s a riveting video of a debate in which Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Douglas Murray argue against the proposition that Islam is a religion of peace, and a terrific look by Michael Moynihan at the politics of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Today, after reading Jamie Kirchick’s unsettling coverage of the gay-rights march in Belgrade, and looking at the pictures he took during his gutsy sojourn into the midst of that hatefest, I found myself banging out this bit of silliness in an attempt to deal with the horror through humor:
TOP 10 SIGNS OF DEMOCRATIC PROGRESS IN SERBIA
10. Table manners of neo-Nazi thugs are definitely improving
9. Children in prison now allowed to phone home every week
8. Sales of “Kill the Jews” t-shirts down 15% from last year
7. Air conditioning in torture chambers
6. They love Justin Bieber!
5. Giant posters of Stalin replaced by giant posters of Lenin
4. This year, for once, Serbia’s Eurovision entry was not a paean to genocide
3. Gays now beaten only to a semi-pulp
2. “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” finally dropped off bestseller list
1. Co-ed mass graves
Saturday, October 2, 2010, 7:55 P.M., CET: At Pajamas Media, Rita Karlsen on a curious action by a major Norwegian publisher.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010, 11:47 A.M., CET: My postmortem on the Swedish election.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010, 12:58 P.M. CET: An updated version of my Koran-burning piece for HRS has now been posted at City Journal.
Sunday, September 12, 2010, 6:53 P.M. CET: Sorry for the long silence. It’s been a busy time, both personally and professionally. Since I last posted here, both my better half and I have lost the persons, other than each other, who were our closest confidants: respectively, his mother, Elisabeth, and my aunt Ruth.
I’ve been in the habit of memorializing my dead on this blog, but I don’t have the heart for it now.
Here’s something that will be an interesting test for the Obama Administration. This is exactly the sort of person who should be granted asylum in a free country. If he’s turned down, my already low esteem for the President will hit bottom. (Hat tip: Fred Litwin’s Gay and Right blog.)
I was pleased to learn that Mayor Bloomberg, at the 9/11 memorial ceremony in New York yesterday, quoted from a poem by my old friend Dana Gioia, but that ‘s about all I was pleased by. It seemed telling, somehow, that Bloomberg, in his brief remarks, managed to mispronounce both Dana’s and Willa Cather’s names: are he and his people so halfhearted about all this 9/11 stuff that it didn’t even occur to any of them to make an effort to find out how to pronounce these people’s names correctly? (Of course, it’s depressing that a mayor of New York is apparently unfamiliar with the names of one of the great American novelists and one of the most important living American poets, but that’s another matter entirely.)
Saturday, May 29, 2010, 7:45 P.M. CET: Two strong pieces in English at the HRS site. Rita Karlsen shows how the official Norwegian statistics bureau, with the help of the editors of the newsweekly Ny Tid, is continuing its familiar practice of playing games with statistics in an apparent effort to persuade the innumerate public that immigration and integration are going better than they actually are. (For some reason, if you read the piece in Internet Explorer, the line of text following each of the two tables is missing; read it in Firefox and the problem mysteriously disappears.)
And Hege Storhaug makes use of affecting family stories to recall Norway’s own progress over recent generations toward greater individual liberty – a liberty that is profoundly threatened by Islamic collectivism.
Thursday, May 27, 2010, 11:12 P.M. CET: Since I last posted here, I’ve been in the U.S. again, about which I wrote (in Norwegian) here. There have also been several pieces well worth reading at Human Rights Service’s international pages, including Alex Knepper on his experience with media attitudes toward Islam and a three-parter (beginning here) by leading Quebec anti-jihadists Marc Lebuis and Étienne Harvey on everyone’s favorite Islamist in sheep’s clothing, Tariq Ramadan.
Thursday, April 29, 2010, 4:09 P.M. CET: Here’s me (in Norwegian, sorry) on the Oslo Freedom Forum, an extraordinary gathering of heroes, and its decadent enemies in Norway’s far-left media establishment. And here’s a terrific piece by Peter Whittle about the refusal of leftist politicians to acknowledge or address Islam’s extraordinarily dangerous dogma on homosexuality.
Saturday, April 24, 2010, 3:42 P.M., CET: Quote of the day: “It’s an absurdity to think that eating hormone-containing chicken can change the sexual orientation of a person.”
Thursday, April 22, 2010, 2:17 P.M., CET: Just received in the mail: New Threats to Freedom: Thirty Great Writers on Cultural Trends that Are Undermining Our Liberties, edited by Adam Bellow and with contributions by Anne Applebaum, Bruce Bawer, Peter Berkowitz, Max Borders, Richard Epstein, Jessica Gavora, Michael Goodwin, Daniel Hannan, Alexander Harrington, Mark Helprin, Christopher Hitchens, James Kirchick, Greg Lukianoff, Barry Lynn, David Mamet, Katherine Mangu-Ward, Tara McKelvey, Mark Mitchell, Michael Moynihan, Chris Norwood, Glenn Reynolds, Naomi Riley, Christine Rosen, Ron Rosenbaum, Stephen Schwartz, Lee Siegel, Christina Sommers, Shelby Steele, and Dennis Whittle.
Meanwhile, new at the international pages of the Human Rights Service website: German political scientist Clemens Heni reports on the increasingly vicious anti-Semitism in the mainstream German press, and Philip Wendahl examines anti-Semitism in Malmö — and the refusal of civic leaders to face up to this chilling reality.
Thursday, April 15, 2010, 5:29 P.M. CET: For those who have still only been exposed to the mainstream media hogwash about Tariq Ramadan, read this excellent trilogy of pieces by David Solway, the thrust of which is corroborated here by Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi. There’s also a hell of a lot about Ramadan in Surrender, by the by. He’s become something of a litmus test for the Western media: see how any given media organ reports on him, and you’ll get a pretty good idea of how far they’ve meandered down the primrose path toward total appeasement of Islam.
During his current tour of North America, Ramadan has received almost consistently friendly, if not idolatrous, media treatment, but in Montreal, I am delighted to report, the très formidable Marc Lebuis is responding to Ramadan’s visit there with a press conference which will take place today beginning at 2 p.m. EST – that is, about two and a half hours from now. The speakers: Tarek Fateh, author of Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State; Salim Mansur, author of Islam’s Predicament: Perspectives of a Dissident Muslim; Naser Khader, founder of Muslim Democrats of Denmark; and Zuhdi Jasser, President of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. Links to live streaming videos of this promising event – in both English and French – can be found at Marc’s excellent website, Point de Bascule (Tipping Point).
Thursday, April 15, 2010, 3:14 P.M. CET: On Tuesday I got back from four weeks on the West Coast of the U.S., my longest stay in my native country since since I moved to Europe in 1998. My trip back included an extremely brief layover at O’Hare, where I picked up a copy of the Chicago Tribune. Which is how I happened to read this shameful piece of pseudo-journalism about Tariq Ramadan, who had spoken the previous Saturday under the auspices of CAIR’s Windy City branch. Written by one Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah, the Tribune article is basically a puff piece which presents Ramadan, in the usual fashion, as a moderate Muslim bridge-builder.
Yes, Ahmed-Ullah includes perfunctory mentions of (unnamed) critics who dispute that Ramadan is a “moderate Muslim” and of his family ties to the Muslim Brotherhood (which Ahmed-Ullah generously describes as “a political group in Egypt with a violent past”). But she makes no reference to the mountains of evidence that Ramadan is an out-and-out Islamist and a chronic practitioner of taqiyya (i.e., making friendly-sounding noises when speaking to audiences in the language of the infidel, but preaching contempt for the infidel when lecturing in Arabic). Nor does she share with her readers the fact that Ramadan was recently dismissed from a chair at Erasmus University in Rotterdam and from his position as an “integration advisor” for that city when it emerged that, while holding those positions in the Netherlands, he was also hosting a series on Iranian state television. Ahmed-Ullah whitewashes CAIR in similar fashion. Tribune readers who did not know better would come away from Ahmed-Ullah’s article with the clear impression that both Ramadan and CAIR – proven enemies of Western freedom, sexual equality, and secular government – are benign bridge-builders and champions of American values.
In short: yet another example of the breathtaking media duplicity on the subject of Islam that I document exhaustively in Surrender.
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While in the U.S. I filed three pieces for Human Rights Service, which (sorry) are only in Norwegian: letters from San Francisco and L.A. and a report on my conversation in Monterey with Shelby Steele.
Monday, March 15, 2010, 11:03 P.M. CET: The other day I learned that an acquaintance here in Oslo, aged sixty-something, had died of complications following a slip on the ice in which he hit his head. This news came while I was still recovering from a fall on the ice in which I broke one or two ribs. Both of these mishaps took place on sidewalks in downtown Oslo.
Ever since I first moved here ten years ago I knew that one day I would end up with a major injury resulting from a fall on the ice. I spent most of my life in New York, which also can get a lot of snow in the winter, but the difference is that in New York and other American cities people are out shoveling sidewalks as soon as, and often even before, the snow has stopped falling, so that however cold it is and however much the snow piles up, the sidewalks are generally clear, walkable, and safe. In Oslo, by contrast, even the most heavily trafficked downtown sidewalks can spend weeks at a time covered in ice, as smooth and slippery as skating rink. A few weeks ago, in Skien, my husband saw an elderly woman slip on an icy sidewalk in the very middle of town and slide several yards down a major street into oncoming traffic. She could easily have been run over, but was lucky enough to survive. I don’t know if she broke anything.
Such incidents are far from uncommon in Norway. And yet, year after year, even the sidewalks in front of major hotels, department stores, and public buildings remain icy for week after week, with nobody, apparently, seeing it as his or her responsibility to make them safe. My theory has long been that the explanation for this is a kind of stubborn Viking toughness, an attitude that “Hey, we’re Norwegians, we’re not scared of a little ice.” Whatever the case, the public thoroughfares in this country are more dangerous than they need to be for long periods every winter, with the result that people suffer serious injuries and even, in some cases, die unnecessarily. It’s about time people wake up and change their behavior.
Saturday, March 13, 2010, 2:57 P.M. CET: In order to compete more effectively with Islam for adherents, Christians in Africa have been ramping up the persecution of gays. In Malawi, for example, gay people are being arrested and risk long jail terms. Today comes the news that Norway’s ordinarily spineless Minister of the Environment and International Development, Erik Solheim, while on a visit to Malawi, actually dared to mention the gay issue to some of that country’s leaders. This apparently caused outrage in Malawi, which, as it happens, is “one of the most important collaborative partners for Norwegian aid” — in order words, one of the top recipients of tax money from Norwegians, including gay Norwegians.
One might hope that Norway would put a halt to these handouts immediately pending the release of Malawians who have been imprisoned for being gay. But no, of course not. Solheim was quick to revert to form: “I think we should be careful about making threats. If we do, we punish the poor and deny children schooling, because we disagree with the authorities about homosexuality.” Aftenposten adds that Solheim “fears…hard fronts on the gay issue.” In an increasingly Islamized Europe, this has become a familiar enough posture on the part of supposedly liberal-minded European leaders (Solheim belongs to the Socialist Left Party): they’re all too willing to sacrifice the rights, the security, and even the lives of gay people in order to preserve what they think of as friendly relationships of the sort that their multicultural ideologies compel them to maintain — never mind that their “collaborative partners” are moral monsters.
As an example of the kind of muddled thinking that typifies Solheim and his ilk, here’s a direct quotation from him, courtesy of Aftenposten: “We must avoid the formation of an idea that there there is a European [view] and an African view. There are different views of this in Europe and Africa.” What a masterpiece of pure self-contradiction! One couldn’t improve on that sentence as an embodiment of the absurdity at the heart of the multicultural mentality.
* * *
At Human Rights Service’s international pages, here’s a piece by me about recent attacks on HRS and here’s a terrific analysis by Henryk Broder of the appeasement mentality as it manifests itself in today’s Germany.
Monday, March 1, 2010, 3:45 P.M. CET: Some recent must-reads at Human Rights Service’s international pages: a piece about the man named “role model of the year” by Norway’s Ministry of Children, Equality, and Social Equality, who, it turns out, supports the criminalization of homosexuality; an illuminating look at Pakistan’s systematic abuse of Ahmadi Muslims, whose offense is practicing a humane, modern Islam; and reflections on the current debates about the proposed hijab ban in Norwegian schools.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010, 3:16 P.M. CET: In his London Times column last Sunday, Andrew Sullivan recalled a turning point of gay American history that the academic Queer Studies crowd tend to drop down the memory hole and that the mainstream media are, for the most part, ignorant of: “Gay conservatism first found its footing in the US in the late 1980s and early 1990s — with the publication of Bruce Bawer’s A Place at the Table and my own Virtually Normal.”
I might add that the establishment of gay conservatism was only part of a larger development that those books helped initiate. For those books’ main accomplishment was that they spoke to gays from across the political spectrum who lived more or less ordinary lives and who felt that the radical gay left – with its wholesale rejection of mainstream institutions and of democratic capitalism – simply did not speak for them. Our books told those gay people: You aren’t alone. As a result, more and more of them worked up the nerve to come of the closet – thereby pulling back the curtain on the real gay America and dispelling the stereotypes and caricatures of the past.
Nothing has been the same since. Today, more and more gay American teenagers live in a world where they are truly angst-free about their orientation, where they can come out to their families, teachers, and friends and experience nothing but acceptance, and where they can plan careers and find love and quite simply proceed with their lives with no more or less emotional trauma than their straight siblings. It’s a world that not long ago was, to many of us, unimaginable.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010, 4:44 P.M. CET: Attention, francophones: Marc Lebuis, who blogs at Point de Bascule, has posted a link to a radio interview I did with Benoit Dutrizac when I was in Canada last September. I spoke in English, but it’s dubbed into French.
Monday, February 22, 2010, 7:38 P.M., CET: My review essay on John Cheever appears in the Winter issue of the Hudson Review, which just arrived in my mail today. (Not online.)
Wednesday, February 10, 2010, 12:15 P.M. CET: Today’s Aftenposten contains an account of my spouse’s and my experiences with a less than gay-friendly bus driver and hotel clerk as recounted earlier on this blog. The article omits the names of the bus firm (TimEkspressen) and the Skien hotel (Dag Bondeheim hotell og kaffistova), as well as the link to the You Tube video documenting part of our exchange with the charming hotel clerk. (Dere som kan norsk blir spesielt oppmuntret til å se på videoen.)
Friday, January 29, 2010, 12:19 A.M. CET: Well, and now Salinger has shuffled off this mortal coil. Here’s my take on his career, originally published in September 1986 and reprinted in my 1988 book Diminishing Fictions.
Thursday, January 28, 2010, 3:02 P.M. CET: And now Louis Auchincloss, one of the great American writers of our time, is dead at 92. My review of his Collected Stories, quoted in the Times obituary, is here; I also wrote about him here. Five years ago I was honored to be asked to introduce him at the 92nd Street Y. He was a remarkable artist and a true gentleman. If you haven’t read him, do so.
Also dead is Howard Zinn, who perhaps did more than anyone else to damage popular conceptions of American history. The only good reason to read him is to see what kind of propaganda passes for legimitate American history in countless college courses both in the U.S. and abroad.
Sunday, January 24, 2010, 3:35 A.M. CET: I fell in love with Jean Simmons – who died on Friday – when I was thirteen. I have loved her ever since. I know exactly when I first became aware of her: it was April 7, 1970, the day the Academy Awards for 1969 were presented. I was in my parents’ living room in Queens, and a few hours before the Oscar telecast, I picked up that week’s TV Guide from the coffee table, opened to that evening’s listings, and saw a tiny picture of her in one of those boxes that TV Guide reserved for special broadcasts. She was one of the nominees for Best Actress, for her performance in a movie called The Happy Ending. She was beautiful, but there was something beyond her beauty that struck me, and that evening I rooted for her to win, not even having seen her film. She lost to Maggie Smith, for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
Not long afterwards I went to see The Happy Ending. She was wonderful. It was the year of Easy Rider, Midnight Cowboy, Goodbye, Columbus, and Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, and in a way The Happy Ending, written and directed by Simmons’s then husband, Richard Brooks, was a typical movie of the era. While casting a sardonic eye on suburban life, capitalism, and middle-class marriage, it depicted divorce, rather glibly, as an act of self-fulfillment for women deadened by the failure of their lives to measure up to youthful expectations. Yet at the same time, it was a wistful tribute to romance and to an earlier era when romance’s stock in Holywood had been higher than it was in 1970. Playing Mary Wilson, a middle-aged Denver housewife who sneaks drinks during the day because the romance has gone out of her marriage, Simmons was transcendent, concluding a bitter late-night argument with her husband (John Forsythe) – who has shriveled from a knight in shining armor into a slick business exec from Central Casting – by telling him that she’s going to go turn on the TV and watch Casablanca, starring Bogart, Claude Rains, and Paul Henreid. To which he counters: “Dead! Dead! Dead!” “Dead and buried,” she spits back, “they’re more alive than we are!”
Even then, old-movie fan that I was, I recognized, on some level anyway, that pictures like Easy Rider and Midnight Cowboy represented a dramatic revolution in cinematic style and taste and values from the era that had produced, well, Casablanca. Some aspects of that revolution were positive. But in many ways, oh, what a falling off was there! What I didn’t yet grasp was that Jean Simmons was arguably the ultimate personification of everything good that that revolution set out to destroy. She embodied gentility, civilization, decency – yet at the same time she had a breathtaking range, shining in bedroom farce, Shakespearean tragedy, heart-tugging romance, and musical comedy. In all her performances she exuded an extraordinary delicacy of feeling, a remarkable ability to bring together sensitivity and humor, tenderness and human dignity. Human dignity: the dignity of the human heart, of human feeling, of human relationships. When one thinks of her work, those are the kinds of words that keep coming to mind – and they aren’t necessarily the first words you think of when you think of, for example, Easy Rider or Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.
Some of her films are available these days on DVD, and a handful show up regularly on cable. But many of the most memorable of them – a surprising number, in fact – almost seem to have vanished into the mists of time. I was lucky. When I was in my teens, they turned up regularly on New York TV, and I watched them again and again, often staying up until dawn’s early light to do so. It was in this way that I got to see her multiple times in The Actress (1953), an absolutely enchanting, unpretentious film, exquisitely directed in black and white by George Cukor, that was based on Ruth Gordon’s autobiographical play Years Ago. As a stagestruck teenager in Quincy, Mass., whose working-class parents (Spencer Tracy, Teresa Wright) can’t make heads or tails of their shy, unworldly daughter’s sudden fierce determination to become a star, Jean Simmons made her character’s combination of grit, naïveté, and over-the-top self-dramatization at once touching and funny; the scenes between her and Tracy are especially priceless for their emotional nuance.
Then there was Home before Dark (1958), for which she won a Golden Globe nomination for her searing performance as a woman who, released after a stay in a mental hospital, returns home to her husband, whom she had suspected – irrationally, she has been led to believe – of being involved with her sister. Aljean Harmetz, in Simmons’s New York Times obituary, quotes Pauline Kael’s verdict: “Jean Simmons gives a reserved, beautifully modulated performance that is so much better than the material that at times her exquisite reading of the rather mediocre lines seems a more tragic waste than her character’s wrecked life.” I think I saw Affair with a Stranger (1953), which objectively speaking was a very lightweight story about a young playwright (Victor Mature) whose sudden success tempts him to stray from his adoring wife (Simmons), at least twenty times, just because I loved watching her. It must be a quarter century since I last saw it. And it’s probably just about as long since I last saw All the Way Home (1963), based on James Agee’s autobiographical novel A Death in the Family, in which Simmons played a young woman in early 20th-century Knoxville, Tennessee, who loses her adored, high-spirited husband (Robert Preston) in an automobile accident, is plunged into the very depths of sorrow, and must struggle to find her way back to life, love, hope, and responsibility for her small son. Her mesmerizing, magnificently controlled portrait of a woman in anguish is nothing less than heartbreaking. She should’ve won an Oscar, but wasn’t even nominated. (Patricia Neal won for Hud.)
During those years when New York TV was crammed with old movies, I also got to see the extraordinary work Simmons had done in now-classic films when she was still a girl in England. (She was born in London.) At only 16, she had already been capable of giving – to borrow Kael’s words – a beautifully modulated performance, in this case as the young Estella in David Lean’s Great Expectations (1946). The movie’s one major weakness is that Simmons grows up into Valerie Hobson, who, though a fine and attractive actress, causes the magical romantic tension between Estella and Pip to evaporate instantly the moment she appears onscreen. I always felt that Simmons, even at 16, could have carried off the job of playing the adult Estella, too. After all, two years later, surrounded by classically trained actors of the very first rank who had decades of experience in stage productions of Shakespeare, Simmons stole the show as Ophelia in Olivier’s Hamlet, bringing to the role a naturalness of feeling and expression that stood out amid all the proficient soliloquizing. Simmons made the cover of Time, was nominated for Best Supporting Actress (her only Oscar nomination aside from the one she would get two decades later for The Happy Ending), and won a prize at the Venice Film Festival. Many critics singled out her performance as the film’s best: “We know who we are,” read the tag line on the Time cover, “but know not what we may be.”
There were other early British movies, some better than others, but I wouldn’t have missed any of them, and over the years I watched them again and again on TV just to see her. In The Blue Lagoon (1949) she played the part Brooke Shields took in the 1980 remake; Adam and Evelyne (1950) was a cute romantic comedy; So Long at the Fair was a missing-person mystery set at the 1896 Paris Exposition; “Sanatorium,” the closing segment of Trio (1950), based on three Maugham stories, was about a young couple with serious medical problems who fall in love and bet on life; The Clouded Yellow (1950) was a thriller. None are classics, but they represent a time when even the less distinguished productions of major U.S. and British studios tended to have certain standards – in regard to, among other things, coherent narrative structure and at least halfway literate dialogue – that would be swept away by the Easy Rider revolution. And she brought to all of these films a poise, a humanity, an air of civilized feeling, that nowadays can often feel gone with the wind.
In the fifties she left Britain for Hollywood, where she starred in the MGM costume drama Young Bess (1953) as the princess who would grow up to be Queen Elizabeth I. Her characterization is richer than a casual viewer might realize: Simmons credibly captures Bess’s playful side in her scenes with little brother Edward VI, captures her Tudor toughness in a standoff with her father (Charles Laughton, reprising his Henry VIII turn), captures her puppy love – evolving into full-scale passion – for the dashing Admiral Thomas Seymour (Stewart Granger, Simmons’s then husband), and captures her affectingly conflicted feelings for Katharine Parr (Deborah Kerr), Henry’s last queen and later Seymour’s wife, whom the princess simultaneously adores and betrays.
Then came Desirée (1954) and Guys and Dolls (1955), in both of which she played opposite Marlon Brando. In the latter film, as missionary Sarah Brown, an innocent surrounded by shady Broadway gangsters, she was not only very funny and touching but even sang. Though she disparaged her own singing, she had a sweet voice and imbued her songs – including “I’ll Know” and “If I Were a Bell” – with feeling and conviction. (Years later, starring in A Little Night Music onstage, she rendered “Send in the Clowns” more movingly, in my view, than anyone else has ever done.) She won a Golden Globe for Guys and Dolls, but wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar. She went on to essay a range of parts in a range of films: in the Runyonesque romantic comedy This Could Be the Night (1957), she’s a prim schoolteacher from Newton, Mass., who finds a night job as a secretary in a seedy Manhattan night spot; in Until They Sail (1957), she’s a self-possessed young war widow who tries her hardest not to fall for a U.S. officer (Paul Newman) stationed in her hometown of Christchurch, New Zealand, during World War II; in the Western epic The Big Country (1958), the actress from London is the ultimate American heroine, projecting a classically Wild West strength, independence, and wry humor as the smart, self-reliant cattle rancher and schoolmarm who stands nobly alongside Gregory Peck against two trigger-happy landowners feuding over water rights.
During the 1950s Simmons also became a fixture of epics set in ancient times, playing the hero’s serene, devoted love interest successively in The Robe (1953), The Egyptian (1954), and Spartacus (1960). To Spartacus, in which she acted alongside a battalion of scenery-chewing male stars – including Olivier, Peter Ustinov, Charles Laughton, Tony Curtis, and of course Kirk Douglas as the eponymous gladiator-in-training turned slave general – Simmons imparted a core of gentleness and humanity without which the picture would have been a whole lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. Spartacus was an event, and the same year saw the release of the equally formidable Elmer Gantry, for which Burt Lancaster, as the eponymous Jesus-huckster, ended up winning the Best Actor Oscar and Shirley Jones was named Best Supporting Actress for playing a hooker and thereby violating her wholesome Oklahoma image. But Simmons’s performance as Sharon Falconer, a tent-meeting evangelist à la Aimee Semple MacPherson, was the standout. It was by far the film’s most complex role, and she put it over brilliantly, combining a convincing spirituality with an equally persuasive carnality. Harmetz also quotes Kael on this performance: “Simmons is one of the most quietly commanding actresses Hollywood has ever trashed.” (And this from a critic who was generally allergic to refined English actresses.) And as if Spartacus and Elmer Gantry weren’t enough, 1960 also saw the release of The Grass Is Greener, a frothy Noel Coward-ish item in which Simmons is hilarious as a rich, bubble-headed London floozy whose aristocratic friends’ (Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr) marriage is on the rocks. But there was no Oscar nomination for Simmons that year. (Liz Taylor won for Butterfield 8.)
The Happy Ending, coming as it did at the beginning of the post-Easy Rider era, marked an ending of sorts for Simmons. Yes, she kept working, doing bad TV movies, accepting guest spots on shows like Murder, She Wrote and a recurring role on the 1991 revival of Dark Shadows, starring in the inane miniseries North and South, and even playing Miss Havisham in a TV version of Great Expectations that she had to have known would end up being considered an embarrrassment alongide David Lean’s exquisite original. Her determination to keep working, even in small roles in unworthy projects, seemed to me a mark of character, though after a certain point I couldn’t bear to watch her in all these awful things. It was also painful to see her fame gradually fade. I remember reading or hearing, years ago, that when somebody asked Cher if she wanted to meet Gene Simmons – the member of the vulgar, disgusting rock band KISS with whom she would end up living for several years – she said yes, eagerly, because she thought she was being invited to meet Jean Simmons. There was once a skit on the old Carol Burnett Show – I don’t remember the specifics, but it seems to me it was a parody of epic movies about the Roman Empire – and Burnett came onstage looking like a mess, and got a laugh with the line “What did you expect? Jean Simmons?” For many years, when people referred to Gene Simmons of KISS, they would say – they would have to say – “Gene Simmons of KISS.” But at some point, they just started saying “Gene Simmons,” and everybody understood. I found this terribly sad – not just for Jean, but for everything that, in my mind, she represented, and that had been, it seemed, irrevocably lost.
The whole award thing is strange to try to make sense of. Of course it doesn’t make any sense, and it’s silly to expect it to. In 1953 the National Board of Review presented Simmons with its Best Actress award for Young Bess, The Actress, and The Robe – and in the same year the Academy totally ignored her work in all three films, bestowing its statuette instead upon newcomer Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. Director William Wyler had originally wanted Simmons for Hepburn’s role, but Howard Hughes, to whom she was under contract, had refused to release her. “Those who knew her said she was generous, modest and unassuming,” writes Harmetz in the Times obituary, and as an example of these qualities, which are not necessarily ones we would immediately associate with many of today’s movie stars, Harmetz notes that after seeing Roman Holiday, Simmons phoned Hepburn and said, “I wanted to hate you, but I have to tell you I wouldn’t have been half as good.” Over the years, I’ve met people who had known or even worked with Simmons, and their accounts were entirely consistent with Harmetz’s. Alan Young played opposite her in Androcles and the Lion (1952), and when I met him decades later at the home of mutual friends, his face lit up at the mention of her name. “I’m still in love with her,” he said.
As it happens, I was fortunate enough to discover for myself that in person she was, indeed, exactly as Harmetz describes. As with Joan Fontaine and Louis Jourdan in Letter from an Unknown Woman (if you haven’t seen it, rent it), our paths crossed three times. In 1974, after seeing her in A Little Night Music at Westbury Music Fair on Long Island, I went backstage, a nervous, adoring teenager, and she was graciousness itself. Years later, a family friend who ran the publicity office at Good Morning America tipped me off that Jean Simmons would be coming in the next morning to tape an interview, and invited me to drop by. The next day, my friend and I happened to run into Simmons and Julie Andrews (who was there for a live interview) at the very moment when the two actresses ran into each other at the GMA studio, and they were both every bit as kind to me, a nobody, as they were to each other: the very best of old Hollywood incarnate.
But my most prolonged encounter with Jean Simmons was on the Warners lot on August 10, 1982. She was filming The Thorn Birds, in which she played the heroine’s mother (a role for which she would win a supporting Emmy), and I had arranged to write a piece about the production of the miniseries so that I might have an excuse to talk to her. I was not disappointed. We talked on the set for about a half hour and she was as sweet as could be. I was in heaven. She had nothing negative to say about anybody she had ever worked with – she seemed truly to have liked all her co-stars and to have felt honored to have played opposite them – and she seemed genuinely shocked when I mentioned some detail from one of her earlier movies: “You’re much too young ever to have seen that!” Indeed, for someone who had been a movie star for as long as she had, she was astonishingly self-effacing, and appeared to be almost uncomfortable talking about herself. When the four (or was it three?) handsome, strapping young actors who played her sons in The Thorn Birds appeared on the set, she waved them over, introduced each of them to me, and praised them to the skies in a patent attempt to turn my attention away from herself.
Thursday, January 21, 2010, 2:45 A.M. CET: Wednesday marked the beginning of the pre-trial hearing of Geert Wilders, who – in what not long ago was widely considered the most liberal country in the world – faces charges of having spoken his mind, and for this risks a prison sentence of up to a year. My piece for Human Rights Service about this obscenity also appears on the City Journal website. Wilders, though unimaginably busy preparing for his case, was also gracious enough to answer questions for Human Rights Service in an interview published simultaneously by Pajamas Media.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010, 1:59 P.M. CET: A few updates. Here’s something I did for City Journal last week. At the international pages of Human Rights Service, Angelo Pezzana has a piece on Italy’s lack of debate about Islamization, while Rooshanie Ejaz describes “the tension in the air these days” in her homeland of Pakistan. Finally, a couple of eye-opening pieces by my colleague Rita Karlsen at Front Page Magazine and Pajamas Media.
Thursday, December 17, 2009, 6:42 A.M., CET: I didn’t intend for this blog to become a Dear Diary, but sometimes personal things happen that do illuminate larger issues, and in the last day or so, remarkably, within the space of a few hours, two extraordinarily similar incidents have happened to me and my husband that do, in fact, illuminate a side of Norway that you don’t hear about when the international media are covering the Peace Prize or gushing over the magnificent Scandinavian liberalism that makes gay marriage legal here.
I’ve already posted about the incident of the smirking, heartless bus driver (see my posting for December 16). Well, after being refused a ride on that bus, allegedly because my husband was smoking a cigarette on the bus platform (as nearly everyone else in this country does while waiting for buses!), we went back home and a few hours later took a morning train directly to Skien, where my mother-in-law is in the hospital with suspected swine flu and pneumonia. When we got to Skien, both of us were extremely exhausted and extremely hungry. We took a bus downtown, found a very pleasant place to eat lunch and have a beer, and at the end of our meal asked the very friendly waitress whether there was a decent, reasonably priced hotel nearby. She suggested the Dag Bondeheim Hotel just around the corner.
We walked there and went inside. Following the sign, my husband rushed up the stairs to the reception desk, where he asked the woman behind the counter if she had a double room available. She said to him with a smile, “Yes, we do.” At that point I reached the top of the stairs and entered the room. As I walked over to the counter, she glanced at me, back at him, then back at me, plainly registering that the double room my husband wanted was for us – this obvious male couple. Suddenly there was no smile on her face.
There was a brief pause. Then, plainly improvising, she said, “We don’t permit alcohol here.”
My husband was utterly baffled: “What are you talking about?”
She repeated her statement.
“What do you mean?” my husband asked.
She repeated the same statement again, mechanically.
“Well, that’s fine,” my husband said, in a totally reasonable tone, “because we’re not going to be drinking in the hotel room.”
A pause. Staring at us with a contempt she did not try to veil, she said, firmly and defiantly: “No.”
“Is this possible?” my husband asked. “Are you kidding?”
B: …explain this? The policy here? Can you tell me why we can’t stay here? Can you just say it? Can you just repeat what you have said? Can you just repeat it? Can you just repeat it for me?
C: No, I won’t.
T: We will not drink alcohol in the room. We’re not being offered an available room, and you have an available room, and it’s because we have had a beer?
B: This has nothing to do with alcohol –
B: – and that’s very clear.
C: I’m very sorry but you have to go someplace else.
B: Because…? Can you say it?
T: What the…? I’ve never….
B: This is…this is very interesting.
T: Who’s the manager?
B: Yes. Yes.
C (indicating something on counter): It’s written on this card.
T: No, it isn’t.
B: No. Yes.
C: I can write it down.
B: Yes, can you do that, because we have to speak to him.
T: And the telephone number? What petty…behavior!
C: Here you go.
T: And the telephone number?
C: His telephone number is private, so I can’t give that to you.
T: He has no cell phone number? He has no work number?
T: We’ll find him in the phone book, then.
T: You know what? You should be ashamed of yourself.
B: Yes. This is quite disgusting.
T: You poor creature.
We ended up just going straight to the hospital, where the good news was that my mother-in-law had been taken out of the artificially induced coma she had been in that morning. She was in an isolation room in intensive care, and we had to put on disposable gloves, masks, and gowns to enter her room. She was conscious, cogent, and delighted to see us, but was exhausted, frightened, in pain, and swathed in tubes. After a couple of hours’ visit, she fell asleep, and my husband’s brother and his girlfriend picked us up and drove us to Notodden, where we spent some family time with my father-in-law and our nearly one-year-old nephew. My husband stayed for the night to keep his father company and see his mother again tomorrow; I took a late-night bus back to Oslo in order to get back to work.
As I have often said, I am very grateful to the Norwegian government for the law that enables me to live here with the person I love and to call him family – and, since January 1 of this year, husband. Yes, the word “husband” sounds strange even to me, because I didn’t grow up with such concepts, but it is the correct word and I intend on becoming accustomed to it. I wish every state in the U.S. had such a law. At the same time, I have also long maintained that while European countries like Norway may be ahead of the U.S. on gay rights legislation, America is ahead – yes, even ahead of supposedly stellar Norway – when it comes to the way most straight people in most places actually treat their gay fellow citizens in day-to-day life.
It is, at the very least, certainly safe to say that Norway, once you get out of downtown and western Oslo, is far from what the media image-makers would have you think.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009, 3:27 A.M. CET: Last week I reported on the Copenhagen Climate Conference for Pajamas Media. Here’s my initial overview, and at this page you can watch these video contributions of mine: December 8, “Bruce Bawer’s exclusive program from ‘Hopenhagen'”; December 9, “Dateline Copenhagen: Excess and Waste Define Climate Conference”; and December 11, “Science & Climategate: Copenhagen’s Shadow Conference.” Meanwhile at Human Rights Service’s international pages, here are some timely reflections by Robert Redeker on national identity, an informed overview of immigration issues in Spain by Antonio Golmar, and a piece on the European targeting of Israel by Phyllis Chesler.
* * *
I had already written the above when my husband and I suddenly found out that his mother was terribly sick and in intensive care. We rushed to the bus station to take a bus to my husband’s hometown, Notodden, so that his brother could pick us up and drive us to the town, Skien, where their mother is hospitalized. We were boarding the bus, a bus each of us has taken countless times, when the driver told us, with a smirk, that we could not take the bus. He claimed that the reason was that he had seen my husband smoking before getting on the bus. This was obviously bullshit. It is very common for Norwegians to smoke before getting on a bus. They do not get punished for this. I asked the driver for his name. He refused to give it to me.
It was very clear why this driver was treating us this way. We explained to him that my husband’s mother is in intensive care in a hospital in Skien. He just smirked. Yes, he smirked, This was plainly pure homophobia. We did not take this lightly. We both kicked up a fuss. A guard materialzed. I tried to film him with the videocamera I had on me. He yelled at me to turn it off.
The name of the bus company is Timekspressen.
I am reporting this here for the edifiication of anyone who thinks that Scandinavia is such a wonderful place for gay people. One thing I have learned in my ten years here is that the so-called liberality of this part of the world is skin-deep. There is a big difference between the official acceptance of gay people and the treatment gay people receive when they dare to wander out of a very tiny urban area. I have never experienced this kind of treatment in the United States, not even in the Southern states, which so many of my gay friends here in Norway are so scared to visit, because they think those states are so dangerous for gay people.
I am also reporting this here for the benefit of those who think that gay people are making noise about prejudice that does not really exist. It does exist. Yes, indeed, it certainly does. My mother-in-law is terribly ill, and I should be on my way to her bedside, and instead I am here writing this.
UPDATE, 4:48 A.M.: By the way, for you officials at Timekspressen, the bus was the one leaving Oslo for Notodden at 2:40 A.M.
Thursday, December 3, 2009, 5:42 P.M. CET: A few updates: first, at Pajamas Media, here are my thoughts on the Nobel Peace Prize and Hege Storhaug’s reflections on the Swiss minaret case. And please do check out Human Rights Service’s international pages, which in the last couple of weeks have featured a piece by me on the French national identity debate, Phyllis Chesler on women and Islam, Italian activist Angelo Pezzana on Italy’s immigration challenges, Danish jurist Jacob Mchangama on efforts to outlaw “defamation of religion” at the UN, an interview by Chesler with the heroic Turkish-German lawyer Seyran Ates, Helle Merete Brix on Bangladeshi feminist Taslima Nasrin’s eternal exile, and much more.
* * *
It was not until earlier this week that I learned that my beloved friend Martha Sherrill (no relation to the writer) had died in New York in late October. The news did not come as a total surprise, since Martha was in her late 80s and had been ill in recent years, but it was devastating nonetheless. I knew Martha all my life, and adored her. For her part, she loved me and supported me and was as proud of me as if I were her own child, and through the difficult times my awareness of her unwavering love was one of the things that helped keep me going.
Born in Arkansas, Martha attended the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, then moved to New York, where she soon became a successful model, appearing in publications like Harper’s Bazaar and both French and American Vogue.
It was during those early years in New York that Martha met and dated my late father. They remained friends through his first marriage and his second, to my mother. By the time I came along she had met and married Eugenio Villacaña, who had been born into a peasant family in Morelia, Mexico, and had ended up as a Professor of English at Columbia University.
Martha had a long theatrical résumé. She was a wonderful actress. If you look her up on imdb.com (where her name is misspelled), you’ll find that she was in two Woody Allen movies, Stardust Memories, in which she had exactly one line and six seconds of screen time (she’s here, between 0:25 and 0:31), and The Purple Rose of Cairo, in which she had a few lines in a scene in the movie-theater lobby. That, plus a couple of other fleeting moments, was the sum total of her film career. But over the years she did a good deal of impressive work on the stage. I still have vivid memories of an off-off-Broadway play in which she played a mother superior and was just plain magnificent. Her Arkansas accent and her emotional intensity might have reminded you of Geraldine Page. But there was no one else like her. I wish I could have seen her play Blanche DuBois.
As if that weren’t enough, Martha was also a terrific jazz vocalist. During the last years of Jimmy Ryan’s, the legendary 52nd Street jazz club which closed in the early 1980s, she sang there regularly with Max Kaminsky’s band. I cherish the memories of hearing her put over the great standards there and of sitting and chatting with her, Kaminsky, and other musicians between sets. Here are two cutsfrom her CD Here’s What I’m Here For. (The picture of her on the CD cover, by the way, was taken by my father.)
What else to say? Her smile lit up a room, and her laugh made you feel more alive. She had restless intellectual curiosity and respected serious and intelligent people. She loved to read and learn new things. She thought for herself. She sketched and painted. She was thoroughly honest and utterly without pretension. She was never less than fascinating and entertaining to listen to. One night many years ago, I spent several hours in my apartment in New York asking her questions about her life, and a thousand times since then I have kicked myself for not having videotaped her – for what emerged that evening was her entire life story, thoughtful, funny, vividly detailed, hilarious, touching, illuminating. I would give anything to have that conversation on DVD right now so that I could spend that evening with her again.
By then she and Eugenio had long since divorced, though when he grew seriously ill many years after their break-up she took him in at once and cared for him tirelessly and selflessly until his death. Then, years later, there was her stepmother. Martha was herself already elderly when this frail and ancient woman moved from Arkansas to New York to live with and be taken care of by Martha. One would readily have forgiven Martha for expressing frustration over this terribly demanding task; by that point, she was not in top form herself. But she never complained. On the contrary, as with Eugenio, she was perfectly self-sacrificing, patient, and uncomplaining, and during the years that her stepmother survived in her care, Martha always insisted that having her company was nothing but an unalloyed joy.
She was, in short, an extraordinarily beautiful woman, both inside and out. I feel blessed to have known her and I will miss her forever.
Sunday, November 8, 2009, 10:00 A.M. CET: Here are my reflections on the first hours of MSM coverage of the Fort Hood massacre. And here are some of the first fruits of my collaboration with Human Rights Service: pieces by Phyllis Chesler on Islamic gender apartheid; Fred Litwin on official Canadian appeasement of Islamism; Philip Wendahl on gays and honor violence in Sweden; and Robert Redeker on the bizarre reaction of many in France to the trial of a Muslim gang that murdered a young Jew in Paris.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009, 8:33 P.M. CET: I’ve been meaning for days to post about this story: official documents now reveal that poisonously anti-American, anti-Israeli, anti-democratic, and anti-capitalist (but, natch, fabulously prosperous) author Jan Guillou – who is perhaps the capo di tutti capi (as they say in Sweden) of the contemporary Swedish political-journalistic-literary-cultural mafia, who has been an active member of the Communist Party and associated totalitarian-friendly groups, and who in September 2001 walked out on a three-minutes’ silence at a book fair in honor of the victims of 9/11, later writing a newspaper op-ed in which he called America “the great mass murderer of our time” (what self-respecting Swedish intellectual wouldn’t agree?) – anyway, it now turns out that this glorious jewel in Sweden’s cultural crown was a Soviet spy. It will be interesting to see if his country gives him anything remotely resembling the punishment such a traitor deserves. [Oct. 29: Detail corrected.]
Tuesday, October 27, 2009, 7:46 P.M. CET: Turns out that a couple of people of faith, now under arrest, were planning to attack the offices of Jyllands-Posten and to murder culture editor Flemming Rose and cartoonist Kurt Westergaard of Muhammed-in-a-bomb-turban fame. Politician Pia Kjærsgaard expresses a quite appropriate rage, while the ever-gutsy Westergaard shrugs off the news calmly.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009, 2:37 P.M. CET: I’m now working regularly with Human Rights Service. More here.
I just remembered that some time ago I wrote a reply to Michael Gove’s review of Surrender. The review appeared in the June issue of Standpoint, and it’s obvious by now that my reply won’t be appearing in Standpoint, so I figured I’d post it here for the record.
Here’s a nice interview with Ayaan Hirsi Ali in the Los Angeles Times, a newspaper that one wouldn’t necessarily expect to give her this kind of respectful attention. (The headline and subhead are nothing less than stunning.)
UPDATE, 4:55 P.M. CET: The HRS International site for which I’m responsible can be found here.
Sunday, October 18, 2009, 5:38 P.M. CET: I was too busy with other work to provide a timely commentary about the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama — but that’s just fine, because Victor Davis Hanson said more or less what I would’ve said. All I’ll add is this: I wasn’t surprised to read a couple of days ago that the prize to Obama was the brainchild (to use the term loosely) of committee chairman Thorbjørn Jagland, a former prime minister of Norway and newly-installed Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, and that he had to talk (or cajole) his fellow committee members into going along with him. My first thought when I heard that Obama had won the prize was that the ever-ambitious Jagland, who is only 58, was actually giving himself an award: namely, an instant buddy-buddy relationship with Obama, who now owes him big, or at the very least will now have to take his calls, like, forever. Could it be that Jagland has his eyes on, say, the top job at the U.N.? Just wondering.
* * *
The headline of this story in the Independent of London labels Geert Wilders “far-right.” And then it begins by quoting a couple of the banners that greeted him when he was finally allowed to enter the U.K. on Friday: “Shariah is the solution, freedom go to hell” and “Geert Wilders deserves Islamic punishment.” Um, right: so Wilders is the one who’s far-right. Gotcha.
* * *
David Link, living up to his name, links to three perceptive takes on Obama’s speech to the Human Rights Campaign and adds a few savvy observations of his own. For my part, I share the view of many others that Obama, after all his big pre-election talk, should be embarrassed to still be repeating campaign promises without showing any sign of acting upon them, and the folks at HRC should be embarrassed to be applauding him for it.
Here’s an interesting story that reflects just how hypocritical Hollywood is about homosexuality.
And as for this tragic story, well — let’s just say every time I read something like this, I hear Ahmadinejad being cheered and applauded by the Best and Brightest at Columbia University.
Saturday, September 26, 2009, 4:34 P.M. CET: It was a special pleasure to turn to the Pajamas website a couple of days ago and see, side-by-side, two fine pieces, on not entirely unrelated topics, by two brave, brilliant people whom I had the great pleasure of meeting recently: this by Phyllis Chesler, with whom I had an engaging but far too brief conversation over drinks earlier this month in Rome, and this by David Solway, with whom I had another engaging but far too brief conversation over drinks and dinner this month in Montreal. Both are bold truth-tellers who give me hope.
So, I might say, is Benjamin Netanyahu, whose eloquent U.N. speech marked the second time this month I’ve heard a head of government speak with refreshing candor and courage about the challenges we face. (The other was Silvio Berlusconi; see my September 21 entry below.) The entire speech – four You Tube segments – deserves to be heard in full, but I am especially moved to quote these lines from near the end:.
Over seventy years ago, Winston Churchill lamented what he called the “confirmed unteachability of mankind,” the unfortunate habit of civilized societies to sleep until danger nearly overtakes them.
Churchill bemoaned what he called the “want of foresight, the unwillingness to act when action will be simple and effective, the lack of clear thinking, the confusion of counsel until emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong.”
I speak here today in the hope that Churchill’s assessment of the “unteachability of mankind” is for once proven wrong. I speak here today in the hope that we can learn from history — that we can prevent danger in time.
Netanyahu is, by the way, yet another example of a supposed right-winger who speaks up for gay people in situations when many self-identified liberals – including gay liberals – choose to remain silent. “Wherever they can,” Netanyahu said of radical Muslims, “they impose a backward regimented society where women, minorities, gays, or anyone else deemed not to be a true believer is brutally subjugated.” Bravo.
Monday, September 21, 2009, 4:06 P.M. CET: On the weekend of September 4-7 my spouse and I performed our semi-annual inspection tour of the soon-to-be-lost yet still achingly beautiful and beguiling gemeente of Amsterdam. We returned to Oslo late Monday night, and early on the morning of Tuesday the 8th I flew to Rome to participate in the International Conference on Violence against Women, sponsored by the Italian government in its capacity as current head of the G8 nations and focusing largely on the status of women in Islamic states and communities. It was an intense and fascinating couple of days, packed with speeches, some by government ministers from various countries who spouted the usual multicultural banalities, and others by gutsy folks (among them the terrific Phyllis Chesler) who laid things on the line.
Among those who articulated some tough truths in Rome was Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who at a dinner for the conference participants made some admirably blunt comments about civilization and barbarism. To borrow from a language other than Italian, he exhibited cojones of the sort that all the male politicians in Norway put together can’t match. Anyway, I gave a talk on the first of the conference’s two days. The full video of that day’s activities is here, and my talk, dubbed into Italian, begins about 5 hours and 45 minutes into the 8-hour-plus marathon. (The second day’s events, including Chesler’s talk, are on video here.)
One of the highlights of the conference was the joy of being reunited with one of my true heroes, the courageous Fiamma Nirenstein (right), a member of the Italian parliament, author of several books (most recently Israele siamo noi), and tireless activist on behalf of liberty, human rights, and a clear-eyed view of Israel and Islam.
I got back to Oslo from Rome the evening of the 11th, and on the morning of the 12th left again, this time for Canada. During the ensuing days I gave talks in Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec City. The Ottawa talk was followed by a terrific panel discussion whose participants included terrorism security expert David Harris, author and journalist Terry Glavin, and blogger Marc Lebuis; both the talk and the discussion can be viewed here. The Montreal talk (which is essentially identical to the one in Ottawa) was followed by an extensive Q&A, and both the talk and Q&A can be seen here.
I’ve been to Montreal, a city I love, several times over the years, and to Toronto once, but never to Ottawa (that’s the Canadian Parliament on the left) or to Quebec City (pictured at right), each of which is a treasure in its own very different way. Unfortunately during my week in America’s neighbor to the north (I got back to Oslo yesterday morning) I also heard enough stories about how far Islamization, and the appeasement thereof, have progressed in that proud land to make my head spin. It didn’t take long to I realize that I’d been paying insufficient attention to conditions in the Great White North. Henceforth I will seek to remedy this oversight.
Anyway, for a marvelous and illuminating week during which I met a host of wonderful and inspiring people, I owe great thanks to Fred Litwin of the Gay and Right blog, at whose invitation I came to Canada, and who did a terrific job of organizing the events in Ontario, as well as to Marc Lebuis of the Point de Bascule blog, whose idea it was to extend my tour into Quebec. Both of these men have shown themselves to be principled champions of individual liberty and secular democracy in the face of tyranny, Islamist and otherwise, and both, I feel, have become real friends in a very short time.
I might add that in Montreal I also did a couple of interviews, including this radio chat dubbed into French.
Thursday, September 3, 2009, 2:09 P.M. CET: A couple of weeks ago I posted here about a gay couple who were attacked for holding hands in Oslo’s largely Muslim Grønland district by a local resident, who is not alone in believing that his neighborhood should be run according to sharia, not Norwegian law. Now comes the story of another gay couple who, sitting together at a table way in back of one of this city’s kebab joints, also in Grønland, exchanged a kiss and ended up being chased down the street by a fellow customer.
The part of the story that gets to me is that one of the two gay guys in the kissing incident told Aftenposten: “Afterwards I thought it was perhaps a little dumb of us to do that. I don’t like to provoke people.” This is how this accommodationist stuff works, folks: instead of being outraged at people who want to beat the hell out of us for no good reason, we learn to blame ourselves for having “provoked” them. To his credit, this guy adds: “At the same time, I felt that it was irritating that I can’t be allowed to kiss my partner in this city.” Well, better get used to it, boys. Without a radical change in the course of European elite thinking, things will only keep getting worse.
* * *
And speaking of European elite thinking: Ian Buruma, the media darling and author of Murder in Amsterdam whose reality-defying accounts of the situation in Europe I anatomize at length in Surrender (it’s a dirty job but somebody had to do it), has contributed a long piece a to NRC Handelsblad in which he offers up yet another serving of his standard fare: Geert Wilders is a far-right racist, the Islamization of Europe is an absurd fantasy, those who worry about it are unsophisticated types who are motivated by resentments and insecurities that have no real connection to Muslim minorities, etc. Buruma acknowledges, with his usual flair for euphemism, that Muslims immigrants to Netherlands “often have ideas about women and homosexuals that are out of touch with the more progressive ideas we have come to accept as normal,” but adds that “intolerance against homosexuals, though reprehensible, is not the same as revolutionary extremism. As long as no violence is involved, that kind of intolerance is something we can live with, just like we live with orthodox Christians or ultra-orthodox Jews. Good education can help there, and of course everything needs to be done to prevent aggression against women or homosexuals. But normative differences will always exist; it comes with being a pluralistic society.”
What thoroughly dangerous bullshit. Buruma is writing in a Dutch paper. In Dutch cities, rates of gay-bashing have climbed precipitously over the last decade, and the crimes themselves have become ever more violent and brazen, reflecting an increasing sense of personal power and self-confidence on the part of the perpetrators – a firm belief that they have a God-given right to commit these acts, and an awareness that even in the unlikely circumstance that they are arrested they will not receive serious punishment. I wrote here last year about the gang of “youths” who pulled a gay model down off a catwalk in the middle of a street in downtown Amsterdam on Queen’s Day and beat the hell out of him while a huge holiday crowd stood by and did nothing. It is obvious that people like Buruma want us to forget that what we are dealing with here – or, more correctly, what we are failing utterly to deal with – is the growing presence in European cities of the adherents of a religion which teaches that gays should be executed. Executed. Executed. How many times does one have to repeat that word before it sinks in? The fact that the number of this religion’s adherents is steadily rising – to the extent that they will constitute a majority in the four largest Dutch cities within a few years – is, to say the very least, and Buruma to the contrary, a legitimate matter of concern; and the fact that many Muslims who explicitly refuse to reject the Islamic death penalty for gays, or who even embrace it openly, are being welcomed into the European intellectual, media, and political elite – and that their views on gays are being treated by elitists like Buruma as acceptable “normative differences” – should terrify us and stir us to outrage.
Saturday, August 29, 2009, 5:39 P.M. CET: There are those who argue that the great Dr. Samuel Johnson was actually a lesser writer than James Boswell, whose single major work, of course, was his biography of Johnson. In the same way, I would make the claim that my very dear friend James Lord – who died of a heart attack the other day at the age of 86, and who is known almost exclusively for his definitive biography of the artist Alberto Giacometti and his memoirs of such figures as Pablo Picasso, Dora Maar, Jean Cocteau, Gertrude Stein, Balthus, Peggy Guggenheim, and Sonia Orwell – is at least as towering a figure as many of those whom he so luminously memorialized.
James was at once a brilliantly perceptive and wryly witty observer of human behavior and a master of the art of prose, and if he had applied those gifts to a series of novels as accomplished as his books of non-fiction, he would likely be counted in the first rank of Americans writers of his generation; but the fact that his greatest works were memoirs, and that he consistently represented himself therein as an insignificant figure living in the shadows of the celebrated and glamorous, almost guaranteed that even some of the readers who most enjoyed his work would think of him more as a genial conduit for fascinating stories about famous people than as an author whose exquisite sentences and genius for vivid, incisive, and richly complex portraiture made him a literary artist of rare distinction.
And he did it all, I may add, in longhand, and – astonishingly – made very few changes or corrections along the way. In the inside front cover of my copy of his book Some Remarkable Men he taped a page from the book’s manuscript. I scanned it today and reproduce it here.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009, 2:48 P.M. CET: British writer Sebastian Faulks reads the Koran and describes its contents honestly, and a spokesperson for the Islamic Society of Britain replies with a not-so-veiled threat: “the consequences of saying things like this could be quite severe.”
UPDATE, Thursday, August 27, 2:51 A.M. CET: It turns out that by the time I got around to posting the Faulks story, he had already recanted. Depressing, but these days par for the course, especially, it seems, in the U.K..
Meanwhile the Telegraph story about Faulks’s original remarks has been pulled off that newspaper’s website without explanation.
It must be said that the Saudis are brilliant at using their riches to further the cause of expanding the House of Islam. Why bother with terrorism when so many American politicians and universities are so eager to take their money and do their bidding?
Thursday, August 20, 2009, 1:52 P.M. CET: The AAUP and Hitchens have weighed in admirably on the Yale University Press affair, and Martin Kramer makes a splendid point about one of Yale’s “experts.” Daniel Pipes takes a disconcerting look at Obama’s counterterrorism chief. And Nat Hentoff, no right-winger he, admits that Obama’s health-care plans scare the hell out of him.
And here, for a change, is some stunningly good news: slimy Islamist four-flusher Tariq Ramadan, who sold himself to the city of Rotterdam and Erasmus University as a “bridge-builder,” has been canned because it turns out that even as he was holding down his jobs in the Netherlands he was also hosting a not-very-bridge-building-type TV show in Iran. Hallelujah.
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Here in Oslo, a gay couple who were holding hands in the largely Muslim neighborhood of Grønland were physically assaulted by a man who told them: “This is a Muslim neighborhood.” In a follow-up story, Dagbladet interviewed a local man, born in Pakistan but resident in Norway for ten years, who argues that “Grønland is a multicultural environment where there are many people who don’t like homosexuals, so they shouldn’t hold hands.” He says such things are OK in west Oslo, where there are few Muslims, “but here in Grønland they shouldn’t do it. Ideally, it should be forbidden to practice homosexuality in this area.”
There are those who have been quick to dismiss this as an isolated incident. On the contrary, it’s simply an indication that Norway is headed the same way as the rest of Western Europe. To quote my own book, While Europe Slept, page 33:
In many places in Europe, agitation for the transfer of sovereignty [over Muslim neighborhoods] has already begun. In France, a public official met with an imam at the edge of Roubaix’s Muslim district out of respect for his declaration of the neighborhood as Islamic territory to which she had no right of access. In Britain, imams have pressed the government to officially designate certain areas of Bradford as being under Muslim, not British, law. In Denmark, Muslim leaders have sought the same kind of control over parts of Copenhagen. And in Belgium, Muslims living in the Brussels neighborhood of Sint-Jans-Molenbeek already view it not as part of Belgium but as an area under Islamic jurisdiction in which Belgians are not welcome.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009, 2:15 P.M. CET: A couple of articles from the British press make important points about health care. Yes, the U.S. system definitely needs to be reformed, but let’s learn from, rather than copy, the failings of other countries’ systems.
On Saturday the Guardian ran a billet doux to me and some of my fellow alarmist Islamophobes. On the same day, as it happened, Norway’s Klassekampen published a long takedown of both While Europe Slept and Surrender. I haven’t seen the piece myself (it’s not online, and I was not about to run downtown and plunk down hard cash for a copy of a crappy Communist newspaper in order to read yet more of this sort of thing), but a friend who saw the piece tells me that even by the wacko standards of this emerging subgenre it’s a pretty off-the-wall piece of work.
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Mark Steyn has noted, as I did the other day, the latest revealing stats on Dutch baby names. His observations have provoked a couple of particularly bizarro responses. I don’t even know what to make of folks like this guy in the Spectator, who purports to believe that some people (presumably people like Steyn and me) “desperately want to believe in the idea of a muslin [sic] reconquista” and that they “will take their satisfaction from seeing their apocalyptic predictions proved correct…..No good news, nor any sense of perspective can be allowed to intrude upon their masturbatory fantasies of a europe [sic] toiling under sharia law…they comfort one another with fantasies….Sometimes one gets the impression that the Dhimmi-watchers would actuallywelcome a religious confrontation and continent-wide conflagration.”
Striking a similar note is this writer, who, also reacting to Steyn but also casting his net wide, sneers in the Baltimore Chronicleabout the “feverish, night-sweating brainpans” of “the Mandingoist panic-merchants” (again, presumably people like Steyn and me) whose “blood runs hot at the sound of those Mandingo tom-toms beating in their minds.” But instead of examining the facts in Steyn’s book, or in either of mine, or in any of the other books on this topic by people like Claire Berlinski and Christopher Caldwell and Walter Laqueur, he cites the BBC’s dismissive – and, he implies, definitive – account of some You Tube video on Muslim demographics, concluding as follows:
Well, as Ronald Reagan once said, facts are stupid things. Lies are so much more fun — and more profitable. (Go write a book about “The Non-Threat of a Muslim Europe” and see if any wingut [sic] welfare outfits like Regnery Publishing will write you a check.)
What this gentleman seems not to realize is that the real money – and career opportunities, honors, etc. – do indeed lie in writing books with titles like The Non-Threat of a Muslim Europe. Take John Esposito, who in his highly successful work of fantasy The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality insisted that there was no such thing as an Islamic threat to the West, period, and who – even after 9/11 proved him quite spectacularly wrong – has continued to be treated by the mainstream media as a respected expert and to thrive professionally, providing reassuring hogwash for the Washington Post/Newsweek “On Faith” subsite and collecting a generous paycheck from the Saudis for running the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, of which he is founder and director.
This fellow in the Baltimore Chronicle talks about “facts” and “lies.” But it’s striking how he, and all these other critics of books like While Europe Slept and Surrender – books that are chockablock with hard and painful facts – habitually reply to those facts with ad hominem attacks. But what else can you do when you’re determined to cling to a position and the facts aren’t on your side?
Thursday, August 13, 2009, 10:19 P.M. CET: I’ve been looking around, and may have missed something, but so far have seen no sign that the Washington Post covered the Yale University Press story. In fact, if Google News is to be believed, the mainstream media coverage has been extremely limited. Oh well, no surprise there.
Meanwhile, here’s yet another of those periodic stories from various cities and countries showing the growth of Islam in Europe as testified to by the steady rise of the name Muhammed (and variants thereof) on the list of most popular baby names. This time the report is from the Netherlands, where Muhammed is the #1 name for newborn boys in each of that country’s four major cities.
On to Norway, where Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, who is now running for a seat in Parliament, has given a TV interview in which he asserts — true to form — that “radical Islam is not a problem in Norway today,” and that “we must strike down all rhetoric that ties Muslim [sic] to danger, violence, and terror.” He supports permitting hijab in schools and workplaces, though not in the police force. He also faithfully echoes the Labor Party line that there is little concern about Islam among Norwegians — though the overwhelming majority of the reader comments about his interview on the Norwegian Broadcasting website powerfully contradict that claim.
Readers call him “a Quisling” and “a wolf in sheep’s clothing”; one argues that Støre “has learned nothing from history. Before April 9, 1940 [the day the Germans invaded Norway], there were people here in Norway who thought Nazism was no problem.” “For GOD’S sake stop the madness!” cries one exasperated Norwegian, who warns that the country’s socialist government is driving it into the ground. “It is clear,” laments another commenter, “that the political elite has lost all contact with most people.” Another promises: “I’m voting for the Progress Party this year. Only immigration matters to me this year, along with not voting for you [i.e., Støre], you upper-class fop!” Good word, fop (in Norwegian, laps).
One comment is especially interesting: “The Labor Party elite doesn’t understand how important the immigration question and integration are for most people. I agree with the Labor Party on 8 out of 10 issues but with the Progress Party on immigration policy. Yet I will vote for the Progress Party, even though I myself have a lot to lose from it; that’s how important it is to me to stop immigration and the Islamization of Norway.” I think a lot of Norwegians feel exactly the same way.
Anyway, here’s a nice picture of Støre visiting the Central Jamaat-e Ahl-e Sunnat mosque in Oslo, whose imam has among other things refused to acknowledge that Muslims were behind 9/11.
Thursday, August 13, 2009, 2:55 P.M. CET: It’s exactly the sort of thing I warn about in Surrender: Yale University Press is about to publish a book about the Muhammed cartoons…and has decided not to actually include any of the Muhammed cartoons for fear of reprisals. The decision, according to this New York Times piece, was made after consulation with “two dozen authorities, including diplomats and experts on Islam and counterterrorism,” and their advice to omit the cartoons was “overwhelming and unanimous.” This is scary stuff, folks. But what’s really scary is that too few people seem to grasp just how scary it is.
This news from the UK isn’t too encouraging either.
Monday, August 10, 2009, 3:19 A.M., CET: My review of several poets’ letters for the Hudson Review is now online.
Sunday, August 9, 2009, 8:21 P.M. CET: On the Islamization of the West front, here’s a typically mind-bending piece that appeared in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago; here, from the other side of the looking-glass, is a story that ran yesterday in theTelegraph. Meanwhile here and here are some of the latest tidings from Canada.
As I document in Surrender, the “On Faith” section of the Washington Post/Newsweek website is a reliable sinkhole of unctuousness and mendacity on the subject of Islam and a gathering place for some of the Religion of Peace’s most fanatical adherents and most craven apologists. The sinkhole has now, unsurprisingly, run a piece by one of the latter, Eboo Patel, in which he takes The New York Times Book Review to task for running positive reviews of two books (one of them beingSurrender) whose authors do not view the Islamization of the West with unalloyed delight. The Times, which I criticize at length in Surrender for its past dishonesty in these matters, does indeed seem to have decided to take its head out of the sand, as indicated not only by those positive reviews but also by the two books’ inclusion in the weekly “Editors’ Choice” book list. But as Patel’s piece confirms, the Washington Post, alas, is still playing the denial game.
By the way, it turns out that this Patel guy is a member of President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. It also turns out that Robert Spencer has taken him to task for his “On Faith” piece.
Speaking of the Times review of my book, here’s a wonderfully predictable letter about it from a professor at Smith College.
On another topic, don’t miss this splendid piece by Jonathan Rauch.
Sunday, July 26, 2009, 10:55 P.M. CET: Congratulations to my friend Terry Teachout on what was apparently a triumphant opening of his opera in Santa Fe last night. Wish I’d been there.
I only just became aware of this terrific article by Charles Winecoff that appeared back in January.
Here’s my take on the forthcoming reconciliation meeting at the White House.
Saturday, July 25, 2009, 2:09 P.M. CET: The New York Times has reviewed Surrender. Given the paper’s recent history on this topic, and my coverage of that history in the book, not to mention the route the Washington Post chose, this is, to put it mildly, a very pleasant surprise.
Also, here’s an unsettling piece that relates directly to the topic of my book.
Finally, I just discovered that the interview I did with Bill Moyers a couple of years ago is on You Tube, so I figured I’d link to it here.
Monday, July 6, 2009, 3:55 P.M. CET: I did an interview with Shire Network News on Saturday, and it’s now up. The interview starts about 25 minutes into the podcast.
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The rules of the “fifteen books that will always stick with you” require that one not take more than fifteen minutes to make up one’s list, but the hell with that: I need to replace The Good Soldier on my list with Leaves of Grass. I can’t imagine how that one slipped my mind: I took it down off a shelf in a rented beach cottage one summer night in my mid-teens when I couldn’t sleep, and sat up till dawn reading it from cover to cover, utterly mesmerized.
June 22, 2009, 1:02 P.M. CET: Worth a look: David Link on Obama, Muslims, and gay rights.
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Terry Teachout and his co-blogger pick “fifteen books you’ve read that will always stick with you.” Here’s my list (which consists largely of books I read in my formative years):
Mary Renault, The Charioteer
Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
Thomas Mann, Death in Venice
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
James Michener, The Source
Nevil Chute, On the Beach
Ross Lockridge, Raintree County
Anatoly Kuznetsov, Babi Yar
Albert Camus, The Plague
George Orwell, 1984
Thomas Hardy, The Complete Poems
Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
William Maxwell, The Folded Leaf
John R. Tunis, The Iron Duke
Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier
Wednesday, June 17, 2009, 10:45 P.M. CET: My podcast with John J. Miller of the National Review is now online. Also, Helle Merete Brix of the Danish Free Press Society reviews Surrender at the Human Rights Service website. Citing the Washington Post review of the book and Marte Michelet’s denunciation of it in Dagbladet (“foaming-at-the-mouth racist fantasies”), Brix writes: “I have now read the book myself and can now affirm that it is every bit as important as its predecessor, While Europe Slept. Nor have I found any ‘foaming-at-the-mouth racist fantasies,’ but, on the contrary, one example after another of how Islamization, in the form of soft jihad, is gaining ground. And, not least, of the role the media play in this process.”
Speaking of the media’s role, Roger K. Miller, a former book-review editor of the Milwaukee Journal (whom I do not know), writes at his blog about reviewing Surrender:
What happened with this book when I set out to review it is almost exactly what I thought would happen: No newspaper book-review editor would pick it up. Actually, I was slightly wrong—the Tampa Tribune ran a truncated version of it….Now, there can be two reasons the review failed to attract takers. One is that it is not a very good review. Two is that fewer and fewer newspapers are running fewer and fewer book reviews. But there is also a third reason: Based on its title, subject, and author, it was rejected out of hand, without even being examined, as racist and bigoted. I like this reason so much I even mentioned it at the beginning of the review, anticipating, as I said above, what its fate would be: a victim of the UPC bar code—that is, barred by the un-PC code.
Well, it is not bigoted and it is not racist, and it is so vital a book that I run the review here in this blog, where all reviews go to die.
Well, thank you, Mr. Miller, and thank you, Tampa Tribune. The treatment of Surrender by most of the mainstream media simply confirms everything I say in the book about the way the media choose to handle these issues.
Monday, June 15, 2009, 4:10 P.M. CET: My City Journal piece “Heirs to Fortuyn” has been published in Dutch in the newspaper Trouw. While I’m at it, I’ve been meaning to mention that I have a review essay about the letters of Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, Ted Hughes, and Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder in the spring issue of the Hudson Review (not available online).
Monday, June 15, 2009, 1:45 P.M. CET: Worth a look: a terrific commentary by Wafa Sultan on Obama’s Cairo speech, and an illuminating non-debate between Ezra Levant and some Canadian Human Rights Commission flunky. Also, my friend Paul Andrew Lucre has written a thoughtful piece for Pajamas Media recounting his experience in Rotterdam.
I’m also at Pajamas today with, well, something completely different from the usual. Meanwhile, at the Dagbladet website, I’m one of several contributors to a “debate” about Islam in Norway. The summing-up article is here; my contribution, a response to three questions from Dagbladet, is here.
Many gays are shocked that Obama’s Justice Department has not only defended the Defense of Marriage Act but has used language that is outrageously insulting to gay people. I can’t say I’m very surprised. I voted for the guy, but it wasn’t an easy choice, and on November 3 I wrote the following on this blog: “Unlike many gays, I don’t see any reason to be certain that Obama would prove to be more kindly disposed toward gay rights than McCain would; at times it has seemed to me that McCain, deep down, may well be the more gay-friendly of the two. I hope that’s not true.”
It will be interesting to see how Mr. Hope and Change chooses to respond to events in Iran.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009, 6:12 P.M. CET: On Monday Dennis Miller interviewed me on his radio show; yesterday Pajamas Media ran my reaction to the Washington Post‘s “review” of Surrender. After reading my reaction, a friend of mine offered his own thoughts by e-mail:
[The Post review was] unbelievably inappropriate and a total conflict of interest….I have to think the NBCC nomination brought you to the attention of a lot of reviewers who now think it’s their heroic duty to ambush your book. These people are pathetic and deluded. They have a limited worldview (deep down everyone is just like me!) and cling to it with ferocious illogic and rationalization. They are just not tight, clear, logical thinkers. They also drip with hatred and contempt.
I assume that many of these nasty reviewers are relative peers of ours, so my question is, when did they all become such haters? I grew up with MLK as my role model, with Christian ideals (even in the 20 years during which I was an atheist), and prizing rationality and science. I just don’t understand what happened. Did the hippies of the “love generation” who I considered my older brothers and sisters become haters, or is it younger people, their kids, or both? But more importantly, WHY? And also, why are they not focused on the true killers of the world, the real spreaders of illogic and hate, i.e. Islamists and terrorists? Is the horror simply too great for them to comprehend? Do they not think it’s their business to stop or at least condemn kidnappings, killings, beheadings, wife beatings, honor killings and gay beatings and killings? Is it that they don’t know history? Have any of these people, do you think, read great works of history such as THE RISE AND FALL OF THE THIRD REICH, out of which current patterns can be discerned?
Sometimes I fear we’re in the real-life version of LORD OF THE RINGS, and we’re surrounded by ever growing numbers of Orcs. Or, as I’ve long thought, that the world is depressingly full of Quislings and Vichy French. Who will stand up with us for peace (the real kind) and justice?! Honestly, these people have inverted the world, and it disgusts me. They should know better — they should know enough to feel ashamed.
Friday, June 5, 2009, 11:45 P.M. CET: So the Washington Post assigns its review of Surrender to the author of a book that, judging by its reviews on Amazon, is precisely the kind of sugar-coating nonsense that my book criticizes. And he comes through with flying colors, totally dismissing 276 pages of hard facts that should send shivers down the spine of anyone who cares a lick about freedom. What a time we live in!
Friday, June 5, 2009, 9:17 P.M. CET: Congratulations to Geert Wilders, whose PVV (Freedom Party) went from zero to four seats in the European Parliament in yesterday’s Dutch elections, putting it only one seat behind the leading party.
Friday, June 5, 2009, 2:35 P.M. CET: More than two weeks have gone by, but I would be remiss if I didn’t say a few words here about the Oslo Freedom Forum, which I was honored to attend on May 18-20. The organizer, Thor Halvorssen of theHuman Rights Foundation, brought together an extraordinary collection of speakers at the Grand Hotel and Oslo Nye Teater. I’ve been to a lot of conferences, but this one was a standout. There was no PC nonsense, no gratuitous America-bashing, no obscene moral-equivalence rhetoric. To experience such a thing in the middle of downtown Oslo, of all places, was weirdly disorienting.
In these parts, talking about human rights inevitably means talking, above all, about Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, and other U.S. abuses and about Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians. Powerfully, the Oslo Freedom Forum reminded us just how much officially perpetrated evil there is out there and just how horrible it can get.
Among the victims of persecution, torture, and unjust imprisonment we heard from were Buddhist monk Palden Gyatso, who spent 33 years being beaten and tortured in Chinese prisons, and Armando Valladares, whose anti-Communism won him 22 years under lock and key courtesy of Castro. The personal accounts of these and other long-term prisoners of conscience were at once unnerving and inspiring, testifying graphically to the stubborn endurance of human iniquity and the stirring resilience of the human spirit.
There was more, much more. Author Jung Chiang talked about Mao. A teenage Venezuelan activist recounted his involvement in the struggle against the brutally oppressive Hugo Chavez. Elena Bonner, on videotape, read out a powerful J’accuse about the rise of anti-Semitism in today’s Europe.
The cumulative effect of all this was breathtaking, eye-opening, gut-wrenching. It’s one thing to have a general awareness of various governments’ offenses against human rights; it’s another to hear, one after another, testimonies by people who have undergone unimaginable torments simply for speaking their minds or living out their faith.
Among the major journalists and commentators who flew in from the U.S. and Britain for the forum were Tammy Bruce, John Fund of the Wall Street Journal, Richard Miniter of the Washington Times, Jamie Kirchick of the New Republic, Tom Palmer of the Cato Institute, and Jonathan Foreman of Standpoint. Yet the Norwegian media and socialist government gave the event short shrift. You’d hardly know that the offices of Norway’s largest newspaper are barely a minute’s walk from the Grand Hotel and that the Parliament building is right across the street. But of course when you’ve spent your career painting the likes of Castro and Chavez as heroes, you don’t want to hear from people who’ve been beaten and tortured at those men’s orders.
In the forum’s closing session I planned to discuss the current erosion of freedom in Europe as a result of pressure by Islamists and appeasement by cultural elites. I especially looked forward to giving my fellow participants a glimpse of the Muslim riots that had taken place in January right outside the hotel where we were meeting – riots which were almost entirely overlooked by the international media. As fate would have it, however, I suffered a devastating personal loss that day which made it impossible for me to give my talk. Thor is the busiest of men, but he took time to express his understanding and sympathy in a way that showed he has as much sensitivity as he has intelligence, wit, moral courage, and organizational genius. I want to take this occasion to thank him for having put together such a monumental event and for inviting me to be a small part of it.
Tuesday, June 2, 2009, 12:01 P.M., CET: My op-ed responding to Marte Michelet is in Dagbladet today.
Monday, June 1, 2009, 2:39 P.M., CET: So here’s a nice little example, folks, of how the political correctness Thought Police operate in the Norwegian media. As I noted the other day, Knut Olav Åmås, culture and opinion editor of Aftenposten, wrote a piece in last Wednesday’s paper about my book, Surrender. “Bawer,” wrote Åmås, “maintains that Norwegian and other Western elites in the media and politics take radical Islam’s assault on liberal freedoms too lightly, commit self-censorhip for fear of offending religious sensibilities, and give illiberal forces both the speaker’s platform and recognition.” Åmås called me “a knowledgeable writer with several books behind him that have won international attention. Here in this country he is reviewed surprisingly infrequently.” After summing up the argument of Surrender, he wrote: “Bawer has written an engaging book of political argument.” Then he offered some criticism: that I don’t give enough attention to those in Europe who do criticize Islam and who stand up unequivocally for freedom of speech. My response to this argument is that there aren’t that many people in Europe who have dared to do this, and that I do devote attention in Surrender to several members of this exclusive club, including Robert Redeker, Hege Storhaug, and above all Ayaan Hirsi Ali. All in all, however, Åmås’s review was, by the standards of the Norwegian media, extremely fair, sympathetic, and complimentary.
Then on Thursday came a piece in Dagbladet by Marte Michelet, also mentioned below, headed “Åmås Recommends.” Michelet, who is Dagbladet‘s culture and opinion editor, cast me as a purveyor of “conspiracy theories,” a promoter of “the idea that the Muslims have a secret plan to conquer Europe and subjugate the continent to the Arabic world.” Of course, to those who are truly interested in knowing the facts, the widespread desire in Western Muslim communities to institute sharia law – a desire firmly rooted in the founding Islamic notions of the “House of Submission” and the “House of War” – is hardly a “secret.” But by using the words “secret” and “conspiracy” Michelet managed to make my book, in which every major assertion is documented by a compendium of evidence, sound instead like a grab-bag of baseless rants by some hate-mongering crackpot.
Michelet attacked Åmås for having called me “knowledgeable” and for describing Surrender as “engaging” and for giving the impression “that Bawer is a recognized and balanced academic in the service of human rights.” In fact, she said, “Bawer’s scribblings can best be described as foaming-at-the-mouth racist fantasies.” She asserted that “Bawer provides no evidence for his dashed-off claims about stealth Islamization; in fact he doesn’t manage to come up with a single source reference.” On the contrary, Surrender contains 30 pages of source notes in small print. Michelet’s lie is breathtaking. But then so is the underlying assumption of her entire piece – namely, that there’s no basis whatsoever for concerns about Europe’s Islamization and about growing censorship and self-censorship in the West.
But Michelet’s real targets are not me and my book: they’re Aftenposten and Åmås. “That the culture and opinion editor ofAftenposten thinks Bawer’s accounts are worth taking seriously,” she writes, “is ominous. When Åmås now once again recommends Bawer [she is referring to the fact that Åmås also wrote about While Europe Slept when it came out] and claims that he ‘exposes the forces that are a threat to freedom of speech and other liberal values,’ it is therefore necessary to ask: does he share Bawer’s idea of an extensive and tangled Eurabia conspiracy? If not, why doesn’t he feel a need to distance himself from this idea?” Her point was clear: Aftenposten had strayed off the reservation. It was OK for them to have a Muslim columnist (Mohammed Usman Rana) who refuses to disagree from the proposition that gays should be executed, but to give even a partial a thumbs-up to someone who acknowledges the sticky realities I take up in Surrender is to violate the Norwegian media’s unwritten rules.
So how would Aftenposten respond to this? The answer came yesterday, not in a signed piece by Åmås but in an editorial. The paper’s reply to Michelet starts out promisingly, arguing that her “underlying tone [sic] seems to be a desire to silence important approaches to problems out of fear of feeding the fire of Muslim hatred that occasionally rises to the surface of Norwegian society. In our view this is a totally misguided strategy in the struggle against attitudes that we, too, strongly dislike.” But then Aftenposten‘s editors said this: “of course a discussion of the American Bruce Bawer’s ‘Norwegian’ observations does not meant that Aftenposten or the newspaper’s culture editor share his, to put it mildly, weird [spesielle] conspiracy theories.” In short, although Aftenposten‘s editors pretended to be standing up to Michelet – criticizing her for using the word “Islamophobia” to bully colleagues into limiting the discussion of important issues – they were, in effect, caving in: Michelet scared them into backing off entirely from Åmås’s praise of me as a defender of liberal values and into embracing her own thoroughly mendacious description of me as a purveyor of conspiracy theories. Congratulations, Marte! Well done.
In the meantime, I sent in a reply on Friday to Michelet’s piece. To my surprise, Dagbladet actually accepted it. At their request I cut it down and then cut it down again, and supplied them with a picture. My understanding was that it would appear on Saturday. It didn’t. It didn’t run yesterday, either. I’ve sent an e-mail asking what happened. We’ll see. In the meantime here’s a piece by my fellow conspiracy theorist, Hege Storhaug, just up at the Pajamas Media site…
Thursday, May 28, 2009, 5:49 P.M., CET: In yesterday’s Aftenposten, that paper’s culture and opinion editor, Knut Olav Åmås, ventured to say a couple of reasonably respectful things about me and my book Surrender. In today’s Dagbladet he gets a good drubbing for this from Marte Michelet, who describes my work as “foaming-at-the-mouth racist” “scribbling” and gives Åmås hell for even daring to write about it.
As Hans Rustad observes, Michelet’s piece — which is breathtaking in its wholesale misrepresentation of me — is a prime example of “good old-fashioned Stalinism.” But what else, after all, can one expect from her? She was head of Red Youth (Rød Ungdom), the junior division of Norway’s Communist Party, the Rød Valgallianse, from 1996 to 1998, and from 2002 to 2003 worked for RadiOrakel, a radio station operating out of the headquarters of a violent radical group called Blitz. Her father, Jon Michelet, is a novelist who has served as a board member of the Rød Valgallianse and as editor-in-chief of the Communist newspaper Klassekampen.
That a woman with such a background is now a major voice in Norway’s mainstream media goes a long way toward telling you all you need to know about Norway’s mainstream media. In the world of Dagbladet and NRK (the Norwegian State Broadcasting Service, by which Michelet has also been employed), Communists are welcomed with open arms as members of the intellectual mainstream; critics of multiculturalism, however — even if they’re gay and liberal and have a quarter-century-long track record of standing up for freedom and equal rights — are reflexively anathematized as right-wing extremists, virulent racists, and haters of Muslims. Apparently Åmås didn’t get the memo.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009, 12:22 P.M. CET: Earlier this month I hung out in Amsterdam with my old New York friend Paul Lucre, who is now working in Rotterdam. He’s been there a few weeks and loves it. Yesterday I heard from him and found out that he’s joined the club, as it were: on Friday night he walked out of a gay bar in Rotterdam and, he writes, “was accosted by about 6 Moroccan youths.” (Ah, what would we do without the word ‘youths’?)
“One asked if I was British. I said no, I was American. One said, ‘We hate America.’ I said, ‘So?’ One pushed me. I said, ‘Look man, I am a Puerto Rican from New York.’ One said, ‘But you are American and we hate America, Bush.’ One said, ‘Are you gay?’ I said, ‘None of your fucking business.’ Then I was kicked and pushed to the ground and kicked again. Grabbing his foot, I managed to pull him to the ground before another blow. (Thankfully, they just kicked my legs, which, while sore, are fine; could have been my face, I suppose.)” Thankfully, “someone from the 2nd floor of a building yelled and threw something at them and they all scattered like wet rats back down the sewers from whence they came. Two seconds later the police showed up. I was fairly drunk and these two middle-aged Dutch people, a man and a woman, came out from the building and talked with them. I was upset because I thought I was being arrested or something, like for public intoxication. But the policeman said that they understood I was the victim and [asked me] if I remembered what they looked like, etc….Surprisingly, they asked me if they could take me home…. I was shocked how nice they were.”
The only part of the story that surprises me is the intervention of the people on the second floor. That’s not the kind of thing you can count on in these cases — far from it. Clearly they saved Paul from what could have been a far worse experience.
Thursday, May 7, 2009, 8:55 P.M. CET: I have known for years that May 4 and 5 are the days on which the people of the Netherlands remember their war dead and celebrate their liberation in World War II, but when I strolled onto the Dam in downtown Amsterdam late Monday afternoon I wasn’t thinking about what the date was and was therefore surprised to find the square ringed by police, crammed with even more than the usual number of people, and outfitted with giant screens on which one could see a choir singing. It was the National Remembrance Ceremony.
There followed a stately procession, a wreath-laying by the Queen, a two-minute silence, the singing of the national anthem. It was all very dignified and impressive and, yes, affecting. Owing to the density (and stature) of the crowds it was impossible to really see anything from where I was standing, so I soon repaired to a nearby bar where a handful of patrons and staff were watching the ceremony on a large flat-screen TV.
I was, yes, moved. Yet watching the Queen as she lay that wreath in memory of the soldiers who liberated the Netherlands, I couldn’t help remembering that this is the woman who refused to attend Theo van Gogh’s funeral. Watching the speech by Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen (I didn’t hear it, because by that time the TV sound had thankfully been turned off), I couldn’t help recalling his deplorable suggestion that the Netherlands allow Muslim men to oppress their women. In short, both this monarch and this mayor have betrayed the very freedom that they were celebrating and for which foreign soldiers gave their lives.
Speaking of which, I also couldn’t help noticing that the flags flying from the poles around the National Monument were the flags of the Netherlands’ twelve provinces, not those of its wartime liberators. In fact, at least in the part of the ceremony I saw and heard, there was no visible or audible reference to Canada, Britain, or the U.S. I happened to pass through the Dam the next day, Liberation Day, but again — alas — saw no Union Jack, no Maple Leaf, and no Stars and Stripes.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009, 9:28 P.M. CET: Recently, Andrew Sullivan posted a link to an article about Charles Johnson, the celebrated blogger who has distanced himself from many other anti-jihadists and called them “a bunch of kooks.” Though it grieves me to say so, and though I’ve hoped that things would somehow turn around, Charles is, alas, not whistling Dixie: I can testify that in the last couple of years some significant, and lamentable, shifts have taken place on the anti-jihad front. Writers and bloggers whom, not very long ago, I would unhesitatingly have described as staunch defenders of liberal values against Islamofascist intolerance have more recently said and done things that have dismayed me, and that, in many cases, have compelled me to re-examine my view of them.
Once upon a time, these people made a point of distancing themselves from far-right European parties such as Belgium’s Vlaams Belang – whose most prominent Internet voice, Paul Belien, has declared himself to be fighting for “Judeo-Christian morality” not only against jihadist Islam but also against “secular humanism.” Belien has made no secret of his contempt for gay people and for the idea that they deserve human rights as much as anyone else. Now, however, many of the anti-jihadist writers who once firmly rejected Vlaams Belang have come to embrace it wholeheartedly. In fact, for reasons unknown to me, this regional party in one of Europe’s smallest countries appears to have become, for a number of anti-jihadist writers on both sides of the Atlantic, nothing short of a litmus test: in their eyes, it seems, if you’re not willing to genuflect to VB, you’re not a real anti-jihadist.
I happen to be aware of this new state of affairs because during the last year or so I’ve been scolded by a number of respected and accomplished writers for refusing to make nice with Vlaams Belang. Some of them have done this gently, pleadingly; others, who once addressed me with civility and respect as a fellow independent writer, have taken a harsh and hectoring, and in two or three cases even a condescending and bullying tone with me, as if they’re the bosses of some political machine and I’m an irksome underling who’s deviating from the party line. The shift is, frankly, breathtaking. Some of these writers have admitted privately that VB is bad news but argue that the party is nonetheless a valuable ally in the struggle against the Islamization of Europe, just as Stalin was a useful partner in the war on Hitler; others insist vehemently that Belien & co. are terrific folks, and claim that their checkered reputation is entirely the work of Charles Johnson. Never mind that other right-wing European parties, such as Norway’s Progress Party, have explicitly distanced themselves from VB; never mind that in 2006 Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a far more well informed student of Benelux politics than any of VB’s eager new boosters, called VB “a racist, anti-Semitic, extremist party that is unkind to women” and earlier today, while acknowledging that “the party has adjusted its rhetoric and seems to have dropped its anti-Semitic stance,” told me in an e-mail that “it’s very difficult to know whether this [adjustment] is genuine or political pragmatism.”
The other day, in the wake of my City Journal piece “Heirs to Fortuyn?”, a couple of anti-jihad writers who had not yet rebuked me for my stance on Vlaams Belang finally got around to doing so. Not only did they send me e-mails taking me to task for criticizing VB in that article; one of them also took it upon himself to chew me out for, in his view, admiring Pim Fortuyn too much and Geert Wilders too little. (Never mind that I’ve defended Wilders frequently and that Wilders has blurbed my new book, Surrender.) Wilders, this individual felt compelled to lecture me, is a far greater figure than Fortuyn ever was. Why? Because, he explained, Wilders stands for “Western values,” while Fortuyn stood only for – get ready for this – “Dutch libertinism.”
Yes, “Dutch libertinism.” The words took my breath away. During the last few days (while, as it happened, I was visiting Amsterdam) I haven’t been able to get them out of my mind. For a self-styled anti-jihadist – who, by the way, I first met three years ago at the Pim Fortuyn Memorial Conference in The Hague – to refer in this way to a man who sacrificed his life for human liberty is, in my view, not only incomprehensible but profoundly despicable. This is, after all, precisely the sort of language that Dutch Muslim leaders hurled at Fortuyn during his lifetime. And in the present case the words were plainly aimed not only at Fortuyn but at me – a writer who, like Fortuyn, that great martyr for freedom, is gay.
What the hell, one is entitled to wonder, is going on here? Why has Vlaams Belang, of all things, become a veritable sacred cow for so many anti-jihadist writers? And why does at least one of them now take such a staggeringly contemptuous view of Pim Fortuyn? I can’t honestly say that I understand any of it. But I do know this: when writers who represent themselves as champions of liberty start cozying up to distinctly illiberal parties like Vlaams Belang – and when one of those supposed champions of liberty starts to sound uncomfortably like the Islamist enemies of freedom whom he purports to despise – then there’s something terribly wrong, and genuinely evil, afoot.
(NOTE: At first I headed this post “Thursday” instead of “Wednesday.” I have corrected the error.)
Thursday, April 23, 2009, 2:05 P.M. CET: My piece “Heirs to Fortuyn?”, written for City Journal, is now online at the Wall Street Journal.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009, 1:22 P.M. CET: Ghufoor Butt is one of those Western Muslim men who are always being labeled moderates because they dress in Western fashion, don’t have beards, speak the language of the country they live in, have achieved a degree of professional success, and just plain look and sound seem like reasonable guys who are comfortable with Western values. Butt, who according to Dagbladet “has acted in 20 Pakistani movies, is still a big name in Pakistan and was a famous Pakistani political journalist,” moved to Norway in 1974, making him a member of the first wave of Muslim immigrants to the land of the fjords, and now owns a thriving DVD outlet in Oslo’s immigrant quarter. Now Butt (who told Dagbladet that “if Norwegians didn’t drink alcohol, have sex, and eat pork they would be the world’s best Muslims”) has founded a new political party that seeks to woo the nation’s Muslim voters, and in the fall will head up his party’s slate of candidates for Parliament.
What is his party’s platform? Well, for one thing, while more and more Norwegians realize that immigration laws providing for “family reunification” have led to disaster and need to be drastically overhauled, Butt’s party wants to move in the other direction, granting Norwegian visas automatically to anyone who marries a Norwegian citizen. Also, the party wants children who belong to Norway’s six largest immigrant groups to be taught in their mother tongues; it wants the government to pay imams’ salaries; it wants people who publish Muhammed cartoons and the like to be punished. Butt also told Dagbladet that the party wants to prohibit homosexual activity, but on Monday he called the newspaper back to say that although Islam does indeed forbid such behavior, the party doesn’t “want to change Norwegian law” in this regard. Butt further maintained that America commits most of the terrorism in the world, and suggested that “the Jews” were behind 9/11.
Because his party is aimed at voters who, though living in Norway, may not understand Norwegian, its official name is in English: it’s the Independent Labor Party (ILP). And its official launch next Monday will take place not in Norway but in Pakistan, where Butt will appear on two TV channels. “Isn’t it strange to launch a Norwegian party in Pakistan?” askedDagbladet. “No,” replied Butt. “Most Norwegian Pakistanis watch these two TV channels. So if you want to reach them, these are important channels.”
Butt looks forward to a Norway which, in 15 years, will have a prime minister with an immigrant background. But he believes another breakthrough will occur much sooner – namely in the 2012 local elections: “I believe that in three years the mayor of Oslo will be a Norwegian Pakistani,” he says. He may well be right.
Sunday, April 19, 2009, 12:55 A.M. CET: The other day in Dagbladet, Thomas Hylland-Eriksen, who for reasons I have never understood is considered one of Norway’s foremost intellectuals, rejected Steinar Lem’s argument that Islam represents a threat to Norwegian values. After all, Eriksen noted, one can find speakers of Norwegian in Pakistan! (Yes, and most of them are officially residents of Norway who actually live full- or part-time in their homeland, where they can live like kings on the money they earn in Norway and/or collect in Norwegian government handouts.) “Norwegianness is enlarged,” explained Eriksen, “when more and more people start to communicate in Norwegian. Norway is perhaps above all a language community.” Yes, let’s soft-pedal free speech, sexual equality, etc.: what matters is that at least some Pakistanis can speak some Norwegian! Far from threatening Norwegian values, Eriksen insisted, Muslim immigration has made Norwegian culture stronger.
On the same day this piece appeared, the Norwegian media reported that every single case of aggravated rape in Oslo during the last three years was committed by a non-Western immigrant.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009, 2:55 P.M. CET: Andrew links to this horrible story. As Andrew notes, there appears to be no independent confirmation of the report, but if the story is true, it is hardly surprising, given other news on this front that has come out of the new Iraq. It is crushing to think that American soldiers – some of them gay – gave their lives for this.
* * *
A personal note: I moved to Norway ten years ago today.
Sunday, March 29, 2009, 7:33 P.M. CET: Some European political parties make an issue of Muslim immigration because they are legitimately concerned about the erosion of Western freedoms; others are motivated by racism and extreme nationalism. Evidence over the years has persuaded me that the Sweden Democrats fall on the far side of that line. Now it turns out that three reporters for the Swedish radio program Kaliber spent six months posing as members of the party and listening to the things SD members said behind closed doors. Expressen today reports on this undercover project in an article headlined “Racism at SD meetings revealed on tape”; accompanying the story is a list of nine remarks recorded by the reporters at SD meetings. A couple of these remarks are indeed wince-worthy: one SD member jokes that Muslims won’t eat pigs because they have sex with them; another suggests that immigrants from Africa and Afghanistan carry more parasites than dogs do. But most of the remarks are rooted in facts. For example:
“They don’t have a feeling of solidarity with us. They don’t want to pay tax. They’re here to work in the underground economy.”
“Look at these Somalians here. They already have ten kids. And each of those kids will have ten or twelve kids, too.”
“You can understand this business with the burkas. When the guys get to hit their wives the way they do and they get black eyes and fat lips, it’s obvious they have to wear a burka.”
Admittedly, these aren’t the most elegant or sophisticated possible formulations of the ideas being expressed, but let’s face it: the unfortunate truth is that a wildly disproportionate number of Muslim immigrants in Sweden (and elsewhere in Europe) don’t feel solidarity with the native population, do work in the underground economy, and do have a lot more children than non-Muslims. As for wife-beating, according to orthodox Islam it’s not only a husband’s right but his obligation to beat his wife under certain circumstances, and there’s ample evidence that an extremely high proportion of Muslim men in Sweden (and, again, elsewhere in Europe) regularly exercise this right. Instead of pretending to be outraged by these comments by SD members, Swedish journalists and politicians should be getting worked up about the very real, and very grave, social circumstances that lie behind the comments.
In any case, if the nine comments listed in Expressen are really among the worst the Kaliber trio could come up with after six months behind the scenes, one can only conclude that they’ve fallen considerably short of their obvious goal to serve up irrefutable proof that the Sweden Democrats are all a bunch of racists. If anything, they’ve unintentionally provided SD with evidence that party leaders could conceivably use to support the opposite argument.
Saturday, March 28, 2009, 5:19 P.M., CET: Bravo to Christopher Hitchens for spelling things out to a semi-literate rapper, unaccountably included on Bill Maher’s panel yesterday, who professes to be unaware of the motives of Al-Qaeda and who proudly represents himself as an example of healthy skepticism and independence of mind (and is applauded for this by Maher’s typically knee-jerk PC audience). Rushdie comes off well here, too, joining Hitchens in an ultimately vain attempt to educate this clown in the basic facts of jihadist Islam. Riveting TV – but how insulting to Hitchens and Rushdie to oblige them to discuss serious issues with this fool!
Saturday, March 28, 2009, 3:35 P.M., CET: I wrote on Thursday that it would be interesting to see how Aftenposten edited Muhammed Ali Chisti’s op-ed. Aftenposten did not disappoint. As expected, the published version omitted the most revealing and alarming language from Chisti’s original, making him seem considerably less fanatical and dangerous. As Rita Karlsen putsit, Aftenposten gives space to extremists and then edits their contributions in such a way as to “set their messages in a more flattering light. The question is: Are such editorial procedures thoroighly acceptable, or do they amount to putting a prettier face on both the contributor and his message?” Karlsen has placed Chisti’s original and Aftenposten‘s edit side-by-side, making it easy to see at a glance that the single most substantial passage removed by Aftenposten is the long, sensational one in which Chisti rejects Sabr (patience), calls for armed jihad against evil, and identifies Jews and Israel as the evil to be fought. By editing out this rant, Aftenposten makes Chisti’s claim that he is no anti-Semite or would-be terrorist sound much more credible.
No, in my view this isn’t responsible editing – but it’s hardly surprising in a society whose cultural establishment, by and large, has convinced itself that the only road to social peace and harmony is to whitewash Islamists and welcome them into the mainstream while demonizing and isolating those who criticize this folly.
Thursday, March 26, 2009, 7:25 P.M. CET: While the Kingdom of Norway pours truckloads of taxpayer dough into various absurd and overblown bureaucracies, dubious welfare payments, and generous support to churches, mosques, privately owned newspapers, etc., there have been relentless cuts in funding to schools, health care, the police, and the military. The other day Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre rejected the U.S. ambassador’s plea that Norway spend more on defense. (Norway spends 1.3% of its GNP on defense, down from 1.9% five years ago.) Now comes news that the police in Romsdal, in West Norway, will be so short on manpower and money during summer vacation this year that they will have no choice but to close police stations in four rural townships for the duration. Yep, you heard that right: no police whatsoever. I expect that the media attention will force the government to do something to keep this from happening, but it’s still a pretty shameful development for a country that likes to think of itself as the world’s richest.
* * *
European academics continue to churn out nonsense about Islam that no sane, alert individual can believe at this late date. On Tuesday, Aftenposten ran an op-ed in which political scientist Henrik Thune actually stated that Norway’s integration problems have nothing whatsoever to do with Islam, that Islam itself is not “anti-modern or particularly irreconcilable with individual liberal social values,” and that “Norway needs a broader immigration from Muslim countries.” If there are integration problems in Norway, Thune insisted, it’s because most Muslim immigrants here come from patriarchal cultures in Somalia, Pakistani villages, and northern Iraq. The solution, according to Thune? Start importing Muslims from other parts of the Muslim world. This argument, of course, conveniently overlooks the fact that (a) patriarchy and the subjection of women are part and parcel of Islam and (b) every Western European country has its own distinctive Muslim-immigrant profile – Moroccans predominate in the Netherlands, Turks in Germany, Pakistanis in Britain, etc. – and all of them have extremely similar integration problems.
To criticize Thune is not to say that Europe couldn’t profit by continuing to welcome immigrants from the Muslim world; the key is to stop letting in the fake refugees and the boys and girls forced into arranged marriages and instead admit people who have experienced genuine oppression and harassment in Muslim countries – among them Christians, Jews, Hindus, gays, apostates, secular/liberal Muslims, and women who want to escape family tyranny and live in freedom. But that’s a different argument than the one Thune is making.
Aftenposten ran Thune’s piece a day after it published Shakila Ashraf Nabi’s “‘Why, Mamma?'”, which is apparently the text of the talk she gave at Abid Raja’s “hate meeting” last weekend. It’s the one about how her little girl supposedly asked why somebody would want to burn a hijab – a question which, Nabi says, she was at a loss to answer. Indeed, Nabi describes herself as unable to even speak to the message underlying Sara Azmeh Rasmussen’s hijab-burning on International Women’s Day – an action which, Nabi writes, “only encourages hate, stigmatizing, and harassment, and nothing else.” Today Rasmussen replies inAftenposten, calling Nabi on her refusal to engage in frank discussion about the role of women under Islam.
Rasmussen is right, of course. But what’s really lamentable here is that newspapers like Aftenposten continue to give space to pieces like Thune’s – in which the main assertions are utterly at odds with facts that have been obvious for years – and Nabi’s, which is simply a variation on the now-familiar practice of replying to legitimate critics of Islam by shouting “I’m offended!” In printing such pieces, Aftenposten isn’t fostering the honest and open debate everybody claims to want – it’s simply contributing to an effort to bury the plain truth under a mountain of disingenuous claptrap.
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I had already written the above and was about to post it when I decided to check out a couple of sites to see if there were any new developments worth mentioning – and immediately found a remarkable posting by Hege Storhaug about Muhammed Ali Chisti, the young man who spoke about his dislike for Jews and gays at Abid Raja’s big “hate meeting.” Storhaug writes that Chisti, having read her posting about the meeting, phoned her today “to ‘clear up misunderstandings’ both about himself and Islam.” The phone call, Storhaug explains, “turned into a long monologue” in which he treated her to “an intense lesson in how fabulous Islam is, the Koran too (I was ‘so stupid’ not to understand why over a billion people get ‘tears in their eyes’ just from touching the book), and ditto how fantastic Muhammed is.” Chisti told her that he’s not an extremist, that he’s peaceful, that he got top grades in high school, and that he’s the son of Norway’s first imam. Chisti then sent Storhaug a long e-mail along with a piece he’d written for – where else? – Aftenposten. The e-mail read, in part, as follows: “Hege Storhaug, I challenge you to debate. You are ignorant and spread only hate and prejudices….I have heard you speak before, just BULLSHIT [he wrote this word in English. – B.B.]….Let us discuss this like adult PEOPLE!!!! I am not Dangerous!”
Whereupon Storhaug – bless her! – shares with us Chisti’s contribution to Aftenposten, which according to him will be published tomorrow in an edited version. We all owe Storhaug a debt for giving us his unedited, 1660-word draft, because it offers a fascinating glimpse into the mind of this “peaceful” young man.
The text, to begin with, is rambling and repetitious, with more than its share of bemusing and self-contradictory statements (not to mention plenty of misspellings and errors in grammar and punctuation). Replying to all those who this week have called him a terrorist, neo-Nazi, fundamentalist, or Islamist, Chisti insists that he is none of these things and that he opposes “all forms of violence.” He professes to be confused and hurt by such comments, which he characterizes as personal, and insists that, contrary to media reports, not everybody at Litteraturhuset booed his talk: many of those in attendance, he says, supported him. Remarkably, he claims that “What I said were not my opinions; there were over 200 people who shouted these things during the demonstrations.” (He is referring here to the Muslim youth riots that devastated much of downtown Oslo on January 8 and 10.) Chisti says that “before I gave my talk I made two things very clear. 1: I wanted to provoke in the name of freedom of speech; what I would say is necessarily not everything I believe. 2: The title [“Why I Hate Jews and Homosexuals”] was decided upon by Raja.” He insists that he has “nothing personally against homosexuals. Their choice, their actions, all will someday answer for them.” As for Jews, “I must simply apologize to all of those who felt insulted or offended….All people are of course of equal worth; the Koran says so. The Prophet also said that ‘No Arab is better than non-Arabs and vice-versa.[‘]…The Prophet was himself married to a Jewish woman.” Chisti maintains that his father was “a man of dialogue, and I am too.”
All that having been said, Chisti’s show of humility and contrition gives way to…well, something quite different. “Few know more about Islam than I do,” he assures us. “Islam is the religion of peace. Everyone who has studied the religion knows this. On several different occasions in his life the Prophet Muhammed showed that he is peaceful, conflict-resolving, and places a high value on forgiveness.” Yet sometimes, Chisti goes on to say, one’s faith demands that one take action. “The Koran says that those who die in the cause of God do not die but live. What is it to die in God’s cause? It is to take action against evil and oppression. The Prophet said that if you don’t stand up against oppression and tyranny you are one of those who are guilty of oppression. There were many at Litteraturhuset who challenged me to perform Sabr [Islamic term for “patience” – B.B.], to be Patient, for the Koran says that in problems and difficult times one should seek comfort in prayer and patience. What is patience? Hussain (the grandson of the Prophet) sacrificed his life and his family in Karbala. Why? Couldn’t he just sit home and perform Sabr? Hussain stood up against tyranny in his time. He fought for what was right, and would not accept a tyrant as his leader. Patience is important, but patience is not synonymous with passive conduct. Islam says that one should seek knowledge, and stand up against evil in one’s time. In all periods there have been disagreements and war between right and wrong, and this struggle goes on today as well. Who is the evil? Who decides who should be considered evil? Who sets the criteria of what the term ‘terrorist’ should encompass?”
Chisti then quotes his own Litteraturhuset remarks: “Today Israel is the world’s most barbaric and murderous state. They slaughter civilians, women, children, and the elderly. They are merciless….We have been attacked everywhere, Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Chechnya, Bosnia. Is it odd that we feel that there is a war against Islam underway? Jews are at the forefront of all this. The U.S. was created to create Zionist Israel. They are a minority, yet to a huge extent they run the world. Is this fair? Is it representatives? Today there are more than 1 billion Muslims living in the world; how many Muslim countries have the veto in the UN? NONE….Are you with me in the struggle against oppression and evil? Do you support me in the struggle against tyrannical states?…It is the winners who write history. Jews were victims in the war, and they won the war. A Jew can be nice and polite. Indeed, many Jews don’t support Israel’s right to exist. Israel has no right to exist, in its present form….During the demonstrations in Oslo I was one of the most active. And why shouldn’t I be?” He recalls some of the slogans the participants shouted during the riots, while admitting that some of them were “not well thought-out”: “Death to the Jews.” “Today is the day for revenge.” “Death to Israel.”
Having quoted these choice excerpts, Chisti calls it “ridiculous” that he was criticized for acting as a messenger for other people’s views. He does, however, note that one of those who did not criticize him is Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, for whom (he says) he has “enormous respect” and whom he describes as “a wise man who holds the correct opinions.” (In his phone call with Storhaug, indeed, Chisti claimed that that when his talk at Litteraturhuset was over, Gahr Støre “gave him a thumbs up.” Unfortunately, I don’t find this detail at all hard to believe.)
But if Chisti is high on Gahr Støre, he’s angry at Raja: “It was he who asked me to talk about what was shouted during the demonstrations; I did NOT want to do that.” Chisti chides Raja for handing the microphone after his talk to a “15-year-old terrified Jewish boy” in the audience who tearfully said that he found Chisti’s remarks frightening, and whose tears “struck home with the Norwegian people.” In short, Chisti complains, Raja “allowed me to be made fun of, and didn’t even let me answer for myself. Unfair? Dialogue? Raja is a pure coward when he lets me come off as THE BAD GUY [these three words are in English in the original]….I was alone, helpless, and had to listen to one personal attack after the other, with Raja standing there spicing it all up. Reprehensible and persecution!!!!”
It will be interesting to see what Chisti’s piece looks like after Aftenposten has edited it down.
* * *
Which reminds me: Aftenposten reported yesterday that of the 194 individuals apprehended in the riots – the results of which can still be seen the taped-up and boarded-over front windows of many stores and other businesses in downtown Oslo – 72 were immediately let go because they were minors, and now all but ten of the remaining 122 cases have now been dismissed. Of those ten, eight are still supposedly being investigated, and only two perpetrators have been charged or convicted. This, even though 104 of the 194 who were taken into custody during the riots had criminal records, including 49 convictions for acts of violence.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009, 1:19 A.M., CET: Recently, reading Ted Hughes’s collected letters, I couldn’t help wondering about what life has been like for his and Sylvia Plath’s son, Nicholas, who many years ago left Britain for a place (Alaska) and a career (as a “professor of fisheries and ocean sciences”) that seemed to indicate a determination to distance himself from the scenes of family tragedy and from the London literary and cultural circles in which he would have been viewed, first and last, as the child of his parents. Well, now comes the terribly sad news that Nicholas Hughes, who apparently suffered from depression, has committed suicide.
Monday, March 23, 2009, 11:35 P.M., CET: A sampling of people in Denmark was asked: “Do you think that the law should prohibit homosexuals from practicing their sexuality?” Among ethnic Danes, 3% said yes, 97% said no. Among Muslim immigrants, 33% said yes, 67% said no. Among the children and other descendants of Muslim immigrants, 27% said yes, 73% said no.
Note that the question wasn’t about gay marriage, say, or the right of gays to adopt children. It was about whether gays should be locked up if we don’t stay celibate. Also note that many European Muslims with illiberal views aren’t necessarily inclined to be honest about those views with pollsters – in other words, the real “no” numbers for Muslims are likely to be much higher than the survey suggests.
And yet those of us who are gay and who live in European cities with large and fast-growing populations of Muslims are routinely called Islamophobes for being concerned about such things.
(UPDATE: March 24, 1:19 A.M.: I’ve removed a sentence from the above posting that was based on a misreading of the statistics.)
Monday, March 23, 2009, 9.25 P.M., CET: Dutch Member of Parliament Geert Wilders is already facing a trial in his own country for speaking his mind. Now comes news that a French “human-rights organization” is also taking him to court in France for encouraging hatred of Muslims. Wilders’s accusers cite comments he made last September in New York to the effect that “Paris is encircled by a ring of Muslim neighborhoods” and that “many neighborhoods in France are no-go areas for women without head coverings.” Wilders also committed the crime of describing the 2005 riots in Paris suburbs as a “Muslim intifada,” and of mentioning the high level of support among French Muslims for suicide bombing. Simple statements of fact – but according to Wilders’s accusers, these statements “awaken further extremism among Muslims,” and must therefore be punished.
Monday, March 23, 2009, 8:59 P.M., CET: Today Hege Storhaug ponders the fact that Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, who during the Danish cartoon crisis belittled free speech and labeled editor Vebjørn Selbekk an extremist for reprinting the Muhammed caricatures, “gave his warm support” yesterday to Abid Q. Raja’s big “dialogue” event at which a real extremist, Muhammed Ali Chisti, was given a platform to pour out a stream of pure, bilious Jew-hate. Defending the appropriateness of inviting Chisti to give his talk – which was entitled “Why I Hate Jews and Homosexuals” – Støre said “If we are serious about having freedom of speech in this country and having debate meetings in the best Norwegian debating tradition, I’m against those who say we shouldn’t allow this sort of person to participate.” Storhaug wonders: Does Støre believes in dialogue with neo-Nazis, too? (Raja, who has ardently supported limits on free speech in matters touching on Muslim sensitivities, also invokedfreedom of speech in defending his decision to invite Chisti.)
Storhaug points out that while it’s apparently acceptable at such events for Muslims to vent hate for Jews and gays, the meeting’s non-Muslim participants – including a Jewish woman, Berit Reisel, who represented Oslo’s Holocaust Center – plainly considered it off-limits to criticize Islam at all. (Employing a familiar euphemism, Reisel attributed the threats to Oslo’s tiny Jewish community to “extreme milieux.”)
This was, in short, yet another example of “dialogue” in which mind-bogglingly hateful utterances by Muslims were welcomed, but dispassionate discussion of the very real problems posed by Islamic religious doctrine and social conventions was verboten.
I noticed on last night’s TV news that not only did Crown Prince Haakon sit next to Raja at the hate meeting — he walked out shoulder to shoulder with him when it was over, so close that it was impossible not to conclude that he was determined to make a big show of solidarity with the king of Norway’s Muslim community. I may be wrong, but somehow I can’t imagine his dad, King Harald, honoring the likes of Abid Raja in this fashion.
Sunday, March 22, 2009, 6: 55 P.M. CET: After the murder of Theo van Gogh, a young TV journalist in Norway named Noman Mubashir, who belongs to the moderate Ahmadi Muslim sect, ventured to organize a rally in Oslo which, he hoped, would show that Norwegian Muslims rejected terrorism and stood for freedom. The rally, as I recounted in While Europe Slept,was a disastrous failure, drawing a minuscule fraction of Oslo’s Muslims. The event’s highlight, or lowlight, was a speech by Muslim lawyer Abid Q. Raja, well-known for his fiery op-eds and his frequent appearances on TV debate programs, on which he cut an aggressive, even bullying, figure, calling for limits to free speech and defending even highly illiberal aspects of fundamentalist Islam. Having been invited by Mubashir, in an apparent gesture of Muslim unity, to serve as co-chair of the anti-terrorism rally, Raja made use of his time at the microphone to, as I put it, “let loose a violent harangue, furiously rejecting the demonstration’s entire premise and ranting belligerently about the disgraceful treatment to which Muslims were subjected in Norway” (While Europe Slept, p. 199).
Since then, however, Raja has dramatically changed his tone – though not (one can be certain) his convictions. These days he presents himself as a voice of sweet reason and conciliation, and would plainly like to be perceived as a supporter of pluralist democracy, an opponent of religious extremism, and a champion of respectful dialogue. He is a member of the Venstre (Liberal) Party and this autumn will stand on its list of candidates for Parliament. Ever since I first saw Raja in action on TV, I had the feeling that his aim was to be Norway’s first Muslim Prime Minister – that, in fact, he was being groomed for that post – and it must be said that he appears to be making steady progress in that direction. Today, Litteraturhuset in Oslo hosted a high-profile, extremely well attended event, organized by Raja, which was billed as a “Dialogue Meeting about Hate: Hate Directed at and from Minorities.” Among those present was Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, and VG‘s article about the meeting is illustrated by a photo of Raja sitting with none other than Crown Prince Haakon, Norway’s future king.
Among the speakers at Litteraturhuset was British writer and former Islamist Ed Husain, who warned that extreme Islam is getting a foothold in Europe, he said “You can see the signs of danger already. Muslims must understand that they cannot introduce sharia.” Yet he also insisted, according to Dagbladet‘s account, that the problem of extreme Islam has nothing to do with Islam itself: “Islam’s humanism is one of the most important things in the Koran.” Striking another note entirely was Muhammed Ali Chisti, a young Norwegian Muslim who warned of global Jewish conspiracy. “Jews are a small group, but everyone knows they have a lot of power,” maintained Chisti, who according to VG “went a long way toward suggesting that the Jews were behind the September 11 attacks and the attacks in Mumbai.” “There were several thousand Jews away from their jobs at the World Trade Center,” Chisti told the audience, “and why were there more Jews than usual in Mumbai when Pakistani terrorists attacked?”
Yet another participant, Shakila Ashraf Nabi, condemned Muslim lesbian Sara Azmeh Rasmussen for burning a hijab on March 8, International Women’s Day. According to Dagbladet, Nabi said she had no answer when her school-age daughter asked why Rasmussen had burned the hijab. (Um, how about: “Honey, she did it because the hijab symbolizes women’s subordinate status under Islam”?) But that wasn’t all Nabi had to say. Apropos of a recent – and, frankly, surprising – public reference by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg to the danger of “radical Islam” in Norway, Nabi suggested that “perhaps she [Nabi’s daughter] will ask: Mommy, what is radical Islam? She knows him [Stoltenberg], because he has visited her school. I may say that it [radical Islam] is a secret that only our politicians know about.” Yes, forget 9/11, 7/7, Madrid, Mumbai, etc.: “radical Islam” is just a specter conjured up by Western politicians.
Note well: in Norwegian political, intellectual, and media circles today, to implicitly deny, as Nabi did, that Islam systematically treats women as men’s inferiors, and that there is such a thing as radical Islam, is scarcely controversial. On the contrary, what’s manifestly offensive in the eyes of many bien pensant folks hereabouts is what they view as racist, hate-mongering scare rhetoric about “radical Islam.” Such is the wholesale denial and dishonesty that reigns widely in these parts in the year 2009.
What, in any case, did Foreign Minister Gahr Støre have to say about all this? “We are for dialogue,” he told VG. Period. Well, you’ve got your dialogue. Now what?
Sunday, March 15, 2009, 3:55 P.M. CET: A quick tour of today’s UK papers:
British-born Islamic cleric Anjem Choudary has urged his followers to contribute to the “mujaheddin.” A Daily Mail articlereports on the wild youth of Choudary, who now favors the death penalty for things he used to do regularly:
One of Britain’s saner papers, the Times, editorializes that we should laugh Choudary off – as if he were some isolated wacko and not, as one reader comment puts it, “the public face of something much more sinister.” Another commenter remarks: “And just what are his followers doing while we laugh? Living in denial is exactly what these extremists desire of us.” How come the readers nearly always make more sense than the editorialists?
A protest in Luton: “They were brought up and educated in England but, although many live on benefits, they admit their loyalty is not to this country but to Islam. They want the UK to be an Islamic state, with sharia law and women in burkas.”
Also: “A Christian minister who has had heated arguments with Muslims on his TV Gospel show has been brutally attacked by three men who ripped off his cross and warned: ‘If you go back to the studio, we’ll break your legs.’”
And last but not least, the “moderate” Inayat Bunglawala of the “moderate” Muslim Council of Britain (who before 9/11 called Osama bin Laden a “freedom fighter”) has been “arrested after an alleged stabbing” at his home.
* * *
Publishers Weekly has reviewed my forthcoming book Surrender. Check it out:
“Bawer’s graceful prose and lucid insights make this a must-read book for anyone concerned with the relationship of Islam to contemporary American culture.”
Just kidding. In fact, that’s from PW‘s review of my 1997 book Stealing Jesus: I just changed “Christianity” to “Islam.” The actual PW review of Surrender – which does a perfect job of illustrating the very points I make in the book – is here. Pull quote: “Anti-Muslim.”
Hat tip: Dave Lull. (By the way, I just googled “Hat tip: Dave Lull”: 3,470 hits!)
* * *
Norway has been convulsed in recent weeks by a debate: should Muslim women cops and judges be allowed to wear hijab on duty? I was abroad last Saturday when Sarah Azmeh Rasmussen, the country’s sole openly lesbian Muslim, brought the debate to a climax by burning a hijab at a public celebration of International Women’s Day in Oslo. Muslims pelted her with snowballs and verbal abuse, but she was unbowed: “I have a dream that there will stop being a black veil between the West and the Muslim world. I have a dream of a God who is mild and good, and who doesn’t care whether women show their hair or thigh.”
November 26, 2008 (11:25 P.M., CET): Martin Bosma, Member of Parliament and spokesman for gay rights for the Freedom Party in the Netherlands, kindly informs me that the new study on gay-bashing in Amsterdam cited in the DutchNews.nl article I quoted on Monday was actually a different study than the University of Amsterdam study of the same subject. That’s right, folks: there were two different reports on antigay violence released in the Netherlands last week.
Bosma notes that this other report, which was issued by the Ministry of the Interior, inspired a slew of mainstream-media headlines, such as the one at DutchNews.nl, claiming that most antigay attackers were ethnic Dutch. But the headlines misrepresented what was actually in the report: as the DutchNews.nl article itself noted, 16% of the perpetrators were identified as “non-white,” while 84% of assaults were “committed by native Dutch men or no attacker was listed [my emphasis].” In other other words, it’s absolutely false to say that a majority of antigay attackers were ethnic Dutchmen or that only 16% were members of immigrant groups; even if one takes these figures seriously, they by no means rule out the possibility that the overwhelming majority of the perpetrators were indeed Muslims. The headlines that suggested otherwise seriously misrepresented the report’s contents, and did so in an apparent effort to shift blame for gay-bashing away from Muslims.
But this isn’t all. Bosma brings up a very important fact: that under Dutch law the grandchildren of immigrants – a category which would include many, if not most, of today’s Moroccan-Dutch teens – would not be officially identified as “allochtoon,” or immigrant, but as “autochtoon” – that is, as native Dutch men. This vital point didn’t make it into the DutchNews.nl story at all.
In any event, apropos of both studies, Bosma writes: “I doubt all these figures.” Citing Amsterdam police commissioner Bernhard Welten to the effect that antigay violence is mostly committed by non-Western immigrants, Bosma says: “The rest is damn lies and statistics.” My own observations and experience, and the anecdotal evidence with which I am familiar, overwhelmingly incline me to agree with Welten and Bosma.
* * *
Bosma also sends along an article he’s written for the gay magazine Gay Krant about the website Marokko.nl, which, he writes, “contains the most reprehensible texts not only about gays, but also about people who apparently don’t fit into the Islamic future: Jews, unbelievers, blacks, and Westerners in general.” The favorite subject of humor at the site, he notes, is the death of Dutch soldiers in Afghanistan. Nonetheless, Marokko.nl has received 160,000 euros in grants from the Dutch government. Bosma’s Freedom Party opposes these subsidies (the likes of which are par for the course in Western Europe), but it’s outnumbered in the Tweede Kamer by legislators who seem to believe that throwing money at these haters will somehow stem their hatred.
November 24, 2008 (6:59 P.M., CET): For years, gay-bashing has been on the rise in Amsterdam. It‘s well known among Dutch gays that young immigrant-group men are disproportionately responsible for these attacks(the great majority of which go unreported). There‘s no need for any study to prove this: the anecdotal evidence is immense. In the last couple of years, there have been several high-profile – and increasingly audacious – assaults on gay people, and routinely the perpetrators have been young Muslim men. It’s obviously no coincidence that the perceived climb in gay-bashings over the last decade has seemed to track the increase in Amsterdam’s Muslim population during the same period. (Meanwhile, the proportion of ethnic Dutch Amsterdammers has declined steadily.)
Nonetheless, Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen asked researchers at the University of Amsterdam about a year ago to find out what kind of people were responsible for antigay attacks and what their motives were. Anyone familiar with Cohen’s call for an “accommodation with the Muslims,” including (among other things) toleration “of orthodox Muslims who consciously discriminate against their women,” could be forgiven for fearing that the fix was in – that the study’s conclusions were foregone and would be thoroughly, safely PC, with any mention of Islamic teachings about homosexuality neatly airbrushed aw
The study was finally released last week. I first learned of this from an AP bulletin sent me by Dan Savage. Then, this weekend, I heard a brief report on Sirius OutQ radio news about the study’s findings. The thrust of OutQ’s report was that the perpetrators of antigay violence in Amsterdam are overwhelmingly native Dutchmen, and that this finding disproves the notion (which OutQ represented as a fallacy spread by the media) that these offenses are committed mainly by immigrants.
Online I found an article at DutchNews.nl that made the same claim. Headlined “Gay attackers usually young Dutch men,” it read as follows:
Most of the 150 cases of verbal or physical violence against gay men and women in the first six months of this year were committed by native Dutch men or no attacker was listed, according to home affairs ministry figures.
Police chiefs were asked to keep a record of instances of gay bashing following concerns that attacks were increasing and that young immigrants were largely to blame. There have been several high profile attacks on gay men over the past year, particularly in Amsterdam.
But in only 16% of the registered incidents between January and June was the attacker described as non-white, the figures show.
Meanwhile the aforementioned AP bulletin made no mention of race, religion or national origin, saying only that“most attacks were carried out spontaneously by poorly educated young men who feel their masculinity has been questioned.” Given that virtually all non-Muslim kids in the Netherlands attend good to excellent public schools and are, by their mid-teens, fluent in English, French, and German (it is not unusual to see Dutch fifteen-year-olds on trams reading authors like Camus and Thomas Mann in the original language), this bit about the perpetrators being “poorly educated” seemed irreconcilable with the claim that the attackers were mostly ethnic Dutchmen.
There are, of course, more than a few poorly educated young people in Amsterdam. They‘ve grown up in homes where the only book is the Koran. They have fathers with brutal patriarchal values and home-bound mothers who can’t speak Dutch and are utterly unaware of their own rights as EU and Dutch citizens. Many of these young people have spent their childhoods largely in their parents’ homelands, being shielded from the Kingdom of the Netherlands’ offensively liberal values. And many, rather than attending Dutch public schools, which teach sexual equality and acceptance of gay people, have been formed by religious schools that teach contempt for the West, for democracy, for women, for Jews, for non-Muslims generally, and – especially – for gays.
I wanted to see the researchers’ report itself – which is entitled “As Long as They Keep Away From Me” – so I went to coc.nl, the site of the major gay-rights organization in the Netherlands, COC (which stands for Cultuur- en Ontspannings Centrum, or Culture and Recreation Center). Sure enough, the COC site had a pdf of the official report. I dove into it, and within a minute found the following on page six: “The suspects [in antigay attacks] are just as often native Dutch as of Moroccan descent (both 36%). Since 39% of all young people in Amsterdam under 24 years of age belong to the first group and 16% to the second, Moroccans are overrepresented among suspects in these kinds of violence.” Plus a fact, if 36% of suspects are native Dutch, that means 64% are notnative Dutch. Most of those who aren’t either Dutch or Moroccan presumably belong to the other major immigrant groups in the Netherlands – Turkish, Surinamese, Indonesian, and Dutch Antillean. (Based on my own experiences, observations, and overwhelming anecdotal evidence, I strongly believe that if full gay-bashing statistics for Amsterdam were available, these proportions would shift appreciably.)
I skimmed through the report. On page 17, the researchers admit that “relatively speaking, Turks and Moroccans have a lot of trouble accepting homosexuality.” On page 24, they write that “criminologist Jan Dirk de Jongsuggests that the cause of the deviant conduct of Moroccan delinquent boys lies not in Moroccan culture or education per se but is primarily connected to their street culture.” (So it’s just a coincidence that the violent homophobia of that street culture is utterly consistent with Koranic values?)
The report finally confronts the Islam issue on page 25, noting that my book While Europe Slept “directly links” antigay violence in Amsterdam “to the ideas of Islam,” and that Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party considers the connection “self-evident.” I fully expected the researchers to dismiss both Wilders and me as Islamophobic;instead, I read the following: “Research shows that religion in general has a strong effect on having a gay-negative attitude, even if one corrects for such attributes as gender, age and educational level. This includes all religions, not only Muslims but also Christians and in particular people with an active religious life. Among religious groups in the Netherlands, however, negativity toward gays varies, with Muslims being conspicuous for their extreme views.”
This last observation, of course, could have received more emphasis; given, moreover, that Amsterdam is hardly overrun with violently antigay evangelical Christian youth, there’s no logical reason to drag in Christianity here. Yet it’s obvious why the researchers did so: in academic circles nowadays, the only way you stand even a remote chance of getting away with any criticism of Islam, however tamely articulated and amply justified, is by tucking it snugly into a blanket criticism of all religions.
Nonetheless, given the equivocal manner in which Western academics tend to approach these topics nowadays, it’s surprising that the report acknowledges Muslim homophobia as explicitly as it does. By contrast, it’s not at all surprising that several major media organizations – apparently more concerned with protecting the reputation of Islam than with reporting the truth – felt compelled to serve up what appear to be serious misrepresentations of the study’s findings.
* * *
I meant to post this on November 9:
American writer Anne Applebaum spells out an important point for British readers:
Here is something that may be hard for foreigners to understand: Americans desperately want to believe that their country stands for fairness, for equality, for democracy. They especially want to believe this at times like the present, when there is a good deal of evidence to the contrary. After the disasters and embarrassments of the past few years – the mistakes made in Iraq and Guantánamo, the terrible financial crisis, the embarrassment of Hurricane Katrina – a vote for Obama allowed Americans to believe, once again, that the United States is still a virtuous nation. It’s not just about being liked abroad, though being liked is nice: it’s about being certain that we still are, as we have often told ourselves, an example to other nations, a “city on a hill”.
November 7, 2008 (9:06 P.M. CET): My old friend and agemate Terry Teachout puts it beautifully.
November 5, 2008 (10:59 P.M., CET): I never met my maternal grandfather. He died several years before I was born. He was known in his South Carolina town as an eccentric. He was an eccentric because he was a white man with a black best friend, and because he was an evangelical singer who took his little daughter (my mother) along on Sunday mornings when he – to the revulsion of many of his town’s good white citizens – went to raise his beautiful tenor voice in praise as a guest soloist in black churches.
I spent much of every summer of my childhood in my mother’s hometown. My grandfather was long dead. But once each summer we would cross the street from my grandmother’s house to the house of my mother’s uncle, who was a very different sort of person. Neither my mother nor my grandmother could stand him, but my grandmother always insisted – acting, in her gentle way, according to the Southern social code – that we should at least go over there and pay him our respects, to use the term loosely.
Uncle John was not only the oldest man in town but a veteran of the Red Shirts. Every day he sat in a rocking chair on his front porch and smoked cheap cigars and yelled at any black man who dared to passed his house on the sidewalk: “Nigger! Walk in the street.”
Such images made an indelible impression on me. I knew early on what racism was. Despite my concerns about Obama’s experience and views, I have been deeply moved to see America elect its first black president.
At the same time it has been sobering to observe the victory of California’s Proposition 8, rescinding the right of same-sex couples to marry in that state. Apparently, two large populations groups voted overwhelmingly for the proposition: Catholics and blacks. Which means that a huge number of black Californians stepped into a voting booth, flipped a lever to elect the first black president of the United States – thus effecting a revolution in the history of American intolerance – then flipped another lever to take away the equal rights of gay people.
What would the late Congresswoman Barbara Jordan from Texas have said? She was a great lady and a pioneering figure. She spoke eloquently about being black and a woman. But she never dared admit publicly that she was a lesbian. That, apparently, was a bridge too far.
Bayard Rustin was a leading architect of the civil-rights movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr. King took a condescending attitude toward Rustin’s homosexuality, and ultimately betrayed him on account of it. Apparentlyit never occurred to him that all his eloquent rhetoric about equal rights might apply to gay human beings in the same way it did to black human beings. (This equivalence is something that King’s widow, Coretta, did latercome to acknowledge, to her immense credit.)
On Election Night 2008 I watched the returns come in on a certain cable news network. One of the hosts was a journalist who everybody knows is gay but who has still not come out of the closet. One of the house “experts“ is a woman who, speaking frequently on TV during the campaign, has been eloquent about being a black and a woman but whom I have not heard mention on the air the fact that she is a lesbian, even though she is supposedly openly gay. (To be fair, maybe she’s mentioned it and I’ve missed it.)
I can only hope that President-elect Obama – who tacitly communicated his disapproval of Proposition 8 but never got around to speaking up forcefully against it (yet who admirably included a reference to gay Americans in his eloquent remarks on Election Night) – will make use of his extraordinarily rhetorical skills, after his inauguration, to explain to the 95+% of black Americans who voted for him that gays are people too, and thereby aid our progress toward the kind of civil-rights epiphany that his own election so movingly embodies.
In any case: three cheers for Dan Savage for writing this.
November 5, 2008 (8:28 P.M., CET): The truth about “Biblical marriage“:
“Vote Yes, Protecting Biblical Marriage.”
– “Protect Biblical Marriage” website
“Lamech [Noah’s father] married two women, one named Adah, the other Zillah.” (Genesis 4)
“Sarai brought her slave-girl, Hagar the Egyptian, to her husband and gave her to Abram as a a wife.” (Genesis 16)
“When [Rachel] gave [her husband Jacob] her slave-girl Bilhah as a wife, Jacob lay with her, and she conceived and bore him a son.” (Genesis 30)
“Esau took Canaanite women in marriage: Adah daughter of Elon the Hittite and Oholibamah daughter of Anah son of Zibeon the Horite, and Basemath, Ishmael’s daughter, sister of Nebaioth.” (Genesis 26)
“When a man has two wives, one loved and the other unloved, if they both bear him sons, and the son of the unloved wife is the elder, then, when the day comes for him to divide his property among his sons, he must not treat the sons of the loved wife as his firstborn in preference to his true firstborn, the son of the unloved wife.”(Deuteronomy 21)
“If, on the other hand, the accusation [by a newlywed man that his bride is not a virgin] turns out to be true…then they must bring her out to the door of her father’s house and the men of her town will stone her to death.” (Deuteronomy 22)
“When a virgin is pledged in marriage to a man, and another man encounters her in the town and lies with her, bring both of them out to the gate of that town and stone them to death; the girl because, although she was in the town, she did not cry out for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife: you must rid yourself of this wickedness.” (Deuteronomy 22)
“When brothers live together and one of them dies without leaving a son, his widow is not to marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother is to have intercourse with her; he should take her in marriage and do his duty by her as her husband’s brother.” (Deuteronomy 25)
“David’s two wives, Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail widow of Nabal of Carmel, were among the captives.” (1 Samuel 30)
“Sons were born to David at Hebron. His eldest was Amnon, whose mother was Ahinoam from Jezreel; his second Cileab, whose mother was Abigail widow of Nabal from Carmel; the third Absalom, whose mother was Maacah daughter of Talmai king of Geshur; the fourth Adonihah, whose mother was Haggith; the fifth Shephatiah, whose mother was Abital; and the sixth Ithream, whose mother was David’s wife Eglah.” (2 Samuel 3)
And that’s just a scattering of items from the first quarter of the Bible; we haven’t even gotten around to Bathsheba yet, or to King Solomon’s 700 wives and 300 concubines….
November 3, 2008 (20:59 P.M., CET): I cast my first vote for president in 1976, when I was just a few days into my twenties. That was an easy choice: though I had been stunned by Gerald Ford’s now-famous debate flub about Poland not being under Russia’s thumb, I couldn’t bear Carter’s phony grin and sanctimony. (He was the first person whom I ever heard use the term “born again.”)
In 1980 I voted for Reagan (once again, I couldn’t support Carter); in 1984, for Mondale; in 1988, for Dukakis (I didn’t like Bush Sr.); for Clinton both times; and, most recently, for Gore and then Kerry (I didn’t like either of them, but liked Bush Jr. even less). I’ve never been more excited to cast a vote than I was in 1992, when I stood in a long line in the rain to vote for Clinton – the first presidential candidate ever to talk about gay people as if wewere actually human beings and Americans.
This year, deciding whom to vote for has been a bit more complicated than usual.
Long ago, at the dawn of this endless campaign season, I was eager to vote for Rudolph Giuliani. As someone who had lived in New York before, during, and after Giuliani’s mayoralty, I know what an extraordinary difference he had made for the city. Young people who live in New York now and love the city’s energy and dynamism, but who were schoolkids in far-off cities or suburbs when Giuliani was in Gracie Mansion, can’t imagine how grungy Times Square was when he took over, how dangerous Central Park was, and how grungyand dangerous the subways were. Nor is it possible to sum up briefly the nature of the stranglehold that the Mafia had on New York City before Rudy came along. Lifelong New Yorkers never imagined anyone would be able vanquish them the way he did. Rarely has any politician’s impact been felt so strongly, and so positively.
Then came 9/11. Giuliani not only handled that day perfectly; his follow-through was also first-rate. While George W. Bush was busy arranging for bin Ladens to leave the country, scheduling friendly meetings with Islamists, and going out of his way to call Islam a religion of peace, Giuliani was turning down a $10 million donation offered to the city by a Saudi prince. To be sure, given the months Giuliani had spent as the house guest of a gay couple who took him in after he left his wife, I found his willingness to read from the GOP script on gay rights during the presidential campaign disheartening. But I was hardly shocked: he’s a politician, after all, not a saint. I was ready to vote for him. But his campaign went nowhere.
Where to turn? I didn’t consider the unbearably phony Edwards for a minute; nor did the GOP pack appeal. So I looked to Hillary Clinton. Her debate performances were highly impressive. She knew her stuff cold. She projected strength and determination and real commitment. And she spoke well. The more I listened to her, the more I felt she’d be stronger on the Islamist threat than many people might expect. But then she, too, fell by the wayside.
Which left Obama.
He was obviously intelligent. And what a pleasure it would be to have somebody so articulate in the White House after Bush! Yet I had read his memoir, and it disturbed me. Though he advertised himself as a post-racial politician, he seemed preoccupied with race, and the first of his two books seemed to suggest that the answer to his quest for identity lay not in America but in his father’s homeland, Kenya. The revelation of his longstanding relationship with the race-obsessed Reverend Jeremiah Wright only confirmed my concerns. And when he threw Grandma under the bus in an effort to justify his continued ties to Wright, I was appalled.
Then there was all the creepy cult-of-personality stuff – the profoundly un-American transformation of a politician into a savior figure. The use by Obama supporters of imagery reminiscent of Stalinist and Maoisticonography was deeply disturbing, as was the endless, empty repetition of the words “change” and “hope,” which sounded less like political slogans than like mantras from some insipid religious cult.
So I tried to warm to McCain. I was still working on this when Sarah Palin entered the picture. She seemed to distill all the worst aspects of George W. Bush. Like him, she seemed not only ignorant and unreflective but proud of it. As with him, her utter unfamiliarity with and incuriosity about the world beyond America was combined with a habit of spouting categorical certainties about the outside world’s inferiority in every respect tothe good old U.S.A. The enthusiasm of many Americans for Palin wasn’t just a matter of garden-variety American anti-intellectualism (which can be a healthy, sensible, and pragmatic-minded response to pretentiousacademic posturing) – it seemed to represent a hostility toward intelligence itself, and toward the very value of acquiring knowledge and developing competence. Given all the messes that America was now in, how could any responsible adult pretend to want this mediocrity in the White House?
A You Tube video showed Palin being prayed over by a preacher from (of all places) Kenya, who asked God to protect her from witchcraft. The apparent sincerity of Palin’s faith made the obvious expendiency of Obama’s association with Wright look, by contrast, appealing.
Nor did I ever hear either McCain or Palin say anything that reflected serious thought about the Islamist threat. McCain seemed to view the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan almost entirely through a military prism. The question, for him, was not why we were there, but how we could win. Palin, meanwhile, appeared to have no serious thoughts on the subject whatsoever. Even though she was sending her son to serve in Iraq, she seemed to have devoted no thought whatsoever to the question of America’s invasion and occupation of that country. In her mind, apparently, thinking about such things was someone else’s job.
At their best, modern American Republicanism and conservatism used to be about responsibility, maturity, competence – about learning from history, safeguarding constitutional traditions, and taking a cautious approach to change. But Palin gave no indication of knowing or caring anything about history, appeared to have only the most superficial and vulgar concept of tradition, and showed little sign of familiarity with or respect for the Constitution.
I seriously considered writing in Giuliani for president and Hillary Clinton for vice president. But that felt like a cop-out, even though my vote (I’m registered in New York) will almost certainly make no difference. So when I mailed my absentee ballot off to the States on October 14, it contained a vote for Obama.
No, I’m not sure I’ve done the right thing. But at least he has a mind and knows how to use it. At least he can form a thought and express it. And he is obviously capable of learning. His campaign shows that he has organizational skills (or was smart enough to hire people with organizational skills). It also shows that he’s a man of incredible equipoise and self-discipline. Several observers have noted that Justice Holmes’ famous comment about FDR’s “first-class temperament” applies equally well to Obama. It’s true. And it matters.
One of the things America needs most right now, moreover, is a president who can effectively articulate what’s at stake in the war on Islamism. This has been one of Bush’s major failings since 9/11. McCain couldn’t pull it off even if he understood what we’re up against, ideologically speaking – and there’s no sign that he does. There’s no sign, indeed, that either of these men does. But at least Obama knows something about Islam. He’s seen it close-up. His mother was married to two Muslims. His brother is a convert to the faith.
Yes, many of his allies and supporters are utter fools on the topic – rank appeaseniks. But Obama, while professing respect for Islam in pretty much the same sweeping, vapid, dishonest terms as Bush and McCain, hasn’t said the kinds of things one might expect an out-and-out appeasenik to say. His comments about the dangers of Pakistan have been promising. One has to hope that his intelligence and reflectiveness and sense of responsibility have led him, or will lead him, to recognize the threat that fundamentalist Islam – not just Islamist terrorism – represents to the free world, and act accordingly.
Yes, his record, such as it is, is considerably leftist. But he seems less an ideologue than a man who wants to succeed. And he won’t succeed (or win a second term) by being a diehard extremist – and he is smart enough to know that.
Many people on the left have argued that a vote for Obama would make people around the world like us again. That’s no good reason to vote for anybody. But Obama, unlike Bush or McCain, is somebody who could persuade our European allies to join us in a broad-based effort to repel the spread of Islamism in the West. There’s no guarantee, of course, that Obama would pursue such a policy. But at least there exists a possibility that he would, while McCain, in these matters, would be a non-starter.
This has been the most dispiriting presidential campaign in my memory. Americans – at least those who are politically active – have been divided into two very distinct camps. Most of the professional pundits on either side have seen it as their job to keep telling their readers that the guy on the other side is thoroughly incompetent, evil, and dangerous. And every day has brought a new wave of online articles about the election that have drawna sea of comments by readers – most of them hiding behind fake names – who will brook no dissent. Any political writer who, out of sheer honesty, has dared to permit himself so much as a hint of recognition that his side (or what is perceived as his side) isn’t perfectly pure and the other side isn’t perfectly evil, has found himself branded an idiot, a liar, a coward, and a traitor by people who the day before yesterday were his diehard fans. It’s a chilling spectacle. It’s America at its worst. Instead of respecting intellectual honesty and moral responsibility, the pseudonymous enforcers of orthodoxy have celebrated insincere cheerleading. As a result, many political writers – who should feel free to use their minds – have been made to feel that they don’t dare step even an inch off the reservation lest they be isolated, fired, demonized, destroyed. It has been made clear to them that in the eyes of many readers, their job is not to think but to echo the party line.
So it is that intelligent, serious, and responsible-minded conservatives such as George Will, Peggy Noonan, David Brooks, and David Frum have been treated as traitors simply for speaking their minds about McCain’s and/or Palin’s deficiencies. Frum replied as follows to blistering criticism from National Review readers:
Perhaps it is our job at NRO to tell our readers only what they want to hear, without much regard to whether it is true. Perhaps it is our duty just to keep smiling and to insist that everything is dandy – that John McCain’s economic policies make sense, that his selection of Sarah Palin was an act of statesmanship, that she herself is the second coming of Anna Schwartz, and that nobody but an over-educated snob would ever suggest otherwise.
And then there‘s Christopher Hitchens. As someone who, like Hitchens, is a liberal whose views on the Islamist threat often lead me to be categorized as a conservative, I could have written every word of the following, from Hitchens’ October article “Vote for Obama”:
I used to call myself a single-issue voter on the essential question of defending civilization against its terrorist enemies and their totalitarian protectors, and on that “issue” I hope I can continue to expose and oppose any ambiguity. Obama is greatly overrated in my opinion, but the Obama-Biden ticket is not a capitulationist one, even if it does accept the support of the surrender faction, and it does show some signs of being able and willing to profit from experience. With McCain, the “experience” is subject to sharply diminishing returns, as is the rest of him, and with Palin the very word itself is a sick joke. One only wishes that the election could be over now and a proper and dignified verdict rendered, so as to spare democracy and civility the degradation to which they look like being subjected in the remaining days of a low, dishonest campaign.
No, neither Obama nor McCain has proven that he fully grasps the nature of the challenge we confront where our relationship to the Islamic world is concerned. But which of them seems more capable of getting it, given his background and smarts? Obama. Which would be more able to formulate and implement an effective approach to dealing with it? Obama. Which would be more likely to be able to get Democrats and Europeans on board with that policy? Obama.
Which is not to deny that I’m deeply torn. Despite the poisonous intensity with which people on both sides have been going after each other’s candidates, both Obama and McCain are in fact very complex combinations of admirable and not-so-admirable qualities. Each inspires considerable doubt and uncertainty. Each is also a very mixed bag, issues-wise. (Unlike many gays, I don’t see any reason to be certain that Obama would prove to bemore kindly disposed toward gay rights than McCain would; at times it has seemed to me that McCain, deep down, may well be the more gay-friendly of the two. I hope that’s not true.) One clear difference, as I’ve said, is in temperament. Another is in age. And all other things, on balance, being not that far from equal, I’d prefer the young, unflappable candidate to the old, volatile one.
There’s also, of course, the difference of skin color. And, frankly, as someone who spent childhood summers in the 1960s in a small South Carolina town where the remnants of Jim Crow (including not-quite-faded “No Coloreds” signs) were still very much in evidence, and where I routinely heard white people who were supposedly good Christians saying incredibly ugly things about black people – when in fact the only black people I knew (who were the same black people they knew) were uniformly among the kindest, hardest-working, most uncomplaining, and most genuinely Christian people I had ever met – it means something to me, I will admit, to vote for the black guy.
No, I’m not sure I’ve made the right choice. I only hope I have. I hope we all have.
God bless America.
September 26, 2008 (11:09 P.M., CET): It’s fast becoming a new Norwegian tradition: the public stabbing of an immigrant woman who has tried to integrate herself by a husband who hates the idea. Yesterday, it happenedagain, at rush hour, at a busy bus stop outside a busy Oslo subway station. The man stabbed his wife several times in front of several witnesses, who – in a surprising, encouraging twist – actually subdued him and held him down until the cops came. Maybe people are actually starting to get sick of this stuff. Of course, just as usually happens on the rare occasions when Europeans bestir themselves to stand up for law and order, the police spokesperson felt obliged to issue a warning that “taking action yourself can often be dangerous.” Yes – almost as dangerous as never doing anything.
The Dagbladet article linked to above doesn’t mention anything about the religious or ethnic background of the parties involved; the last sentence says only that “the alleged perpetrator and the victim are originally from abroad.” But it turns out they’re of Somali origin. On the Human Rights Service website, my friend Rita Karlsenreports that according to her sources, news of the attack “met with approval” in Oslo’s Somali community because the victim was “strong and independent” and had taken her three children and left her husband. He’s lived in Norway for nearly twenty years but keeps his distance from Norwegians; she, by contrast, wants to be a full member of mainstream society. She also has a job, unlike many people in her community. “In parts of the Somali community that live in anti-Norwegian isolation,” writes Karlsen, “the wounded woman is considered a poor example for other Norwegian-Somali women.”
This latest assault comes on the heels of the publication in Norway of Se Oss (See Us), an explosive book by a pseudonymous Norwegian-Somali woman whose graphic, eye-opening account of life within the tyrannical, violent, woman-oppressing Somali community has made headlines – and drawn predictable responses from the usual suspects on the P.C. left, who have cynically cautioned against “generalizing” on the basis of this one book. Of course, all this so-called “generalizing” has only come after a very long series of horrible events of which yesterday’s stabbing is only the most recent.
September 26, 2008 (1:55 P.M., CET): The Daily Mail reports that a daughter of the fire-breathing imam Sir Omar Bakri Mohammed – oops, my mistake, he hasn’t been knighted quite yet – is working as a pole dancer in London. The Mail prints the name of the “troupe” she belongs to, tells us that she “now lives in Catford in a ground-floor flat,” and even provides the helpful information that she “has dyed her hair blonde, has several tattoos of her name on her ankle and a dragon on her back and changed her Muslim name Youssra to Yasmin to try to conceal her identity.” Gee, why not just include a map of London with a target drawn over her house? Does the Mail understand that this young woman has very good reasons for wanting to “conceal her identity”?
September 25, 2008 (11:30 A.M., CET): Jyllands-Posten reports that yesterday, shortly after the opening ceremonies of a gay festival in Sarajevo – the first such event ever held in Bosnia – Muslim men fell upon participants and beat them up, shouting “Kill the gays” and “Allahu akbar.” Some were dragged out of their cars. Among those assaulted were journalists; worst hurt was a visitor from Denmark. There is no mention of the number of victims or assailants, though the report indicates that it took a “massive” number of police to stop the violence.
The story has been picked up by VG in Norway, but I’ve looked for it in vain in several major American and British newspapers.
UPDATE (September 26, 2:14 A.M.): The Muslims have won: they’ve driven Sarajevo’s gays back into the closet. Note that this AFP story identifies the thugs only as “hooligans,” “protestors,” and “attackers”; though it mentions (at the end) that this event was “particularly upsetting [to] the Muslim majority,” it deftly avoids stating that the “hooligans” were indeed Muslims who shouted “Allahu akbar” as they pursued their holy task.
If this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because most of the media that covered the Muslim riots in French cities – whose participants also shouted “Allahu akbar” – followed essentially the same M.O.
Anyway, I’ve made another round of the websites of some major U.S. and U.K. dailies. Still no sign that any of them has picked up this story. Indeed, most of the coverage turned up by Google is at gay websites – as if these barbaric developments could not possibly be of interest to anyone but gay people.
September 4, 2008 (1:35 P.M., CET): I don’t watch the TV news networks very much these days. But last night I turned on CNN to watch the GOP shindig. It wasn’t easy. Every time Wolf Blitzer reminded us that he’s part of “the best team on television” (which he did every several minutes), it was all I could do not to throw my laptop at the TV screen. But I hung in there, though I did feel compelled to turn off the sound for long periods in order not to overdose on these slick hacks’ preening self-regard.
Quick question: One of the CNN guys (the one who seems to use John Edwards’ barber) did a report on the electoral map. He used the word “electoral” dozens of times. And he pronounced it “el-ec-TOR-al.” Whassat? Has CNN decreed that this is the new, classier way of pronouncing it?
Early in the evening “the best team on television” took on the question: what does Sarah Palin have to accomplish in her speech? After several minutes of heavy lifting, they agreed that she had to make us like her. What would we do without them?
I turned off the sound for Huckabee and Romney, but listened to Giuliani, who should’ve been the nominee.
Then came Palin. After everything I’ve read these last few days about her positions on evolution and creationism, about the Jews for Jesus and Alaska Independence Party, about the brother-in-law flap and her apparent misrepresentation of her position on the Bridge to Nowhere, and about her visit to the library during her first days as mayor of Wasilla to look into the possibility of banning a few books, I wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of her being a heartbeat away from the presidency. I’m still not. If the New York Times account of her political beginnings in Wasilla is to be believed, she brought the ideological frictions of Gingrich-era Washington to a town in which members of the different parties had previously worked together in an easygoing, neighborly fashion. She also reportedly made religion an issue in a town where things just hadn’t been done that way.
Yet during her speech it was really hard not to be charmed by her. As Howard Stern said a few minutes ago, her delivery was A+. What’s so incredibly effective about her is that when you look at her alongside the other candidate in the presidential race who was also nationally obscure before this thing started and who is also a very skilled speaker – Obama, of course – she brings out, by contrast, his condescension, pomposity, and self-importance. He’s an orator, lecturing at us, preaching at us; she talks to us conversationally, the way Reagan did. Obama presents himself as a living symbol, a historical inevitability; Palin addressed the nation as if she were a newcomer in town introducing herself to another mom at the grocery store. She’s the only one of the four candidates whom you can imagine most Americans really identifying with at all. It’s a sign of Beltway insularity that so many people in D.C. apparently either don’t grasp the nature and breadth of her appeal or refuse to believe that she has appeal.
For me, her appeal was only enhanced by the effect of having watched “the best team on television” for the previous couple of hours. After that parade of posturing blowhards, how could somebody like her not seem a breath of fresh air?
I like her Wild West, self-reliant, small-government, live-and-let-live Goldwater libertarian side. But I’m deeply uneasy about the intrusive born-again “Bible believer” side that apparently sent her to that library to sniff out books to ban. It seems like a very long time ago that many of us expected a Giuliani-vs.-Clinton faceoff in November. Now we’ve got a disciple of Jeremiah Wright heading up one ticket and, on the other, a Rapture-believing Pentecostalist who apparently sought to paint her mayoral opponent back in Wasilla as unsaved and therefore unqualified. Somewhere Thomas Jefferson is throwing up.
August 14, 2008 (8:15 P.M., CET): Last month an Iranian man hunted down and brutally murdered his estranged wife in Oslo. Today another Iranian man hunted down and brutally murdered his estranged wife in Oslo. He also brutally murdered two small children between one and five years old, apparently the couple’s own children. All three victims were stabbed to death, and the scene of the crime was reportedly a very bloody and disturbing sight.
The husband is under arrest and a police press conference is now underway. The suspect is 44 years old and came to Norway in 1999 as an asylum seeker.
July 25, 2008 (12:19 P.M., CET): The police wouldn’t say anything about motive. Those in custody will be interrogated later today.
This violent episode, by the way, took place only hours after a couple of guys went driving around the west side of Oslo (i.e. the supposedly safe side) shooting at pedestrians with a luftpistol, which in English is apparently “soft gun” or “air soft gun.” They hit five people.
All together now: Summertime, and the living is easy…
July 25, 2008 (12:06 P.M., CET): The police are now holding a press conference about the refugee-center attack. They’ve arrested five Chechens, none of them residents of the center. The number of people sent to the hospital is twenty-one.
July 25, 2008 (11:37 A.M., CET): Early this morning, 40 to 50 Chechens stormed an asylum center south of Oslo, dragged Kurds out of their rooms and beat them up “with steel bars and other weapons,” according to a source cited in this Reuters report. (Both VG and Dagbladet also mention machetes.) According to most reports, either twenty-two or twenty-three people (depending on which report you’re reading) were sent to the hospital or E.R., though VG reports that 22 were hurt but only nine sent to the hospital. So far no reports on whether any of the perpetrators have been apprehended.
The motive for the attack? According to Reuters, the head of the asylum center, Ole Morten Lyng, told the Norwegian news agency NTB that it was a “minor dispute…that got blown out of proportion.” VG says that Lyng attributes the episode to “a fight between two residents.” Dagbladet notes that three years ago a series of violent incidents took place because Chechens wanted to introduce sharia law at the center. In an interview withDagbladet, however, Lyng insists that this morning’s incident had nothing to do with sharia and that it was, rather, the result of “a small family conflict” over some kids who were making noise at the center the day before yesterday. Sounds pretty implausible to me, but we’ll see. We’ll also see whether anybody ends up being deported for this. I’m not holding my breath.
July 18, 2008 (1:14 P.M., CET): The other day came the news that Albania has better roads than Norway. Today Dagbladet reports that in the last two weeks, eighteen tourist buses in Oslo have been set upon by thieves and vandals.
“My company sends buses all over Europe, but we’ve never experienced similar conditions anywhere,” a Spanish bus driver said. “If I talked about this on Spanish TV, people would think I was in Africa.”
The driver added: “Oslo isn’t a beautiful city like Rome and Paris. The only reason we come here is that it’s the capital of Norway….If this continues, we’ll stop coming here.” Indeed, two Spanish tour operators, according toDagbladet, are considering removing Oslo from their list of destinations.
Official reactions to this latest development only serve to underscore where the roots of the problem lie. You can almost see the spokesman for the Agency for Road and Transport shrugging and yawning as he tells Dagbladetthat, well, this sort of this happens every summer, and hey, don’t worry, there’s more and more tourist buses coming to Norway. And the cops? They say that they “can’t see any connection among the events of recent weeks.” A police spokesman told Dagbladet that they hadn’t put the case materials together yet – they’ll get around to that on, oh, Monday.
No, Oslo isn’t Rome or Paris. But not long ago, it was at least a safe, clean city. It’s now rapidly declining into a maelstrom of chaos, crime, and filth under politicians who’ve essentially handed it over to armies of Nigerian prostitutes, gypsy beggars, and Muslim gangsters; who ordered street work that should have been wrapped up months ago but that continues to keep much of the downtown area looking like Berlin in 1946; and who blithely hike subsidies to groups like the Islamic Council while letting the police and military go chronically underfunded.
Tourist tip: Copenhagen!
July 18, 2008 (10:45 A.M., CET): Congratulations to Kay Ryan, the new Poet Laureate. Terrific poet. I wrote about her here.
July 13, 2008 (5:59 P.M., CET): For reasons I’ve made clear on this blog, I’m no fan of Obama’s. Nor can I easily imagine myself eagerly voting for McCain after reading this statement in today’s New York Times: “I don’t believe in gay adoption.” To flatly oppose the very possibility of adoption by any gay individual or same-sex couple is a position that is at odds with current policy in 49 of the 50 states. As Dale Carpenter aptly puts it, “it’s a terrible, thoughtless quote.”
If you think otherwise, I suggest you put aside ugly prejudices about gays and ridiculously idealized images of “the family” and look at real families. When I run through my mental Rolodex of the families I’ve known well in my life, beginning with the those who lived on the block I grew up on, I can’t avoid recognizing that a significant percentage of families are headed by alcoholics and wife-beaters, by people too selfish or immature to be good parents, and by bullies and sickos who abuse their children in a variety of horrific ways. When I went around the country giving readings from my book on Christian fundamentalism, Stealing Jesus, I met countless people who had been psychologically damaged for life by fundamentalist parents – all of them heterosexual.
Meanwhile, some of the happiest and most emotionally healthy families I’ve ever encountered have been families with gay parents. The very fact that a gay couple is willing to go through the adoption process means they’re serious about raising a family – which automatically puts them ahead of millions of couples who have kids only because they were careless about birth control. If all parents had to be subjected to the kind of scrunity that same-sex male couples have to undergo in order to be parents, all children would be better off. I have yet to meet a pair of gay parents who don’t have a powerful awareness of the responsibilities they’ve taken on – and an equally powerful appreciation for the privilege of parenthood that’s often missing in people to whom it came easily or even accidentally.
Anyway, I had expected better of McCain.
July 13, 2008 (4:59 P.M., CET): I’m sorry if this blog seems to be turning into one long series of obituaries, but if people will just stop dying, I’ll promise to stop writing about it.
When I read yesterday that Tony Snow had died, I somehow didn’t remember that I’d met him. Then, today, I read Mark Steyn’s comment that his “own Tony Snow story” is “the same as so many others – that of meeting the guy when you’re an obscure peripheral fellow of no consequence and being amazed that he’s familiar with your work and is gracious and affable and collegial and full of generous advice.” Reading this, I suddenly recalled that I’d had a similar experience. And at once all the details came flooding back in a Proustian rush.
Snow interviewed me on Fox News during (I’m almost certain) a book tour for A Place at the Table. When you’re running around the country pushing a book, it’s not unusual to meet interviewers – whether at national TV networks or at small-town radio stations – who are tired, bored, distracted, irritable, and condescending, and who seem to view the prospect of interviewing yet another visiting author as a dreary chore. Snow was the very opposite of all this. When we met before our interview, he was alert, energetic, and remarkably congenial. He made me feel welcome, made me feel he was honored to have me there, and made it clear he was familiar not just with the book I was promoting but also with my previous work, or at the very least with the general outlines of my career. I was impressed.
When the interview started, he shifted gears. The gracious host became an inquisitor – and a first-rate one. He had plainly read the book and appeared to be genuinely engaged by its arguments, and he asked strong, tough questions about it, which he shot at me one after the other like Andy Roddick slamming tennis balls over the net. The experience was intense and exhilarating – easily the best workout I had on that whole book tour. I had already reached the point (which eventually arrives in any book tour) at which I felt I’d already heard every possible question several times, had worked out my answers to all of them, and could do the whole interview on auto-pilot. But Snow’s questions were totally new – sharp, challenging. And when I answered them, he actuallylistened and instantly shot back just the right follow-ups, which were equally sharp and challenging. I was in awe.
When it was over, he grinned and said something like “That was fun.” He made it clear he was pleased with the results – and I was pleased, too: he’d kept me on my toes, made me think, and helped me get my message across far more effectively, I suspected, than some of the more softball interviewers had done. I experienced his toughness as an act of respect. Unlike some interviewers, he didn’t come across as antagonistic or give me the slightest impression that he was out to “win” or to “get me”; on the contrary, he plainly enjoyed the fact that I was able to hold my own and speak my piece – and thereby provide his viewers with a few minutes of engaging, thought-provoking give-and-take.
In short: a real pro, and a real gentleman.
July 11, 2008 (12:22 A.M., CET): When I woke up on Tuesday morning I had a weird feeling that I should check the obituaries in the New York Times. That was how I found out that my friend Tom Disch had died on July 4 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
I’ve been in shock ever since. I’ve been trying to write something about Tom, because I feel I owe it to him and because I’m having trouble thinking of anything else. But I still can’t wrap my mind around the fact that he did this, and my own thoughts and feelings are all over the place, so it’s been hard to try to get something down.
All I can say for now is this. Tom (who published fiction and criticism as Thomas M. Disch and poetry as Tom Disch) was not only a widely respected – revered, even – writer of what he called speculative fiction but also a first-rate poet and critic. Few writers in our time have managed as successfully as he did to combine being deeply, meaningfully, and darkly serious with being laugh-out-loud hilarious.
As a poet he was outrageously underappreciated, mainly because he swam against the poetic currents of the day. Like Swift and Pope, who aren’t exactly role models for many poets today, he served up acidly witty commentary on humankind’s flaws and foibles – usually in perfect rhyme and meter. And he made it look effortless – which doubtless helps explain why his poetry is less well known than it should be.
As for his criticism, I’ve read certain reviews of his again and again just for the sheer pleasure of reading his prose. There are some individual lines that I savor. Only a few days ago (it may even have been the day he died), I was sitting in my apartment and my eyes fastened on the spine of David Laskin’s Partisans, a history of the midcentury New York intellectuals. And I immediately recalled Tom’s passing reference, in his review of it, to the last surviving member of that crowd as “tontine winner Elizabeth Hardwick.” Who else but Tom would have thought to call her that? His reviews were full of such inspired tidbits – which for him were just throwaway lines, but which made his prose a joy to read.
In person Tom was as witty as on paper, with a quick mind and a first-rate delivery. And he was a very sweet guy. A publicity picture for one of his novels, in which he glares demonically down into the camera – formidable, bald, muscular, his powerful arms crossed – makes him look like the scariest dude in the world: the bouncer from hell, the biker bully from Central Casting. In fact he was the bullies’ enemy. His whole body of work is a cry against man’s inhumanity to man, against tyrannical orthodoxies and deadening groupthink, against all those who seek to dehumanize or destroy their fellow human beings for the sake of power or a buck or an ego boost. He believed in the individual, and in the individual mind.
And he was a true original – a man who, no matter what he was writing about, and in what genre, invariably had fresh, unpredictable, provocative, and perceptive things to say. He always spoke his mind fully, no matter whose feathers might get ruffled. Indeed, he seemed fearless – which is why it’s incredible to imagine that a landlord with an eviction notice could push him over the edge, as seems to have been the case. But then that’s the nature of depression. It was clear that the 2005 death of his partner, Charlie, knocked the struts out from under him. Certainly neither of the setbacks mentioned in the Times obituary – the flooded house, the landlord problems – would have destroyed him had Charlie still been alive and well.
I didn’t know Charlie well – or at all, really. He was a deeply private person. But I knew that Tom was devoted to him. All told, they were together for 35 years. They didn’t go in for public displays of affection – far from it – but just to see these two big, bearlike men together was to recognize immediately the depth of their mutual devotion. When I learned that Charlie had died, my first thought was: how can Tom go on without him?
Tom wasn’t quite like any other gay man I’ve ever known. Even back in 1985, when we met, he was quietly matter-of-fact – with everyone – about being gay. When he introduced me to Charlie, Tom referred to him as “my husband.” Never before had I heard, or heard of, any gay man using the word “husband” to describe his partner. That was how I found out that Tom was gay. I don’t remember him ever showing the slightest interest in gay politics or the gay scene, and I couldn’t ever have imagined him talking (at least to me) about even superficially intimate aspects of his relationship with Charlie: in that sense, he was an exceedingly private man. But he was anything but a closet case. Back in a time when such candor was not par for the course even in New York literary circles, he was – quite simply – open about his life in precisely the same way that any straight person would be. No more, no less. It was a matter of integrity, and of self-respect.
After I moved to Europe in 1998, we fell out of touch. Then last year, out of the blue, he wrote to me care of theHudson and we caught up. It was clear he was profoundly depressed:
I have little news except disasters. Charlie is dead, my landlord in the city is trying to have me evicted, and I’ve spend a fortune on my legal defense, and the house in the country was destroyed by mildew with everything in it. Plus, my health is rotten.
Given that Tom had lived in his Union Square apartment for decades, how could his landlord throw him out? Here’s why, according to a friend of Tom’s who identifies himself as Eric S., and who has posted this moving account of Tom’s last couple of years: the lease was in Charlie’s name. Apparently, as soon as Charlie died, the landlord started proceedings to kick Tom out. If he had been a grieving widow, the law would have been on his side. Indeed, under New York City law, a grandson who’s never even set foot in his grandmother’s rental apartment can inherit her lease. But Tom, under New York law, was no relation to Charlie. None. They had made a life together in that apartment for a third of a century, but in the law’s eyes, he had no claim on it whatsoever.
His e-mails to me painted a grim picture. He had always been a black humorist – and, yes, the humor was still very much there. But it used to be that when you read his work or talked to him, you could tell that he positively exulted in the ability and opportunity to confront the world’s tyrants and fools and clowns and deflate them with words. For all his cynicism about human nature, he had immense joie de vivre and a superabundance of creative energy; in fact, it wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say that he was a sort of Auntie Mame, a veritable embodiment of the conviction that life is a banquet and most poor sons of bitches are starving to death – and that he could make you wonder whether you yourself, his fellow writer and critic, were embracing your own role in this absurd cosmos with a sufficient measure of glee. Indeed, when I was first introduced to Tom (by Dana Gioia) his face lit up, quite gloriously, at the sound of my name, because I’d just published a review that he’d agreed with. Everybody who knew Tom knew that look. It was a frequent sight and it was thoroughly authentic. My point here is that despite his dark literary vision, he was a merry soul.
But now, after Charlie’s death, that was gone. What humor there was in the e-mails he sent to me last year was mirthless. His joie de vivre, his energy, his delight in the whole mad circus of life was gone. It was distressing to witness this transformation in a writer whose work – and whose entire being – had always seemed a triumphant confirmation of the redemptive power of wit and art.
The same tone reigned in the blog (which, in a typically macabre touch, he called “Endzone”) that Tom kept during the last couple of years. Death had always been a major theme of his work, but now it seemed more pervasive than ever. On January 1, 2008, he posted a list of people he’d like to see die during the year. Later he posted irreverent poems occasioned by the deaths of Heath Ledger and Steve Irwin. (The blog poems aren’t as polished as his published poems; they’re basically journal entries in verse.) One poem – which feels uncharacterically, uncomfortably confessional (and, in retrospect, prophetic) – paid tribute to the Second Amendment. Another imagined Death leaving messages on his answering machine (“Hello, Tom”) confirming and then postponing their rendezvous. The last entry, posted two days before he died, gives the impression that his suicide was not something he had long planned, but was rather a spontaneous act. But if so, where did the gun come from?
The reader comments following Tom’s final blog posting give a sense of how deeply, and in what way, his work touched the lives of many people who had never met him. The best tribute any of us could pay to Tom’s memory would be to go online and buy one or more of his books. A greater bargain cannot easily be had.
Anyway, here are a couple of pictures I found and scanned today. I took them at the Hudson Review‘s 40th-anniversary dinner in 1998. In the first, that’s Tom facing the camera, aware that he’s being photographed and, with tongue in cheek, assuming an Important Literary Man pose. (Charles Martin and Lori Allen are in the foreground.) The second picture shows Tom (left) with Dick Allen.
July 6, 2008 (10:32 A.M., CET): This is the most encouraging story I’ve seen in a while: a British teacher pushes a dhimmi exercise on her class – forcing the kids (aged 11 and 12) to pray Muslim style, supposedly as a way of learning about Islam – and two boys refuse to take part.
Wow. In a country where not only teachers but professors, politicians, police officers, government bureaucrats, Lord Chief Justices and Archbishops of Canterbury are proud to show off their utter lack of spine in such matters, how did these kids even recognize that there was something terribly wrong here, that their teacher’s stratagem needed to be resisted, that there was a moral imperative to stand up and say no, even if it meant getting detention? How did they summon the courage, the character, in a society that, during their brief lifetimes, has provided them with so few examples thereof?
July 4, 2008 (11:18 A.M., CET): I will never really get it. Is it simple fear? Is it pure naivete? Is it the glue seeping down from the wig?
England gave the world a tradition of laws that is a cornerstone of modernity. Yet its highest magistrate smiles on the idea of making more room in Britain for a system of laws that is premodern in the most pejorative of senses – inflexibly irrational, brutally patriarchal, utterly inimical to the concept of individual freedom.
This comes, of course, on the heels of similar malarkey from the supreme head of the country’s established church.
Somebody explain this to me. How can a man reach such a position without having more of a sense of responsibility to the system of laws he has sworn to uphold? How is it that a country which committed itself to fight the Nazis on the seas and oceans, in the air, on the beaches, on the landing grounds, and in the fields and streets, can give in to jihadist Islam in the courtrooms without so much as an uneasy clearing of the throat?
Happy Independence Day.
July 3, 2008 (2:47 A.M., CET): Oslo’s Gay Pride Parade took place on Saturday. A couple of days earlier, I heard that, for the first time in Norway, several gay Muslims would be marching – though, for obvious reasons, they would be concealing their identities by wearing niqab, those Muslim garments that cover everything except the eyes.
Early Saturday morning a friend told me something even more spectacular: during the parade, as a protest against Islamic oppression of women and sexuality, Sara Azmeh Rasmussen – a gutsy Syrian-born lesbian whom I met for the first time a couple of weeks ago, but whom I’ve long admired from afar – was going to burn a niqab. As it turned out, however, Sara was prevented from setting fire to the niqab – not by Muslim radicals, mind you, but by Norwegian police. This two-minute report by TV2’s all-news channel was surprisingly frank about things that the Norwegian press doesn’t usually like being frank about. Here’s my translation:
Reporter: The traditional gay parade in Oslo today. A colorful fireworks display with thousands of liberated gay people.
But not all of them are equally liberated. Among the participants are covered Muslim gays, who wish to show that they do, in fact, exist.
Sara Azmeh Rasmussen is one of them. She is a social commentator and writer. Today the plan is to take the statements one step further.
Sara: Right now I’m very nervous. That I must say.
Reporter: Rasmussen will cover herself, equipped with lighter fluid and a lighter. Her goal is to burn the niqab in a personal statement during the parade.
Sara: It is a harsh criticism of a symbol of the oppression of women, first and foremost. Plus in this context, where gay Muslims don’t dare show their faces, it’s also to say that we refuse to let ourselves be governed by fear.
Reporter: Many Muslim gays experience threats and violence, forced marriage, harassment and ridicule, both from Muslim leaders and their own families.
Woman in niqab: I have no problem showing my face but it’s the consequences we’re scared of, and we want to show that we’re here.
Sara: This is above all a way of supporting freedom of speech, which is now under pressure from radical forces.
Reporter: Rasmussen says expression was effectively put a stop to today – not by radical forces but by Norwegian police.
Sara (to police): …we don’t dare show our identity openly. It is this context in which you hinder this…(inaudible)…
Sara (to reporter): I think it is totally unreasonable that burning an oppressive item of clothing should be illegal when it is legal for fundamentalist Muslims to burn a Norwegian flag. I feel, actually, unfree right now.
In short: the police stopped her from burning the niqab – this in a city where I’ve seen the police stand by while members of the far-left group Blitz defaced with spray paint the front of a government office building with anti-Israeli slogans.
It’s breathtaking: while any number of privileged, high-profile Norwegian writers, journalists, editors, politicians, etc., are finding very slick, slippery, and self-flattering ways to make their own cowardice in the face of Islamic bullying and intolerance look like courage, this small, solitary woman is out there on the front lines saying and doing the very things that they should be saying and doing. Can they actually look at a videotape like this and not be profoundly ashamed of themselves?
July 2, 2008 (11:53 P.M., CET): Late this afternoon, in a schoolyard in the Norwegian town of Bygland, a 31-year-old mother of four was stabbed to death by her husband. She had left him, and found a new male companion, and her husband had consequently threatened to kill her; accordingly, she had been given shelter at a crisis center and outfitted with a body alarm. Yet it was to no avail; her husband tracked her down (according toFedrelandsvennen she, her male companion, and her four children were attending a meeting at the school at the time), and stabbed her, and when she tried to run away he chased her and caught her and stabbed her some more and she died. And he did all this, reportedly, in the near vicinity of, and perhaps in full view of, the woman’s male companion and her four children.
With stories like this – which, alas, are increasingly commonplace in Scandinavia – the only mystery is: how far down in the article (if at all) will the reporter mention the salient fact? In VG, we don’t learn till the sixth paragraph that the woman was “of Iranian origin” and that her new lover was Norwegian; in Dagbladet, this info is stuck in the last paragraph, along with the fact that the husband (surprise!) was also Iranian; Fedrelandsvennenputs these details in paragraph three. In Aftenposten, Norway’s closest thing to a newspaper of record, the national origins of the murderer and victim aren’t mentioned at all. Nope, just an isolated incident, a jealous husband (after all, husbands get jealous everywhere in the world, don’t they?), a family tragedy – no cultural lessons here, folks! Then again, perhaps the editors at Aftenposten figured that nobody in Norway needed to be told that these people were from a Muslim country: so many of these brutal “honor”-driven butcherings have occurred on Norwegian soil in recent years that by this point anyone can figure out what’s going on just from the headline (and meanwhileAftenposten doesn’t take any risk of offending anybody else who might own a knife…).
June 30, 2008 (2:13 P.M., CET): A glimpse at the perverse pecuniary priorities of official Norway. Tax levels here are sky-high; the government takes in huge amounts of dough. Yet though it has enough cash to subsidize all kinds of dubious (and worse) individuals, activities, and organizations that shouldn’t be state-supported in the first place – such as, say, the Islamic Council – the things they should be paying for are dying on the vine for lack of funding. Recently there’s been much discussion in the media about how the government’s chronic refusal to budget enough money for the military has led to a scandalous level of unpreparedness. (This article by Kristoffer Gustavsen is subheaded “Norway’s Defense Is Falling to Pieces.”) And today comes yet another story reflecting the well-known fact that the police are in a similar bind: a woman who took her 21-year-old daughter to an Oslo police station to report a rape says that they were made to wait for four hours and then sent home without filing a report: “we were told to come back in a few days or a week, since they didn’t have enough people to deal with the matter.”
* * *
I just took the party-preference test here and got the following results:
Christian Democrats 28%
Socialist Left 22%
Note, however, that while the quiz includes questions about day care, the EU, oil drilling, carbon emissions, the state church, forest preservation, and township consolidation, there’s nothing (aside from a single question about asylum seekers) related to the major problems facing Norway and Europe today: the utter failure of integration policies, the continued massive levels of Muslim immigration (mostly through family reunification, not asylum), and the continent’s ongoing Islamization. This omission is, of course, no surprise: while the media here are preoccupied with the issues mentioned in the quiz, they sit back in silence, for the most part, as the real crisis rolls on.
June 27, 2008 (6:16 P.M., CET): Earlier this month, Tariq Ramadan was invited to Oslo to spread the love. Thank God I didn’t know about it beforehand, or I would’ve felt obliged to go. It’s bad enough watching this stuff on video; being there would’ve been torture. But this stuff is still worth a look, because, mind-numbing though it may be, it’s highly instructive to see Ramadan in action.
Look, for example, how he spends the whole first eight-minute You Tube chunk saying…absolutely nothing. Nothing! His purpose is partly to talk out the clock (saying nothing in as many ways as possible is, after all, safer than being explicit about his own beliefs) and partly to create an image of himself as reasonable, restrained, careful, meticulous, scholarly, unthreatening – the better, of course, to obscure the brutality, violence, irrationality, and intolerance of the ideological confrères for whom he’s fronting.
So repetitive is he that when I finished watching the first part and started playing the second, my partner, who was elsewhere in the room half-listening, said: “Did you put on the first part again by mistake?”
The brilliance of Ramadan’s method is this: he does an incredible job of implying that he basically shares the liberal sympathies of the non-Muslims in the audience and that his entire project is about getting his fellow Muslims to think this way, too – all the while never explicitly saying anything of the kind. Yes, he critically engages some traditional Muslim views, but for the most part he does so in an exceedingly vague manner, repeatedly referring to ideas that should be discussed more thoroughly, attitudes that require further study, interpretations that need to be re-examined, re-evaluated, and re-thought, etc., etc., etc. After a while it’s like listening to one of those recordings of the sounds of the ocean that are supposed to lull you to sleep.
Want to wake up? Just read Paul Berman’s definitive article on Ramadan. You’ll see exactly where he’s coming from and exactly what kind of “re-thinking” he has in mind.
June 27, 2008 (4:23 P.M., CET): In the latest issue of Standpoint, mentioning Norwegian novelist Dag Solstad’s recent attack on freedom of expression, I noted that “Solstad’s colleagues offered polite demurrals.” In fact, since I filed that piece several highly placed members of Norway’s cultural elite have essentially seconded Solstad’s thumbs-down on free speech.
For example, Andreas Skartveit, who has been director-general of NRK (the powerful state-owned Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation) and chairman of Gyldendal, a major publishing house, complained the other day in an op-ed that Per Edgar Kokkvold, head of the Norwegian Press Association, calls free speech “sacred.” This, Skartveit argued, is the problem: we’ve made free speech holy, and are clinging to this new “religion” in an unhealthy way. Skartveit argued for what he plainly saw as a more historically sophisticated view: “The world is changing. It always has been. Sacred things come and go…Once it was the kings who fought for our faith, as the Swedish Gustavus Adolphus, the lion of the North, fought for Protestantism. Now it is prime ministers, such as Denmark’s Fogh Rasmussen, today’s lion of the North, who fight for our new faith, freedom of expression.”
Skartveit called this determination to fight for free speech “scary.” No, what’s scary is that Fogh Rasmussen is essentially alone among European prime ministers in taking responsible steps against the gradual closing down of liberty. What’s scary is that the head of a major publishing house can draw a fatuous moral equivalence between a so-called “religion” founded on individual freedom – the “religion,” that is, of the Enlightenment, the U.S. Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – and oppressive faiths that restrict expression, subordinate women, and demand the execution of apostates. As Hans Rustad points out, this isn’t the first time recently that we’ve heard somebody in Norway complain that freedom of expression has become a secular religion – Muhammed Usman Rana, the Muslim student leader who refuses to reject the death penalty for gay people, has made the same argument.
Solstad, Skartveit, and Rana aren’t alone. Apropos of the Danish cartoons and other such actions, Janne Haaland Matlary, a politician and author whom I’ve long considered an intelligent, well-informed contrarian voice in Norway, argued in a recent op-ed that “it is both stupid and dangerous to challenge others by insulting them.” And Anders Giæver, the newly anointed U.S. correspondent for Norway’s largest paper, VG, made a similar argument in a magazine piece last weekend (no link).
I assume there’ll be more of this sort of thing down the line. At this point, however, I must say that it’s striking, if in an altogether gruesome and dispiriting way, to see one member after another of a free country’s elite rise up and, as it were, declare – proudly, firmly, defiantly – “I’m not Spartacus!”
June 25, 2008 (23:16 P.M., CET): I wrote on Sunday night about a brutal gay-bashing that took place here in Oslo on Saturday night. It now turns out that there was another brutal gay-bashing the night before. Two guys left the gay bar London Pub at around 2:30 AM on Friday night. On their way home, they were assaulted outside another gay bar, Naken, by two guys who looked Middle Eastern. One of the two victims, whose name is Cengiz, is himself a gay Muslim.
“They said nothing to us,” Cengiz tells Gaysir. They just punched him and his friend in the face multiple times and kicked the friend. “This happened,” notes Cengiz, “in the street” (a busy street, by the way) “so all of us could have been run over.” There were several patrons from Naken on the sidewalk nearby; none intervened.
After the assailants left, a badly battered Cengiz and his friend headed for the E.R., where a doctor, also a “foreigner” (in Oslo, this generally means a Muslim), was less interested in what had been done to Cengiz than in Cengiz’s ethnicity. The doctor asked “where I was from ‘originally.’ I felt that the doctor was condescending.”
“I don’t know what their motivation was,” Cengiz says about his assailants. Readers’ comments on the story make it clear that at least some gay people understand very well what the motivation was. “This is what happens when one imports hundreds of thousands [sic] of intolerant Muslims!” one commenter writes. More typically, another commenter – who identifies himself as a gay Muslim and a friend of Cengiz – warns against generalizing about Muslims. (Thus do many gay Muslims themselves deny the violent antigay sentiments with which their coreligionists are infected.) Other PC commenters nag that the article (simply by reporting on an assault!) “stigmatizes…Muslims” and that “there are homophobes in all groups.”
This story appears at Gaysir, the main Norwegian gay website; I haven’t seen mention of it elsewhere. The reporter, Bjørn Lecomte, writes that there have been several other cases in Oslo “this summer” of gay people being beat up, but that the victims haven’t made a point of coming forward in the media. I might add that without such aggressiveness on the part of victims of gay-bashing, the major media here certainly aren’t about to make a big story out of these assaults.
As I mentioned, these two guys were beaten up outside Naken after leaving London Pub at 2:30 AM. That night my partner and I were at London Pub, too. We left at 3:00 AM, and we walked past Naken on our way home.
June 22, 2008 (23:49 P.M., CET): Last night saw yet another brutal gay-bashing in Oslo by “two people of foreign origin,” which doesn’t mean Swedes. Before the assault, the two victims – one of whom, Knut Øyvind Hagen, has participated three times, as singer and songwriter, in the Norwegian finals of the Eurovision Song Contest – met the “two people of foreign origin” in a kebab joint in the predominantly Muslim neighborhood of Grønland. The TPOFO represented themselves as being gay and asked Hagen and his friend about being gay. They had what Hagen describes as a “nice conversation.” Then Hagen and his friend left. The TPOFO followed them out and beat the hell out of them. “There was blood everywhere,” said Hagen, “and at first I thought my friend was dead.”
Hey, let’s fly in Noah Feldman to explain to Hagen and his friend that (as he wrote in his Times piece today) “a hallmark of liberal, secular societies is supposed to be respect for different cultures, including traditional, religious cultures – even intolerant ones.”
June 22, 2008 (6:22 P.M., CET): Thanks to people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, websites like Jihad Watch and Little Green Footballs, a handful of mainstream journalists and editors who (unlike many of their colleagues) believe in telling even highly uncomfortable truths, and (if I may say so) books like my own While Europe Slept, more and more Americans have a very good understanding of what’s going on in Europe today vis-à-vis Islam. Yet even now, in the wake of the Madrid and London bombings, the van Gogh murder, the Danish cartoon riots, etc., etc., the New York Times is still in there pushing the outrageously transparent, thousand-times-discredited lie that the rising discomfort of many Europeans over the growth of Islam in their midst is entirely a product of irrational bigotry.
Noah Feldman’s argument rests entirely on the brazen suppression of mountains of evidence. Nor does he add anything new to the tattered old argument he’s recycling. It’s especially bizarre, moreover, to see this meretricious nonsense in the same magazine that last summer ran a piece by Mark Lilla acknowledging that Islam does indeed represent a major challenge to Western values – but arguing that, if we wish to live in peace with its adherents, we have no choice other than to compromise our post-Enlightenment heritage in profound ways.
The Times, then, will give a prominent platform to those, like Feldman, who paint European Muslims as victims of bigotry, pure and simple. It will also provide space to those, like Lilla, who recognize the growth of Islam in the West as a genuine threat to liberty – but who counsel appeasement. What the Gray Lady has no room for, however, is those who agree with Lilla that Islam is a threat – but who, unlike him, believe that our hard-won legacy of freedom is precious and worth fighting for and that the cultural jihad we’re now facing should therefore be resisted at all costs.
June 18, 2008 (5:45 P.M., CET): They don’t make movie stars like Cyd anymore.
In all of Hollywood history, is there a more elegant three minutes and sixteen seconds than this?
June 15, 2008 (7:20 P.M., CET): Reading the long, affectionate profile of Norway’s own resident terrorist, Ansar al-Islam founder Mullah Krekar, by Inger Anne Olsen in this weekend’s A-magasinet (a regular supplement to Friday’s Aftenposten), I was constantly reminded of Andrea Elliott’s Pulitzer-winning New York Times profile of “American imam” Reba Shata, in which she did a great job of making a hard-core Islamist preacher in New York look like a Muslim version of Father O’Malley in Going My Way. Though Shata was no terrorist (only a big supporter of Hamas), Olson’s portrait of Krekar is – in style, tone, and strategy – of a piece with Elliott’s three-parter on Shata, turning the mullah (whom even the U.N. recognizes as a security threat) into a harmless, lovable guy whom we’re apparently meant to view as having been terribly wronged and misunderstood.
Not to oversell the similarities, but it’s interesting to compare the way the two pieces begin. Here’s how Elliott opened her profile of Shata:
The imam begins his trek before dawn, his long robe billowing like a ghost through empty streets. In this dark, quiet hour, his thoughts sometimes drift back to the Egyptian farming village where he was born.
But as the sun rises over Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, Sheik Reda Shata’s new world comes to life. The R train rattles beneath a littered stretch of sidewalk, where Mexican workers huddle in the cold. An electric Santa dances in a doughnut shop window. Neon signs beckon. Gypsy cabs blare their horns.
The imam slips into a plain brick building, nothing like the golden-domed mosque of his youth.
And here’s the opening of Olsen’s portrait of Krekar:
Once a week Norway’s most deported man leaves his home. Mullah Krekar hurries along the streets of Grønland. Exhaust fumes drift over from Nylandsveien, where a line of Norwegians [in their cars] are eager to get home for the weekend. It is after 1:30, and it’s Friday. Krekar walks, fast, to get to Friday prayers in time.
He stops in front of a shut-down paint store. Above the windows hangs an advertisement for Strax and Drygolin. Krekar takes a white skullcap out of his pocket and covers his head. Ready for prayer. Just a piece of paper on the door tells what’s inside: “Mescid.” A transcription of the Arabic word for mosque. This is where the Badi-ul-Zaman congregation worships.
Like Shata, Krekar has a long line of Muslims waiting to ask him questions about how to live life in accordance with Islamic scriptures. In his case, he receives and answers the questions online, at home. When Olsen asks him whether his answers are “fatwas,” Krekar laughs and explains, “I don’t call them fatwas, because after Rushdie the West still thinks that fatwa is a synonym for death sentence. But yes, I issue fatwas.” (Nothing like a little Rushdie humor from a terrorist.)
In Elliott’s piece, she summed up Shata’s (scary) beliefs and politics as briefly and innocuously as possible, while devoting lots of space to cozy material that was plainly meant to humanize the guy. Olsen does precisely the same with Krekar, serving up one item after another designed to play on reader sympathy. For example, she tells us that though Krekar loves his faith and strives (in her words) “to help those who already believe to find their way back to the narrow path,” Krekar’s own mosque recently asked him to stop speaking at Friday services – the indignity! – supposedly because they don’t want to “mix politics and religion.” (There’s a first.) Another source of humiliation: Krekar has no work permit, so his wife has to support him. (She works – where else? – at a day-care center.) “She must be both the woman and the man,” Krekar says. He’s not allowed to use the national health-care system, except in emergencies. And unlike his wife and kids, he has no Norwegian passport.
Like Elliott, Olsen piles on the family-man stuff. When the efforts to deport Krekar were making headlines in Norway, she writes, things got really tough for his youngest kid, but the folks at his school helped a lot: “The father speaks long and warmly about how Hersleb [School] has protected and supported the boy.” This whole passage is written in such a way as to make Krekar seem like a victim – poor guy, just trying to live in peace with his family! – when the responsible journalistic approach would have been to remind readers of the crimes against humanity, committed by poor old Krekar himself, that were ultimately responsible for the headline blitz that disrupted his son’s life.
Also like Elliott, Olsen goes out of her way to depict her subject’s family as integrated (the wife works! the older son shakes women’s hands!). We’re plainly meant to get the message that his kids are all good students – but reading about how the three older ones are studying pharmacy, medicine, and Arabic, all I could think was: well, they’re sure luckier than the children in the old country whom their dad ordered beaten, tortured, and killed.
None of which is mentioned by Olsen, of course. Though, like Elliott, she glancingly sums up the dicier stuff – enough, at least, to be able to point to the relevant passages and say: “See, I wrote about that!” – she shares Elliott’s skill at euphemizing, minimizing, and putting the sunniest possible spin on things. Hence the main point she makes about Krekar’s past is that he’s a patriot: “His concern is Kurdistan, Kurdistan, Kurdistan.” (Just to make sure we get it, she repeats this triple refrain later in the piece.) Yet for all his love for his homeland, Olsen tells us, Krekar has also developed an affection for Norway – so much affection, he says, that he personally ordered that a planned terrorist attack on Norway be called off. He declines to offer any details. Olsen, who shows no sign of doubting this or anything else he tells her, doesn’t seem to grasp that Krekar’s claim to be privy to terrorist plans – and to be in a position to quash them – rather undermines her own effort to paint him as a harmless retiree. (She appears to accept without question his much disputed claim to have quit Ansar al-Islam years ago.) No, Olsen serves this tidbit up not to demonstrate that Krekar still wields power – just as the U.S. claims – but to show how much he loves Norway.
Olsen, in short, waxes extraordinarily sympathetic throughout. But she really breaks out the violins when she gets around to the topic of Krekar’s “self-imposed house arrest” (he supposedly fears kidnapping or assassination). In an apparent paraphrase of his plaints, she tells us that
neither his need for air nor for physical movement [is] satisfied. That he lacks a community, lacks freedom from anxiety and fear. That he seeks human dignity, which he has lost. That he fled [Iraq] in order to be able to fly, but now sits here, with his wings clipped.
Well, this is a tad irritating. Of course you’d never know it from reading Aftenposten, or from pretty much any other Norwegian newspaper, but across Europe, an increasing number of writers, journalists, and politicians – such as Fiamma Nirenstein in Italy and Robert Redeker in France – have bravely stood up for freedom against jihadist bullying, have been targeted as a result with death threats from Krekar’s ideological confrères, and now must be accompanied everywhere they go by armed guards. What Norwegian newspaper has profiled any of these valiant defenders of liberty with the detail and sympathy that Olsen lavishes on this terrorist?
Olsen even has the audacity to quote, without comment, Krekar’s complaint that “It looks as if I even have lost my right to speak freely.” Never mind that the Norwegian news media and book industry have, all along, been obscenely eager to provide Krekar with a forum. In fact Olsen’s article is only the very latest example of what has become a distinctive Norwegian literary genre – the journalistic sob story about poor old Mullah Krekar. Though Aschehoug, a respected publishing house, issued Krekar’s memoirs in 2004 (and gave it a great PR push, too), Norwegian publishers have yet to bring out a translation of any of the books by critics of Islam that have come out in English in the last few years.
Olsen also wants us to know that for all his burdens, Krekar is full of good humor:
He gives a little laugh…
He smiles at the two of us who have come from Aftenposten…
…with a smile, [he] admonishes the photographer: “Please don’t take pictures of me from below. My wife gets so upset when I have such a big nose in all the pictures.”
….[he] laughs heartily…
He laughs, yet again.
Finally, there’s Krekar’s take on 9/11 – in the course of which we also get a taste of Olsen’s take on Fallujah, which is (surprise!) completely consistent with that of the most virulently anti-American, pro-insurgent propagandists:
Can Krekar understand the West’s reaction to September 11? “I can.” But for Krekar, September 11 is only one of several dates when mass murders of civilians took place. Many were killed on the three days in November 2004 when the U.S. set in motion Operation Phantom Fury against the Iraqi city of Fallujah. The Study Center for Human Rights and Democracy (SCHRD) in Fallujah estimates between 4000 and 6000 killed, most of them civilians. Krekar goes further, and thinks that 22,000 died. “Wouldn’t it be a normal reaction for 22,000 brave men from Falluja to come now and take down 22,000 more towers in the U.S.?” he asks.
In short, more of the same from the Norwegian media.
June 13, 2008 (2:49 P.M., CET): This morning the winners of the design competition for a new main railroad station for Oslo were announced. Here is an artist’s rendering of the planned building. The reporter who wrote the article raised the issue of influence, and got this reply from one of the architects:
What are you inspired by?
The station hall itself has an arch theme and is inspired by classical railway stations. We want a modern expression in traditional dress.
For many readers, however, the first thing that came to mind on seeing the picture was not Gare du Nord or Waterloo Station. “I was in Dubai last year and I have to say that [this] would have fit in well there,” one reader writes in the comments field. Another asks: “Will the towers point toward Mecca? Will women be allowed in?”
June 11, 2008 (6:22 P.M., CET): Moments ago the Norwegian Parliament approved full same-sex marriage. Gratulerer med dagen!
June 10, 2008 (3:05 P.M., CET): I’ve exchanged a few e-mails today with Jennifer Delano, the organizer of that Queen’s Day fashion show in Amsterdam. She’s been very gracious about answering my questions, and allowing me to share some of her comments.
I asked if there were any new developments in the case. No, there aren’t. The police are looking for witnesses but “nothing has happened so far.”
In reply to my reference to the Queen’s Day “incident,” she said “I wish it was just an incident,” meaning that it wasn’t an isolated instance. She quoted Mike as saying that he was glad that he had been attacked while walking on a catwalk because now at least “someone listens to me” when he talks about anti-gay violence.
Apropos of the fact that only one guy had stood up for Mike, I asked how many people had been present at the show. She said that a lot of people had been present, “and I mean a lot! But in Holland a lot of violence has to happen before someone takes action.”
She told me that after Queen’s Day the Amsterdam police, government, and COC (the Dutch gay organisation) “got a lot of criticism” and “changed the way they handle antigay violence. From now on they will work harder when it comes to violence and the protection of people who could be threatened by antigay violence.”
Finally, I asked how Mike is doing. She replied: “Mike is doing kind of okay. His nose was broken and they tried twice to put it back like it was before, but it is still not okay. He has had to quit his modeling career for more than half a year and hopes that he will be back one day.”
Reading about Jennifer in the last day or so, I can see what a busy woman she is, and so I’m especially impressed by the efforts she made in the days after the assault, and is continuing to make, to get the news out about this assault and about the broader issue of antigay violence. May her numbers increase in that troubled city.
June 10, 2008 (10:10 A.M., CET): Yesterday I searched the websites of all the major Dutch newspapers for any coverage of the Queen’s Day assault, finding nothing. But since I happened to have exchanged e-mails in the last few days with a reporter for NRC Handelsblad, which is a major paper, I asked him if NRC had run anything on the incident. He sent me an 300-word article that doesn’t appear on the NRC site. I don’t know anything about its placement in that day’s paper. But anyway, here it is, with my rough translation (and bracketed comments) in red: [Note, May 30, 2016: What was in red is now in italics]
Opstootje bij show homo ‘s in A’dam
Door een onzer redacteuren
Amsterdam, 2 mei.
Street disturbance at a gay show in Amsterdam
By one of our editors
Amsterdam, 2 May
Tijdens een modeshow voor homotolerantie in Amsterdam hebben allochtone jongeren op Koninginnedag een mannelijk model geslagen en onzedelijk betast.
During a Queen’s Day fashion show for gay tolerance in Amsterdam, immigrant youths beat and indecently touched a male model.
Het 19-jarige slachtoffer is gisteravond in het ziekenhuis behandeld voor een gebroken neus. Dit heeft de organisator van de modeshow, Jennifer Delano, vanmorgen gezegd.
Last evening the 19-year-old victim was treated in the hospital for a broken nose, Jennifer Delano, the organizer of the fashion show, said this morning.
Het slachtoffer zou vandaag aangifte doen bij de Amsterdamse politie. De politie is al een onderzoek begonnen. “Wij treden hard op tegen geweld tegen homoseksuelen”, zegt een woordvoerder.
The victim made a statement today to the Amsterdam police. The police have begun an investigation. “We act fast against violence against gays,” said a spokesperson.
De homomodeshow vond plaats in de Utrechtsestraat. Volgens Delano brachten ‘blanke jongeren’ de Hitlergroet, toen een donker model voorbij kwam. Daarna begon een “urban groepje Surinaamse of Antilliaanse” jongens te schelden, zegt Delano.
The gay fashion show took place in Utrechtsestraat.
[OK, I was wrong about it being on Halvemaansteeg. Makes sense: Utrechtsestraat, at the opposite corner of Rembrandtplein from Halvemaansteeg, is a wider street, with more room for a catwalk and spectators. There’s one gay bar there, a drag bar called Lellebel.] According to Delano, “‘white boys’ made a Hitler salute when a dark-skinned model went by. [Well, this is a new detail.] Then an “urban group of Surinamese or Antillean” boys started cursing,” said Delano.
Het liep uit de hand toen het slachtoffer aan het einde van de catwalk kwam. Ongeveer tien jongens “uit Noord-Afrika of het Midden-Oosten” gaven hem klappen. Toen de belaagde zich verweerde, werd hij aan een arm van de catwalk getrokken. Een man, de vriend van een van de modellen, schoot hem te hulp.
Things got out of hand when the victim reached the end of the catwalk. Approximately ten boys “from North Africa or the Middle East” hit him. When the beleaguered young man defended himself, he was pulled off the catwalk by an arm. A man, a friend of one of the models, tried to help him.
In de vechtpartij die daarop ontstond, zo zegt Delano, werd er tegen het model aangereden en werd hij betast. Uiteindelijk sloegen de deelnemers aan de modeshow op de vlucht. Gisteravond bleek dat het slachtoffer, die vanmorgen niet bereikbaar was voor commentaar, een gebroken neus heeft.
In the brawl that ensued, says Delano, the model was [the next word, “aangereden,” usually means run over by a vehicle] and groped. Finally the participants in the fashion show took flight. Last evening it turned out that the victim, who was not available this morning for comment, had a broken nose.
De politie heeft vanmorgen getuigen opgeroepen zich te melden. “We hopen vooral dat mensen beelden hebben gemaakt van de vechtpartij”, zegt een woordvoerder. De PVV heeft Kamervragen gesteld aan minister Plasterk (Emancipatie, PvdA).
This morning the police have summoned witnesses to file reports. “We hope that people have formed images of the brawl,” said a spokesperson. The Freedom Party [i.e. Geert Wilders’s party] has formally raised this issue with Minister Plasterk [Ronald Plasterk, a Labor Party minister whose portfolio includes gay issues].
De politie heeft op Koninginnedag in diverse steden aanhoudingen verricht. In Amsterdam waren het er ruim honderd, in Rotterdam rond de honderd. In Utrecht verrichtte de politie zeker tien aanhoudingen, en in Arnhem 26.
The police made arrests on Queen’s Day in several cities. In Amsterdam there were over a hundred, in Rotterdam around a hundred. In Utrecht the police made scarcely 10 arrests, in Arnhem 26.
De aangehouden personen maakten zich volgens de politie schuldig aan onder meer openlijke geweldpleging, wildplassen, openbare dronkenschap, belediging, mishandeling, het bekladden van een auto, het vernielen van meerdere lantaarnpalen en drugsbezit.
The crimes of which the arrested persons were found guilty, according to the police, included overt violence, public urination, public drunkenness, insult, abuse, the vandalizing of a car, the destruction of several telephone poles, and drug possession.
De politie zegt desondanks dat het een “rustige Koninginnedag” is geweest.
The police said, however, that it had been a “quiet Queen’s Day.” [!]
UPDATE, June 10, 2008 (11:35 A.M. CET): Looking again at Jennifer Delano’s website, I see that I missed part of her assemblage of media coverage of the Queen’s Day assault because I didn’t notice the teeny little arrows at the bottom of this page. They link to this page, which contains more news reports from the same week, including very brief items about the assault from the major dailies Telegraaf and NRC and the free urban paper Metro. At the bottom of this page, in turn, there’s another arrow linking to this page, on which Delano has posted a brief item from another leading daily, Trouw, and an article from Het Parool. So I owe Het Parool an apology for saying that they didn’t cover the original assault. Then again, their reporter gives prominent attention to the Hitler salute and seems eager to imply a connection between it and the beating — a spin that seems to jibe interestingly with that of the same newspaper’s article, which I cited yesterday, about the “peaceful” fashion show that took place at the Homomonument a few days later.
Bottom line: I was wrong to suggest that all of the mainstream Dutch media ignored the du Pree assault. In fact, while some of them apparently did ignore it, almost all of the rest appear to have accorded it a level of coverage that could fairly be called dismissive. In addition to being extremely brief (and perhaps this brevity explains why they don’t turn up in online searches of the newspapers’ contents), all the articles mentioned above appear to have been marginally placed, tucked away in a corner of a page or between other stories. None of them gives the assault anything remotely resembling the kind of attention I believe it should have received.
And what about follow-up? What we seem to have here is yet another example of a horrific event that was dutifully (under)reported one day and then dropped down the memory hole the next. This was the kind of incident that should not only have made major headlines but should have occasioned vigorous follow-up reporting — not to mention thoughtful editorial commentary and op-ed debate in the days that followed. If there was any such discussion in the major Dutch papers, I haven’t yet seen it. But I’ll keep looking.
June 10, 2008 (2:00 A.M., CET): In Oslo the weather isn’t often as beautiful as it was on Saturday. It was a perfect day to be out and about. As it happened, it was also the day of Musikkfest Oslo. At a couple of dozen different outdoor sites around town, various musical acts performed from noon through 11 P.M. At 6 P.M., Einar Stenseng, a terrific songwriter and performer, did four songs with his band at Birkelunden, a park in the Grünerløkka neighborhood: [picture omitted]
At the ever charming Youngstorget, [picture omitted]
we heard the last 20 minutes or so of a set by electronic musician Binärpilot, who was surprisingly interesting: [picture omitted]
At Pløens Gate, we listened to a bit of the 8:00 act, Helostratos: [picture omitted]
And then we walked up Grensen toward the declining sun and found our way to the backyard of the rock club Garage, where at 9 P.M. Charlotte & The Co-Stars did their thing: [picture omitted]
June 9, 2008 (10:00 P.M., CET): On April 30, Queen’s Day in the Netherlands (a major holiday), a gay fashion show on “a side street of Rembrandt Square” was disrupted in an alarming way. Ten young Muslim men dragged a model named Mike du Pree down from the catwalk and beat him severely, breaking his nose.
As horrible as the story itself is the fact that it only came to many people’s attention, including mine, in the last few days, and only because Dan Blatt of Gay Patriot happened to meet a Dutch lesbian, Evelyn Markus, who told him about the incident and translated for him a couple of articles about it. They had not appeared in major newspapers in the Netherlands. One of them appeared in a publication I never read. The other was in Gay Krant,which I look at when I’m in Amsterdam (there are always copies in every gay establishment) but which I never seek out on the Internet.
Dan headlines his posting “Gay Bashing in Amsterdam Goes Unnoticed in the US.” But apparently it also went unnoticed in the Netherlands, except by the gay community. Did the mainstream media even hear about this? Is it their attitude that such things are only of interest or importance to gay people?
Another appalling fact here is this: according to one of the stories, Mike du Pree was defended by “another model.” There is no mention of anyone else rushing to defend him. I don’t get it. On no day of the year is Amsterdam more crowded with people than it is on Queen’s Day. This is especially true of Rembrandtplein and the streets leading into it. I suspect the side street on which this event took place was Halvemaansteeg, a little alley that is lined with gay bars and that connects Rembrandtplein to the river Amstel. For one thing, I can’t imagine why the cops couldn’t get there in time — on days like Queen’s Day there’s always cops staked out on Rembrandtplein (usually right at the end of Halvemaansteeg, in fact) to deal with rowdies and such.
But forget the cops. How come the story only mentions du Pree being defended by “another model”? How manygay guys were at that fashion show? How many dozens or hundreds of men, on this most crowded of all days in Amsterdam, were within shouting distance of this atrocity? Did any of them do anything? Dan links to du Pree’sweb page, on which he describes himself as being between 170 and 175 cm (5’7″-5’9″) tall and as weighingbetween 50 and 55 kg (110-120 pounds). In a country where the average guy is over six feet tall, that’s a little guy. It’s likely there were gay guys at that show who were a foot taller than du Pree. Did they actually stand there and watch him get his ass kicked without trying to do anything? Certainly the gay guys must have outnumbered the Muslim gangsters. Where’s the solidarity? Where’s the initiative? This is just plain chilling.
I hope it turns out there was some resistance. But there‘s no indication in the Dutch articles that there was. And that’s the scariest part of all this, the sheer passivity. It’s like when Anna Lindh was murdered in Stockholm. People just stood there, waiting for somebody else to do something. Somebody whose job it was. Hayek was right: the capacity for resistance — the capacity of even conceiving of resistance — is bred out of people in social democracies. And it’s not as if gays in Amsterdam can say they were taken by surprise. In the last decade, conditions for gay people in that city have been heading steadily south. It was just about time for something like this to happen. Amsterdam gays should have been prepared.
And they should be angry. Very angry. For gay people around the world, Amsterdam once stood for equality of rights and freedom from fear. For any gay person in the world who‘s paying attention, the city is now the international symbol of the closing down of gay freedom in the name of Islam.
UPDATE, June 10, 2008 (1:58 A.M., CET): I see that Jennifer Delano, the organizer of the fashion show, included on her blog screen captures of a half-dozen or so media reports on the attack. Most are from marginal publications; none are from top-level national media.
It appears from a report posted on the site that the person who tried to help the model was not a fellow model but an audience member.
On the next page of Delano’s blog, one finally sees a clip from a major newspaper, Het Parool. But it’s not a story about the attack on du Pree; it’s a story about another fashion show, a week later, which also had tolerance of gay people as its theme. The event was apparently uneventful – which of course is why it was safe to report on. To be sure, the assault on du Pree is mentioned in a subordinate clause in the last sentence of the piece: “Whereas Mike du Pree less than a week ago – during a fashion show for gay tolerance on Queen’s Day – was dragged by immigrant youths from the catwalk on the Rembrandtplein, the models yesterday were welcomed by a dancing crowd.” See? A happy ending. Nothing to worry about! That’s the most one can expect from the mainstream Dutch media when something like this happens – a passing reference, days later, in a story framed in such a way as to suggest that the event was a minor fluke and that everything’s all right again.
May 7, 2008 (7:11 P.M., CET): In a New York Times obituary of Mildred Loving, of Loving v. Virginia fame, Douglas Martin quotes the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “When any society says that I cannot marry a certain person, that society has cut off a segment of my freedom.”
Martin also notes that “Mrs. Loving stopped giving interviews, but last year issued a statement on the 40th anniversary of the announcement of the Supreme Court ruling, urging that gay men and lesbians be allowed to marry.”
Nine years ago today, my partner and I registered as legal partners in Norway. On June 11 the Norwegian parliament will vote on whether to institute a gender-neutral marriage law, extending all marriage rights to same-sex couples.
The measure is expected to pass. If it does, we look forward to standing before yet another judge in the Oslo courthouse and exchanging our vows. As a result we’ll be recognized as spouses in several countries around the world.
Alas, that list doesn’t yet include my own country.
April 29, 2008 (11:29 P.M., CET): During the nine years and two weeks that I’ve lived in Oslo, I’ve seen the city change significantly — for the worse. I don’t remember exactly when it started reminding me of New York in the 1970s and 80s, but by now the resemblance is undeniable. Burglary, rape, gay-bashing, mugging, graffiti, vandalism: you name it, we’ve got it in spades, and it’s still on the rise. Public stabbings and gang fights have become routine. Forget for a moment the Muslim youth gangs that are responsible for a wildly disproportionate number of the crimes here: it’s now impossible to walk in broad daylight down Karl Johans Gate, the grand ceremonial thoroughfare that was once the kingdom’s pride, without being accosted by aggressive gypsy beggars who want your money (they’ve been bussed in from Rumania specifically for this purpose) and by equally aggressive drug addicts (some of who are asking for handouts, others of whom are dealing). At night, this unsavory crew is replaced by an even pushier brigade of Nigerian prostitutes, some of whom will follow you for a block or more, repeatedly (and often belligerently) demanding that you avail yourself of their services. So insistent are they that it doesn’t even help to scream: “I’m gay!” Even the pre-Giuliani Times Square area was safer and more congenial.
The statistics are dire. Last month came news that the rate of reported crimes in Oslo is now four times that of New York; last week it emerged that Oslo’s rape figures reached an all-time high in 2007; today it was reportedthat over 99 percent of street robberies in the city go unsolved. To any unblinkered individual who lives here, these statistics are no surprise. Yet civic authorities, faced with the steady erosion of law and order, exude indifference and ineffectuality. Alas, as illustrated by the vile comments made last October to a Muslim audience in Oslo by the head of Norway’s security police — who, as recounted by Rita Karlsen, bent over backwards to praise Muslims and decouple Islam from terrorism while maligning America and depicting ordinary Norwegians as ignorant, potentially violent anti-Muslim bigots — Norwegian cops are hobbled by the same mindless multiculturalism that infects their counterparts elsewhere in the West.
April 27, 2008 (6:46 P.M., CET): I was just about to post a link to my City Journal piece about creeping jihad when a fine example of that very phenomenon popped up on TV. On a program about the status of women today, Afshan Rafik, a (female) Muslim member of the Norwegian parliament for the Conservative Party, told TV2’s interviewer that under Islam women enjoy the same rights as men.
Now, any responsible journalist, of course, should know that this is an out-and-out untruth. It’s not a matter of opinion but of objective fact that a woman’s testimony in a sharia court is given less weight than a man’s, that a Muslim woman can’t marry four husbands, etc., etc. So what did the interviewer do when Rafik made this breathtakingly untrue statement? Absolutely nothing. Zilch. Nada. The beaming, approving smile on her face didn’t waver in the slightest. And the moment passed.
Nothing new here, alas: nowadays, the mainstream journalist who actually challenges such outrageous lies about Islam is a rare bird indeed.
April 23, 2008 (2:00 P.M., CET): [picture omitted]
April 17, 2008 (10:29 P.M., CET): Every so often, over the years, there have been reports that terrorist leader Mullah Krekar, who for years has been living in Oslo and collecting support payments from the Norwegian government, was finally about to be returned to his homeland of Iraq. I never believed for a moment that it would happen, given the army of scholars, judges, lawyers, activists, public officials, and others — not only in Norway but in the EU bureaucracy — who have made a sacred cause of protecting the mullah from any possibility of harm. (Never mind how much harm his continued presence in Norway may end up doing the people whose taxes pay for his upkeep.) Now, sure enough, comes news that Norway’s Minister of Labor and Social Inclusion, Bjarne Håkon Hanssen, has decided that efforts to deport Krekar are fruitless, and has thrown in the towel.
For years, the reason repeatedly given for not deporting Krekar to Iraq has been that if he was sent back, he might be put on trial and executed. Norway doesn’t believe in capital punishment, so Krekar stays. This is a nice message to send to asylum seekers — kill a few people in your homeland before you go to Norway, and you’ll be guaranteed a residency card (and generous government benefits).
Cecilie Hellestveit, an Iraq researcher at the Center for Human Rights at the University of Oslo, praises Hanssen’s decision. “Iraq is in a type of situation,” she explains, “in which an individual with a complicated past and many enemies will be in an extremely vulnerable position.” The word Hellestveit actually used to describe Krekar’s past was broket — which can be translated not only as “complicated” but as “motley,” “varied,” “confused,” “tangled,” “difficult,” or “intricate.” This, mind you, about a man who has hailed Osama bin Ladin as “the jewel in the crown of Islam,” who called the Danish cartoons a declaration of war on Islam (and declared his readiness to fight that war), who has been designated by the U.S. Treasury Department as a funder of terrorism, by the UN Security Council as an associate of Al-Qaeda, and by Norway’s own Supreme Court as a national-security threat. And, oh yes, who ordered the torture and murder of children. A “complicated past” indeed.
April 17, 2008 (3:56 A.M., CET): Some pictures of the new Norwegian Opera building in Oslo, which opened for business this week.
March 28, 2008 (2:23 A.M., CET): This editorial in De Volkskrant accuses Wilders of using totalitarian methods in his film – i.e., he’s Leni Riefenstahl. Right: he’s living with armed guards round the clock because jihadists are out to do to him what’s already been done to Fortuyn and van Gogh, and he’s the totalitarian.
The determination of so many members of the Dutch cultural elite to whitewash and legitimize the real totalitarians and to affix that label instead to truth-tellers and champions of freedom is as morally deplorable as it is socially irresponsible.
De Volkskrant sneers: “it’s not ‘five minutes to twelve,’ as Wilders would have us believe.” Yet the editorial itself reflects the terrifying rapidity of that country’s cowardly slide into submissiveness since the brief, hope-filled moment of Pim Fortuyn.
As Robert Spencer writes, “The film is accurate. Will Muslims rage against the truth?”
March 19, 2008 (11:04 P.M., CET): I was no fan of the late Bill Buckley, but a piece by him in the currentCommentary has proven surprisingly timely. In it he describes how he and others, back in the 1960s, dealt with the huge and unwelcome influence in conservative circles of the John Birch Society, whose nutbag leader Robert Welch believed Eisenhower was a Communist agent. What did Buckley do? Give a speech in which he refused to disown Welch, explaining that Welch was a part of the big, complex picture of American conservatism and that he couldn’t disown him any more than he could disown his grandmother? No, Buckley sought, through the power of the pen, to weaken the Birch Society’s influence and separate Welch from the bulk of his followers. Others, too, took part in this effort. And, over time, it worked. It’s called behaving responsibly. It’s called leadership
March 18, 2008 (11:48 P.M., CET): And now Arthur C. Clarke is dead. I still remember being awed by the movie 2001 when I saw it on first release at age 11 or 12 – the very first time I remember being moved by a work of art even though I didn’t fully understand what it was that was moving me. Not too many years later, I read, and re-read, and was haunted by, his wonderful stories “The Star” and “The Nine Billion Names of God” – both of which impressed upon me that science fiction could be literature.
March 18, 2008 (11:15 P.M., CET): Alan Wolfe: “We have been asked to reflect in the most serious of ways about the role that race plays in the life of our country. I cannot recall any leader or potential leader in the last two or three decades asking us to do that. I hope we are up to the challenge.”
Oh dear God, let us hope that we don’t fail our Beloved Leader (to Be)!
Seriously, it’s this kind of thinking about Obama that’s really the scariest stuff of all. He isn’t even president yet, but when it comes out that he’s spent the last twenty years exposing his children to racist bile, he makes a speech designed to exculpate himself and people like Alan Wolfe are suddenly wringing their hands feeling as if they’vegot something to prove to him. This is not how America is supposed to work, people. We’re not here to prove anything to our leaders. It’s not their job to tell us when to reflect or not reflect on momentous social issues. But Obama has already got so many people thinking otherwise.
March 18, 2008 (9:27 P.M., CET): Watching Obama’s speech, I winced at his equation of unspecified remarks by his maternal grandmother (“on more than one occasion [she] has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe”) with Wright’s twenty years of wacko racist harangues. “He’s throwing his grandmother under the bus,” I caught myself thinking. Reading online comments about the speech, I’ve been struck by the number of times I’ve run across that exact metaphor: “He threw Grandma under the bus!” This line from the speech has plainly resonated very strongly with a lot of people, and with good reason, for it says something important about his character – something that somehow managed to slip through all the painstakingly calculated image-mongering.
Think about it. This woman adored him, helped raise him. She’s not a public figure. She didn’t yelp racist fantasies from a pulpit. On the contrary, she was a white woman from Kansas who in the 1960s and 70s unhesitatingly embraced her half-black grandson and made real sacrifices for his sake. Partly thanks to her selflessness, Obama went on to an extraordinary, magical career. And his grandmother, in return for her years of loving devotion (a devotion Obama never received, by the way, from the Kenyan father whom he lionized in his memoir), has now been given her reward, her moment in the sun: she’s been memorialized forever and ever in the most important speech of her grandson’s career – a speech that will go down in American history – as a woman who said racist things. Period. All this as part of a cheap effort by him to justify his devotion to Jeremiah Wright.
March 18, 2008 (5:08 P.M., CET): God, what a beautifully written, beautifully put-together speech, and with a great deal of truth in it, to boot. When has any politician in recent times spoken so thoughtfully and candidly, and with such broad sympathy and understanding, about race relations in America? I didn’t agree with every word, but I agreed with a hell of a lot of it, and was more moved than I expected to be. In short, it was a terrific piece of work, and nobody can deny that Obama can be truly superb at this sort of thing. Yet it’s impossible to get beyond the fact that it took the controversy over Jeremiah Wright’s repulsive sermons to move Obama to write it. Indeed, one of Obama’s unintended accomplishments with this speech is to underscore the absurdity of the fact that a man capable of such an eloquent affirmation of America’s founding principles could have spent twenty years’ worth of Sunday mornings listening to the vile ravings of a boorish jackass. In a sense, then, this speech didn’t resolve the questions before us but only deepened them.
(Nor does it help that Obama continues to accuse commentators of caricaturing Wright when all they’re doing is quoting him.)
March 18, 2008 (3:42 P.M., CET): If Shelby Steele ran for president, I’d campaign for him.
* * *
Writer-director Anthony Minghella has died at a terribly young age. I especially loved Truly, Madly, Deeply andThe Talented Mr. Ripley. Aside from making several terrific movies, Minghella was responsible for the most literate, illuminating, and articulate commentary track I’ve ever listened to on the DVD of a film, namely Ripley.
* * *
While the supposedly liberal New York Times is busy promoting sharia law, the supposedly reactionary Front Page Magazine responsibly addresses the brutal fact that sharia means, among much else, executing people for homosexual acts. (Here’s the only mention of this topic in the whole disgraceful Times article: “The prohibition on sodomy, though historically often unenforced, makes recognition of same-sex relationships [under sharia] difficult to contemplate.” Gee, ya think?)
March 18, 2008 (1:50 P.M., CET): On second thought, I shouldn’t have referred to Jeremiah Wright as an Al Sharpton wannabe. He makes Sharpton look like Norman Vincent Peale.
March 18, 2008 (12:15 P.M., CET): Some of the defenses in recent days of Obama’s closeness to Jeremiah Wright have been eloquent and ingenious – but also thoroughly unconvincing and palpably born of desperation.
Yes, I’ve known gay people who have had a very rough time of it, and whose rejection and abuse by their parents, churches, teachers, and communities filled them with a rage and paranoia that they were unable to control – and the genesis of which was crystal clear. In such cases, compassion and understanding are not out of order. So I can understand a black person looking at a guy like Wright and thinking, “OK, this sort of psychopathology does exist in my community, and while this guy is saying reprehensible things, I know where it’s coming from, and I don’t have the heart to come down hard on him.
That doesn’t mean you give him a pulpit. That doesn’t mean you join his church and cheer him on. That doesn’t mean you choose him, out of all the ministers in Chicago, as a “spiritual advisor.” That doesn’t mean you drag your kids into his church every Sunday and force them to listen to his toxic oratory. It’s an insult to black Americans and to the black church to suggest that an intelligent black Christian in Chicago – especially one who claims to want to lead America beyond precisely this kind of poisonous rhetoric – couldn’t have come up with a better “spiritual advisor” than Jeremiah Wright.
Obama has packaged himself as the very embodiment of moral leadership. But it doesn’t take a world-class leader to stand up and walk out of a church when a minister starts saying ugly, offensive, racist things. All it requires is a modicum of decency.
March 15, 2008 (8:59 P.M., CET): There’s a right way to be a Jeremiah, but this ain’t it.
Obama wants us to believe that he’s belonged to Trinity for some twenty years but has never heard Wright preach crap like this – or perhaps has only heard a teeny bit of it. Or something like that. Do you buy this? I don’t – not for a second. And it’s deeply insulting for Obama to expect us to. This is the candidate who is supposed to be changing American presidential politics with his refreshing candor and integrity?
Just look at Trinity’s “About Us” page – this nonsense is completely of a piece with Wright’s stupid, hateful, race-obsessed ranting. For Obama to pretend that these incendiary sermons by Wright come as a surprise to him is a lie, pure and simple. I would never set foot, not as a worshipper anyway (for research purposes, yes) in a church that defined itself in such a twisted, narrow, exclusionary way and that had such a creep at the helm; Obama not only set foot in Trinity but spent twenty years there listening to this jerk preach. He let him perform his marriage and baptize his children. It’s disgusting, period.
For several years, I belonged to a church in New York which I joined partly because the music was glorious but also, and far more importantly, because the rector’s sermons did a wonderful job of explaining, in a way that made sense to me, what it meant to be a Christian. This, according to Obama, is exactly why he joined Trinity: Wright’s sermons spoke to him. Now, the rector whose sermons drew me to church every Sunday (and sometimes several times a week) was an eloquent and brilliant exponent of the Anglican tradition. From time to time I also dropped in at plenty of other Episcopal parishes in Manhattan to see what was on offer, and found that the sermons varied radically from place to place – varied in theology, politics, intelligence, style. And quality. One rector’s sermons were so wonderful (and in an entirely different way than the sermons at my own parish) that I started going to her church regularly just to hear her preach.
Anyway, my point here is simply that Chicago may not be quite as big as New York, but it’s no sleepy little burg either, and it doubtless offers ministers and churches to appeal to a wide array of theological and homiletical preferences. Briefly put, Obama could’ve joined any one of a number of churches – but he chose Jeremiah Wright’s. And he chose it because of Jeremiah Wright. He was drawn to the dude, moved by him, inspired by him. Wright isn’t (as Obama has suggested) some beloved avuncular figure whose flaky opinions Obama has tried to overlook out of affection. Nor is he just a guy who happened to run a church which Obama happened to attended because it happened, for example, to be around the corner from where he lived. No, he chose Trinitybecause of Wright’s views – and those views have strongly influenced the way he thinks about Christianity, race, America, politics. Yet Wright’s preaching, and the “About Us” material on the Trinity website, are the absolute opposite of the post-racial line Obama has been running on. What gives?
Millions have been drawn to Obama because he has seemed to them to be something more than a politician. Alas, it seems increasingly clear that in fact he’s the best, the slickest, politician of them all – one who makes even Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton look like rank amateurs. Listening to the Gipper and Slick Willie, even their most fervent supporters never forgot they were politicians; to scads of Obama’s followers, by contrast, he’s no mere politician but something closer to a prophet – and when something like this Jeremiah Wright business comes along, they’re appalled not by his long-term, intimate association with this Al Sharpton wannabe but rather by the spectacle of their incorruptible hero being subjected to the indignity of grilling by the press, as if he were just some ordinary glad-handing party hack.
I had hoped that as this race progressed, my suspicions about Obama would melt away. I would have loved to help elect the first black president of the United States. Instead, I’ve seen my suspicions increasingly confirmed. I don’t know what’s scarier – that someone who found a mentor in Jeremiah Wright has come this close to the White House or that he’s won the support of so many intelligent, principled people who, it seems, are so determined to preserve their belief in his destiny as America’s redeemer that they’ve chosen to look away from the truth.
* * *
In college I took a writing course taught by Richard Price, who had just published his first novel, The Wanderers, based on his teenage years in a tough neighborhood in the Bronx, and whose latest book is reviewed in tomorrow’s Times. Still in his early twenties then, he always showed up late for class, disheveled and hung over. He didn’t do much actual teaching. He had us read our stories aloud, then commented briefly. Once I read a story about a day I’d spent with my grandmother when I was fifteen. Our family lived in Queens and my grandmother lived on the Lower East Side, and though she spent every second or third weekend with us, it wasn’t until that day I spent with my grandmother that I really got a good picture of her world. I still remember following her up and down First Avenue that day, in and out of the butcher shop, bakery, and so forth, in each of which she chatted and haggled and laughed with the people behind the counter, sometimes in Polish, sometimes in English, sometimes in a combination of the two. By the end of the day I realized that in all my fifteen years I hadn’t had any idea what her life was like – and hadn’t even realized it! In any event, that was the gist of the story I read to Richard Price. And when I was finished, all he had to say was this: “Isn’t fifteen a little old to be spending a day with your grandmother?”
One day he had to give a reading in the faculty lounge. When the appointed hour came, Price slouched in, sat facing the assembled professoriate, and started reading from his book. The part he read was all dialogue. And it was dull as hell – just a bunch of kids in a Bronx gang jabbering away to no apparent plot purpose. It seemed to go on forever. Finally even Price himself had had enough. Looking up from the book, he said: “Who wrote this shit?”
He wasn’t invited back to teach for a second term. A couple of years later he was a successful screenwriter in Hollywood.
March 13, 2008 (5:25 P.M., CET): I angered a lot of people when I wrote in a PJM piece, posted in December, that Obama, in his memoirs, comes across as overly race-centered. Since then a number of facts about his parishchurch in Chicago and its minister, Jeremiah Wright, have come out, and it’s become clear that Obama, who has packaged himself as a post-racial politician, has for two decades been a devoted member of a house of worship that is the very embodiment of race fixation. I’ve attended a number of churches with majority black congregations, but I’ve never seen one that’s as obsessed with race as Obama’s church would appear to be, judging by its website. On the page headed “About Us,” for example, the text starts out as follows:
We are a congregation which is Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian… [ellipsis in original] Our roots in the Black religious experience and tradition are deep, lasting and permanent. We are an African people, and remain “true to our native land,” the mother continent, the cradle of civilization. God has superintended our pilgrimage through the days of slavery, the days of segregation, and the long night of racism. It is God who gives us the strength and courage to continuously address injustice as a people, and as a congregation. We constantly affirm our trust in God through cultural expression of a Black worship service and ministries which address the Black Community.
When I looked at the Trinity website a few weeks ago, after the first stories had come out about Wright’s connection to Farrakhan, it not only confirmed for me every suspicion I’d had about Obama from his memoirs; this stuff was even worse than I would have expected. Now ABC News has an informative piece about Wright’s sermons, which at this point come as no surprise. The response from Obama’s camp is utterly inadequate, just as was the case when the Farrakhan story came out. It’s important to keep in mind here that Wright doesn’t just happen to be the minister of a church that Obama nominally belongs to or occasionally attends; Wright and his church, as Obama himself has made clear, have played a central role in shaping Obama theology and politics. To him Wright has been a mentor, a role model, a hero. Wright makes a cameo appearance in Obama’s first book and provided the title for the second. To try to leave the impression (as Obama’s camp appears to be doing) that the views on 9/11 and other topics in the sermons dug up by ABC News are somehow incidental or peripheral to Wright’s thought or irrelevant to Obama’s admiration for him is absurd; these despicable opinions are of a piece with Wright’s entire ideology. They raise immense questions about what Obama really stands for. Even a wholesale personal repudiation of them, and of Wright, would not be sufficient: Obama owes the electorate a convincing explanation of how it is that a man with such attitudes can be his mentor.
February 21, 2008 (2:13 P.M., CET): It is reported today that Imbera, a Norwegian firm that hosts the website of Human Rights Service, removed three items from that site without notice because two of them were illustrated with Kurt Westergaard’s famous Muhammed cartoon from Jyllands-Posten and one was illustrated with a Muhammed drawing by Lars Vilks. Imbera claimed to be acting in accordance with the EU directive on electronic commerce, and law professor Jon Bing says that Imbera had not only a right but a legal obligation to do what it did. But Nils Øy of the Association of Norwegian Editors disagrees, while Per Edgar Kokkvold, head of the Norwegian Press Association, calls Imbera’s action “unacceptable,” noting that if Internet hosting services can do this to HRS they can do it to newspapers, too.
The good news is that HRS has already received an offer from Linpro AS, which hosts Jyllands-Posten, to take over its site for three years free of charge. (“Freedom of speech is important to us,” writes Linpro head Per Andreas Buer.) The bad news is that Imbera’s action is just one more sign of the ongoing erosion of free expression in Europe. As HRS observes today on its site, Norwegians are now living in a “threat culture….The government, bishops, and others don’t see that they have capitulated to this threat culture, but prefer to define it as a dialogue. But where the threats begin, the dialogue stops.”
February 10, 2008 (6:45 P.M., CET): Today Dagens Nyheter, Sweden’s largest newspaper, contains a piece by Andreas Malm about While Europe Slept, Bat Yeor’s Eurabia, Walter Laqueur’s Last Days of Europe, and Mark Steyn’s America Alone. (But mostly about While Europe Slept.) It’s more of the usual mischief: instead of seriously addressing the facts and analyses in these books, Malm is regally dismissive and derisive, relentlessly mocking the authors and caricaturing their arguments, his tone implying throughout that any concern whatsoever about the Islamization of Europe is an obvious sign of Islamophobia – period. “Bruce Bawer,” he writes, “rejoices when he reads about how the general public’s hostility toward Muslims is rising.” Just to make sure readers get the point, he links me and the other authors to far-right politicians like Jean-Marie Le Pen and Filip Dewinter and the far-right Sweden Democrats. He does note that our books have variously been praised by people like Niall Ferguson and Christopher Hitchens and nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award – but for him it’s all just a sign that Islamophobia, that dread affliction, is spreading like wildfire.
Who is this guy? According to Wikipedia, he’s a former member of Syndicalist Youth (no, it’s not a Swedish boy band), a regular contributor to a syndicalist weekly called Arbetaren, and a founder of the Swedish branch of the International Solidarity Movement. A couple of years ago he wrote a piece for Expressen explaining why he supports Hizbollah. In this corner of the world, it’s only par for the course for a major newspaper to invite a person with such a résumé to write about books like While Europe Slept – for as far as the Scandinavian media elite is concerned, Malm is the mainstream guy; it’s people like me, Ye’or, Laqueur, and Steyn who are the dangerous radicals.
(Malm’s piece wasn’t online when I checked, but here is a pdf file of today’s DN. The piece is on pages 4 and 5.)
February 8, 2008 (11:45 P.M., CET): Britain already has a blasphemy law plus its infamous let’s-not-be-beastly-to-the-Muslims law, but neither of these is enough for Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who last month recommended legislation that would “keep before our eyes the general risks of debasing public controversy by thoughtless and, even if unintentionally, cruel styles of speaking and acting.” It was baffling that any British citizen, let alone the successor to Thomas Becket, could be so enthusiastic about giving the government such sweeping (and vague) powers and could be so indifferent to the effect of such powers on the individual freedom for which Britain, in its finest hour, stood alone against just the kind of totalitarianism that Williams and his ilk seem at present so eager to appease…sorry, “accommodate.”
For it now turns out that Williams thinks that it would be just dandy to institute a parallel system of sharia law in Britain. Of course, the Islamic Sharia Council has already been adjudicating Muslim marriages and divorces in the Disunited Kingdom for years, so what Williams is proposing is, as he put it in a lecture yesterday, “a much enhanced and quite sophisticated version of such a body, with increased resources.” The flavor of Rowan +’s lecture, a masterly six thousand-word exercise in euphemism and circumlocution, is suggested by the following passage:
It would be a pity if the immense advances in the recognition of human rights led, because of a misconception about legal universality, to a situation where a person was defined primarily as the possessor of a set of abstract liberties and the law’s function was accordingly seen as nothing but the securing of those liberties irrespective of the custom and conscience of those groups which concretely compose a plural modern society.
What the Not-Always-Right Reverend seems to be saying here is that he finds it more attractive to see a human being as a submissive member of a group than as a free individual. Language like the archbishop’s, which reduces a brutal and violent human reality to a comforting academic blandness, effectively removes the sting from the fact that, for example, as the Telegraph reported a couple of weeks ago, “36 per cent of young British Muslims believ[e] that a Muslim who converted to another religion should be ‘punished by death.’” That’s sharia for you, folks, but you’d never know it from perusing Williams’ reassuringly gray, depersonalized prose, which Orwell himself might well have been describing when, in “Politics and the English Language,” he imagined
some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, “I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so.” Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:
“While freely conceding that the Soviet régime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigours which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.”
The inflated style is itself a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. Where there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms….
If you ask me, I much prefer the other Rowan, i.e. Atkinson, a.k.a. Mr. Bean and Blackadder, who to his everlasting credit was one of the few public figures in the U.K. to raise a holy stink a few years back about the proposed Racial and Religious Hatred Act, writing the following in a letter to the Times of London: “For telling a good and incisive religious joke, you should be praised. For telling a bad one, you should be ridiculed and reviled. The idea that you could be prosecuted for the telling of either is quite fantastic.”
All this comes on the heels of the news that Britain will henceforth give enhanced welfare benefits to men with two wives, provided the marriages took place in countries where polygamy is permitted. (Non- Muslim bigamy, of course, will still be punishable by law.) Sharia, in short, is breaking out all over the scepter’d isle, and it’s being ushered in by the very same people who, not that long ago, would eagerly have called you a racist for daring to suggest that such developments were just over the horizon.
January 30, 2008 (12:50 P.M., CET): According to a new study by the think tank Civita, “two of three young Norwegians between 14 and 20 years old have not heard of Pol Pot and the Gulag.” Also, 34.5% “believe Communism has contributed to increased prosperity in some places in the world.”
Aftenposten probed the historical knowledge of four 17-year-olds from Foss upper secondary school in Oslo. Some highlights:
- Aksel: “I saw a film in which Bush’s and Hitler’s speeches were compared. Frighteningly similar.”
- Anette, on her middle-school visit to Auschwitz: “I don’t think we got one single sentence of fact during the whole visit.”
- Astrid: “At our school, a lot of kids wear Communist symbols on their bags. Nobody says anything negative about Communism, including the teachers.” The kids’ image of Communism is positive, though it “went a little wrong because Stalin was a jerk.”
The problem here, suggests the article, is that schools devote too little time to history. But this isn’t why these kids think Communism is cool and don’t know about the Gulag and connect Bush with Hitler. Obviously teachers are using history classes as opportunities to serve up pro-Communist and anti-U.S. propaganda. Will anyone do anything about this? Like who, for instance? These teachers’ views are standard issue among the Norwegian cultural elite.
(By the way, I blogged about a similar study in Sweden last May 10.)
January 29, 2008 (11:03 A.M., CET): In 2007, the most popular name for newborn boys in Oslo, if you combine all the possible spellings, was Muhammed.
January 29, 2008 (10:28 P.M., CET): Which is more impressive: a presidential candidate helping a rival out with a whispered word in the midst of heated debate, or an actor drawing your attention away from himself to the brilliance of another, just deceased actor while accepting an award?
January 29, 2008 (2:05 A.M., CET): I watched a very moving documentary tonight on Norway’s TV2. It traced the first three years in Norway of a refugee family from the Congo, and was narrated in Norwegian by the family’s eight-year-old son, Lolo. The documentary showed the family being interviewed by Norwegian immigration authorities at a refugee camp, showed their thrill at receiving the news that their application had been approved, and showed their awe at the bounty that awaited them in their new northern home – the free apartment, the regular payouts from the welfare office, all the stuff in the stores.
But then we saw their gradual disillusionment. They’re nice, presentable people who want to integrate – but their neighbors won’t even talk to them. Their kids go to school, clean and neatly dressed and eager to make friends – only to be told by the other kids that blacks are dirty. Both parents are eager to work – they’re proud and hate taking handouts (a real man, the father says urgently, earns his own living) – but nobody will give them a job. Both take courses in Norwegian and work hard to learn the language, and are given month-long temp jobs as part of the courses (him on a farm, her at an old-folks’ home). The effect of the jobs on them is visible – they feel whole again, human again. But when they ask to be kept on at these jobs after the month is over, they get turned down flat.
Along the way, the mother sinks into depression, has a breakdown, and is hospitalized. Meanwhile the father, plainly overwhelmed and all but robbed of his sense of manhood, keeps trying to hold up his head. What is impressive is that even with all the disappointment and abuse, they continue to try to fit in. On May 17, they dress up and go downtown, the kids excitedly waving Norwegian flags, and try to take part in the Constitution Day celebrations – but even people they know from the neighborhood cross the street to avoid them.
The point of the documentary was obviously to win sympathy for immigrants. And this was one family that deserved sympathy. The documentary makers did a wonderful job at picking their subjects. They chose an extremely charming, decent, photogenic, and empathic family. And they chose a family of, ahem, Christians – a family eager (as most immigrants to Norway are not) to integrate, to work, to learn the language, to befriend their neighbors, to see their kids playing with Norwegian kids, to become Norwegians themselves. The spectacle of Norwegians refusing to let them do this is heartbreaking.
Europe desperately needs immigrants to augment its dwindling work force. Over the last generation it has taken in millions of people who won’t or can’t work. Both the husband and wife in this family are good, solid, intelligent people who are eager to put in a day’s labor and pull their own weight. Any country would be lucky to get them. It’s immigrants like these who made America what it is. But while the Norwegian government, like others in Europe, is willing to keep shoving money at people like this for the rest of their lives, employers don’t want to hire them and their neighbors don’t want to be friends with them.
Norwegians are constantly congratulating themselves on how wonderfully free of racism they are, especially compared to you-know-who. I’m not an Obama supporter, but one of the pleasures of seeing him succeed in the last few days (especially his overwhelming support among young whites in South Carolina) has been watching Norwegians trying to figure out how the hell this could happen. Obama’s triumph violates their most cherished stereotypes about the U.S. It must be forcing a lot of them to look inward, with discomfort. For however non-racist they may like to think they are, a black prime minister of Norway is something they can’t even conceive of.
Thanks to the TV2 documentary, that family from the Congo will most likely be OK now. Now they’re celebrities. They’ll get job offers. Their neighbors will suddenly want to be their friends. It’s a nice thought. But it would be nice, too, if the documentary brought about a shift in Norwegian immigration policy generally. For what Norwegians should take away from this program, if they don’t already realize it, is that that the problems they’ve witnessed with immigrants over the last couple of decades aren’t problems of race – they’re problems of religion.
January 24, 2007 (10:30 A.M., CET): Early one morning during my recent visit to Rome, I answered my wake-up call, put on CNN at low volume, and was about to drift back to sleep when the anchorwoman jolted me fully awake by mentioning the name of a friend of mine, Terry Teachout.
I looked at the TV. There was a still picture of Terry onscreen, and the anchorwoman was quoting him about something having to do with North Korea. By the time I figured out how to turn up the sound they’d moved on to the next item.
I’ve since caught up with the story, which is this: in an effort to help improve U.S. relations with Kim Jong-Il, the New York Philharmonic has agreed to perform in Pyongyang. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hillsays of the planned concert, “I hope it will be looked back upon as an event that helped bring that country back into the world.” Plenty of folks with political power and cultural influence apparently share Hill’s enthusiasm. Terry doesn’t. Neither do I. I agree with every word of this.
Should our goal, after all, be simply to bring North Korea “back into the world” – presumably meaning, among other things, opening up the dictator’s realm to tourists and thereby helping to prop up his regime with foreign cash – or to do everything possible to hasten the end of the dictator’s rule? It seems to me that the major achievement of cultural exchanges with the USSR was to legitimize the Soviet system in the eyes of people in the West. Why should it be any different in this case?
* * *
Norwegian blogger Jan Haugland writes that he never heard of “brutalist” architecture before reading this article. I’m not sure I ever heard of it either, but as soon as I saw the word I thought immediately of my alma mater, Stony Brook, where several structures, including dormitories I lived in, were ugly concrete monstrosities that seemed to scream out: “Life sucks! Beauty is a lie!” Living, eating, studying, and attending classes in these bunkers – which, it turns out, are indeed products of brutalism (the aptest name ever) – one felt one was being given a big, undeserved daily “fuck you” by some architect who’d designed these things, cashed the check, and then gone off to live in pleasanter surroundings.
Then again, some of the buildings depicted on Wikipedia’s brutalism page look downright cozy compared to this neo-Stalinist charmer here in Oslo, where the Labor Party (appropriately enough) has its headquarters…
* * *
I heard this story a couple of weeks ago, but only just now found out that it took place in a building I once lived in. I remember the doorman. Very nice guy. I don’t recall him having bad breath, but then again I never got close.
December 21, 2007 (1:45 A.M., CET): I like Dan Blatt’s list of holiday books for gay readers, partly for reasons that are obvious….
December 19, 2007 (8:30 A.M., CET): Mark Steyn is being hauled before two different human-rights panels in Canada – one a “commission,” the other a “tribunal” – for expressing opinions about Islam.
I can’t find any mention of this chilling assault on free speech in either the New York Times or Washington Post. Why isn’t it front-page news in both papers, as well as all the other major dailies in North America? The reason is obvious: with few exceptions, the “respectable” media don’t want to admit that this sort of thing is happening in Western democracies. The party line is that it’s Islam’s adherents who are being harassed, not its critics – and they’re sticking to it, dammit.
As the New York Post‘s editorial points out, this attempt to silence criticism of Islam only demonstrates the validity of the very arguments for which Steyn is being persecuted.
December 16, 2007 (3:30 A.M., CET): If you’re stumped for gift ideas, here’s a reminder: While Europe Slept is out in paperback.
Also just out, from Ibn Warraq – author of the classic Why I Am Not a Muslim – is the monumental Defending the West, in which Warraq definitively decimates what he rightly calls ”the totally pernicious influence of Edward Said’s Orientalism.” As he explains, Said’s book.
taught an entire generation of Arabs the art of self-pity…encouraged the Islamic fundamentalist generation of the 1980s, bludgeoned into silence any criticism of Islam, and even stopped dead the research of eminent Islamologists who felt their findings might offend Muslim sensibilities and who dared not risk being labeled ”Orientalist.” The aggressive tone of Orientalism is what I have called “intellectual terrorism,” since it seeks to convince not by arguments or historical analysis, but by spraying charges of racism, imperialism, and Eurocentrism from a moral high ground; anyone who disagrees with Said has had insult heaped upon him.
And boy, has it worked like a charm. But if anything can put a dent in Said’s lamentable legacy, it’s this.
Speaking of legacies, coming out in January is The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism, edited by Andrew G. Bostom. His splendid earlier book, The Legacy of Jihad, put the lie to those who reflexively explain terrorist acts as responses to Western actions, rather than as part of a centuries-long attempt to conquer the world for Islam. Bostom’s new book – which is as exhaustively researched and definitive as its predecessor – does the same for those who insist that anti-Semitism is historically alien to Islam and was imported wholesale from Europe in modern times.
In a time when many high-profile academic “experts” in Islam (whether for ideological or careerist reasons, or both) have chosen to tell pretty lies, Warraqand Bostom – who work outside the Islamologist establishment (Bostom is an associate professor of medicine at Brown) – are invaluable truths-tellers.
I’ve been meaning for months to post about Diana West’s The Death of the Grown-Up, in which she absorbingly anatomizes the “arrested development” that has rendered so many Americans incapable of acknowledging the reality of – let alone responding responsibly to – the challenge that Islam poses to the free West. Faced with the fact of jihad in the post-9/11 era, all too many Americans (and Europeans) in positions of authority and influence are behaving like terrified children pulling the covers up over their eyes. “The civilization that forever dodges maturity,” West unarguably concludes, “will never live to a ripe old age.”
December 13, 2007 (11:20 P.M., CET): I just got back from Rome, where I participated in a conference called Fighting for Democracy in the Islamic World. Brave dissidents from several Muslim countries took part. So did Natan Sharansky, who awed me with his tireless dedication to freedom, his off-the-cuff eloquence, and his no-nonsense insistence on calling a spade a spade.
In my talk, I discussed how the multicultural mentality – which teaches purported liberals to turn a blind eye to even the most brutally illiberal aspects of foreign cultures – led European politicians to encourage the development on their continent of patriarchal sharia enclaves. I further noted that many European pols remain incapable of responsibly addressing or even acknowledging what they’ve wrought – including the gradual spread of sharia and its baleful consequences to European society at large. (“Permit tyranny in your midst,” I said in my talk, “and you’ll end up tyrannized yourself.”)
As if to illustrate my point, British pol Lord David Trimble, on a panel immediately following my talk, waved away my concerns with a combination of condescension and insouciance that you have to have a name like Lord David Trimble to be able to carry off. There, there, chap! No reason to worry. We’ve got things in hand. On your way, now! Cheerio!
Back at the hotel, I phoned my partner in Oslo – only to learn that moments earlier he’d been confronted at our local bus stop by two Muslim “youths.” “Are you gay?” one of them asked. When my partner confirmed that he was, the “youth” pulled a carpet knife partway out of his pocket. At this point the bus pulled up and my partner boarded it – but not before the “youth” managed to give him a powerful kick in the leg.
Europe’s condescending, insouciant politicians have a hell of a lot to answer for. And it’s only just begun.
December 9, 2007 (3:55 A.M., CET): “Jostein Gaarder recommends the Children’s Book Club.” That’s what it says on the ad above,* which is over six feet high and adorns the side of a bus shelter on Akersgata in downtown Oslo. This ad, which can be seen on public transport and in subway stations all over town, is yet more evidence that novelist Gaarder’s staggeringly anti-Semitic op-ed last year, far from ruining his rep in his homeland, made him more popular than ever. Implicit in the op-ed was not only that Israel is the most evil nation on earth but the Jews a uniquely vile people. (“We do not believe in the concept of God’s chosen people,” wrote Gaarder, author ofSophie’s World. “We laugh at this people’s caprices and weep over their misdeeds.”) Two blocks from the spot where I took this picture is the building (Møllergata 19) that served during World War II as the Gestapo’s main prison in Norway and as a site of torture.
* Note (March 13, 2008): This originally read “to the right,” not “above”: I’ve just now moved the picture for technical reasons.
December 5, 2007 (3:35 P.M., CET): When I stayed at the Djerassi artists’ colony in rural northern California in 1987, one of the other artists in residence was Paul Brach. He was a witty raconteur, full of self-irony and entertaining art-scene anecdotes. He talked about how he had the perfect artist’s name – Brach as in Braque, Paul as in Cézanne and Gaughin and Klee.
Part of the program was that after a few weeks together we were supposed to put on brief presentations for one another of the work we’d been doing there. When it was Paul’s turn, he showed us three paintings he’d done at the colony, the first two of which consisted essentially of a single curved line reaching from one side of the canvas to the other, suggestive of the rolling landscape around us, while the third showed a line that split in two halfway across the canvas, as if to suggest one line of rolling hills half hidden behind another. But he didn’t just show us the pictures – he gave us an energetic, spellbinding account of their inspiration, conception, and creation, of the choices and challenges he’d encountered during the creative process. At strategic points during this spiel he dramatically unveiled each painting in turn, in such a way as to make them seem nothing less than revelatory. It was quite a show. Whatever one ultimately made of the works themselves, his fluent description of their genesis provided fascinating insights into the artist at work. He was a classic example of the artist as New York intellectual – Delmore Schwartz in an atelier.
When it was my turn to share my work, I read a poem or two plus a long, enthusiastic essay about the novelist Glenway Wescott, which probably took the better part of an hour to read. When I finally got to the end of it there was silence, which Paul finally broke with a single dry comment: “I read The Pilgrim Hawk. Hated it. It waslapidary.”
December 5, 2007 (6:25 A.M., CET): In Amsterdam on Monday, I read several newspapers’ accounts of the latest on Geert Wilders. It can sometimes seem that Wilders is the only prominent Dutchman still alive and non-exiled who dares criticize his country’s Islamization. Now he’s the target of a broad-based effort at exclusion by members of the Dutch political and cultural establishment. Response by the public is mixed.
This effort was kicked off by Doekle Terpstra, chairman of the Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Science, who in a Friday piece in the newspaper Trouw accused Wilders of “misusing his position and freedom of speech” to divide Dutch society and called on “reasonable people” to oppose this “dangerous” creature. Terpstra has also said, “Wilders is the evil, and that evil must be stopped.”
If this comment sounds familiar, perhaps it’s because politicians and journalists talked in precisely this way about Pim Fortuyn before his murder – and Fortuyn’s murderer echoed their remarks in explaining his crime. Similarly,Dagbladet opinion editor Marte Michelet said recently that “it is absolutely crucial that [Norwegian human-rights activist] Hege Storhaug’s campaign to undermine the Muslim religious minority’s rights in Norway be stopped.” Stopped how? She didn’t say.
The iniquity of some members of Europe’s cultural elite knows no bounds.
* * *
On the plane back from Amsterdam, I turned from an article about Wilders in NRC Handelsblad to yet anotherDagbladet assault on Storhaug. Nothing new – just one more piece (this time by a Norwegian who’s studying for his Ph.D. in philosophy at the New School, of all places) that demonizes Hege by accusing her of demonizing Muslims. The author, Morten Lyngeng, explicitly compares her to the Nazis – for her view of Muslims, you see, strongly resembles the Nazis’ view of Jews – and sees her as exemplifying many Norwegians’ deep-seated need for an evil “other” by means of which to identify their own virtue.
In short, a typical piece of academic bilge (complete with a quotation from Jacques Lacan and pretentious lines like “The Muslim’s presence becomes an illness; his absence becomes a cure”) that has no connection whatsoever to the reality of Norway’s Muslim communities or of Hege’s heroic efforts to secure human rights for the women and girls living in them. Lyngeng’s piece is utterly inane – but no doubt will be a feather in his cap when he comes back home with his degree looking for a university job.
November 19, 2007 (4:55 A.M., CET): It is endlessly amazing what ideology can do to men’s hearts and minds – endlessly amazing that a person who considers himself intelligent and civilized can look at a picture of two boys about to be hanged for being gay and write the following:
When is the West going to learn not to meddle in other nations’ affairs? It is none of our business what they do. It is their country, their culture. How do you justify our arrogance? As long as human rights violations in Germany, France, Canada (and they are absolutely stunning!) and the massive crimes committed by Israel are left unmentioned, are even tolerated and encouraged, who the hell are we to point fingers?
We may not agree with Iran’s attitude and eventually it will change if the people want it to but it is none of our business.
To all those pontificating about how things were in our past (Christian, Jew or otherwise), it took us a long time to learn so why not allow other countries to make their own decisions.
Yes, why not indeed? I can’t think of a single reason why, can you?
Ideologues like this constantly insist that critics of Islamism are preoccupied with “us” and “them.” On the contrary, they’re the ones who are obsessed with “us” and “them.” It’s “their business.” It’s “their country.” It’s “their decision.” If they want to execute their children for being gay, hey, that’s up to them.
(N.B.: I’ve corrected spelling and punctuation to make these postings easier to read.)
November 19, 2007 (4:30 A.M., CET): Scott was a small, wiry Jewish guy from Long Island who wore his curly hair in a sort of Afro. I first met him when he ran a session about “sex on campus,” or something like that, at my freshmen college orientation and shocked me by casually telling the group he was gay. (This was the 1970s.)
By coincidence, we ended up living on the same dormitory hall. There were 15 rooms, housing 30 guys altogether (after de-tripling), and I spent my freshman and sophomore years there. Scott and I never became close friends – I don’t remember us ever having anything other than casual conversation – but often, when I was alone in the evening banging something out on my typewriter, Scott would come into my room after taking a shower, sit on my roommate’s bed wrapped in a towel, and chat with me as he dried his hair with a blow dryer. He was funny, gentle, sensitive, intelligent, considerate. Nothing remotely sensual ever happened between us, and I never asked why, of all the rooms on the hall, he always came into mine. At the time I just figured it was because my door was open and there was somebody there to talk to while he dried his hair. It was only years later that I realized he’d made a habit of coming to my room because he knew I was gay, too – knew it, in fact, even before I did – and for that reason felt comfortable with me.
At that time and place, Scott’s apparent self-assurance about his sexual orientation was remarkable – especially given how short and slightly built he was and how utterly defenseless he looked. It was also remarkable – to me, anyway – that even though he was gay, he was well liked by all the guys on the hall. Even the jocks.
But not everybody accepted him. One night I was in my room when I heard noises in the hall – scuffling, a cry for help. I jumped up, rushed out. So did several other guys on the hall. By the time I got there Scott had already been separated from the bully who’d pegged him as a gay guy and tried to beat him up. I’d never seen the bully before, and I don’t remember, or never knew, what he was doing on our hall that night. What I remember is the angry, battle-ready looks on my hallmates’ faces – how prepared they were, at a moment’s notice, to protect Scott. The memory still moves me to tears.
I don’t know for sure that that incident played a part in what happened next, but I always felt it did. What happened was this: Scott fell into a depression. First he disappeared. We heard he was staying at home with his folks, a half-hour or so away. Weeks went by. Then one night in February a phone call came. He’d killed himself. The funeral was the next morning.
That morning we awoke early to a campus blanketed with the thickest fog I’ve ever seen. It was unreal. Everything was unreal. Two or three of us had cars, and we piled into them, six or seven guys per vehicle, and drove to the funeral home. We were numb. We were young, and nothing like this had ever happened to most of us. And to top off the weirdness of it all, when we left the funeral home the heavy fog had been burned away by a bright, glorious, unseasonably warm sun. In fact it had turned out to be by far the warmest February day I’d ever seen in New York. Or have seen since.
And so we drove back to campus in the freakishly warm sunshine, exchanging wordless glances, unable to think of anything to say. Then one of the guys in the front seat (I was in the back) broke the silence: “All I can say,” he said, “is I’m glad it’s a beautiful day.” And, weirdly, a melody and lyric immediately began to take shape in my head. By the time we arrived back at the dorm, the song was complete. I guess I must have stopped off at my dorm room to grab some music paper before going to the Fine Arts Center, where I found an unlocked practice room, sat down at the piano, and scratched out a rough lead sheet. Some time thereafter, at my parents’ piano, I recorded it onto a cheap cassette. This is that same recording, with the background noise as cleaned-up as possible. It’s dedicated to Scott’s memory, and it’s presented through a technology that none of us then foresaw, in a time when sexual orientation – at least in the little corner of the world where Scott lived and died – is, to more people than he could then have imagined, a matter of indifference.
November 15, 2007 (12:50 A.M., CET): I was thinking just now that I could make a long list of contemporary writers, both literary and not-so-literary, whose novels I’ve enjoyed more than Norman Mailer’s but who, because they didn’t stab their wives or get into fights on the Dick Cavett Show, have never received a fraction of the attention he has, either in life or death. Then I saw that Ira Levin had passed away. He wasn’t Tolstoy but, hey,Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives show more storytelling skill, and are far more successful on their own terms, than any fiction Mailer ever produced.
November 13, 2007 (12:45 A.M., CET): Here’s sixteen-year-old Claus – yet another European whose harrowing experiences people like Simon Kuper (see entry below) don’t want to hear about.
At the train station in Odense, Denmark, Claus was confronted by a group of young “immigrant” men.
“Are you gay?” they asked. “Yes,” replied this brave kid.
They beat him up.
Welcome to the New Europe. On the one hand, there’s a generation of openly gay teenagers whose families and friends have never made them feel that their homosexuality was an impediment to living full, happy, loving, and honest lives, and who are thus blessed with a self-knowledge, a self-confidence, a matter-of-factness about their sexual orientation, and a degree of emotional and spiritual wholeness that most gay people a generation or more ago would hardly have been able to imagine.
On the other hand, there’s an ever-expanding army of (as Hans Rustad puts it at document.no) “moral police” consisting of belligerent young Muslims who are determined to terrify these gay kids into the closet – to force them to live the kind of scared, constricted lives that gay people used to live.
Denmark has no national statistics on gay-bashing, but a study undertaken in Århus by the Danish National Association of Gays and Lesbians (LBL) shows that there’s a high risk of being attacked or harassed in that city (Denmark’s second largest) if you’re gay.
The problem isn’t restricted, of course, to Århus. It’s Europe-wide.
LBL’s spokesman speaks of “a growing problem with [anti-gay] intolerance” in Denmark. Unsurprisingly, the article delicately steers clear of the fact that the people causing this problem are overwhelmingly Muslim males –though the picture caption (perhaps through an editorial oversight?) does mention that the culprits are “immigrants.”
Here’s what I wrote about Norman Mailer a few years back.
November 12, 2007 (12:40 P.M. CET): I’m back. Sorry for the long silence (due to computer problems and overwork). Anyhow, here we go again…
* * *
While Europe Slept (just out in paperback) has finally been reviewed, or at least kicked around a bit, in theFinancial Times – only twenty-one months after its appearance in hardcover. Reviewer Simon Kuper’s premise is a familiar one – that my book, and Bat Ye’or’s Eurabia, and Melanie Phillips’s Londonistan, and Walter Laqueur’s The Last Days of Europe are all sheer nonsense, that Europe is doing just dandy, that all this hand-wringing about Islamization is just a load of nonsense cooked up by a bunch of bigots.
To show just how big a bigot I am, Kuper quotes (or, actually, slightly misquotes) this sentence from page 109 ofWhile Europe Slept: “For these beurs – the universal term for the French- born progeny of North African immigrants – the meaning of life is derived from their hatred of French society.” Kuper plainly wishes to leave the impression that I’m speaking here about all beurs. In fact the sentence is part of a summary of a compelling essay by Theodore Dalrymple about the dispiriting conditions in immigrant suburbs in France. The sentence in my book that precedes the one quoted by Kuper reads as follows: “Few tourists notice them on the way in from the airport, but they’re terrifying places where young men on government handouts loiter in the streets, returning one’s gaze without ‘a flicker of recognition of your shared humanity.’” (The last eight words are Dalrymple’s.) It’s then that I write: “For these beurs,” etc. In other words, it’s absolutely obvious in context that I’m not talking about all North African immigrants – I’m talking about those unemployed young loiterers with the heartless stares.
Later Kuper (whom Wikipedia, by the way, identifies as a sports columnist) sneers that the books under review “are polemics, not reports, and any source will do: Bawer cites Ye’or, an Amsterdam taxi driver, a woman in a Swedish bar or often no source at all.” Huh? My exchange with the taxi driver (page 5) is part of an account of my visit to Amsterdam after the murder of Theo van Gogh; my conversation with woman in the Swedish bar (footnote, page 44) is part of an account of Swedish political attitudes. It would be bizarre for a writer of a book about what’s going on in Europe today not to include anecdotes of this sort. Is this the best a mendacious sports columnist out to destroy a book can come up with?
Kuper has read four books that demonstrate incontrovertibly that Europe is in a mess of trouble. But he isn’t about to serve up a frank account of their contents, because to do so would be to make it crystal clear that Europeis in trouble. So instead he misrepresents their contents, smears their authors, and heaps on the scorn – all in an effort to convince readers that these books are built on “hysteria” and serve up “dystopias” and hence don’t deserve a serious reading.
Thus do four sober books crammed with hard facts about the present state of Europe get turned, with breathtaking dishonesty, into frenzied fantasies of the future.
Kuper isn’t just kicking around a few books here. By dismissing their contents so magisterially, he’s turning his back on the countless European Muslim girls who live in fear of being forced by their fathers to marry. And on France’s Jewish children, who, according to an official report, can’t get an education because of relentless harassment by Muslim classmates. And on the millions of ordinary Europeans who’ve seen their corners of the world transformed in ways that their elected officials and news media refuse to acknowledge, let alone address responsibly.
Not until after I’d skimmed Kuper’s review did his name suddenly ring a bell. I grabbed a copy of While Europe Slept and turned to the index. Yep, there he was: “Kuper, Simon, 195-96.” I turned to page 195 – an account of responses to the murder of Theo van Gogh:
Dutch journalist Simon Kuper sought valiantly to hold the old establishment line – and demonstrated just how feeble that line now sounded. Posthumously slandering Fortuyn as the instigator of Dutch “Muslim-bashing” and “racist politics” and van Gogh as “a minor filmmaker on the make,” Kuper played down his country’s grave new problems (“a few Dutch Moroccans beat up gay men….Some Muslim pupils wouldn’t listen to lessons on the Holocaust”) and dismissed Dutch concern about these matters as hypocritical: “The Netherlands had been inhabited for centuries by people who believed men and women were unequal, and that homosexuality was a sin, but it was now decided that Muslims holding such views were at odds with ‘Dutch values.’” Presumably Kuper expected Dutch women and gay men to quietly accept the erosion of their liberties as the clock turned back – and not to the seventeenth century, either, but to the seventh.
Kuper, writing in the Financial Times, characterized criticism of fundamentalist Islam as “bashing” – a curious choice of words, given that literal bashing (of women, gays, Jews) was among the problems in question. He sneered at immigration minister Verdonk for wanting “to make all immigrants learn ‘Dutchness,’ though no one is clear what this is” – when in fact nobody who took a spin through Amsterdam’s Oud West could fail to understand exactly what Verdonk meant. Kuper counseled that the Dutch should accept a level of street crime and a certain “risk of Islamic fundamentalist violence” (after all, “smoking still kills thousands of times more Dutch people than Islamic fundamentalism”); presumably he felt they should accept a certain level of gay-bashing, wife beating, and honor killing, too.
Need I say more?
August 24, 2007: This blog has moved to memo.brucebawer.com.
August 7, 2007 (5:20 P.M., CEST): I’m not the kind of person who usually travels to another city to see an art show, but I made an exception in 1999 when living in Amsterdam. A notice of an exhibition in Rotterdam by the Norwegian painter Odd Nerdrum (whom I wasn’t yet familiar with) piqued my curiosity. I went – and was overwhelmed. And still am. Thumbing his nose all his life at the shallow fashions of the contemporary art scene, Nerdrum is a modern master – a man of profound vision and remarkable technical sophistication who in my view is, without question, far and away Norway’s most extraordinary living painter. A while back I was asked to translate a story about him from Norwegian into English; it turned out to have been written as a foreword of sorts to this newly published omnibus of Nerdrum’s work, a copy of which I just saw for the first time today. It’s a beautiful volume – a comprehensive overview of Nerdrum’s whole rich, incomparable oeuvre, from paintings and drawings to prints and sculptures. All in all, a perfect introduction to an artist that no true lover of art (as opposed to a slavish follower of art-world trends) can afford not to be familiar with. I’m proud to be a small part of it.
August 2, 2007 (11:35 P.M., CEST): Robert Phillips’s lovely poem in the current Hudson Review drove me to churn this out, for what it’s worth:
The night I saw Judy Garland
One day when I was ten years old, my mother
asked me if I’d like to go with her
to see Judy Garland live. Sure, I shrugged.
When the day came, my dad obligingly
drove us out to Westbury Music Fair.
The concert? I don’t remember it at all.
But I do remember this: when it was over,
my mother and I sat for a full hour
in her friend Martha’s car, awaiting my dad.
Where was he? At the far end of the lot,
wondering where we were. When we finally
hooked up, he was livid. He yelled for hours.
A vivid memory. But vivider still
is an image from two years later — from the day
that Judy died of an overdose in London:
my mother collapsed against the kitchen counter,
more frighteningly helpless than anything I’d ever seen,
weeping so hard you’d think she’d lost her mother.
July 23, 2007 (11:01 P.M., CEST): Here are two fascinating discussions from French TV (but in English). Both are about Iraq and both involve the wonderful Nidra Poller, who in both cases finds herself talking to blinkered “experts” who can’t or won’t see the forest (jihad) for the trees.
In the first, from July 13, Poller faces a reporter from the International Herald Tribune. The tension is palpable, but the sparks really start flying in the second exchange, from July 17. This time Poller’s chief antagonist is a haughty academic hack from Central Casting who characterizes the Iraq War as “colonialism.” A terrific moment comes when Poller dares to link current events to “the jihad conquest.” The hack snaps back: “Which jihad conquest?” Poller: “The one that made it that all those countries are now Muslim.” A furious look comes over the hack’s face: “You’re talking about the spread of Islam. That was not a jihad conquest!…That basically is a racist statement.” Poller stays cool: “Okay, and answering a racist, just tell me something…” The hack: “I’m not saying you are a racist…” To which Poller, deliciously and dismissively, replies: “Whatever.” Three cheers.
July 23, 2007 (8:00 P.M., CEST): This interview with Ayaan Hirsi by some Canadian TV guy named Avi Lewis is an instant classic. In a few brief questions he manages to sum up the entire mindset of those who just don’t get it – and don’t want to. She answers each question articulately, definitively, knowledgeably. Yet none of it seems to get through. It’s as if he’s not programmed to process sense. To think. In place of a mind he seems to have a write-protected file of received leftist opinions. The obnoxiousness with which this lightweight PC mouthpiece sneers at the hard-won wisdom of one of the truly great individuals of our time is breathtaking.
July 23, 2007 (5:10 P.M., CEST): Michael Moore’s Sicko hasn’t come to Norway yet, but I’ve read enoughreviews of it to get the idea. I’ve also read an interview in which he said he didn’t cover Norway’s health system in the movie because that system “was so insanely good, that I said, ‘No one is going to believe this.'”
OK, Michael, check this out: according to the lead story in yesterday’s Aftenposten, 200,000 Norwegians were waiting in line for hospital care during the first four months of this year. That’s just under five percent of the country’s population. And the number is growing steadily.
Norwegians boast of their system’s “total coverage” – but total coverage doesn’t mean guaranteed care, or care on demand. Far from it. Even the media here, which generally push the official line that Norway’s system is far superior to its U.S. counterpart, run occasional stories about Norwegian children who’ve been turned down for life-saving medications, who’ve had to fly to the U.S. to get the care they needed, or who’ve died while waiting for treatment. In America 20% of women with breast cancer die from it; in Norway, owing to the long queues for treatment, the figure is 27%. Fewer than one out of five American men with prostate cancer die of it; in Norway, one out of three die.
Yes, America’s health-care system has serious problems. But so do Canada’s and Europe’s. What’s different is that Americans are keenly aware of their system’s problems, are arguing vigorously about those problems, and are trying to decide how best to fix them. In Norway, by contrast, the people have been taught from earliest childhood to be grateful for the wonderful health-care system their social-democratic government has given them. (A patient who had to wait four months for a knee operation told Aftenposten: “I don’t think it was long to wait.”) They’ve also been fed a lifetime of lies about America’s system: most people here firmly believe that only rich Americans get good health care and that Americans without health insurance are routinely turned away from hospitals.
None of which is meant to suggest that the U.S. system doesn’t need fixing. It does. But the solution to its problems doesn’t lie in copying Canada or Europe.
July 22, 2007 (8:25 P.M., CEST): Ain’t denial grand? In recent years, rising concerns about the growing Muslim presence in Europe have forced the Economist to publish the occasional article, or even cover story, about Muslims in Europe – the consistent purpose of which has been to deny that there’s any real problem. The rest of the time, the Economist seems happy to pretend that the Muslims aren’t there at all. Consider this sentence from an Economist article about the use of English in Brussels: “Perhaps Brussels should accept its fate as an international city, and switch to English.” To which one can only say: if the city wants to accept its fate, maybe it should switch to Arabic or Turkish.
July 22, 2007 (7:40 P.M., CEST): After noting on Friday that other readers of Roger’s posting on Babs’ competition for top female singer had already mentioned Ella and Sarah, both of whom would be on any short list of mine, I scribbled down the following additional names:
I should also have included Carmen McRae.
I see Nina, Rosie, and Dodo have all since been mentioned in the comments on Roger’s posting, but not Peggy or Nancy or Carmen.
July 22, 2007 (2:10 P.M., CEST): One of the most patently inane statements you could make about Oslo is that it’s successfully integrated. Yet city manager Erling Lae, who has long made clear his intention of remaining in La-la Land where such matters are concerned, has dared to make just that claim. One pol who dares to disagree is Lae’s fellow Conservative Party member Mubashar Kapur, a Norwegian-Pakistani pilot and member of his party’s general council.
“Today,” says Kapur, “we have two parallel societies in Oslo” – a fact obvious to anyone who’s ever spent five minutes on the city’s east side. The solution? To be less naïve and more selective in deciding who gets to move here: “It’s time to be more cynical and selfish. We must focus on those who have skills and whom we have use for.” Kapur calls for the government to be “ruthless with immigrants who don’t have residence permits” and for police to be aggressive in checking residence permits to ensure that people are here legally.
Kapur agrees with Lae that Oslo can stand a doubling of its immigrant population. I agree, too: a tripling or even quadrupling of Oslo’s immigrant population could be a terrific boon to this city both economically and culturally. But it depends on who the immigrants are, where they come from, and why they want to live here. If they sincerely want to work, learn the language, and be responsible, law-abiding members of a free society where (for example) women have equal rights and everyone has free speech, great. If not, not great.
Kapur seems to contradict himself when he states that immigrants and natives must “find a common foundation of values and build a common society upon it.” Meaning what? The free West already has a foundation of values. The idea should be to let in people who share those values and keep out those who don’t.
The topic of this article is Islam, of course, but the words “Muslim” and “Islam” (unsurprisingly) appear nowhere in it. Among Norwegian journalists and politicians, the word “immigrant” is the standard euphemism for “Muslims who live here” – even though many Muslims in Norway aren’t immigrants and many immigrants in Norway aren’t Muslims.
* * *
Last night, just before closing time, the closest grocery store to my home was robbed just before closing time by two masked men, with a third waiting in the getaway car. A customer who tried to stop them was stabbed seven times in the stomach. He’s hospitalized in serious but stable condition. In a distinctively European touch, the crooks drove off in a Smart car.
* * *
Don’t ever accuse Norway’s Muslim leaders of not dealing with the important issues. Now the country’s imams and ulema have issued an official statement declaring that purchase of Norwegian chicken by Muslims is forbidden because the chicken isn’t halal, even if it’s marked as halal.
July 20, 2007 (4:00 P.M., CEST): Yesterday the Wall Street Journal ran a condensed version of Dana Gioia’s recent commencement address at Stanford. Read the full text so you won’t miss the poem at the end.
July 20, 2007 (3:15 P.M., CEST): Pieter Dorsman offers a richly informed and insightful overview of the last few years in Dutch politics.
July 14, 2007 (7:15 P.M., CEST): Comments by British readers on a Telegraph piece today about the U.S.-U.K. “special relationship” range from “The so-called special relationship is dead because it never existed” to “Can we have annexation by the US just now please, to save us from Gordon Brown.” What’s heartening, and perhaps surprising, is how many of the comments reveal a strong, genuine attachment to Americans and the Anglosphere – an attachment that for some plainly represents a bulwark of national and cultural identity in the face of a European connection that they perceive as a threat to that identity:
The special relationship is special because most real Britons (not immigrants) feel a kinship with America that they do not with the rest of Europe.
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We have far more in common with the USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand…than we do with the European continent.
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My husband has fought alongside, and indeed commanded, US troops on operations over the last 6 years and has often remarked on the seamless, and close relationship which exists between them and their UK, Canadian and antipodean comrades.
This reminds me of Norwegian class. There were 18 of us from 17 countries. There was a great feeling of community and I liked everybody. Nonetheless, the four of us from the “Anglosphere” (two Brits, one Yank, and one Aussie) gravitated toward one another and, as our teacher made a point of observing one day, ended up forming a bit of a clique. Not so much because we shared a language (there was a strict Norwegian-only rule) but because we shared cultural traditions, values, and assumptions that made us react similarly to certain aspects of Norwegian society. We also tended to find the same things funny – and, I think it’s fair to say, to find more things funny than most of the others did.
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In an article for the Times of London entitled “Muslim Heads Stuck Firmly in the Sand,” Hassan Butt basically repeats the message of his recent Guardian piece. Keep ’em coming, Hassan! Obviously this message needs to keep being repeated until the people you’re addressing start to listen.
July 14, 2007 (12:36 A.M., CEST): They’re rested, re-energized – and ready to burn more Danish flags! On Friday, Danish politician Pia Kjærsgaard was found not guilty of libel for having used the word “treason” to describe Danish Muslims’ efforts to stir up anti-Danish disturbances abroad over the now-famous Muhammed cartoons. The non-traitors are so angry over the acquittal that they’re threatening to send another delegation to the Middle East to commit more non-treason.
UPDATE (4:35 P.M., CEST): Flemming Rose of Jyllands-Posten has the latest.
July 13, 2007 (11:50 P.M., CEST): Unreconstructed faculty-lounge pinko Terry Eagleton doesn’t leave you in doubt for a moment about his political leanings. “The great communist poet Hugh MacDiarmid died,” he writes in a classically inane Guardian piece that appeared last Saturday, “just as the dark night of Thatcherism descended.” Reading this crank, it’s depressing to know that he not only teaches literature but is a famous and influential critic. Here, he grades the big names in the modern British literary canon according to how radical the noises they made were — no matter how insincere or hypocritical those noises (snobby socialite Virginia Woolf gets full points for being a socialist), or ignorant or misguided (Blake gets a thumbs-up for “dream[ing] of a communist utopia”), or (heaven forfend an English prof should care about such things) how crudely their politics entered their art.
Eagleton also flails Christopher Hitchens and Salman Rushdie for selling out their glorious leftist ideals to the evil neocons and laments that the only major British writer today who’s “prepared to question the Western way of life” is Harold Pinter, famous for his meaningful pauses and his comparison of the U.S. to Nazi Germany.
Inane. I’m glad Eagleton wrote the piece, though, because it provoked this wonderful comment by a Guardian reader:
I am a university student, and we are bored of you.
Hitchens is our hero. Orwell is our hero. Paine is our hero. Dostoevsky is our hero.
We are humanitarians, and The Left is dead to us.
At this point there seem to be more books around about how Europe is headed for disaster than there are powerfully placed Europeans willing to do anything about it…
P.S. (July 14): Thanks to Dave Lull for the link!
The London/Glasgow terror suspects are now added to a long list of Muslim physicians who have been prominent jihadists. The apotheosis of this mentality is contemporary jihadist ideologue and mastermind Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri – Osama Bin Laden’s “deputy.” Zawahiri, who is known to be a skilled surgeon, is the son of Dr. Mohammad Rabi al-Zawahiri, a professor of pharmacology at Ain Shams Medical School in Cairo and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Add to their ranks a long list of physician-radicals. Among them: Dr. Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi, the late Hamas leader, was a pediatrician. Dr. Mahmoud al-Zahar, Hamas’ co-founder – and a hard-liner among hard-liners – is a surgeon. Dr. Fathi Abd al-Aziz Shiqaqi, the late founder of Palestinian Islamic Jihad – and one of suicide bombing’s pioneers – trained as a doctor in Egypt.
Just remember: the root cause of terrorism is poverty!
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A reader forwards this article from the Montreal Gazette, which makes it clear that as far as Agence France-Presse is concerned, it’s a matter of debate whether Cuba is a democracy. No such word as “dictator” or “dictatorship” disfigures this text, which describes Fidel variously as “president and chief of state,” “the country’s official leader,” “first…secretar[y] of the Cuban Communist Party,” and even “the famously bearded revolutionary.” If you didn’t know otherwise, you might believe after reading it that Cuban elections are legit, that Castro’s major offense is not against human rights but against his bullying northern neighbor, and that the notion that Cuba is anything other than a full-fledged democracy is a conceit peculiar to “human rights advocates.”
Gordon Brown has banned ministers from using the word “Muslim” in connection with the terrorism crisis.
Why do some people never understand that this kind of rank dhimmitude only invites more contempt, more terrorism, more demands for appeasement, concession, compromise?
July 3, 2007: Last Thursday night, in the latest of a rash of such incidents, two gay men were physically attackedand threatened with murder in Amsterdam’s Rembrandtplein by six men of Moroccan, Surinamese, and Turkish extraction. This is a square surrounded by gay bars in every direction — the heart of the part of Amsterdam where gay people used to feel safest. But it’s not safe anymore.
July 1, 2007 (5:45 P.M. CEST): Last night Anna and Lene, a lesbian couple who don’t want their last names publicized, left a Gay Pride Week party at Naken, a nightclub in downtown Oslo. One of them was wearing a sticker with the word “Lesbian” on it. (These stickers, along with others reading “Gay,” were handed out this week in the “Pride Village.”) A man stopped them and asked for a cigarette. Next thing they knew they were being brutally beaten up by him and three other men. “I have no doubt,” one of the women said, “that we were beaten up because we’re lesbians.” VG does not describe the men.
July 1, 2007: I’ve seen relatively little TV coverage of the terrorist attempts in London and Glasgow, so I may have missed something, but what I have seen — mainly on CNN Europe, but also on the BBC — has confirmed my longstanding awe at the ability of some British reporters to go on and on about these things without using the word “Islam” or “Muslim.” No, the word of choice is, as usual, “Asian,” as if these acts had been plotted by disgruntled busboys from Chinese restaurants or by Mitsubishi executives who just couldn’t stand the pressure anymore.
True, the reporters will freely suggest that the suspects may be Pakistani, and they’ll acknowledge a possible Al Qaeda link, but it’s clear that if they can help it at all, they prefer not to have to use the words “Islam” or “Muslim,” either alone or in combinations such as “Islamic jihad.”
I’ve watched tape on both CNN Europe and the BBC of the witness at the Glasgow airport who said that one of the perpetrators had kept shouting “Allah! Allah!” On both networks, the reporters just let this fact lie there, as if it were some indelicate detail that we’re all supposed to look away from.
Likewise, CNN’s Robin Oakley said that some anti-terrorism measures, if they’re too severe and are taken too hastily, will backfire because they’ll antagonize “certain elements in society.” Since we all know who those “elements” are, why not just say it? Why this habitual circumlocution, this bizarre tiptoeing around basic facts?
Meanwhile “London Mayor Ken Livingstone called on Britons Saturday not to demonize Muslims….” Who’s demonizing Muslims? In the West nowadays, it’s those who talk frankly about the facts of Islam and jihad who are routinely demonized. When somebody like Livingstone “calls on” the public not to “demonize” Muslims after incidents like this, what he seems to be trying to do is to scare people away from mentioning, discussing, and making an effort to understand the theological underpinnings of these acts, lest they be labeled racists or “Islamophobes.”
Here, writing in today’s Guardian, is a former aspiring terrorist, Hassan Butt, who strongly criticizes Livingstone’s refusal “to acknowledge the role of Islamist ideology in terrorism.” Butt argues that the only way out of this nightmare of endless jihad is for the Muslim community to stop repeating the mantra that “Islam is peace,” to confront “those passages of the Koran which instruct on killing unbelievers,” to “slap itself awake from this state of denial and realise there is no shame in admitting the extremism within our families, communities and worldwide co-religionists,” to “start openly to discuss the ideas that fuel terrorism,” to liberate itself “from defunct models of the world,” and to face the fact that “the concept of killing in the name of Islam is no more than an anachronism.”
All of which, of course, is a foreign language to the Ken Livingstones of the world, who cling to the mantra that all this terrorism is simply an aggrieved and desperate reaction to something we’ve done.
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On Thursday, the American Embassy in Oslo held its annual, and always delightful, Fourth of July celebration on the grounds of the ambassador’s residence. Here’s a picture:
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This is Gay Pride Week in Oslo, so from the embassy we went straight to the “Pride Village” in City Hall Square, where we listened to a set of boilerplate presentations on gay rights (it wasn’t really a debate) by representatives of Norway’s eight — yep, eight — major political parties. That’s them under the canopy, carefully arranged according to their places on the political spectrum, from Revolutionary Left to Progress Party.
Let’s just say you didn’t miss anything.
By the way, the woman in yellow who’s standing with her back to us, asking the participants a question, is gay-rights doyenne Kim Friele, believed to be the first person ever to come out of the closet in Norway.
June 28, 2007: Terry Teachout links to the American Film Institute’s latest ranking of top 100 American movies and notes the films on the list he’s never seen. Here are the ones I’ve never seen, at least not in their entirety:
- The Searchers, 1956.
18. The General, 1927.
49. Intolerance, 1916.
50. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 2001. (Rented it, gave up after 20-30 minutes.)
68. Unforgiven, 1992.
79. The Wild Bunch, 1969.
82. Sunrise, 1927
92. Goodfellas, 1990.
96. Do the Right Thing, 1989.
97. Blade Runner, 1982.
99. Toy Story, 1995.I’m also not sure how much I’ve seen of the three Chaplin films on the list (City Lights, #11; The Gold Rush, #58;Modern Times, #78).
It’s interesting how certain films turn up repeatedly on these lists not because they’re so much better than some other films that never turn up, but because they seem to have come to be accepted over the years as representative of a certain genre or subgenre. Singin’ in the Rain (#5), for example, has attained the status of the canonical Hollywood musical. Nonetheless I much prefer The Band Wagon, which was made a year later by the same producer and writer, and which didn’t make the list at all. (The Band Wagon is certainly far better than Yankee Doodle Dandy, #98, a movie I find unwatchable.)
One question: what makes Lawrence of Arabia (#7) an American film?
The AEI list isn’t the list I’d make, but all in all it’s not bad. By contrast, the Guardian‘s alphabetical list of 1000 best films, which it’s running serially, is horrible, depressing even. (American Pie but not All about Eve?!)
One thing that’s notable about both lists, but especially striking about the Guardian list, is the relative shortage of classics from Hollywood’s Golden Age. One has the impression that the Guardian list, in particular, was drawn up by people who haven’t seen many movies from before a certain date, except for a few that may be film-course staples or that are shown a lot on TV.
Which, these days, isn’t many. In the 1960s and 1970s, an amazingly wide range of movies from the 1930s onward could be seen on TV (at least in New York, where I lived); nowadays there are far more TV channels, including some devoted exclusively to old films, but they tend to show the same ones again and again, while countless movies that you could catch on TV 30 or 40 years ago never turn up at all.
Consider, for example, the oeuvre of Jean Simmons. In the last couple of years two of her movies, This Could Be the Night and Until They Sail, both of which are relatively obscure but quite good, have been on frequent rotation on TCM Europe; in the last year or so I’ve also noticed TV listings for Spartacus, Young Bess, and Hamlet (the Olivier version). Meanwhile titles like Elmer Gantry, The Big Country, Guys and Dolls, Desirée, and The Robeare on DVD. But first-rate Simmons pictures such as All the Way Home, The Actress, and Home Before Dark, not to mention highly watchable ones such as Trio, Affair with a Stranger, Hilda Crane, Footsteps in the Fog, The Blue Lagoon, and a dozen others — all of which I saw on New York TV as a kid, and none of which appears to be available on DVD — seem almost to have vanished from the face of the earth.
Anyway, Terry picks his ten favorite movies on the list. Here are mine:
- The Godfather, 1972.
3. Casablanca, 1942.
25. To Kill a Mockingbird, 1962.
28. All about Eve, 1950.
35. Annie Hall, 1977.
44. The Philadelphia Story, 1940.
55. North by Northwest, 1959.
65. The African Queen, 1951.
67. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, 1966.
81. Spartacus, 1960.P.S. (July 15): When I made my top-ten list, I overlooked The Shawshank Redemption, which is #72 on AFI’s list. Consider it added to my list, which makes it a top eleven.
June 27, 2007: Norwegians are brought up on the so-called “Jante Law” — the belief that there’s something morally suspect about excellence, achievement, superior knowledge or skills. Today comes proof that the Jante Law is alive and well: at a high-school graduation ceremony in Modum, west of Oslo, the principal called the names of 21 graduates and asked them to come forward. They were then handed roses to celebrate their top grades.
The response? Sheer outrage. Parents and students walked out in protest at this appalling display offorskjellsbehandling (“differential treatment”). “It was unfair,” one mother thundered. Yes, she admitted, the students with good grades had worked hard — but many of the others had “also worked hard without achieving such good results.”
“Everybody feels it was embarrassing,” groaned one of the students who’d been given roses. “It wasn’t fun to walk around with the rose afterwards. I was simply mortified.”
June 25, 2007: I’m no fan of Scientology (far from it), but it’s pretty funny that Germany, of all countries, should get on its high horse about it, refusing to allow a movie starring Tom Cruise to be filmed on its territory because Cruise’s religion is, in Germany’s view, a moneymaking cult, not a legitimate religion. This from a country where a judge recently denied an abused Muslim wife a divorce, saying that according to the Koran it was OK for her husband to beat her.
Maybe if Scientologists start committing honor killings, knifing movie directors, flying planes into buildings, bombing train stations, and holding worldwide riots over cartoons, knighthoods, and papal speeches, Germany will take them seriously as a “real religion”?
June 22, 2007: Welcome words from Giuliani:
“I find it particularly disturbing when American politicians and Hollywood people embrace Fidel Castro. I don’t know if they understand they are embracing a murderer, a dictator, a man who has been horrible to gays and lesbians, particularly focused on homosexuals,” he said during a brief session with reporters. “He had a whole campaign to basically, I would call it torture gays and lesbians. I don’t get it when the Hollywood people kind of embrace him.”
June 21, 2007: Just as a pendant to the winter solstice picture I posted six months ago, here’s one I took last night at 10:35 p.m. from the 21st-floor bar of the Radisson SAS Scandinavia Hotel in Oslo:
Under the latter story there are several dozen reader comments. Most are from Britain and the U.S., and all but one are sensible. The exception was posted by a Norwegian:
As he is not considered a great writer this award can only be interpreted as an insult to Islam. The British government must have realised that this was sensitive issue. To give a knighthood to Rushdie can only be seen as either naive or provocative. It will be interpreted as the latter. It just amazes me how stupid the British government is and how little understanding it has of the sensitivities of the rest of the world.
Anna, Bergen, Norway
Now there’s someone who’s been well trained.
June 16, 2007: From the Washington Post obituary of Ruth Bell Graham, it appears that her advice over the years played no small part in the fact that her husband, Billy, by nature a vulgar, egomaniacal showman, was able to build and maintain an image as a man of dignity and selfless faith.
At the end, alas, Ruth Graham apparently lost her final battle against vulgarity and ego. From an article that appeared in the Post a few days ago:
With his wife, Ruth Bell Graham, in a coma at home in western North Carolina, the Rev. Billy Graham announced yesterday that she will be buried in the city of Charlotte and not in her beloved mountains at the site she said she favored as recently as a week and a half ago….
The burial site has been a matter of contention for months, threatening to break apart the country’s most famous Christian family. A Washington Post story in December revealed that son Franklin Graham, chief executive officer of the BGEA, had told potential donors that he planned to bury his parents at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte.
Two of the other four Graham children, Ned Graham and Anne Graham Lotz, objected, as did Ruth, who called the library, a Disney-like building in the shape of a barn, “a circus.” In the presence of six witnesses, including Ned, a neuroscientist and a Graham employee, Ruth signed a notarized statement saying she wished to be buried in a memorial garden at the Cove, a mountain retreat center that she and Billy built about 20 years ago.
Originally, she and Billy wanted to be buried there, the document said, and “under no circumstances am I to be buried in Charlotte, N.C.”
But in March, Ruth and Billy signed another document saying they wanted to be buried in Charlotte, according to BGEA spokesman Larry Ross. Ross said the paper was signed in the presence of an attorney and a doctor.
June 15, 2007: In Amsterdam, young Muslim men are hanging around gay bars so they can rob the customers. InOslo, an 18-year-old Iranian-Norwegian girl walking down a busy downtown street was kicked, punched, and called a whore by a married Muslim couple, strangers to her, apparently because she wasn’t wearing a veil.
The girl, who suffered internal bleeding and is still in pain, belongs to a Kurdish family that has taken a stand against Islam’s narrow view of women. Though most of her friends wear hijab, she and the other females in her family dress like non-Muslim Norwegians. “Many people react to the fact that I’m allowed to have a Norwegian boyfriend and go without a veil,” she told Dagbladet. “A boy I know once said that if I’d been his sister, he’d have killed me.”
Dagbladet’s reporter also talked to one of the girl’s brothers, who said that many of their acquaintances “act as if they’re still back home in Kabul or Teheran. I think over 90 percent of the Muslim girls in Norway have to submit themselves to the men and follow their orders. Many girls are treated like slaves. According to Islam, women don’t have any freedom of their own.” Accusing politicians and the media of shirking this problem, he called Oslo today “a ticking time bomb.”
I can’t say I disagree.
P.S. Then there’s this, from earlier this week.
June 6, 2007: NRK, the Norwegian national broadcasting corporation, has requested that the obligatory TV license fee be raised by 4.6%. The annual fee is already 2103.84 kroner per household (including value-added tax), which is equivalent to $352 or €261, which apparently makes it the fourth highest such fee in Western Europe. According to Wikipedia, the license fees are as follows:
Iceland € 347
Switzerland € 292
Denmark € 288
Norway € 261
Austria (varies by region) € 206-263
Finland € 208-215
Sweden € 210
Germany € 204
Britain € 200
Ireland € 156
Belgium (Walloon region) € 150
France € 116
Italy € 104
The Netherlands, Spain, and Portugal have no TV license fee.
Such fees are unfair in principle, but the size of the fee in Norway is particularly outrageous, given the mediocrity of what you get in return. Today’s NRK 1 schedule consists mostly of regional and national news programs, including news in Sami, plus a Norwegian reality show, Law & Order: New York, a Danish documentary on global warming, and a BBC documentary on Iraq. NRK2 doesn’t go on the air until 4:45 PM, and aside from news programs the prime-time highlights are a Larry Sanders Show rerun and a Danish documentary on Cuba,Cuba between West and East, which is described as follows: “The senses are challenged, the heart is opened, and the mind grows dull. Beautiful women, sweet rum and electrifying conga drums, the warm tropical night, and the hand-rolled cigars are some of the explanations for the magical spell one experiences in Cuba.” (Which is not to be confused with Havana Libre, a Norwegian documentary broadcast on NRK in 2004, which was advertised as providing “a glimpse of the joy in life and the human spirit that breathes through an expressive culture that we usually experience only in fragments…here in the market-driven West.”)
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According to a Dagbladet article entitled “Two Flights a Year Are Enough,” Jostein Gaarder, whose anti-Semiticop-ed in Aftenposten won him new fans a while back, is now telling Norwegians that for environmental reasons it would be best to ration air travel. Norway’s Environmental Minister finds Gaarder’s proposal, which he made at an environmental summit at the Nobel Peace Prize Center, “very interesting.” Goody, a new idea for a law!
Nice to know, by the way, that Gaarder’s remarks about Jews apparently haven’t lost him friends in the government, the environmental community, or the Peace Racket.
May 31, 2007: In a Salon article, “Danish Cartoons, No Longer the Rage,” Danish-American sociologist Jytte Klausen celebrates Naser Khader, a Danish Muslim politician who “became a target of activist Muslims during the cartoon crisis when he formed a new organization, ‘Democratic Muslims,'” and whose recently founded New Alliance Party is gaining popularity. What prompts me to comment on Klausen’s piece is not her representation of Khader (who is also profiled here) as a potential savior of Denmark so much as her whole way of talking about the cartoon crisis and its handling by Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen (whom she casts as the villain here to Khader’s hero). Her take on these matters is summed up in her subhead: “Danish politics lurched right as the scandal provoked Muslims worldwide. But now Danes are fed up with their own ‘Bush-lite’ – and are backing a Muslim immigrant.”
“Lurched right”? “Bush-lite”? OK, let’s get this straight. An editor of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, on hearing that illustrators are scared to illustrate a forthcoming book about Muhammed, commissions drawings of Muhammed in order to make a statement about free speech. In response, Muslims around the world – encouraged by Danish Muslim leaders who see in this an opportunity to win a battle in the jihadist war on the West – protest, riot, vandalize Danish embassies, and commit scores of murders. Muslim governments, the UN, the EU, Danish business interests, Denmark’s left-wing political and media establishment, and even the U.S. and his other allies condemn Jyllands-Posten and pressure Fogh Rasmussen to apologize for the cartoons. But Fogh Rasmussen, who knows that to apologize would set a dangerous precedent that radical Muslims would be quick to exploit, chooses instead to stand up for free speech. This is the man Professor Klausen dares to call “Bush lite”! He’s nobody lite. On the contrary, he’s a model of principle and courage for heads of democratic governments everywhere.
On to the article itself. “Many Danes,” Klausen begins, “were shocked when political cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed, published by the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten, sparked Muslim outrage around the world in February 2006. Nevertheless, a majority of them backed Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen and the ‘never say sorry’ policy of his government and its key parliamentary partner, the far-right Danish People’s Party.” Note the “nevertheless”; note the “never say sorry”: plainly, in Klausen’s view, it would have been only reasonable for the prime minister of a democratic country to apologize to bullies, vandals, and murderers for an independent newspaper’s exercise of free speech. Klausen goes on to mention that she “wrote during the cartoon crisis that those in the Danish government and media who were spoiling for a culture war had failed to recognize the depth of Muslims’ feelings and did not know what they had bargained for.” First of all, the only people “spoiling for a culture war” were the jihadists who used the Jyllands-Posten cartoons to stir mayhem in an effort to compel Denmark to compromise its freedoms – and thereby advance sharia in Europe. Given his obligation to defend democracy, Fogh Rasmussen responded in the only responsible way: he stood firm. Second of all, note that Klausen, for all her respect for “the depth of Muslim feelings” regarding the depiction of Muhammed, is incapable of seeing some Westerners’ equally deep feelings for free speech as anything other than an unwelcome impediment to multicultultural harmony. Like many others in the West, she treats Muslims’ “feelings” as a fixed quantity, a given, to which the rest of us simply must adapt ourselves – no matter how much of a challenge those “feelings” pose to our liberties.
Briefly, Klausen steps away from this implicit according of precedence to Muslim feelings over democratic values to indulge in moral equivalence of the sort favored by professors Timothy Garton Ash and Ian Buruma (both of whom have recently opined that Ayaan Hirsi Ali is as much a “fundamentalist” as are the Islamofascists who are out to kill her). “There was,” Klausen writes, “cynicism and grandstanding on both sides of the divide – defiant diatribes from xenophobes defending free speech, and defiant diatribes from Muslim leaders bent on stirring religious radicalism.” Thus does she equate defenders of free speech with enemies of democracy who encouraged riots and worse (and, to boot, suggests that to defend free speech is somehow tantamount to xenophobia). She goes on: “But after the hysteria died down, Danes were in for some soul-searching. They didn’t like that the rest of the world suddenly thought they were racists.” This, alas, is true: many Danes who should be proud of their prime minister for his courage and resolve in the defense of liberty have instead been convinced by journalists, politicians, and academics – such as Klausen herself – that they should be ashamed of him for not apologizing to freedom’s enemies. Such is the spinelessness and moral slovenliness of our times.
“That discomfort,” Klausen continues, “grew over time, as their government and the Danish People’s Party continued to pursue a zero-tolerance policy on immigration matters. Now, a little more than a year later, an increasing number of Danes want to restore more tolerant Danish values [“tolerant” apparently meaning “acquiescent, passive, ready to appease”] and are looking to a new political rescuer – a Muslim immigrant, who was himself caught up in the explosive cartoon controversy.” Which brings us finally to Klausen’s actual subject, Naser Khader, of whose recent career she proceeds to furnish an admiring account. What she neglects to mention is that Khader, this “liberator” supposedly poised to rescue Denmark from “Bush-lite,” actually supported Fogh Rasmussen’s handling of the cartoon crisis. Indeed what matters to Klausen here is not how ideologically far afield Khader is or isn’t from the man she calls “Bush-lite” – what matters to her is that he’s a Muslim. Ultimately, in other words, this is less about political ideas than about image: if Khader became prime minister, policies might not change drastically, but Danes would be able to breathe a sigh of relief and tell themselves that they’re not racists and Islamophobes after all. People like Klausen could once again hold their heads up high at international conferences and cocktail parties. Once again they’d be able to command the moral high ground simply by stating their nationality. Gudskelov!
As noted, my primary concern here isn’t with Khader, or even with Klausen’s distortions (for example, she claims that “the Danish People’s Party used its influence to prevent the government from giving asylum to approximately 500 Iraqis who had served as translators for coalition forces and their families”; in fact the case involved 20 translators, whom the Danish government has promised to protect); it’s with the malfunctioning moral compass that enables Klausen, after likening Khader to two other Muslim politicians (the Netherlands’ Nebahat Albayrek and Sweden’s Nyamko Sabuni) whom she admires, to contrast all three, to their advantage, with the “dogmatic” Ayaan Hirsi Ali – whose “dogma,” of course, is individual liberty. How depressing that a supposedly liberal Western academic can consider it anything but morally reprehensible to use Muslim politicians as clubs with which to throttle a woman like Ayaan Hirsi Ali!
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A reader of this blog (who prefers to remain anonymous) sends the following:
Here’s a passage from a book I was reading that I found eerily familiar, especially considering the current climate, and especially when I removed certain words. What do you think?
“But ____ success during the next nine months, again mainly in the East, discouraged so many ____ voters with the prospect of ever winning the war that the Democrats made great gains in congressional elections and potentially threatened the ____ administration’s ability to continue the war.
“____ was an avid reader of ____ newspapers smuggled across the lines. From them he gleaned not only bits of military intelligence but also – and more important in this case – information about ____ politics and the growing disillusionment with the war among Democrats and despair among Republicans. One of ____ purposes in the ____ invasion was to intensify this ____ demoralization in advance of the congressional elections in the fall of ____. He hoped that ____ military success would encourage antiwar candidates. If Democrats could gain control of the House, it might cripple the ____ administration’s ability to carry on the war.”
Bet you didn’t think that the author was talking about the Civil War, right? Here’s the full quote:
“But Confederate success during the next nine months, again mainly in the East, discouraged so many Northern voters with the prospect of ever winning the war that the Democrats made great gains in congressional elections and potentially threatened the Lincoln administration’s ability to continue the war.
“Lee was an avid reader of Northern newspapers smuggled across the lines. From them he gleaned not only bits of military intelligence but also – and more important in this case – information about Northern politics and the growing disillusionment with the war among Democrats and despair among Republicans. One of Lee’s purposes in the Maryland invasion was to intensify this Northern demoralization in advance of the congressional elections in the fall of 1862. He hoped that Confederate military success would encourage antiwar candidates. If Democrats could gain control of the House, it might cripple the Lincoln administration’s ability to carry on the war.”
From McPherson’s new book, This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War.
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Paris-dwelling expatriate Nidra Poller is traveling around the U.S. and has written an absorbing piece about it. Among her observations is that bread in the U.S. is tasteless compared to that in France:
After a few weeks, no matter what I eat I’m starving for bread and butter. What could be more simple than bread? Flour, water, oil, salt, yeast, and air. So what’s missing here? Is it the yeast that makes all the difference? Or the air?
This struck a chord with me because ever since I moved to Norway I’ve been missing American bread. It ain’t French bread, but it’s better than what you get here, where even croissants are heavy as lead. After puzzling over this mystery for eight years, I was told recently by somebody that flour in Norway is actually heavier than elsewhere. I don’t know if this is true, but if so it would explain a lot.
May 28, 2007: In Moscow yesterday, neo-Nazi skinheads and members of the Russian Orthodox Church attacked a small group of peaceful gay-rights demonstrators who sought to deliver a letter of protest to that city’s mayor. The demonstrators included several members of the European Parliament:
Italian MEP Marco Cappato was physically assaulted, and when he demanded to know why the police were doing nothing to stop the violence, they detained him.
“We believe these perverts should not be allowed to march on the streets of Moscow, the third Rome, a holy city for all Russians,” said Igor Miroshnichenko, who claimed he is an Orthodox believer.
Under Communism, Russians justified gay bashing by arguing that homosexuality was a decadent import from the capitalist West; now they defend it on religious grounds.
Among the demonstrators were the British gay activist Peter Tatchell and Richard Fairbrass of the British pop-music group Right Said Fred. Both were brutally punched in the face while police officers stood by and watched. The police then proceeded to arrest the victims – but not, according to some reports, their assailants. Last night I watched video of this horrible episode on CNN and the BBC. Imagine how much worse it would have been had there not been international media present to document the savagery.
That was yesterday. Today, I ran across a Washington Times op-ed by Paul Belien, who blogs at Brussels Journal. The op-ed, which appeared last Wednesday, begins by asserting that “Europe is in the middle of a three-way culture war, between the defenders of traditional Judeo-Christian morality, the proponents of secular hedonism and the forces of Islamic Jihadism.” I agree, though I’d characterize the first two sides – representatives of which we saw in action yesterday in the streets of Moscow – rather differently than Belien does.
First take that odd phrase “secular hedonism.” Hedonism! What we’re talking about when we talk about secular democracy is not hedonism but, as the Declaration of Independence so wonderfully puts it, the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” – a very different thing. We’re talking about a society in which all citizens have individual freedom and equal rights, in which there’s no establishment of religion, and in which church and state are separate – in other words, the American system as outlined in the U.S. Constitution. (Here in Norway, where there’s still a state church, we’re not quite there yet.) This is the kind of society of which Vaclav Havel dreamed while locked in a Communist prison, the kind of society Ayaan Hirsi Ali fell in love with in the Netherlands and so courageously advocates in her campaign against Islamofascism. It’s the kind of society that Anders Fogh Rasmussen is striving to preserve in Denmark and that Nicolas Sarkozy has vowed to defend in France. Yet Belien has no appreciation for it. For him, it seems, the mere fact that more and more people now understand individual freedom to entail equal treatment for gay people is a deal-breaker; read his op-ed and you’ll see that in his mind the very idea of secular government is hopelessly tangled up with hedonism and that hideous thing, homosexuality (which he appears to regard as a veritable synonym for hedonism).
I agree with Belien that a member of the French parliament shouldn’t have been fined for saying homosexuality was inferior to heterosexuality – that’s the man’s right. By the same principle, however, it was wrong of Polish President Lech Kaczynski to ban a gay-rights march in Warsaw in 2005 – to march was their right. But Belien (who is a traditionalist Roman Catholic) doesn’t see it that way. In his view, European governments should not be in the business of guaranteeing equal rights and individual freedom but, rather, in the business of enforcing a certain species of religious “morality.” For him, secular democracy is just a void, a nullity: observing that “the religious vacuum left by the demise of Christianity” in Western Europe “is being filled by the Muslims,” he says that “since one cannot fight something with nothing, the European secularists are no match for Islam.” While Islam, then, is “something,” secular democracy is “nothing.” Individual liberty is “nothing.” The U.S. Constitution is “nothing.” This inability to find anything worth fighting for in a free society – a society, in other words, that is not inextricably yoked to some set of religious traditions and restrictions – is scarcely less disturbing when exhibited by a Catholic writer in Belgium than it is when exhibited by an imam preaching sharia law.*
Belien describes his own team in the big European face-off as “the defenders of Judeo-Christian morality.” To my mind, this is an inexact label for a group that includes not only self-identified Christians – with Pope Benedict in the lead – who share a hostility toward secular democracy and individual rights (think of Dinesh D’Souza, whose preference for patriarchy-enforcing imams over partnershipping homos is shared by many self-styled Christians in both America and Europe), but also neo-Nazis and nationalist fanatics who belong to parties like the far-right Vlaams Belang (which Belien’s wife, Alexandra Colen, represents in the Belgian Parliament) and who vote for the likes of Jean LePen. It’s true, as Belien says, that this movement has been eclipsed in Western Europe by secular liberalism, but it’s hardly died out; on the contrary, it now appears to be gaining strength and visibility in response to the rise of Islamofascism and the EU superstate. In While Europe Slept I noted that Pope Benedict, as many of his pronouncements have made clear, doesn’t “despise the suppression of individual rights in the Islamic world – he envie[s] it”; this is, alas, a common attitude in the so-called “Judeo-Christian morality” cabal.
In 1930s Europe, a conflict was taking shape among three factions – (1) Communists; (2) Nazis and other fascists; (3) supporters of liberal democracy. Back then, many in the West wrote off liberal democracy, saying it stood no chance in the face of two powerful and dynamic totalitarian ideologies. But World War II and the Cold War proved them wrong; U.S. troops whose memory we honor today proved them wrong. Among those troops were believers in a wide variety of religions as well as agnostics and atheists. They weren’t fighting for any given faith – they were fighting for the freedoms set down in the world’s first secular Constitution. Today, Europeans who cherish those same freedoms seem destined to face a strikingly similar challenge in the twin foes of Islamist jihad and far-right Christian nativism.
Happy Memorial Day.
* Belien, by the way, commits a humongous logical blunder here: his claim that “one cannot fight something [i.e., Islam] with nothing [i.e., secularism]” immediately follows the statement that “the fight between Christians and secularists is all but over” in Western Europe and that “the secularists have won” – an admission, in short, that “nothing” (secularism) has in fact triumphed over “something” (Christianity).
May 19, 2007: When I first heard that Jerry Falwell had died, I chose not to write anything about him – I’d already said what I had to say about him and his compeers ten years ago in Stealing Jesus. But then came all the tributes from political and religious leaders, celebrating Falwell as, in President Bush’s words, “a man who cherished faith, family, and freedom.”
Faith? Family? Freedom?
This was a man who, instead of challenging Christians to live up to the high calling of their faith by rising above their bigotry and educating themselves out of their ignorance, won adherents with a twisted, ugly message that exploited and affirmed their bigotry and ignorance.
This was a man who said that America had deserved 9/11, partly because of its tolerance of people like me. He later apologized for this remark, but then, in comments made not long before his death, seemed to take the apology back. In any case, the remark was of a piece with his entire theology.
This was a man who railed against secular pluralist society and the separation of church and state. He certainly didn’t believe in my freedom, or that of any other gay American. If he hadn’t come along, my Norwegian partner and I might today be permitted to live together in my country, in the same way that we’re permitted to live together in Norway.
This was a man who did real harm to real lives. How many of his followers, on learning their kids were gay, were encouraged by his rhetoric to believe that kicking those kids out of their homes and hearts, far from being a betrayal of the gospel, was in fact the Christian thing to do?
This was a man who damaged everything he touched. He made American society more vulgar, made American politics more fractious, made the public face of American Christianity uglier. In a healthier society, he’d have been dismissed by all and sundry as a bumptious fool. Instead he was taken seriously by millions, and won immense influence.
Some time around 1970, the year I turned fourteen, I discovered that back in 1925 a teacher in Tennessee had actually been put on trial for teaching evolution. What a relief, I thought, to have been born in a time when such idiocy was far behind us! But in 1979 Falwell brought it all back. And among the phenomena for which he’s largely responsible is today’s loony left (Michael Moore, Rosie O’Donnell, 9/11 conspiracies, etc.), which first arose as an extreme response to the inanity he unleashed.
In recent days a few people – notably Christopher Hitchens – have spoken candidly about Falwell only to be called mean-spirited. Yet Falwell made his name by being mean-spirited. His career was built on demonizing. He used prejudice to win power. He was a pimp for hate. He never hesitated to tell people that they were going to Hell or that their loved ones were already there. But now we’re told that even to mention this, his true legacy, is to be mean-spirited.
Falwell is dead. But we’ll be living for a long, long time with the gruesome consequences of his lifetime of mischief-making.
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Speaking of which, Bill Moyers introduced his interview with me, which aired last Friday, with a few choice words about Falwell.
The majority of Swedish young people have no idea what Communism is. Nor do they know which countries border on Sweden, shows a new study.
90 percent of young people aged 15 to 20 don’t know which foreign capital is closest to Stockholm, equally many don’t know what Gulag means, and 40 percent think that Communism has increased affluence in the world, shows the study.
“They lack understanding of basic concepts such as dictatorship and democracy, and this is unpleasant,” says Camilla Andersson, head of the organization Information about Communism, which commissioned the study.
Schools Minister Jan Björklund agrees. Now he will change history education in Swedish schools.
“It is very worrying that Swedish history teaching is so limited. Many have suspected, to be sure, that all is not well where historical knowledge is concerned,” says Jan Björklund to the news bureau TT.
No surprise here. But the problem, pace Björklund, is not “limited” history teaching. It’s slanted history teaching. It’s not that kids aren’t taught about Communism – it’s that they’re taught lies, half-truths, and carefully selected and edited truths. And they’re given a picture of the U.S. that Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky would be perfectly happy with. In While Europe Slept I write at some length about how Western European schoolteachers and the Western European media work together to foster a sympathy for Communism and hostility to America. As Haugland notes, this is why there are many clueless young people over here running around in “hammer-and-sickle and Che t-shirts.” And the problem is even worse in Sweden (and Norway) than in most other countries in Western Europe.
The only surprise here, indeed, is that NRK, which is as responsible for this execrable state of affairs as any other institution, didn’t bury the story.
May 8, 2007: This morning, VG hosted an online Q. & A. with Jan Egeland, former Kofi Annan underling at the UN and soon-to-be director of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. One might have expected tough questions about, say, what Pedro A. Sanjuan has called “the anti-Semitic UN culture,” about the UN’s sky-high levels of corruption, and/or about the multitude of rapes that were revealed a while back to have been committed by UN peacekeepers. One would certainly think there’d be a question or two about the Oil-for-Food scandal, which Claudia Rosett has called “the biggest fraud in the history of humanitarian relief,” and in which Annan has been deeply implicated.
But this is Norway, where the UN is sacred and Annan a saint — and where the scandal was hardly reported at all. Therefore the Q. & A. read almost entirely like this:
- Is Kofi Annan as nice and sincere as he appears to be? He seems like an unbelievably decent man!
- Yes, he is a really good human being.
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Nidra Poller turns in a vivid report on the Royal-Sarkozy debate.
According to Gaffney, MacNeil refused to air “Islam vs. Islamists,” because it is “alarmist” and “extremely one-sided.” Gaffney, in turn, blasted MacNeil’s film as “an appalling, politically correct but disinforming paean to organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Muslim Student Association and others who are part of the Islamist problem in this country.”
CAIR and MSA also are lionized in the PBS film that aired in place of Gaffney’s. Several executives of CAIR, a spinoff of a Hamas front, have been convicted of terror-related crimes. MSA was funded by the Saudis, and founded by members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Ignoring such relevant facts, PBS dismisses criticism of CAIR as coming from “pro-Israeli groups.” And it likewise pooh-poohs MSA’s critics as “right-wing bloggers.”…
PBS’ documentary whitewashes the Islamist threat inside the country. It could have just as easily been scripted by CAIR propagandists.
Since 9/11, while major newspapers and newsmagazines have been engaging in the same kind of shameless whitewashing as PBS, a handful of conscientious editors at publications like Investor’s Business Daily have taken up the slack and published the facts. Three cheers.
April 25, 2007: The bad news is that in 2007 a mainstream-media organ like the Washington Post/Newsweek website is still running sheer nonsense like this piece by Nabil Fahmy: “Don’t Judge Islam by Acts of a Few.” The good news is that in 2007 there are a number of readers who know better and who, in the comments section below Fahmy’s article, share information that their fellow readers would otherwise be unlikely to find in either theWashington Post or Newsweek.
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Surprise! Not a word about Ho in any Halberstam obit that I’ve seen. The New York Times doesn’t even include it on a list of his books that were reviewed in the Times. (Surely Ho was reviewed in the Times?) The obits’ running theme is that Halberstam told America the truth about Vietnam while the government lied. The Los Angeles Times quotes a colleague who calls Halberstam “a person of totally unswerving integrity.” It also quotes writer Gay Talese: “‘David set the record straight,’ he said. ‘If Halberstam reported something, you could believe it. There was never any doubt in a serious reader’s mind.'” The AP obit in the Philadelphia Inquirer quotes a journalist who says that Halberstam “kept the faith in the belief in the people’s right to know.” Alternate views of his legacy aren’t even hinted at. (Compare this with any number of Yeltsin obits, which stress the downside of his career and minimize the fact that he gave Russia the closest thing it’s ever had to democracy.)
If Halberstam were anybody other than a left-wing journalist, the media would be rather more honest about his record. Instead they’re quick to drop down the memory hole the fact that he dropped the full truth about Ho Chi Minh down the memory hole.
April 24, 2007 (3:09 AM CET): David Halberstam is dead. How much attention, one wonders, will the obituaries in the New York Times and other mainstream media give to his 1971 book Ho, which Michael Lind, inVietnam, calls “perhaps the most sympathetic portrait of a Stalinist dictator ever penned by a reputable American journalist identified with the liberal rather than the radical left”? Lind writes:
In Ho, Halberstam omits any mention of the repression or atrocities of Ho Chi Minh’s regime….From reading Halberstam, one would never guess that in 1945-46 Ho’s deputy Giap carried out a reign of terror in which thousands of the leading noncommunist nationalists in territory controlled by Ho’s regime were assassinated, executed, imprisoned, or exiled. Halberstam condemns the repression carried out by the Saigon regime: “Diem and the Americans had blocked elections in 1956 and Diem had carried out massive arrests against all his political opponents, particularly anyone who had fought with the Vietminh.” Of the far more severe repression in North Vietnam, there is not a word in Halberstam’s book. The Maoist-inspired terror of collectivization in the mid-fifties, in which at least ten-thousand North Vietnamese were summarily executed because they belonged to the wrong “class,” is not mentioned. Nor is the anticommunist peasant rebellion that followed; nor the deployment of the North Vietnamese military to crush the peasants; nor the succeeding purge of North Vietnamese intellectuals; nor the fact that almost ten times as many Vietnamese, during the brief period of resettlement, fled from communist rule as left South Vietnam for the North. The equivalent of Halberstam’s book would be a flattering biography of Stalin that praised his leadership during World War II while omitting any mention of the gulag, the purges, and the Ukrainian famine, or an admiring biography of Mao that failed to mention the Cultural Revolution or the starvation of tens of millions during the Great Leap Forward.
Halberstam is even less forthcoming when the subject is relations among North Vietnam, China, and the Soviet Union. He accurately describes Ho’s background in the French Communist party and his residence in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. But Halberstam omits any mention of Soviet or Chinese support for North Vietnam after 1949….No mention is made of the fact that the Hanoi government was aided by the Soviet superpower and China, a great power. The fact that in 1950, responding to pressure from Ho, Stalin ordered Mao to support Ho’s regime; the fact that the victory of North Vietnam against the French depended on military supplies and advice from the Sino-Soviet bloc; the fact that Ho’s dictatorship modeled its structure and policies on Mao’s China and Stalin’s Soviet Union; the fact that Soviet and Chinese deterrence forced the United States to fight in unfavorable conditions in Vietnam; the fact that hundreds of thousands of Chinese logistics troops, as well as Chinese and Soviet antiaircraft troops and Soviet fighter pilots, took part in the Vietnam War; the fact that North Vietnam would have been forced to abandon its effort to conquer South Vietnam, if not for massive Soviet and Chinese subsidies–all of these facts are omitted from Halberstam’s Ho.
That these damning facts were omitted by design rather than by mistake becomes clear when one examines the sources that Halberstam lists in his bibliography. Halberstam’s book leaves out everything critical written about Ho Chi Minh by the authors that Halberstam used as his sources. For example, one of Halberstam’s authorities, Joseph Buttinger, described the repressiveness of Ho’s government in great detail, and bitterly condemned it, in Vietnam: A Dragon Embattled (1967). The major source for Halberstam’s Ho appears to have been the book Ho Chi Minh published by the antiwar French journalist Jean Lacouture in 1968. In an interview in the late 1970s with a Milan newspaper, Lacouture, referring to the communist dictatorship in Cambodia, spoke of “my shame for having contributed to the installation of one of the most oppressive regimes history has ever known.” … Lacouture described pro-Hanoi journalists in the West like himself as “vehicles and intermediaries for a lying and criminal propaganda, ingenious spokesmen for tyranny in the name of liberty.” In light of this confession, the fact that Halberstam is even less critical of Ho than his source Lacouture, then a supporter of Hanoi, raises serious questions.
April 23, 2007: During a recent visit to Amsterdam, I went into the American Book Center. It used to be on the main shopping street, Kalverstraat, and was dreary, cluttered, uninviting. Now it’s a couple of blocks away on the Spui and is one of the most delightful bookstores I know. While there I purchased, among other items, the Everyman’s Library edition of George Orwell’s Essays.
It contains not only the essays, with most of which I was already familiar (from this collection), but also dozens of book reviews, plus dozens of columns that Orwell wrote for the Tribune from 1943 to 1947 under the title “As I Please.” The typical “As I Please” column consists of two or three unrelated items that read like blog entries. And as in a blog, they’re all over the place. Orwell praises books he’s been reading, reflects on conversations he’s had or remarks he’s overheard, makes observations about quotidian details of everyday life in wartime. Fascinating stuff.
A couple of excerpts:
From a 1941 review of Alex Comfort’s pacifist novel No Such Liberty: “Pacifism is only a considerable force in places where people feel themselves very safe, chiefly maritime states. Even in such places, turn-the-other-cheek pacifism only flourishes among the more prosperous classes, or among workers who have in some way escaped from their own class. The real working class, though they hate war and are immune to jingoism, are never really pacifist, because their life teaches them something different. To abjure violence it is necessary to have no experience of it.”
From a 1946 essay, “The Prevention of Literature”: “…in England the immediate enemies of truthfulness, and hence of freedom of thought, are the Press lords, the film magnates, and the bureaucrats, but that on a long view the weakening of the desire for liberty among the intellectuals themselves is the most serious symptom of all.”
UPDATE: Turns out Eric Weinberger has written an engaging essay on Orwell’s “As I Please” column as a proto-blog. Check it out.
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Boris Yeltsin is dead. From the New York Times obit:
During a visit to the United States in 1989, he became more convinced than ever that Russia had been ruinously damaged by the centralized, state-run economic system where people stood in long lines to buy the most basic needs of life and more often than not found the shelves bare.
He was overwhelmed by what he saw at a Houston supermarket, by the kaleidoscopic variety of meats and vegetables available to ordinary Americans.
Leon Aron quoting a Yeltsin associate, wrote in his biography, “Yeltsin, A Revolutionary Life” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000): “For a long time, on the plane to Miami, he sat motionless, his head in his hands. ‘What have they done to our poor people?’ he said after a long silence.”
He added, “On his return to Moscow, Yeltsin would confess the pain he had felt after the Houston excursion: the ‘pain for all of us, for our country so rich, so talented and so exhausted by incessant experiments.’ ”
He wrote that Mr. Yeltsin added, “’I think we have committed a crime against our people by making their standard of living so incomparably lower than that of the Americans.”’ An aide, Lev Sukhanov was reported to have said that it was at that moment that “the last vestige of Bolshevism collapsed” inside his boss.
UPDATE: Predictably enough, the left-wing Norwegian daily Dagbladet sought out — and found! — a small group of Russians celebrating Yeltsin’s death. Why were they celebrating? For reasons that doubtless resonated strongly in Dagbladet’s editorial offices: they miss the good old days:
“My father spent 50 years of his life in the Communist Party and thought he was doing something good for the people. In the final analysis, he did it for a handful of swindlers,” said Vladimir, a retired doctor, who was chided by his wife for speaking ill of the dead.
“I have negative feelings for him because the privatization he carried out was illegal and even criminal,” says Timur, a 24-year-old economist.
Just to give you the flavor of Dagbladet, they’ve also just posted a profile of Magnus Marsdal, whose new book is about how the Progress Party (which is now Norway’s first or second largest party) has “cultivated the worst of Norway’s national soul.” What is Marsdal’s own party affiliation? It’s not mentioned in the piece, but if you look at his Wikipedia profile, you’ll see that he belongs to the Communist organization Attac, worked at the Communist newspaper Klassekampen, and has also been a member of the Communist youth organization Rød Ungdom (Red Youth). There was no reason to mention any of this in the Dagbladet profile, of course, because in the Norwegian media such affiliations are considered entirely mainstream — as opposed, of course, to membership in the Progress Party.
April 11, 2007: When in history has any people ever been at war with an enemy that it’s unwilling, for reasons of sensitivity, to name?
We’re at war with Islamism (a.k.a. Islamofascism). But the President of the United States, after a brief bout of honesty about this a while back, reverted to calling it a “war on terrorism.” Meanwhile the media elite, by and large, is more willing to smear the enemy’s critics as “racists” or “Islamophobes” than to call the enemy by its own name.
The Drudge Report links to a couple of articles in the Arizona Republic about the cancellation of a PBS documentary called Islam vs. Islamists. Confronted with the documentary’s focus on the likes of Zuhdi Jasser –who is apparently one of those rare, brave Muslims who dare to criticize Islamofascism – the PBS people, in the words of Doug MacEachern, “could not bring themselves to declare people like Jasser ‘moderate’ because that would mean criticizing the fundamentalists whom the Jassers of the world oppose.” Chilling.
If this nonsense keeps up, we lose. Simple as that.
UPDATE: An interview with the filmmaker at Hugh Hewitt.
March 24, 2007: While Europe Slept, just out in Spain, has received an extremely gratifying review from José María Marco at Libertad Digital: “Un libro valiente, complejo y claro a la vez, y además ameno como pocos. Se lee de un tirón, sin exageración de ninguna clase. No dejen de precipitarse a comprarlo, ahora mismo, en la librería más próxima. De lectura obligatoria.”
March 22, 2007: On Sunday I sent off a piece to Human Rights Service responding to a snarky column aboutWhile Europe Slept that appeared in the March 9 issue of the left-wing Norwegian newsweekly Ny Tid. The next morning, on my way to Madrid (where I gave a talk at the launch of the book’s Spanish edition), I saw the March 16 issue of that same publication staring at me from a rack at the Oslo train station.
“Are the Islam critics issuing a warning or are they crusaders?” read the question on Ny Tid’s cover. I turned to the cover story (pp. 48ff). It was illustrated with a big picture of Oriana Fallaci and other critics of Islam in crusader garb. Apparently the answer to the cover question was (b).
The piece was titled “Angry White Men” – a title that seemed especially silly, given that it appeared right under the picture of Fallaci. Such is the mentality that reigns at places like Ny Tid, where all criticism of Islam is automatically associated with whiteness and maleness, with the forces of reaction and European nationalism, with conservative Christianity and the political right – never mind that perhaps the most high-profile critic of Islam at the moment is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a black, female, liberal atheist. The cover story itself included a list of books on Islam that have appeared lately in Norway, and any reader who bothered to look at the sales figures listed there could see that the country’s two biggest-selling recent titles in this genre were both written by women, Hirsi Ali and Hege Storhaug.
“Angry White Men” pretended to be a serious consideration of recent books that are critical of Islam. Yet after the opening sentences, in which several titles were listed – among them Robert Spencer’s The Truth about Muhammed, Andrew G. Bostom’s The Legacy of Jihad, and my own While Europe Slept – the piece’s author, Thomas Berg, wrote: “One does not need to read more than the titles to understand that this is not about bridge-building.”
There was, in fact, little evidence anywhere in the cover story that Berg had read anything more than the titles. Instead of offering even a cursory account of these books’ contents, Berg proceeded to give us several hundred words of dismissive comments on them by three supposed authorities on these matters. First up: Kari Vogt (Norway’s answer to Karen Armstrong), who said that these books “have an idea about what is authentically ‘Norwegian’ or originally ‘European.’ Then they describe a sort of moral infection that accompanies the presence of those with different beliefs.” Second, Lars Gule: “Many people are ignorant and scared, and so you have a market for simple interpretations and answers. Many of these books mix prejudices with conspiracy theories. We recognize the result from the classical anti-Semitic thought structure: Not only do ‘the others’ – whether Jewish or Muslim – belong to a foreign culture; they are also sly and calculating, and it is in their ‘nature’ to seek world domination.”
Finally, Iffit Qureshi (“Scots-Pakistani-Norwegian social commentator and course leader for immigrants”): “The fear of Islam is great among many people. For this we can thank, among others, the Progress Party and Human Rights Service.” Yes, the Progress Party and Human Rights Service. Forget the terror attacks on New York, Madrid, London, Bali, etc., etc.; forget the murder of Theo van Gogh and the death threats issued against Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Robert Redeker, and countless other critics of Islam; forget the cartoon riots, the Pope riots, the riots in the French suburbs and Belgian suburbs and elsewhere; forget, here in Oslo, the recent waves of gay-bashings and rapes by increasingly aggressive Muslim youth gangs. No, if people in Norway are concerned about Islam, it’s the fault of the Progress Party and Human Rights Service.
Throughout this breathtakingly mendacious tissue of calumnies, neither Berg nor Vogt nor Gule nor Qureshi provided anything remotely resembling a frank description of the contents of the books supposedly under discussion. Of course that’s the only way to write a piece like this. For if you were to honestly discuss a book like, say, Bostom’s The Legacy of Jihad, you’d be forced to acknowledge that it’s a sober, factual, and extraordinarily informative account of the history of jihad – and that it sheds a disturbing light on our present challenges. Better to dismiss it, and other important books, as shrill, bigoted, racist, and so forth than to grapple with the uncomfortable truths they explore.
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As if Ny Tid hadn’t already provided enough silliness for one week, yesterday – on a plane from Madrid to Munich – a flight attendant handed me this week’s issue of the European edition of Newsweek. The cover story was a “special report” on “Europe at 50.” Like Thomas Berg, this piece’s author, Andrew Moravcsik, began with a list of book titles, which again included my own. Like Berg, too, Moravcsik cited these titles only to dismiss them and the concerns they raise about Europe’s prospects. “To most who live in Europe – or have visited lately – all this [concern about demographic decline, Muslim assimilation, etc.] seems wrong, even absurd,” Moravcsik insisted. He then proceeded to paint the rosiest picture of Europe’s present and future that I’ve seen in years. His conclusion: “50 years after the EU’s march to unity began, it is now Europe, not the United States, that’s held up as a new lamp unto the nations.” Never mind the EU’s flagrant corruption and wastefulness; never mind its determination to micromanage the lives of millions of Europeans who’ve never even been given the opportunity to decide whether they wanted to be subject to the ever-expanding, and radically undemocratic, authority of the European Commission’s unelected technocrats: in Moravcsik’s view, the EU is “the model for a continent.” He quotes “futurologist Jeremy Rifkin,” whose enthusiasm for Europe’s emphasis on “community relationships over individual autonomy” Moravcsik shares – never mind that this disdain for “individual autonomy” is what got Europe into its 20th-century nightmare of totalitarianism in the first place.
Piled up on the airplane seat next to me, as I read Moravcsik’s piece, were yesterday’s issues of the International Herald Tribune and several Spanish newspapers, all of them packed with dire reports about Europe’s various social and economic crises.
How irresponsible of Newsweek to run such blatant propaganda (Moravcsik directs Princeton’s European Union Program) as a news report.
Keillor’s charm was always utterly lost on me. NPR liberals adore him. Few of them seem ever to have noticed that his cozy anecdotes, with their implicit lessons in tolerance and affection for quirky and diverse humanity, were virtually homo-free. I always sensed beneath all the supposedly endearing (yet consistently unfunny) whimsy an egomaniac, a prig, and a phony who had no appreciation for the struggles of gay people to lead lives of dignity and integrity and whose worldview had no place for gay couples or parents, however dedicated and self-sacrificing.
March 6, 2007: The broadcast monopoly enjoyed by Norway’s state-owned TV and radio network NRK didn’t end until 1990, when Parliament finally voted to permit the establishment of privately owned, ad-funded TV2. It went on the air in 1992, and while its news reports have often reflected the same left-wing establishment biases as NRK’s, TV2 has done a far better job than NRK of addressing controversial issues. Perhaps its most important contribution in this regard is the discussion series Holmgang, hosted by Oddvar Stenstrøm, which has confronted with admirable frankness topics that the NRK had long shrouded in self-censorship and circumlocution.
In Norway’s left-wing establishment, the word “dialogue” is a veritable mantra. But that establishment has always looked down its nose at Holmgang precisely because it has given air time to views that had previously been omitted from the public debate. They especially dislike the fact that the series has given a platform not only to the usual cohort of apologists for radical Islam but also to critics thereof.
Enter Abid Q. Raja, a lawyer and prominent member of Norway’s Muslim community. Back in November 2004, enraged by a Holmgang episode which asked the question “Are Muslims a threat to Western values?” (97% of viewers who called in said yes), Raja published in VG a bullying “open letter” in which he savaged TV2 managing director Kåre Valebrook for airing the show, which he described as “raw populism.” (I write about this on page 197 of While Europe Slept.)
Last week Holmgang asked the same question again, this time adding the word “radical”: “Are radical Muslims a threat to Western values?” This time 98% said yes. Once again Raja took to the newspapers. In an article in yesterday’sAftenposten, he insisted that “Oddvar Stenstrøm must be taken off the air.” The front page of today’s Dagbladet (no link) features a picture of Stenstrøm over which the words “You’re a COWARD, Stenstrøm” — Raja’s accusation — are printed in huge letters. Why does Raja call Stenstrøm cowardly? Because he won’t meet Raja in the media for a debate about whether he, Stenstrøm, should be taken off the air. Stenstrøm replies, quite reasonably, “I cannot participate in a debate about whether I should be taken off the air.”
Raja isn’t alone in attacking Holmgang. Among his supporters are Martine Aurdal, editor of the newsweekly Ny Tid, who says Holmgang is “the debate program that goes the furthest in simplifications and populism” (this means, basically, that it doesn’t suppress, soft-pedal, or euphemize about the facts), and Frank Aarebrot, a high-profile media commentator who has called on Stenstrøm to share with the public his own views on immigration. (As far as I know, Aarebrot has never called on other Norwegian journalists to share their views.)
Raja has a right to his opinions. But it’s crystal clear what he’s up to. He’s trying to close down one of the few public fora in Norway in which Islam, immigration policy, and integration problems are discussed frankly. His campaign against Holmgang represents yet another effort to silence discussion and criticism of Islam in the West — and, as such, cannot be seen in isolation from the murder of Theo van Gogh, the Danish cartoon riots, the violent response to the Pope’s speech at Regensburg University, and the death threats made against Robert Redeker in response to his op-ed on Islam in Le Figaro.
* * *
Last year it was the cartoon riots. Now, in recent days, Copenhagen has been subjected to street violence by protesters outraged over the eviction of leftist radicals and anarchists from a “Youth House” (Ungdomshuset) to which they never had title in the first place.
The protesters don’t have a leg to stand on. The “Youth House” was illegally occupied, period. But the sense of entitlement, and of injustice, that underlies the squatters’ (and their supporters’) rage is no surprise. The Youth House denizens, and their counterparts in other European cities, have long enjoyed — and taken for granted — the tacit support of a significant portion of Europe’s political and media elite. They’ve been the establishment’s spoiled anti-establishment kids for so long that one can hardly be amazed to see them reacting so petulantly when Mommy tells them it’s time to get out and pay their own way like everyone else.
The Youth House gang’s counterpart in Oslo is a group called Blitz. It, too, has its own house, which it first occupied illegally but for which the city of Oslo later granted it a rental contract and charged it a nominal rent. Since then, the boys and girls of Blitz have made a habit of holding violent street demonstrations and injuring cops. In 1986, a bunch of them interrupted a meeting of Oslo’s city council; several times in the 1990s, they disrupted a series of conservative political gatherings. Far from being punished for their aggressive behavior, they’ve been rewarded: in 2002, Oslo’s city council put the Blitz House up for sale, only to change its plans after Blitz members vandalized City Hall.
In While Europe Slept, I write (on page 161) about a Blitz action I witnessed in 2004 in which thirty or so Blitz members spray-painted anti-Israeli slogans on and above the main entrance of a major government building in Oslo. Meanwhile a couple of dozen cops stood passively a few yards away, obviously having been ordered to let the vandals do their work unimpeded.
Now it’s been reported that demonstrators who threw rocks and jars of paint yesterday at cops (injuring one of them) outside the Danish embassy in Oslo were carrying a Blitz poster. André Oktay Dahl, a Conservative Party politician who sits on the Parliament’s Justice Committee, says that if the protesters do indeed turn out to have been Blitz members, “we should follows the Danes’ example. Throw the dregs out!” Good for him. But it seems doubtful that Norway’s Blitz policy will turn sane any time soon.
February 22, 2007: Where on earth, these days, can one find liberals willing to stand up for liberal values against brutal intolerance?
In Europe, purportedly liberal officials have sacrificed liberal values rather than offend outrageously illiberal Muslim sensibilities. Now purportedly liberal higher-ups in the Episcopal Church are apparently ready torenounce liberal values to pacify African archbishops who preach (as Steve Miller puts it here) a gospel of hate.
The Episcopal Church’s antigay bishops are almost starting to look good to me: at least they’re true to their convictions. Meanwhile many of their supposedly gay-friendly colleagues – bishops who have preached stirringly, in sermon after sermon, about God’s unconditional love for all His children, and who have encouraged gay Christians to view the Episcopal Church as a welcoming home – are now making it clear that preserving the institutional ties that bind the Episcopal Church to the Anglican Communion is far more important, in their view, than being true to the imperatives of the faith as they’ve claimed to understand it.
In other words, they’re willing to sell out the gays – and the gospel – in order to keep their place on the organizational chart.
Not that this is anything new.
BECK: OK. Real quickly, we have about a minute. What — who is standing with you as a woman`s organization? Who — what National Organization of Women is coming up and saying I`m with you?
MANJI: You know there isn`t one.
MANJI: Fear. Fear of offending. So many people today in America come up to me to say, “Irshad, I wish I could support your call to reconcile Islam with human rights, but if I do, you know I’ll be called a racist for sticking my nose in somebody`s else`s business.”
Against people who are willing to die in the cause of destroying freedom, people who are unwilling to stand up for freedom for fear of being called a name don’t stand much chance of victory.
February 6, 2007: While Europe Slept finally gets coverage in the New York Times…
February 5, 2007: Why do I have the feeling that the people who are calling While Europe Slept “racist” and “Islamophobic” wouldn’t have responded to Stealing Jesus, my book about Protestant fundamentalism – or, say, tothis article of mine about the Catholic Church – by calling me “Christophobic”?
Some people think it’s terrific for writers to expose the offenses and perils of religious fundamentalism – just as long as it’s Christian fundamentalism.
January 31, 2007: I write in While Europe Slept about how Europe’s establishment kowtows to Islamists who revile the free, tolerant societies in which they live but tramples on immigrants who strive to be respectable, productive members of those societies. In the book I mention a Paraguayan immigrant to Norway who couldn’t find work in his field until he legally changed his name from Lidio Dominguez to Nils Myrland. Today’sAftenposten brings another case study.
“Norway is crying out for civil engineers,” writes Kristin Solberg. “Yet civil engineer Sheraz Akhtar (31) has applied for over 250 jobs and been rejected for all of them.” Akhtar, a Norwegian citizen who has lived in Norway since he was a baby, studied engineering in Trondheim, where he and his classmates were told repeatedly that “You’ve chosen a field in which you’ll get a job. A job isn’t a problem, as long as you complete your studies.” Four and a half years later, Akhtar’s classmates, who presumably don’t have names like “Akhtar,” are working as engineers; meanwhile Akhtar is waiting tables at an Italian restaurant. (And he’s probably lucky to have that job.)
You can be sure that most of the employers who tossed out Akhtar’s 250 job applications pride themselves on being enlightened and utterly free of prejudice. They’re not Americans, after all.
January 29, 2007: I’ve just read that when the nominees for the NBCC awards were announced at a party the other night, the author who was selected to recite the names of the criticism finalists took the opportunity to call my book (which is one of the finalists) “racist.”
As I and many others have pointed out a few million times, radical Islam is not a race. (Is Ayaan Hirsi Ali a racist? Is Irshad Manji? Is Chahdortt Djavann?) But it’s easy – and, in some circles, highly effective – to fling the “R” word instead of trying to respond to irrefutable facts and arguments.
One of the most disgraceful developments of our time is that many Western authors and intellectuals who pride themselves on being liberals have effectively aligned themselves with an outrageously illiberal movement that rejects equal rights for women, that believes gays and Jews should be executed, that supports the coldblooded murder of one’s own children in the name of honor, etc., etc. These authors and intellectuals respond to every criticism of that chilling fundamentalist code – however cogent and correct the criticism may be – by hurling the “R” word.
I will not be cowed by such disgraceful, duplicitous rhetoric. Civilized, tolerant, pluralist values are at stake – values that affect freedom-loving individuals of all races.
January 26, 2007: Europe’s Stockholm Syndrome
The sensational story about Shawn Hornbeck, the Missouri boy who stayed with his kidnapper for four years though he apparently had endless opportunities to escape, has occasioned a lot of talk about Stockholm syndrome. This is, of course, the psychological mechanism whereby hostages come to identify with their captors, kidnap victims with their kidnappers, abused people with their abusers. It takes its name from a 1973 Stockholm incident in which four people, held hostage for six days by bank robbers, refused afterwards to testify against them and even contributed to their defense fund. The most famous case was probably that of Patty Hearst, who after being nabbed in 1974 by the Symbionese Liberation Army joined the group and helped knock over a bank.
Some observers have called into question the syndrome’s very existence. I, for one, don’t doubt it exists. For Western Europe’s cultural elite has long been suffering from a malady that can’t easily be distinguished from Stockholm syndrome. Just look, after all, at the way that elite deals with Europe’s Muslims – especially the imams, gang members, and sundry “Islamic Councils” and “Muslim Associations.” You can’t help being reminded of an abuse victim who – for some psychological reason that outsiders can’t understand – not only fails to flee or to fight back when given the chance but actually defends and praises his abuser.
It’s no exaggeration to use the word “abuse.” A wildly disproportionate percentage of Western Europe’s Muslims are living on state support – and committing brutal crimes against the taxpayers who fund it. “Moderate” imams (as shown on Channel 4’s recent “Undercover Mosque” exposé) call regularly for the murder of Jews and gays and for Muslim conquest of Europe. Meanwhile the “councils” and “associations” (also supposedly moderate) repeatedly declare their “understanding” for everybody from Theo van Gogh’s murderer to the July 2005 London bombers.
Europe is being held captive. Yet just as Shawn Hornbeck, who had a cell phone and computer, was in theory perfectly free to flee his captor or contact his parents, European officials have a clear route out of this nightmare. They have armies. They have police. They have prisons. They’re in a position to deport planeloads of people every day. They could start rescuing Europe tomorrow. Yet how have they responded to the gangsters who are holding it hostage? In precisely the same way Shawn Hornbeck apparently did: like prisoners under lock and key. They’ve been incredibly docile, compliant, submissive.
Europe’s media, for example, when confronted with events or statements that vividly illuminate the goals of Muslim leaders and agitators, either don’t report on them or edit out key facts. (Few media accounts of the fall 2005 Paris riots, for example, mentioned the participants’ cries of “Allahu akbar,” which made their religious motive clear.) Though a 2006 Telegraph poll found that 40% of British Muslims want Britain to become a sharia state, politicians still respond to every new riot, rape, honor killing, or foiled terrorist plot by reassuring the public that the overwhelming majority of European Muslims are law-abiding, peace-loving supporters of democracy. No British official so much as commented on “Undercover Mosque” – yet days after it was broadcast, in a colossal denial of the reality it exposed, Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Ian Blair announced a jaw-dropping plan to share anti-terrorist intelligence with Muslim community leaders.
Yes, some Europeans – notably Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen – have resisted this self-destructive pattern of collective passivity and prostration. But you’d think most members of the cultural elite were tied up in a basement with a gun to their head. Like Shawn Hornbeck, they’ve been given ample opportunity to end their captivity – yet instead they persist in helping, praising, offering excuses for, and apologizing and submitting to their captors. What can you call this other than Stockholm syndrome – which in this instance, instead of afflicting a single child, has somehow taken hold of an entire culture?
Perhaps the only difference is this. Shawn Hornbeck got out alive. Europe may not be so fortunate.
December 20, 2006: Here’s [picture omitted] a glimpse of what it’s like to live this far north at the winter solstice. Yesterday at 4:40 p.m. I took this picture of a scaffolded building in Oslo that’s being floodlit so the workers can do their job.
* * *
The other day a friend was wondering about this apparent paradox: while same-sex marriage/partnership is far more advanced in Europe than America, gays can adopt children in the U.S. (except Florida) but not in many parts of Europe. I wrote the following in reply, and figured I might as well post it here, too:
After moving to Norway I was struck by the fact that while gay marriage/partnership was widely accepted as the natural way of things, gay adoption was fiercely opposed by people on both left and right. In Norway it is illegal.
I came to understand that the reason is this. In social democratic countries, a chief motivation for accepting gay marriage is the desire of the all-encompassing State to have its fingers in EVERYTHING. If there are going to be gay couples, and there are, the government is determined to know who they are, to register them, to count them, etc. The alternative, after all, is to have a large part of the society that is in some sense living outside of the system, unregistered, uncounted, unregulated. If it is in the interests of America’s religious right to deny the reality of gay coupledom, it is in the interests of European social democrats to face reality, the better to bring it under the wide umbrella of the system.
Gay adoption works the opposite way. In America, when it comes to gay people adopting kids, the devotion to the American tradition of keeping government out of family matters kicks in, even in the cases of many on the religious right who don’t really want to see gay people bringing up kids. For them, the idea of the government regulating families is apparently too sinister even to bring it into play in the lives of gay people. For them, presumably, that slope is just too slippery.
But in Europe? Once gay couples are accepted, registered, and official, they’re under the thumb of the social-democratic system. And that system is eager to use its power, to lay down the law in this regard as it does in regard to everything else. The system knows that you can’t keep people from being gay – but you can forbid them from adopting children. For years I’ve heard “pro-gay” Norwegian politicians fervently declare that gay people who want to adopt children are simply being selfish. Period! Case closed! That’s the mantra here, on both left and right.
If among religious-right people in the U.S. the rallying cry is family, and the right of the head of family to exercise his power unconditionally unencumbered by the power of the state, in the social-democratic mindset children ultimately belong to the State. And the State here is not at all shy about exercising its proprietary authority in what it deems to be children’s “best interests.”
To be sure, there are more and more people here who dissent from this view, or pretend to. In the last election, in September of last year, the socialist parties promised that if elected they would allow gay adoption. They were elected. Nothing has changed.
December 12, 2006: The other day one of the bookstores in Norway’s Ark chain cancelled a signing by Vebjørn Selbekk, the editor who reprinted the Jyllands-Posten cartoons in Magazinet. The reason for the cancellation? “Security considerations.” When I read about this, I made a mental note to stop shopping in Ark bookstores. Jan Arild Snoen now proposes that supporters of free speech boycott the chain until it comes to its senses. I’m with him.
December 6, 2006: A few choice quotations from Andrew Sullivan’s splendid new book:
“The message of the Gospels seems to me to be constantly returning to this theme: those who set themselves up as arbiters of moral correctness, the men of the book, the Phariees, are often the farthest from God. Rules can only go so far; love does the rest. And the rest is by far the most important part. Jesus of Nazareth constantly tells his fellow human beings to let go of law and let love happen: to let go of the pursuit of certainty; to let go of possessions, to let go of pride, to let go of reputation and ambition, to let go also of obsessing about laws and doctrines. This letting go is what the fundamentalist fears the most. To him, it implies chaos, disorder, anarchy. To Jesus, it is the beginning of wisdom, and the prerequisite of love.” (p. 206-7)
“I call myself a Christian because I believe that, in a way I cannot fully understand, the force behind everything decided to prove itself benign by becoming us, and being with us. And as soon as people grasped what had happened, what was happening, the world changed forever.” (p. 208)
“In religion beauty matters; the aesthetic counts. It counts because the kind of wonder we sometimes feel when looking at a stunning painting or a sublime sunrise is the wonder we should really feel all the time in the presence of God. What religion can be at its most sublime is the fusion of that wonder with practical life. It is the marriage of the poetic and practical modes of experience. This does not require the imposition of fixed rules and doctrines, although they may be helpful guides from time to time. It requires a constant reimagination of the potential of life lived on earth as if it were heaven. It requires letting go of our desire not to let go.” (p. 222)
November 22, 2006: After reading my posting of two days ago about the low response rate in the counties of Oslo and Akershus to invitations to a naturalization ceremony for new Norwegian citizens, Leif Knutsen offers some typically thoughtful and sensitive comments.
My own feelings are as follows:
- If a country agrees to grant you citizenship, the least you owe it is a loyalty oath.
- If you accept the citizenship, you should be honored and thrilled to make such an oath. And to sing the national anthem.
In America this is a no-brainer. Citizenship is viewed as a high honor. If you’re a citizen, of course you pledge allegiance to the flag. Of course you sing the national anthem. The European tendency to think of this as the equivalent of arresting somebody and dragging him into a small room and forcing him to sign away his soul while holding a gun to his head is terribly unfortunate.
In the U.S., new citizens go to citizenship ceremonies in their best clothes. They bring their families and take pictures and cry and hug and sing the national anthem with pride and joy. This is how you build and sustain a country. When a country starts handing out passports to people who don’t feel that way about it, who in fact despise it and what it stands for, the country’s doomed.
But the fault here is far from entirely that of the new citizens themselves. Here’s where the big difference between American and European attitudes toward immigrants comes in.
Get this: on October 27, Ny Tid reported that Språkrådet, which in English calls itself the Norwegian Language Council, and which on its website identifies itself as “the Norwegian government’s advisory body in matters pertaining to the Norwegian language and language planning,” had proclaimed in an e-mail to Ny Tid that the word “Norwegian” is synonymous with the term “ethnic Norwegian.” The e-mail went on to explain: “A Pakistani who settles in Norway does not become a Norwegian, even if he becomes a Norwegian citizen. He is still a Pakistani….The Norwegian belongs to his group, and the Pakistani to his group….There is something that is called ethnicity, and it is not just an empty label; it is a designation that describes a reality.”
Group! Ethnicity! There’s European thinking for you in a nutshell. And perhaps especially Norwegian thinking. (I see that Leif has already written about this.) Immigrants to Norway who strive to integrate into their new society and to be hard-working, devoted citizens are out of luck if they expect that the natives will for this reason accept them as Norwegians. Meanwhile, newcomers who have no desire to be accepted as Norwegians, but who are on the contrary determined to preserve every last (and worst) aspect of their original ethnic and cultural identity, even in defiance of Norwegian values and rights, will be praised for being true to their “group identity.”
Språkrådet’s equation of ethnic identity with national identity, of course, affects not only immigrants but the Norwegian-born children and grandchildren of immigrants. According to Språkrådet’s definition, people who were born and raised in Norway, who carry Norwegian passports, who speak Norwegian as fluently as any member of Språkrådet, and who may never even have set foot in any other country, have no right to call themselves Norwegian. Nor do the dark-skinned adopted children of ethnic Norwegian parents, who know no country but this one.
For an American, such thinking could hardly be more alien. Or offensive. Or just plain stupid.
To be sure, on November 15 Språkrådet revised its opinion: “The statements in the e-mail from Språkrådet have been discussed both in the secretariat and by Språkrådet’s board of directors, and Språkrådet apologizes for these unfortunate statements. The e-mail, which was approved by the director, should not have been sent in that form.”
Yet the insult lingers – along with the stink of sheer stupidity. That a government can pour untold cash benefits into the pockets of immigrants who have no intention of finding a job or adapting to the culture, yet can, at the same time, though an “advisory body,” deny the very title “Norwegian” to immigrants who have struggled to learn the language, to support their families, and to be loyal, law-abiding citizens of Norway – to people who wear the label “Norwegian” with pride and who fly the flag enthusiastically every May 17th – is a cruel insult to every one of those citizens and an incredible act of national self-destructiveness.
The question, of course, should not be whether people with Norwegian passports can call themselves Norwegians. Naturally they can. The question is whether a democratic nation has any business setting up a star chamber whose job it is to lay down the law about the language.
November 20, 2006: In a pilot program designed to aid integration, over 1200 new citizens of Norway living in the counties of Oslo and Akershus have been invited to a ceremony at which they can pledge loyalty to their new country and sing the national anthem. According to Dagsavisen, only 10 percent have accepted.
The head of the Organization against Government Discrimination (OMOD), Akjenaton De Leon, believes that the loyalty pledge is the reason why many turned down the invitation: “It’s totally fine to have a ceremony, but I question whether you should take an oath.” De Leon says he himself wouldn’t take any such oath, which he calls “offensive.”
* * *
Yesterday came the news that Muslims had asked authorities to pay for prison imams to minister to the increasing number of Muslims behind bars. Aftenposten’s article on this story noted that imam Zulqarnain Sakandar Madni has been serving as an unpaid prison chaplain but no longer has the time to devote to this task. “Several prisons have contacted the Islamic Council of Norway (IRN) about the need [for prison imams], but IRN believes this is something the government must finance. IRN leader Mohammed Hamdan says prison imams can guide and educate people who have done wrong so that they will not commit new criminal acts.”
What kind of guidance and education might these particular imams provide? Hamdan is the one who, under Norwegian government auspices, replied to editor Vebjørn Selbekk’s apology for reprinting the Muhammed cartoons by guaranteeing his family’s safety — as if he were the law. (See February 15 entry below.) And Madni is the one who told Aftenposten readers a few weeks ago that the U.S. was behind 9/11 and that Bin Laden doesn’t exist. (See September 12 entry below.)
Needless to say, there’s no mention of any of this in yesterday’s article, in which it is implicit throughout that it would be a good thing for these men and their colleagues to provide guidance and education to Muslim prisoners. As I wrote after Madni’s 9/11 comments, apropos of Selbekk’s capitulation, “That event was soon dropped down the memory hole. This one will be as well.”
November 15, 2006: Last Saturday I was in Copenhagen for a day-long roundtable on free speech and religious liberty sponsored by Denmark’s Free Press Society and Jyllands-Posten. I was the sole non-Danish panelist; the others included a law professor, a law instructor, a theologian, and two authors, including Kåre Bluitgen, whose inability to find an illustrator for his Muhammed book led to Jyllands-Posten’s now-famous cartoons. The event was introduced by Lars Hedegaard, head of the Free Press Society, and chaired by Kim Eskildsen.
The discussion largely addressed the question of whether Denmark’s blasphemy law should be repealed. The law professor couldn’t see why free speech was so important that it should trump the right of Muslims to expect criticism of their faith to be silenced by the authorities; author Stig Dalager had similarly unsettling views. Otherwise there was broad agreement that free speech was vital and that a secular democracy should not be in the business of deciding what is and what is not blasphemous.
I wasn’t the only one who traveled to Copenhagen from Oslo for this symposium. Also present were Hans Rustad of the indispensable weblog document.no, the distinguished immigration and integration researcher Inger-Lise Lien (whose work is cited in this article I translated), and Hege Storhaug (pictured), whose powerful and eloquent new book Men størst av alt er friheten: Om innvandringens konsekvenser (But the Greatest of All Is Freedom: On the Consequences of Immigration) outlines in devastating detail the disastrous results of Norway’s immigration policies. The book has already sold a remarkable 9,000 copies, which given the small size of the Norwegian market places her on a par with Danielle Steel. Such sales suggest that while most European politicians, journalists, and intellectuals are still sound asleep, a good number of ordinary Norwegians are waking up.
Earlier this year (as recounted in my blog posting for February 24) I attended a conference on Islam that took place in The Hague, in a former chamber of the Dutch legislature. Similarly, the setting for this weekend’s powwow was a sometime parliamentary chamber in Christiansborg Palace. On both occasions I tried — unsuccessfully — to imagine the government of Norway allowing such a conclave to be held on its premises. After all, the last time the Kingdom of Norway provided a venue for a major event that had anything to do with free speech was when cabinet minister Bjarne Håkon Hanssen stage-managed the capitulation to Norway’s imams by editor Vebjørn Selbekk, who had reprinted the Jyllands-Posten cartoons. (See my February 15 posting.)
Needless to say, this Saturday’s assemblage was a far cry from that disgraceful episode. How refreshing it was for this Oslo resident to breathe free air in Copenhagen!
UPDATE: My talk from the conference has been posted here.
October 29, 2006: I have before me two news items dated October 24. One of them is from the Gay Community News, which reports that “The leading imam in Manchester…thinks the execution of sexually active gay men is justified.” The imam made his comments in a discussion with a Manchester psychotherapist, John Casson, who wanted the imam to clarify the Islamic position on the execution of gays in Iran. Both Jihad Watch and Little Green Footballs linked to this story at GCN. I’ve looked in vain for it in the major British newspapers.
The other item is a story from LifeSiteNews.com reporting that the BBC “has admitted to a marked bias against Christianity and a strong inclination to pro-Muslim reporting among the network’s executives and key anchors.” It has also admitted that “the corporation is dominated by homosexuals.” These admissions came at a secret “impartiality summit” that the Daily Mail reported on last Sunday. The Telegraph ran an opinion column about this summit, but otherwise I can’t find any reference to it on the websites of other major UK papers.
So the question is this: did the gay-dominated but Muslim-friendly BBC report on the Manchester imam’s comments? I searched the BBC site and found a brief story dated Thursday, October 26 — meaning that apparently the BBC took two days to get around to reporting this. And look how they spun it. The story is framed not as a report of a Muslim leader’s affirmation of the legitimacy under Islam of executions of gay people, but as a report of an effort to smear Muslims.
The headline: “Imam accused of ‘gay death’ slur.” The lead: “A gay rights campaigner has accused an Imam of saying the execution of gay Muslims to stop the spread of disease is ‘for the common good of man.'” The brief story that follows seems designed to raise doubts about the accuracy of Casson’s account of his conversation with the imam. And the piece concludes with comments from Massoud Shadjareh of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, who essentially dismisses the issue of Muslim executions of gay people — “He said homosexuality was ‘not compatible’ with Islam, just as it was not compatible with other orthodox religions, such as Catholicism” — and who complains that giving attention to this issue “is part of demonising Muslims.”
That’s right — to draw attention to the fact that orthodox Muslim belief approves of the execution of homosexuals is to demonize Muslims.
The BBC story ends there. There’s no indication of any effort to pin Shadjareh down on Muslim attitudes toward gays, no mention of the many previous occasions on which Muslim religious leaders have said essentially the same thing the Manchester imam did, no quote from a gay-rights activist, and (of course) no quote from a straight-talking Islam expert like Robert Spencer who might have explained that sharia law does indeed prescribe capital punishment for homosexuals.
If the BBC is in fact dominated by gays, I as a gay man am ashamed of and disgusted by every last one of them. What can they possibly think they’re accomplishing by whitewashing Islam in this fashion? It’s as if a Jewish media organization in the 1930s kept itself busy propagandizing for the Nazis and covering up plans for the Holocaust.
“You know, these Muslims,” they have this cab driver saying, “if you feed a person with the Koran a couple of years, give him food, security, and everything he needs, you can bet he’ll get a good picture of humanity. Then there’s just as big a chance of him becoming a terrorist as there is of me becoming a millionaire at Bjerkebanen [a race track in Oslo –ed.]! But if he’s oppressed and discriminated against, and then fed with a little Islam, what he reads can be abused to legitimize violence. What creates extremism is lousy conditions, right? You can’t just say that the terrorists have to be stopped. We have to think through what kind of conditions create extremism. Where that’s concerned, I totally support what Basim Ghozlan said to Simen Sætre in the article on Islam inMorgenbladet‘s issue number 34/2006. Want a receipt?”
Though this speech is put in the mouth of some nameless cab driver, all of it — except a few words at the beginning and end, plus the racetrack reference — is a direct quote from Basim Ghozlan, and is drawn from the interview he gave to Sætre, a Morgenbladet writer, in the issue mentioned. Clearly, Ghozlan’s explanation of the roots of Muslim terrorism is one that Morgenbladet finds sympathetic.
It seems rather remarkable that a publication would, in an ad for subscriptions, appropriate the words of an interviewee and put them in somebody else’s mouth. But there’s nothing remarkable about the sentiments themselves — they’re exactly what you’d expect to hear from a “Muslim community leader” or a left-wing intellectual weekly. They’re utterly removed from reality. “What creates extremism is lousy conditions, right?” Yeah, forget that the murderer of Theo van Gogh was raised in a nice neighborhood of Amsterdam and went to college; forget that the 7/7 London terrorists grew up in comfortable homes, played sports, attended college. Give a Muslim immigrant “food, security, and everything he needs,” and “he’ll get a good picture of humanity” and behave himself. Yet Muslims in Europe have gotten food, security, piles of cash, etc.– more free stuff than any immigrant group anywhere at any time in human history, including enough dough to enable many a paterfamiliasnot only to build a palace for himself but also to build palaces for his brothers, sisters, and cousins. Immigrants in Norway from, say, China are independent, successful, hard-working, law-abiding; they’re making a contribution to the society and the economy. The situation with Muslim immigrants is dramatically different. But that difference can’t possibly have anything to do with the difference in religious and cultural background, can it? No, the problem has to be that Norwegians have somehow failed to give them “a good picture of humanity.”
Only a member of the pathologically detached intellectual/academic/political/media elite could buy this hogwash for a second. The obvious idea here is to sell it to the common reader by putting it into the mouth not of a university egghead but of a cab driver who looks like a straight-talking, no-nonsense white ethnic Norwegian from Central Casting.
This ad isn’t terribly surprising, coming as it does from a magazine that makes a habit of whitewashing Islam. Typical Morgenbladet fare is an article by Sætre entitled “A Violent Religion?” in which, taking the faux-naif approach, the author presents himself as an honest, uncertain seeker who simply wants to know if Islam is intrinsically violent. But what does he do to try to find out? Look at the Koran? Read Muslim history? Consult experts like Robert Spencer (whose many books answer the question definitively) and Andrew Bostom (whose book The Legacy of Jihad richly and incontrovertibly documents the centrality of violent jihad to the history of Muslim relations with non-Muslims)? No, Sætre goes from mosque to mosque in Oslo, asking imams questions and assiduously copying down their answers. The answers are largely lies — but Sætre doesn’t challenge the imams, doesn’t hold their bullshit up to critical scrutiny, doesn’t call them on their obvious employment oftaqiyya. Typical of the piece is the following exchange between Sætre and imam Mehboob Ur-Rehman of Oslo’s Islamic Cultural Centre:
– But are there things in the Koran that can justify terror?
– Can a good Muslim become a terrorist?
– No, no, no.
Well, that’s settled!
Which brings us to Basim Ghozlan. Who is this man whom Morgenbladet implicitly holds up in its ad as a respectable authority? He’s the director of Norway’s Islamic Federation and editor of the website islam.no — and he’s an Islamist. He has publicly supported Hamas suicide bombings of Jewish civilians, the execution of HIV-positive people, and an end to Norway’s annual Holocaust commemorations. The website Honest Thinking has noted that Ghozlan “embraces the dream of an Islamic state with Islamic law.” According to Hege Storhaug, Ghozlan’s wife, Muslim convert Lena Larsen, has said that her ideal is a sharia state. Ghozlan also has close ties to — and has praised the scholarship of — Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who supports the suicide bombing of civilian Jewish women and children, the death penalty for gays, and the oppression of woman according to strict sharia standards. Al-Qaradawi also looks forward to the Muslim conquest of Europe.
Under the Morgenbladet logo in the ad, it reads: “Don’t Make Yourself Dumber than You Are.” Yet the folks atMorgenbladet seem determined to stay dumb. They cling to the politically correct, post-Marxist delusion that Islamic terror could be eliminated if only we Westerners only stopped oppressing and discriminating against Muslims. And they close their eyes to every bit of evidence that Basim Ghozlan is not an admirable pillar of pluralistic, democratic Norway but an instrument and ally of forces that seek to replace that democracy with a woman-oppressing, homosexual-murdering, freedom-denying dictatorship by Taliban-style patriarchs. The European establishment’s cowardly groveling to the likes of Ghozlan — its refusal to face facts, to recognize an enemy as an enemy, and to deal with that enemy firmly and bravely and responsibly — is what helped bring about the colossal problems now facing Europe in the first place.
The point here isn’t that the Morgenbladet is exceptional in its outrageous disgracefulness. On the contrary,Morgenbladet‘s ad reflects a mentality that’s all too common among European politicians, academics, and journalists. Europe is in crisis, yet too many people in positions of responsibility still play these dangerous, puerile games — smearing as racist, right-wing extremists those who are concerned about the presence among us of Islamists who openly seek to destroy our freedoms, while holding those Islamists up as honorable men.
October 24, 2006: Amazon UK recommends books for me to buy.
October 17, 2006: Last night I watched a webcast of a panel, held earlier in the day at UN Headquarters in New York, called “Cartooning for Peace.” It wasn’t as bad as the title and venue might suggest, but given the recent Muhammed cartoon crisis, which dramatically demonstrated the scale and nature of the threats now being posed to free speech by Islamic jihad, the discussion was still a lot more toothless than one would have liked.
One would have hoped that the panelists – eight or ten cartoonists from around the world – would have used an event like this to declare their unqualified solidarity with their Danish colleagues who are still in hiding as a result of the Muhammed cartoon crisis and to defy the violent extremists who seek to curb everybody’s freedoms. Nope. Still, one panelist, while not explicitly mentioning the Danish crisis, gave a straightforward talk about the importance of free speech. Several others deplored the limitations on cartoonists’ freedom of expression in various countries; one cartoonist emphasized the lack of free speech in the Arab world. And one cartoonist, in response to a woman’s question about Theo van Gogh – whom she described as having been killed as payback for making an “offensive” film, the apparent implication being that the murder was somehow defensible – responded with a ringing defense of van Gogh’s film and condemnation of his murderer. A second woman, who seemed to be there in an official capacity, cut him off, saying with curt condescension that she did not share his view of van Gogh and that in any case this was off-topic (!).
There was the predictable US-bashing. More than one American cartoonist was at pains to make clear that he/she looked askance at the rise in patriotism in the US after 9/11. On the other hand, it was a pleasant surprise to hear one cartoonist (not American) remind everybody that while cartoonists around the world can bash Bush all they want, many of them cannot freely criticize their own leaders, as American cartoonists can.
All in all, the cartoonists left a better taste in one’s mouth than did smarmy, smooth-talking Under-Secretary-General Shashi Tharoor, who in his concluding “summary” sent out a message that was sharply at odds with the spirit of the cartoonists’ actual remarks. Tharoor did not explicitly mention the Danish cartoons, but they were clearly at the center of his remarks.
He began by speaking of cartoonists’ “ability, perhaps their responsibility, to be confrontational. But,” he added, “as we are all aware there is a balance that must be struck. It’s one thing to administer bitter medicine and quite another to poison a patient.”
Want to talk offensive? This is offensive: equating a cartoon with murder. By comparing cartoons to poison, Tharoor is implying that murders committed in supposed reaction to the Danish cartoons were in fact the fault of the cartoonists, not the actual murderers.
Tharoor: “The best cartoons provoke thought and even emotion, but they don’t seek to provoke intolerance or violence.”
Again, the implication here is that the Danish cartoonists were “seek[ing] to provoke intolerance or violence.” To implicitly blame on those cartoonists the intolerance of jihadists for Western freedoms, and their eruption in violence in an attempt to further a jihadist agenda, is disgraceful.
Tharoor: “Our experts have told us that what is acceptable varies, that the balance is different in different places, and they must understand something of the symbolic and cultural references of their audiences if their work is to be effective rather than simply offensive.”
In fact, the “experts” did nothing of the kind. They deplored the limits on freedom of expression in various countries. None took the position that these limits should be accepted or respected. None argued for cultural sensitivity. Tharoor’s “summary” turned reality on its head. Incredible.
Tharoor: “Since contemporary technology can transmit cartoons from one cultural context to another where they might be considered offensive, “the responsibility of cartoonists is perhaps greater than it has ever been before.”
In other words, cartoonists’ responsibility not to offend is greater. But cartoonists, or anyone else with an opinion to express in a free society, can’t be held responsible for the easily triggered “outrage” of others. To take Tharoor’s position is to allow people who are either genuinely outraged – or ready to pretend to be outraged – to act, in effect, as censors. That’s a one-way road to a Taliban planet and worldwide sharia law.
Tharoor: “The bottom line, I suspect, is that all of us, cartoonist or not, make decisions every day about the words that cross our lips or the images we project. People of good will and good intentions seek to understand the consequences of their actions and they try to the best of their ability to act in such a way as to leave the world no worse and perhaps even better than they found it.”
Does Tharoor understand the consequences of the words crossing his lips? Does he see that a society in which writers, artists, and others engage in constant self-censorship out of fear of somebody’s reaction somewhere is a society that’s no longer free?
Tharoor: “Indeed free speech is a right, and if we are offended by what we hear or see the onus is on us to register our complaints or to make our protests without violence and without inciting violence…violence is never a legitimate response.”
Great – yet everything he said before this has served to legitimize anti-free speech violence.
Tharoor: “So the bottom line therefore is a very thin blue UN line. None of us can afford to neglect our responsibilities to our neighbors, to the world we share, and for the impact our actions might have. The balance between freedom and responsibility is surely a delicate one.”
The UN has no business drawing lines, thin or blue or otherwise, that delimit freedom. Is Tharoor suggesting that the UN’s authority now overrides the First Amendment?
October 14, 2006: How about the contrast between North and South Korea at night, huh? Don’t those South Koreans know how to turn off a light when they go to bed? What’s wrong with those people? Guess they’re just like those horrible Americans — wasting electricity all over the place and generally exploiting more than their fair share of our precious blue planet’s precious resources. What a contrast to the North Koreans, who are obviously exemplary in their environmental consciousness, living simply, modestly, and close to nature! What great role models! It seems to me we could all learn something from them. There’s something to think about, no?
October 7, 2006: Last Sunday night, in Oslo, three sisters of Pakistani origin were murdered. Shortly thereafter their brother, Shahzad Khan, was arrested for the crime. Sources close to the family said it was an honor killing. According to these sources, the sisters’ father and brothers thought they had become too independent.
The sisters’ family, however, denies that it was an honor killing. They say the murder was the act of a psychologically disturbed man, and point to Shahzad Khan’s history of psychiatric treatment. The Norwegian media seem to have accepted this line. In recent days the father, who has been in Pakistan during all this, has been the subject of massive amounts of sympathetic coverage. He has been treated throughout as the grieving victim of a family tragedy.
The website of Human Rights Service provides information that does not appear in the mainstream media’s reports. “Our contacts in [Oslo’s Pakistani] community say that the brother accused of murder exploited the opportunity for sick leave for reasons of ‘psychological suffering’ to avoid work. He is described as a work-shy type. A great responsibility for the girls in the family was imposed on him while the father spent long periods in Pakistan. This task was surely anything but simple, since both Saabia (24) and Sobia (27) developed increasing independence and got by on their own in most respects, including financially. In addition they themselves wanted to take part in choosing their own spouses, especially after Sobia’s forced marriage to a cousin from Pakistan, who knifed both Saabia and Sobia while their little sister Nafisa looked on. But the father would not hear of the girls being able to influence the selection of their own spouses. The girls would marry within the family in Pakistan. People in the community considered taking on the role of mediator with the father. At the same time sources say that many members of the Pakistani community, particularly men, are in agreement that both Saabia and Sobia had become much too headstrong, and that they had a negative influence on Nafisa. They believe this also explains the silence from the community – the women don’t dare speak, for they have no support from their men, whether brothers, fathers, or husbands. Another reason for the silence is said to be this attitude: The girls are murdered. They can’t come back. Now we can just make the best out of the situation for the murderer and the rest of the family.”
HRS also writes: “We are told that the men of the family have tried to get the girls to travel to Pakistan recently, but that they refused. They feared forced marriage. They are also said to have feared being deprived of their freedom of movement in the village where the family has established itself with an impressive residence….HRS possesses more information that we cannot share with the public, though we are of course sharing it with the Oslo police.”
* * *
The evening after the triple murder, the documentary series Dokument 2 on Norway’s TV2 aired an hour-long program about the Norwegian government’s handling of the Muhammed cartoon controversy earlier this year.
It will be recalled that while Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen responded to international violence and pressure by standing up for free speech and giving the editors of Jyllands-Posten (the first newspaper to publish the cartoons) his full and unqualified support, Norwegian leaders caved ignominiously and pressured editor Vebjørn Selbekk, who had reprinted the cartoons in Magazinet, to apologize to Muslim leaders.
Some of those leaders said Selbekk deserved some blame for the vandalism of the Norwegian embassy in Damascus; some referred to the controversy as a conflict between “extremes,” thereby equating Selbekk with murdering, pillaging fanatics. Selbekk’s fellow journalists, while serving up rote expressions of solidarity, mostly kept their distance, even though several of them had also reprinted one or more of the cartoons.
TV2’s documentary, “Truet til taushet” (Threatened into Silence), retold this disgraceful story straightforwardly, honestly, and to powerful effect. I’ve criticized the European media plenty, but TV2 deserves nothing but praise for this program. It was the single best original program I’ve ever seen on Norwegian TV.
There was extensive footage of protestors destroying the Norwegian embassy in Damascus, burning Norwegian and Danish flags, and stomping on the Norwegian coat of arms. There were also clips of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, former Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, and Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre being spineless on news discussion shows. I’d seen much of this talking-head material before, but TV2’s producers put it all together with extraordinary effectiveness. It added up to a devastating indictment of Norway’s political establishment. There were also clips of Per Edgar Kokkvold, head of the journalists’ union, who struggled almost singlehandedly to remind the country’s leaders what this was all about. There was an interview with Abu Laban, the Danish imam who traveled to the Middle East to get people riled up about the cartoons. And there was footage aplenty of Selbekk, who ended the conflict in Norway by giving into official pressure and apologizing to Muslims, but who now bitterly says that the government betrayed him and betrayed free speech.
“Truet til taushet” makes it amply clear that this is precisely what happened. It also makes it clear that the controversy was the handiwork of fundamentalist Muslims – both in Europe and elsewhere – who saw the cartoons as an opportunity to try to intimidate Europeans into living by their rules. The Danish government, under great pressure, stood firm. The Nowegian government, under considerably less pressure, buckled.
By reminding viewers of the craven public statements made by Stoltenberg, Bondevik, and Gahr Støre at the time of the cartoon crisis, “Truet til taushet” dealt a strong and well-deserved blow to the reputations of these three stooges, these hollow men. Since the program’s airing, all three have made the rounds of interview programs in an attempt to salvage their images. Yet they still make the same argument they did in the clips shown on the program – that, yes, Norway has freedom of speech, but this freedom must be exercised wisely, responsibly, and with an eye to the possible consequences; free speech is not a license to insult or offend, and other people’s religions, especially, must always be treated with respect.
Some Norwegians see through this dhimmitude; others seem to accept the idea that a society can be said to have free speech even if that speech is required to be wise, cautious, and respectful. Hurrah for TV 2 for putting all this in the right perspective. I frankly never expected to see such a program on Norwegian TV. Whether it marks a turning point or was just a freak occurrence remains to be seen.
It’s no surprise, though, that “Truet til taushet” was produced by TV2, an independent broadcasting channel, and not by government-owned NRK1 or NRK2, for which each TV-owning household in Norway pays an outrageous license fee of more than $300 a year. The supposed reason for NRK’s existence is that commercial TV cannot be relied on to produce serious, worthwhile programming. “Truet til taushet” disproves that, and underscores NRK’s pointlessness.
* * *
Pity the poor academic-establishment “Europe expert.” He knows that Islamization is Western Europe’s #1 problem…but he hates writing about it. It’s all so unpleasant, don’t you know. Some of the facts are so horrible that simply to report them fully and honestly makes you sound…well, like some kind of awful low-rentIslamophobe.
So it is that in his recent book Free World, about Europe’s present and future, Timothy Garton Ash – Professor of European Studies in the University of Oxford, Director of the European Studies Centre at Saint Antony’s College, Oxford, and Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution – actually claims that the most important issue facing Europe today is…guess what? The conflict between “Euro-Gaullists” who want Europe to counterbalance American power and “Euroatlanticists” who favor strong U.S. ties. This conflict, he argues, should not be decided in favor of either side; what is needed, rather, is a Europe that satisfies both sides. In this effort, he proposes, Britain can play a strategic role, serving both as a bridge to the U.S. and a key player in Europe.
Whatever. Yet for chapters at a time Free World contains no mention whatsoever of Europe’s Islamization. When Garton Ash does bring up Islam early on, he does so only to emphasize that Islam in Europe isn’t a problem in and of itself; the only problem is the “populist, anti-immigrant parties,” their lowlife voters, and people like Oriana Fallaci, whose courageous book The Rage and the Pride Garton Ash calls “garish.”
But then, toward the end of Free World, as I noted in a review of it,
Garton Ash does a sudden about-face, admitting (on pages 196-7) that there is a problem with Islam in Europe, and that if it isn’t addressed properly, “we face a downward spiral which will be the curse of the national politics of Europe for years ahead….To halt this downward spiral is the single most urgent task of European domestic politics in the next decade. We may already be too late….” This admission follows 196 pages of pretending that the “urgent tasks” of European politics lie elsewhere; and after he’s made it, he drops the topic cold and returns to the more comfortable conceit that the real European dilemma is this business about Britain bringing the U.S. and Europe together.
Nowhere in Free World does Garton Ash provide anything remotely resembling an adequate account of the changes wrought upon Western European societies by their exploding Muslim populations.
Now, however, Garton has published a review essay in the New York Review of Books entitled “Islam in Europe.” Though there are many recent books that might be discussed in an essay with this title, he has chosen to focus on two: Ian Buruma’s Murder in Amsterdam and Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s The Caged Virgin. The choice of Buruma’s book (which I review in tomorrow’s Boston Globe) is no surprise: it is plainly the “safe” Islam-in-Europe book this year. Buruma seems determined to make one jihad sympathizer after another seem more sympathetic and harmless than Fortuyn, van Gogh, Hirsi Ali & co, and avoids or drastically understates disquieting facts about Muslim subcultures in Europe while emphasizing the supposed failings of their European host societies. (Do Muslims consider the Netherlands decadent? Well, writes Buruma, “perhaps Western civilization, with the Amsterdam red-light district as its fetid symbol, does have something to answer for.”) In the end, Buruma calls for “accommodation with…Muslims,” including toleration “of orthodox Muslims who consciously discriminate against their women.” Garton Ash gives Buruma a big thumbs-up.
As for Hirsi Ali, Garton Ash doesn’t dare dismiss her out of hand – the world is already too aware of her courage for him to dare try that one – but he is breathtakingly condescending. “It’s no disrespect to Ms. Ali,” he writes, “to suggest that if she had been short, squat, and squinting, her story and views might not be so closely attended to.” One might similarly note that Tariq Ramadan might not be so closely attended to if he were not so good at playing the role of an equitable, civilized, Westernized Muslim — but Garton Ash does not say any such thing. In fact he treats Ramadan far more respectfully than he does Hirsi Ali, whom he calls “slightly simplistic.” No: there is nothing “simplistic” about Hirsi Ali’s work. The difference between her and Garton Ash is that she writes with total honesty about some very stark, ugly, and challenging truths, while he proffers a selective, soft-focus, “nuanced” version of these truths. For example, he approvingly quotes Tariq Ramadan, whom he labels a “reformer,” on the hopes for a European Islam that is “compatible with democracy,” but he doesn’t bother telling readers that this “reformer” has refused to condemn the stoning of female adulterers.
Tariq Ramadan not only gets more respect here than Hirsi Ali does; he also gets more respect than Bat Ye’or, whose book Eurabia Garton Ash relegates (along with my book While Europe Slept) to a footnote in which he deplores Ye’or’s influence and says that her argument “has a strong element of conspiracy theory.” But if Ye’or is so influential, why dismiss her in a footnote? If her argument is wrong, why not refute it instead of trying to just sneer it away? You would never know from Garton Ash’s dismissive treatment of her that Ye’or’s “conspiracy theory” is in fact supported by mountains of documentation.
Like Buruma, Garton Ash seems to believe that expecting Muslims in Europe to accept secular democracy is offensive, unmannerly, “Islamophobic.” He calls Hirsi Ali an “Enlightenment fundamentalist,” thereby equating her belief in equality and pluralism with the totalitarian mentality of religious zealots. And he writes: “For secular Europeans to demand that Muslims adopt their faith – secular humanism – would be almost as intolerant as the Islamist jihadist demand that we should adopt theirs.” This kind of thinking – which scarcely acknowledges any distinction between tolerance and intolerance – is repulsive and insidious. Yet it is dismayingly widespread among today’s officially credentialed “Europe experts.”
In the past Garton Ash, denying or radically minimizing the reality of Europe’s Islamization problem, has written contemptuously about Pim Fortuyn, whose only crime was recognizing the problem and focusing attention on it. “It is five minutes to twelve,” Fortuyn told a group of fellow Dutch political leaders in February 2002, three months before his murder. Now, at the very end of of his New York Review of Books piece, Garton Ash, who inFree World accused Fortuyn of practicing “poisonous populist politics” and compared him to the French anti-Semite Jean le Pen and the Austrian Hitler admirer Jörg Haider, echoes Fortuyn, though without giving him credit: “it’s already five minutes to midnight—and we are drinking in the last chance saloon.” I suppose those of us non-credentialed types who have published recent books about Islam and the West should consider it a victory that Garton Ash has finally felt obliged to acknowledge so openly that Europe has a crisis on it hands – even though he continues to write about it in prose heavy with euphemism, equivocation, and faculty-lounge remoteness, and to demean those who approach it with urgency, passion, and directness.
September 15, 2006: The other day (see below) the head imam in Norway, Zulqarnain Sakandar Madni, said he thinks the U.S. was behind the 9/11 attacks and that Al-Qaida and Bin Laden don’t exist. Aftenposten has askedother leading imams in Norway for their views, and ran the results on Thursday. The results were predictable.
Imam Hafiz Mehboob-ur-Rehman of the Islamic Cultural Center: “There are many theories about September 11, but no strong evidence. I don’t think Muslims could be behind the attacks….it is against the teachings of Islam to kill civilians in that way.”
He, too, claims to doubt the existence of Al-Qaida: “Neither I nor anybody I know had heard of Al-Qaida before September 11. I don’t know if it exists. All-Qaida has mainly existed in the media. I have the impression that everybody talks about Al-Qaida because the U.S. and President George W. Bush talk about it.”
Here’s his “vice-imam,” Mian Tayyib: “I think the truth has been kept secret. The way the towers fell indicates that it wasn’t caused by the planes. Close-ups I’ve seen on TV show smoke in the towers before they were hit by the planes.”
Imam Syed Ikram Shah of the World Islamic Mission also denies Muslims were responsible for 9/11: “Islam doesn’t permit murder of innocents…There is no evidence that they were Muslims.”
And here’s Imam Nehmat Ali Shah of the Central Jamaat-e Ahl-E Sunnat: “It’s five years since it happened, but as far as I know no independent court has convicted anyone for it. Therefore I can’t say today that it was Muslims or anyone else that were behind it.” As for Al-Qaida, “I have never heard that Al-Qaida has an office or a representative anywhere….”
These are the top Islamic figures in Norway today. The Norwegian government considers them the leaders of their community. It deals with them as partners in “dialogue.”
Most of them have been interviewed frequently over the years. They’ve been thrown endless softballs by interviewers — given endless opportunities, that is, to repeat that Islam is the religion of peace, etc. Yet apparently no reporter ever asked any of them what they thought about 9/11, Al-Qaida, and Bin Laden until after Zulqarnain Sakandar Madni answered online questions on these topics from the general public.
(Or are there perhaps reporters who have asked these questions and gotten these answers, but chosen not to print them for fear of stirring up, um, intercultural frictions?)
For years, these imams have been consistently treated as “moderates.” In every dialogue with politicians, and in every media interview, the unspoken assumptions by their interlocutors have been that the imams share their desire for peaceful coexistence and that they represent “true” Muslim values — peace and brotherhood — in the joint struggle against the “perversion” of those values by a tiny number of terrorists.
What do ordinary Norwegian Muslims make of all this? On Friday Aftenposten reported that Awais Mushtaq, leader of the umbrella group for Muslim student organizations, agrees with the imams. Mushtaq cites “evidence that the Bush Administration was behind” the attacks. Aftenposten also asked Muslims in the street what they thought. They were divided — one thought the U.S. was responsible for the attacks, another blamed them on Israel, citing the “fact” that “4000-5000 Jews” didn’t show up for work at the World Trade Center that day. Not one interviewee quoted in the article admitted explicitly that the 9/11 attacks were committed by Muslims.
One would think all this would give even the most naive Norwegian politicians and journalists pause. One would think it might finally dawn on them that it’s not possible to have a meaningful dialogue or a trusting relationship with leaders who deny basic facts about such matters. And if you have a large and fast-growing minority in your country who genuinely consider such people their leaders, and who echo their denial of reality — well, you’ve got a problem on your hands. Yet Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, while criticizing Zulqarnain Sakandar Madni’s comments, emphasized the importance of continued “dialogue.”
In short: this will change nothing. Everyone involved will move on and act as if this didn’t happen. The fantasy of “dialogue” and the talk of “mutual respect” will continue.
Reminder: it was to these imams and their colleagues that Vebjørn Selbekk — editor of an independent Christian publication in a supposedly free country — was obliged to grovel earlier this year, under the auspices of the Ministry of Labor and Social Inclusion, in abject apology for his republication of the Danish Muhammed cartoons. That event was soon dropped down the memory hole. This one will be as well.
September 12, 2006: On the weekend before the fifth anniversary of 9/11, I noticed on the website ofAftenposten, Norway’s closest thing to a newspaper of record, that the paper planned to mark the anniversary with two live online discussions. They were described as follows.
“On Monday it will be five years since the terror attack that changed the world. Many Muslims feel that they have become the objects of suspicion since September 11, 2001. On Monday at 10 AM, meet imam Zulqarnain Sakandar Madni, head of Norway’s united ulama (scholars), in an Internet chat at Aftenposten.no….
“On Monday at 1 PM, researcher Anders Romarheim of the Institute for Defense Studies will answer readers. He is an expert on the Bush Administration’s use of propaganda in the war against terrorism.”
An imam and an “expert” on U.S. government “propaganda”: these were the two people whom Aftenposten chose to provide with a forum for their views on the anniversary of the day when Muslims across Europe cheered the massacre of 2,973 Americans by Islamic terrorists.
After the Q&A with the imam was over, the text was posted online. The editors of Aftenposten introduced it as follows:
“Many Muslims have felt themselves to be collectively under suspicion after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.
“Even though the large majority of Muslims explicitly reject terrorist acts, many Muslims think that the West must understand that extremism and terror are difficult to eliminate as long as Muslim civilians are being repressed and killed as a result of Western warfare.
“Imam Zulqarnain Sakandar Madni, head of Norway’s united ulama (scholars), took part in an Internet chat on Monday, September 11.”
The slant here is familiar: once again, in a discussion of Muslim terrorism, the West is portrayed as the aggressor and Muslims as victims of unjust suspicion. There is even a hint – or perhaps more than a hint – of justification of terrorism as an understandable response to Western aggression.
Also familiar is the claim that “the large majority of Muslims explicitly reject terrorist acts.” To be sure, as is typical in such “dialogues,” the imam speaks of “Islam’s message of peace” and says that Islam stands for peace, that “Islam is a religion that teaches people about peace and love,” that “Islam doesn’t permit one to kill or harm civilians,” that “to hurt civilians or kill them is forbidden in Islam.”
Yet when asked explicitly about Al Qaida and Bin Ladin – the perfect opportunity to “explicitly reject terrorist acts” performed in the name of Islam – he denies their existence:
What is your honest opinion of Al Qaida and Bin Laden?
Imam Zulqarnain Sakandar Madni: I think it is something that has been made up.
Asked about 9/11, he claims to believe that the attacks were carried out by the U.S government:
Do you believe that the US was behind the September 11 attacks? I do!
Imam Zulqarnain Sakandar Madni: I totally agree with you.
What do you think about the speculations as to whether 9/11 was only an extreme bluff by the American government? There is a little doubt as to whether the attack has strengthened Bush’s position and given even more money to the rich, white capitalists.
Imam Zulqarnain Sakandar Madni: A good deal of evidence suggests that it is Bush &co that are behind it all. Watch the film called “Loose Change.” An American film!
Such are the views of the official leader of Muslim theologians in Norway. (By the way, those who take up the imam’s suggestion to watch the crackpot film Loose Change should also read this article and watch this.)
Some of the readers’ questions, however, are no less disturbing than the imam’s answers. Taken together, they paint a bleak portrait of the profoundly decadent state of mind of many Europeans today. Five years after 9/11, with the brutal attacks on Madrid and London behind us, as well as the butchering of Theo van Gogh, the riots in France, and the uproar in Denmark over a handful of cartoons, it is staggering to see Europeans fatuously repeating the familiar rhetoric about “dialogue” and “mutual understanding” and seeking common ground with a Muslim leader (mostly, it seems, in the form of a shared antagonism toward America and the Jews):
What is necessary for east and west to be able to meet in dialogue and lasting mutual understanding? Is the US, as the world’s economic and power center, alone today in preventing the development of this understanding?
Vebjørn Stuksrud, Bergen
Imam Zulqarnain Sakandar Madni: I believe so, that they want to use power to solve problems and not dialogue. Power is no solution. East and west must show respect for each other and not least for their religions in the same way. They have to understand that people in the world want PEACE, whether they are Muslilms or Christians, etc.
Hi, Sakandar. I am a hundred percent sure that the Western part of the world and the Muslim world would be living in harmony now if the US, Israel, Hizbollah, and Al-Qaida didn’t exist. Do you agree? Hope for answer, but I’m surely not alone in that.
Olav , Oslo
Imam Zulqarnain Sakandar Madni: If people respected each other as human beings, we wouldn’t have any problems. But everyone wants to show how much power he has. We want peace for all, whoever they are. That’s what Islam stands for!
The only questioner who comes close to challenging the imam is one Alex from Tønsberg, who brings up the contrast between Western democracies, where a Muslim cleric has freedom of speech, and a country like Iran, where a Christian minister does not:
Would it be possible for a high-profile Christian clergyman in a Muslim society, for example in Iran, to answer questions on the Internet about the Americans’ terror in Afghanistan and Iraq?
Yes, “the Americans’ terror.” Not terror by Islamists, but terror by Americans. The imam’s reply?
Imam Zulqarnain Sakandar Madni: I don’t see any problem with this.
This is, of course, sheer nonsense – a flat denial of the contemporary reality of Iran and other Muslim states, where Christians are routinely persecuted, hounded, and silenced. No Christian clergyman would ever be invited by an Iranian newspaper to take part in an open and uncensored Internet chat with Muslim readers.
As interesting as the contents of this Q&A is what’s not here. For example, Oslo is currently in the midst of a serious crime wave. Rape statistics, which had already been on the upswing for several years, are higher than ever, and the rapists are overwhelmingly Muslim. Recent weeks have also seen a rash of gay-bashings by Muslim men. Muslim youth gang violence is way up – this summer saw a gang shoot-out in Aker Brygge, Oslo’s touristy marina, and in June the police were called in to break up a slugfest at a mosque that involved more than 100 participants. In March, I wrote in this blog about the latest of several violent murders committed in midday, in the heart of Oslo, by Muslim asylum seekers.
Only a few days ago, Aftenposten published an op-ed by the Iraqi-Norwegian writer Walid al-Kubaisi that provides the frankest, fullest account I’ve ever read of Oslo’s growing difficulties with Muslim youth gangs, whose harassment and threats have driven people out of certain neighborhoods but whom the authorities have responded to with staggering passivity. Such articles are rare in the Norwegian media, which routinely either downplay rapes, gay-bashings, gang problems, and so forth or avoid making it clear that the vast majority of the perpetrators share a single religion and community.
When descriptions of perpetrators do appear, the criminals almost invariably turn out to be of “Middle Eastern origin” or simply “immigrants.” It is widely understood that we’re not talking here about “immigrants” from, say, Chile or China or Canada. But apparently nobody asked the imam about any of this. If they had, he doubtless would have reiterated yet again one of his platitudes about mutual respect and Islam’s message of peace.
To anyone familiar with Islam in Europe today, this imam’s rhetoric – combining variations on the “Islam is peace” mantra and sweeping denials of the not-so-peaceful aspects of Muslim reality today – should come as no surprise. Nor should the determination of his Norwegian questioners to view him as a good guy and America as a villain. That this tissue of outrageous misrepresentations, furthermore, should be sponsored by a reputable newspaper – and introduced by that newspaper’s editors in language that, far from challenging or correcting the imam’s remarks, depicts him as a spokesman for innocent victims of Western violence and prejudice – is disgusting, but this, too, should come as no surprise. In the world according to a broad spectrum of Western European media, there’s no such thing as Muslim “propaganda”; rather, “propaganda” is the nearly exclusive domain of America and Israel.
By the way, I also read the Q&A with Romarheim of the Institute for Defense Studies, about which I will note only one curious detail. One of Romarheim’s questioners said that in the imam’s Q&A a couple of hours earlier, the imam had repeated the now-familiar tall tale that “4000 Jews did not come to work” at the World Trade Center on 9/11 – the implication, of course, being that Israel was in fact behind it all. Yet this supposed comment by the imam doesn’t appear in Aftenposten‘s online record of the imam’s Q&A.
Here is Aftenposten‘s English-language report on the imam’s Q&A.
May 19, 2006: My take on the mistreatment of Ayaan Hirsi Ali is here.
April 7, 2006: VG, to its credit, ran the following letter yesterday (my translation) from an anonymous Oslo physician:
Asylum seekers and murder
On the news we hear that an asylum seeker has killed a doctor at the doctor’s office. We are familiar with the picture and know what will happen.
Step 1: The killer is arrested after a brief time. He denies guilt and remembers nothing. That he doesn’t remember is given great play in the newspaper headlines and in the broadcast media. How simpleminded do journalists think people are? Is there anyone who believes that the murderer will say he remembers? In none of the many asylum-seeker homicide cases has the murderer remembered.
Step 2: Debate programs on TV. Understanding, feeble politicians (for example Bjarne Håkon Hanssen) and pundits reel off the honorable words “tolerance” and “dialogue” and warn against assigning blame. The focus shifts – the real problem is the Norwegian health-care system, which should have been able to prevent the murder. Is there anyone who has taken the trouble to look into the murderer’s past? Does he have a criminal record from his homeland?
Step 3: The murderer receives free legal help. The lawyer becomes a celebrity, and can assure us that the asylum seeker is kind, good, and likeable. During the run-up to the trial, the lawyer regularly appears in the media to try the case in advance. Why should this be permitted in Norway?
Step 4: The psychiatrists must exercise crude and, in reality, rather random judgment. The murderer can be declared insane for precisely that period when the murder was committed, and cannot be sentenced to a prison term. The lawyer attains honor and renown for his skill.
Step 5: After a brief stay in a psychiatric hospital, the murderer is declared healthy and is out on the street again. He can be granted a residency permit for some humanitarian reason or another. Now he is able to claim damages against the Norwegian government. The murderer is not the real guilty party. It is, as usual, Norwegian society – as represented by local authorities, the public health service, or the police.
The crowning glory for the asylum seeker can be a six-figure compensation (cf. the tram murder in Oslo) – in addition to regular monthly income in the form of disability benefits and social support.
The victims, a conscientious doctor and his loved ones, suffer the same fate as many previous victims, such as the father who was murdered in Valdres and the children and spouse he left behind. They are soon forgotten.
Norwegian naïveté, do-goodism, and unstoppable correctness have become unbearable. Had the politicians taken [Progress Party leader] Carl I. Hagen seriously 15-20 years ago, many murders and much violence and serious crime could have been prevented. It is still only the Progress Party that has concrete and sensible proposals to overcome the problem. Can’t we soon be spared the meaningless talk – year after year – from the other parties?
March 29, 2006: Norway’s asylum policy claimed another victim today. This time it was somebody I knew. Stein Sjaastad (58) was a good friend of, and the primary-care physician for, several of my best friends in Oslo. I met him several times. He was always gentle and soft-spoken, and always had a warm, slightly wry smile and a genial twinkle in his eye. He was by all accounts a wonderful, caring doctor, and when one of my best friends in Oslo was going through the worst crisis of his life, Stein was extraordinarily understanding, considerate, and helpful, going out of his way to help him through it. He was what every doctor should be.
Today an Algerian national who has been living in Norway for about a year, and whose asylum application was apparently denied (but who, as is the usual practice, simply remained here anyway), walked into Stein’s office and stabbed him several times in the chest and neck with a knife that he had brought along. Apparently he had been a patient of Stein’s. This afternoon, when his name surfaced in connection with the murder, several Oslo doctors told police that they had experienced this man’s aggressiveness firsthand. But of course nothing had been done. Nothing is ever done. After all, lots of asylum seekers are aggressive.
One was reminded at once of August 3, 2004, when another aggressive asylum seeker — this one from Somalia — murdered 23-year-old Terje Mjåland on a downtown Oslo tram, the same tram my partner takes to work every day. That murderer, as it happens, was released by the authorities only two weeks ago, on March 15, on his own recognizance. He can’t be held responsible for the crime, they say, because he was insane at the time. Now, apparently, he’s OK.
This evening, on Redaksjon EN, NRK’s premier TV discussion program [not Tabloid, as I first wrote], Mullah Krekar was interviewed. He offered his views on Islam and the West, the main point being that the former will eventually conquer the latter. No mention of Stein’s murder.
Stein leaves a partner, Egil, and two sons.
March 26, 2006: My book is reviewed in today’s Washington Post Book World. The review is such a perfect expression of political-establishment [Later: of course, I meant “foreign-policy-establishment”] orthodoxy that I haven’t been able to resist the temptation to “fisk” it — i.e. provide a running commentary. The review is in black; my commentary is in purple italics:
Guess Who’s Coming to Europe?
A critic and a scholar disagree on how the continent should handle its growing Muslim minority.
Reviewed by Steven Simon
Sunday, March 26, 2006; BW05
WHILE EUROPE SLEPT
How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West from Within
By Bruce Bawer
Doubleday. 247 pp. $23.95
THE ISLAMIC CHALLENGE
Politics and Religion in Western Europe
By Jytte Klausen
Oxford Univ. 253 pp. $29.95
When a right-of-center Danish newspaper
Jyllands-Posten may be “right-of-center” by Danish standards, but hardly by American standards. It also happens to be the largest newspaper in Denmark.
published 12 cartoons in September depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist and lecher
No mention, naturally, of why Jyllands-Posten commissioned the cartoons — because it had learned that the author of a forthcoming book on Muhammed couldn’t find an artist to illustrate his book, so scared were they all of possible retribution.
, it ultimately unleashed a storm of protest in the Arab world and South Asia. The repulsion and fury — which resulted in the torching of Danish diplomatic posts, as well as riots in Afghanistan — were predictable. But so was the underlying provocation. Many Europeans are increasingly alienated by what they take to be Muslim rejection of Europe’s liberal principles. It was only a matter of time before someone was going to return the favor. Bruce Bawer’s While Europe Slept , which castigates alleged West European complacency in the face of Muslim encroachments that threaten European values, reflects these brewing resentments.
This book picks up where Bawer’s 1998 Stealing Jesus left off. Then his target was American evangelicalism. Contemporary fundamentalism, he argued, had betrayed the more authentic religion of his Episcopal ancestors
As I explain at great length in Stealing Jesus, I was a convert to the Episcopal Church. (I do happen to have distant ancestors who were Episcopalians, but this has nothing to do with the matter.)
and foisted on American Christians eccentric ideas about rapture and the apocalypse. These beliefs not only corrupted the faith, he lamented, but underpinned a combination of certainty, intolerance and social conservatism that marred American society — and, in particular, penalized gays like himself.
Bawer, a widely published cultural critic in the United States, did not remain here. With his partner, he moved first to the Netherlands and then to Norway, which he saw as havens of rationality, measured hedonism
In While Europe Slept, I list many reasons why I moved to the Netherlands. “Hedonism” is not one of them.
and respect for personal choice. But for Bawer, the seductive openness and easy sophistication of Dutch and Norwegian urban society
As I write in While Europe Slept, the notion that Europe is more “sophisticated” than America is misguided. Dutch society may be sophisticated in some ways. I would never use the word “sophisticated” to describe Norway.
were soon clouded by his realization that not all the inhabitants of Western Europe were secularized Christians. There were also an estimated 15 million Muslims, often ghettoized. An ugly encounter with gay-bashing Muslim youths and reports of similar incidents triggered Bawer’s focus on this large and growing European minority, which in some countries makes up more than 10 percent of the population.
Bawer preaches here mostly to the converted.
A patently misleading statement — this book consists not of “preaching” but of facts — and a patent attempt to keep “the non-converted,” as Simon would have it, from reading the book. It’s not “the converted” who need to read While Europe Slept, but the others — those who don’t know about Europe’s problems or don’t realize how drastic they are. That’s whom this book is addressed to.
The presence of imperfectly integrated communities of highly traditional Middle Eastern and North African Muslims in Europe, as well as the chasm that separates many European Muslims from the cultural norms of their adopted countries, were familiar well before Bawer arrived,
“Familiar” to whom? Not to most Americans, certainly. It was all but impossible to find mention of the situation in the European or American media.
even if Christian Europeans had no idea how to cope with them.
Indeed, Bawer’s complaint was vividly and conspicuously personified by the populist Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn. A proud homosexual, he was assassinated by an animal-rights activist in 2002.
An “animal-rights activist,” that is, who was infuriated by Fortuyn’s stance on Islam, and who killed him after having been brainwashed by Dutch media and politicians into viewing Fortuyn as a dangerous, racist extremist.
His right-wing, anti-immigration stance rested on the insistence that Islam was too socially retrograde to be integrated into liberal Dutch culture.
For the millionth time, Fortuyn was not “right-wing.” His concern about the influx of Muslims into the Netherlands was based on the fact that many of them were incorrigibly right-wing — and not just right-wing, but reactionary to a degree beyond the imagination of most Westerners.
So there’s not much new here,
“Preaching to the converted,” “not much new here” — move along, folks. Don’t worry. Be happy.
No, not much new. Funny, then, how I keep getting emails -from extremely intelligent people who read newspapers like the Washington Post every day and consider themselves well-informed — and yet have been stunned by what they’ve learned from this book.
and one might be tempted to rename the book While Bawer Slept but for its passion and acerbity (“Europe is steadily committing suicide,” Bawer writes, “and perhaps all we can do is look on in horror”).
OK, let’s get this straight. The book should be called While Bawer Slept (ha, ha) because when I moved to Europe (in 1998) I was unaware of problems that were already universally acknowledged here. Yet whom does Simon hold up as proof of this universal acknowledgment? Pim Fortuyn — who, when he sought to initiate public discussion of these problems in the late 1990s, was viciously dismissed and demonized by the Dutch academic, media, and political establishment as a racist neo-Nazi. Fortuyn’s reasonable comments about European Islam were routinely compared by the Dutch establishment to Hitler’s rantings about Jews. Far from illustrating, then, that by the time I arrived in Europe the problems in regard to Islam in Europe were already widely acknowledged and openly discussed, the case of Fortuyn shows the exact opposite: that the European establishment was at the time in profound denial about those problems and ready to destroy anyone who challenged the officially enforced silence surrounding them.
With not a single endnote and virtually no data other than the author’s personal experiences and conversations,
“Virtually no data…”? On the contrary, every page of While Europe Slept is crowded wth data. “The author’s personal experiences…”? The book recounts not only my “experiences” but those of many, many others. I report in detail on a multitude of facts, documents, etc. (such as the French Government’s suppressed Obin Report, which concluded last year that Muslim anti-Semitism had made it impossible for Jewish children to receive an education in France) that the Washington Post, among other newspapers, has never bothered to get around to. Indeed, it’s pretty nervy to be accused of an insufficiency of “data” in a newspaper that has itself been outrageously negligent in providing exactly the kind of information that this book abounds in.
While Europe Slept is not going to ring scholarly chimes, and the spirits of Spengler and Churchill evoked by its overwrought title will alienate many specialists.
Boo-hoo. It is the officially sanctioned “scholars” and “specialists” who have helped get Europe into its present mess by whitewashing the problems I write about and marginalizing, mocking, and/or misrepresenting anyone who dares to speak up about them. I have no interest in ringing their chimes.
Their names, in any event, will live in infamy. The handful of marginalized scholars and specialists who have actually written honestly about these issues, and who are mostly personae non gratae in establishment circles, have in fact welcomed my book.
Nevertheless, the book usefully crystallizes, without undue distortion, the apprehensions of many Europeans about what has become a dire cultural predicament.
Muslims came to Western Europe in large numbers after World War II to help provide the labor needed to rebuild the devastated continent. The largely South Asian Muslim population of Britain arrived even earlier. With the end of reconstruction on the continent and the collapse of the textile industry in England in the 1960s, these sizable pockets of Muslims were stranded in an alien land. The forebears of the Muslim kids who accosted Bawer, if they were already in Europe, would probably have been quietist without being assimilationist. Grateful for a paycheck, social services and housing, they would have accepted social prejudice and perhaps returned it, but without displays of open resentment or violence.
No mention here, naturally, of the series of clandestine Euro-Arab agreements (exhaustively outlined by Bat Ye’or in her book Eurabia and summarized very briefly in While Europe Slept) that faciliated the postwar Islamicization of Europe.
The situation is now far more volatile. First, European Muslims generally have less income, education and political representation than their Christian neighbors. Second, as Bawer illustrates vividly, progressive European social-welfare policies have unintentionally perpetuated and even intensified both the growth and separateness of Euro-Muslims.
How do I manage to “illustrate” this “vividly” if the book contains virtually nothing other than my “personal experiences and conversations”? How curious.
Third, Muslims are now more likely than ever to see their circumstances in global terms. Younger Muslims cannot help but be swayed by the gory imagery and heated rhetoric that now ricochets around the world on the Internet and satellite television stations like al-Jazeera. Polls show that Muslims are increasingly likely to feel that they have more in common with Muslims in other parts of the world. Along with an empowering sense of shared accomplishment, however, comes a fuming sense of shared grievance. Members of this “new umma,” as the French sociologist Olivier Roy has dubbed it, participate in a worldwide community in which a war against the perceived oppressors of Muslims in Iraq, Palestine or Chechnya can be waged in the cities of Western Europe or anywhere else that Jews and Christians can be targeted.
No mention, of course, of the longing to turn Europe into a Muslim caliphate run according to sharia law.
The resulting mobilization has been reinforced by the way that Salafism — a particularly tough take on Islamic tradition that urges a return to the faith as it was supposedly practiced at the time of Muhammad — has usurped the benign village religion brought to Muslim enclaves in Europe by the economic migrants of years past.
“Benign” to whom? The wives raped and beaten regularly and denied free movement outside the home? The daughters subjected to genital mutilation, forced marriages, and honor killing? Did Simon skip those pages?
The predominance in Europe of conservative imams newly arrived from an increasingly radical Arab world has also crowded out alternative approaches to Islam and helped activate the exclusivist, misogynistic and anti-Jewish potential in Salafism.
Bawer’s neoconservative sensibilities
“Right-wing” Jyllands-Posten…“right-wing” Fortuyn…”neoconservative” Bawer…how useful these labels are! And how effective at deflecting attention from the fact that the real reactionaries here are European Muslims.
are particularly disturbed by what he brands the supine, even collaborationist posture of threatened European societies. “In the end, Europe’s enemy is not Islam, or even radical Islam,” Bawer writes. “Europe’s enemy is itself — its self-destructive passivity, its softness toward tyranny, its reflexive inclination to appease, and its uncomprehending distaste for America’s pride, courage, and resolve in the face of a deadly foe.” For Bawer, attempts at accommodation amount to appeasement. But the costs of confrontation are also high. At the extreme, they rise to political violence, like the jihadist bombings of the London tube in July 2005 and the Madrid commuter trains in March 2004. Those attacks were launched by terrorists who saw British and Spanish participation in the war in Iraq as an attack on Muslims everywhere; in other words, the bombers saw themselves as waging a global war in which one should not differentiate between an Iraqi battlefield and a European one.
The Islamic Challenge, by the respected
Hmm: I’m “widely published”; she’s “respected.” Nice touch.
Danish-American sociologist Jytte Klausen, should be required reading for buyers of Bawer’s book. Klausen is as dispassionate and methodical as Bawer is aggrieved and impressionistic.
Again, “impressionistic” is part of an obvious attempt to portray this book as deeply subjective, and thus unreliable, rather than what it is: a compilation of hard and irrefutable facts. And by calling Klausen’s book “methodical,” of course, Simon seeks to suggest that it is objective and factual — even though Klausen’s “method” (as Simon describes it) is preposterous:
She interviewed some 300 European Muslim community leaders. Her detailed questionnaire explored attitudes toward a range of issues, including the degree of alienation experienced by her interviewees as well as their willingness to adapt to prevailing European liberal values. These leaders felt that Muslims were indeed marginalized by West European society. But Klausen found little evidence of the “We will bury you” stance of the bigoted, violence-prone and opportunistic Muslims of Bawer’s world. She concludes — partly on the basis of the evidence, partly on account of wishful thinking — that Islam in Europe will evolve into a tolerant faith compatible with the commitment to equality that underpins the liberal West.
If you want to know what Muslims’ “attitudes” are, you don’t send out questionnaires — you look at how they live. The reality of life among European Muslims is blindingly illuminating about their “attitudes.” One of the main points of my book is that Europe’s political, academic, and media establishment has for decades systematically whitewashed that harsh reality and substituted for it the soothing, reassuring, conciliatory rhetoric of Muslim leaders and spokespeople. To judge by Simon’s description of it, Klausen’s study would seem to be yet another contribution to this ignominious tradition.
Readers will find no way to square the respective Euro-Islams of Bawer and Klausen. The vast differences between the two portraits are probably best explained by the authors’ different emphases: Klausen focuses on political elites who have bet on the system as the key to their careers, while Bawer focuses on the “street.”
Ahem…she clings self-deludingly to the replies to her questionnaire, while I look at what’s going on the real world…?
When Muslim rioters swept through the bleak suburbs of Paris last November, French diplomats insisted that Marx, not Osama bin Laden, brought the youths and their firebombs into the streets. That might well be true. But it will be bin Laden and his ilk who will take a select few from those streets into the cellars, where they will be transformed into something worse than arsonists — with European documentation and technical aptitude. So it matters vitally to the United States which way events on the continent break: in the direction that Bawer fears or the one for which Klausen hopes. ·
Odd: Simon admits that Klausen’s method is selective and that she’s dealing in “hopes” and “wishful thinking”; yet at the same time he presents her book as an objective, fact-minded corrective to mine, rather than the other way around.
It’s depressing that at this late date, establishment types like Simon still reflexively mock, belittle, and demonize the messenger in the same disgraceful way the Dutch establishment did Fortuyn. Why, still, this need to say, in effect, “move along folks, there’s nothing new here”? Why this continued compulsion to drag in feel-good nonsense, such as Klausen’s inane “study,” which seeks to assure us, against all legitimate evidence, that all this unpleasantness will melt away of its own accord?
Steven Simon, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, is the coauthor of “The Age of Sacred Terror” and “The Next Attack.”
February 24, 2006: I spent last weekend in The Hague at what I think it is fair to call a historic event: the Pim Fortuyn Memorial Conference on Islam. Organized by the Dutch political party Lijst Pim Fortuyn – whose eponymous founder was martyred in May 2002 for questioning policies that were fast creating alongside his country’s tolerant mainstream culture a parallel imported culture of singular intolerance – the conference brought together an extraordinary array of today’s most important writers on Islam.
I should make it clear that I’m not referring to the academic-establishment “experts” whose accounts of Islam left us unprepared for 9/11 and whose whitewashings of jihad, sharia, and the longing for a worldwide caliphate continue, astonishingly, to be treated as authoritative by the mainstream media. No, the speakers in The Hague were the brave, truth-telling outlaws of Islamic Studies – people like Daniel Pipes (who in countless books and columns has exposed the radicalism of many a prominent Muslim “moderate”), Robert Spencer (who in The Myth of Islamic Tolerance has corrected a blizzard of falsehoods about the historical treatment of infidels in Muslim-conquered lands), and Andrew Bostom (whose The Legacy of Jihad lays bare the long-sanitized record of how Islam spread). Also present, as if this weren’t enough, were Ibn Warraq (author of the pathbreaking 1995 bookWhy I Am Not a Muslim) and Bat Ye’or (who in several richly documented volumes has warned of Europe’s steady transformation into a “Eurabia” in which non-Muslims will be accorded the second-class social role of “dhimmis”).
These are people who have been pilloried from the pulpits of political correctness. They’re also scholars who know what they’re talking about, and who may yet help prevent Europe from sacrificing its heritage of democracy and pluralism on PC’s increasingly blood-stained altar. Not to put too fine a point on it, they’re fighting for Western civilization – and doing so with both minds and hearts fully engaged. Never have I seen such intellectual seriousness combined with such a genuine and legitimate sense of urgency: these weren’t ivory-tower professors adding a line to their CVs, but men and women who can see what Europe’s anomic political, academic, and media elite can’t – or won’t – and who are doing their damnedest to open that elite’s blithely blinkered eyes.
In his presentation, Danish journalist Lars Hedegaard spoke of the “battle…for the soul of Europe.” Those defending freedom, he observed, are confronted not only by Islamists for whom immigration is a conquest but also by “those who are willing to put [the] entire [Western] heritage aside for the sake of the pipe dream of a multicultural Europe.” Perhaps to remind us what Hedegaard was talking about, the lineup of speakers in The Hague also included a Dutch professor-politician who, in the unflappably calm tone (and terrific suit) of a Kofi Annan or Dominique de Villepin, essentially recited the multicultural creed – denying the reality of jihad, depicting Muhammed as the great feminist of his time, and assuring us that Europe’s differences would work themselves out. What, him worry? The key, he said, was not to try to “convert” European Muslims to Western (i.e. democratic) values but to learn to live with “cultural differences.”
It was staggering to listen to this, knowing that thanks to such “cultural differences,” Dutch legislators Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Geert Wilders – who worked in the very building in which we were meeting – required round-the-clock armed protection. Thanks to those “cultural differences,” those of us attending the conference had been put through the strictest security measures some of us had ever experienced. And on the weekend of our meeting, of course, the professor’s vaunted “cultural differences” were being manifested around the world in insane riots over a few Danish cartoons.
The day after the Dutch professor advised us to calm down and embrace “cultural differences,” the Daily Telegraph reported that 40% of British Muslims want sharia law in the UK.
To be sure, conference participants differed sharply on key questions. Are most Muslims “moderate”? Can Islam be “reformed”? Is it too late to save Europe? But all (except the Dutch professor, of course) had two crucial things in common: they were all dedicated to preserving Western freedom, and they were all taking serious risks by speaking up.
The spirit of Pim Fortuyn, then, lives on. But whether the democratic Europe for which he gave his life endures may depend, in large measure, on whether this conference’s participants – his intellectual heirs – are heeded in the continent’s dim, arid corridors of power.
February 15, 2006: In a 2005 book, Eurabia, a scholar who goes by the nom de plume Bat Ye’or wrote illuminatingly about what she called “dhimmitude” – the relegation of non-Muslims, in the Muslim world, to the subordinate social position of “dhimmis,” individuals who have no rights and who are tolerated as long as they behave obsequiously and accept their inferior status. Ye’or warned that many European leaders were assuming an increasingly dhimmi-like posture in relation to radical Muslim leaders both in Europe and beyond, reflexively overlooking the more unpleasant aspects of Muslim culture and the widespread resistance to integration. Ye’or noted that if this dhimmitude persisted, and if present immigration and birth rates held up, Europe would soon fall under the sway of Koranic law – sharia.
To many, this sounded outrageous. But on February 10, in Oslo, came a dramatic capitulation that seemed a classic case of sharia in action. For days, Vebjørn Selbekk, editor of the tiny Christian periodical Magazinet – the first publication to reprint the now-famous Muhammed cartoons from the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten – had firmly resisted pressure by Muslim extremists (who made death threats) and by the Norwegian establishment (which urged him to give in). But then, on that morning – the day before a planned mass demonstration against the cartoons – Norway’s Minister of Labor and Social Inclusion, Bjarne Håkon Hanssen, hastily called a press conference at a major government office building in Oslo.
There, to the astonishment of his supporters, Selbekk issued an abject apology for reprinting the cartoons. At his side, accepting his act of contrition on behalf of 46 Muslim organizations and asking that all threats now be withdrawn, was Mohammed Hamdan, head of Norway’s Islamic Council. In attendance were members of the Norwegian cabinet and the largest assemblage of imams in Norway’s history. It was a picture right out of a sharia courtroom: the dhimmi prostrating himself before the Muslim leader, and the leader pardoning him – and, for good measure, declaring Selbekk to be henceforth under his protection, as if it were he, Hamdan, and not the Norwegian police, that held in his hands the security of citizens in Norway.
Selbekk, in his prepared remarks, leaned heavily on the usual soothing multicultural language, including the word “understanding.” It was clear that Selbekk had indeed come to an understanding: he understood that if he didn’t relent, he risked physical harm. He also spoke of “respect” – a word that in this context must surely have been understood by the imams to refer not to a volitional regard for a social equal but to the obligatory deference of a repentant infidel. As for Handam, he noted that “Selbekk has children the same age as my own. I want my children and his children to grow up together, live together in peace, and be friends.” This was rather chilling, given that Selbekk’s family, too, had been under threat.
The Norwegian government hailed this “reconciliation.” Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, who had faced off with Selbekk in several TV debates when the latter had been defending free speech, now congratulated him for his apology, which he characterized, grotesquely, as an act of “responsibility” that displayed “integrity and courage.” Norway’s imams were ecstatic: one said that “the fact that Norwegians have apologized gives Norway…a higher status than before.” And Aftenposten, Norway’s newspaper of record, cheered Selbekk’s action, while denying that it constituted an admission that he had no right to publish the cartoons. Alas, Selbekk’s surrender plainly represented a giant step toward a purely theoretical “freedom of speech” – a “freedom” of which fewer and fewer Norwegians, after this officially sanctioned act of national humiliation, will dare to avail themselves.
On Tuesday, as if Norway hadn’t already been disgraced enough, an official Norwegian delegation met in Qatar with Muslim leader Yusuf al Qaradawi (who has defended suicide bombers and the murder of Jewish women and children) and implored him to accept Selbekk’s apology for the cartoons. Lucky them: he did. “To meet Yusuf al-Qaradawi under the present circumstances,” the Norwegian-Iraqi writer Walid al-Kubaisi told Aftenpostenyesterday, “is tantamount to granting extreme Islamists and defenders of terror a right of joint consultation regarding how Norway should be governed.” Yep.
Then again, at least Norway had its brief, shining moment of resistance. Not Sweden. Among the European leaders who have insisted firmly in recent days that their nations enjoyed free speech – only to insist even more firmly that that right must be exercised “responsibly” – was Swedish foreign minister Laila Freivalds, who, responding on February 9 to a Muhammed cartoon in the newspaper of the right-wing Swedish Democratic Party, didn’t just call for “responsibility” but enforced it, sending the Security Police to close down the party website. “It is frightful,” she sniffed, “that a small group of Swedish extremists can expose Swedes to a clear danger” – as if it were the Swedish Democrats, and not Islamic extremists, who were threatening violence. Lately, many Europeans have sought to explain to enraged Muslims that democratic states cannot silence the free expression of ideas; Freivalds appeared determined to show that in Sweden, at least, this is no longer the case.
In recent days, these acts of dhimmitude by Norway and Sweden have had their counterparts in the corridors of international power. On February 9, Franco Frattini, EU Commissioner of Justice, Freedom, and Security, promised to take steps to “regulate” speech (though he later denied this); Kofi Annan, in a February 12 interview on Danish TV, said “You don’t joke about other people’s religion, and you must respect what is holy for other people.” Since when do the EU and UN tell supposedly free people what to respect and what not to respect? Since now, apparently.
Many Islamists do not hide the fact that their long-term goal is to turn Europe, step by step, into a Muslim caliphate ruled by sharia law. Alas, it looks at present as if the cartoon controversy may turn out to have been a significant step on the way to that goal. One thing is clear, at any rate: these have been the darkest days for European freedom in many a decade.
December 4, 2004: This evening a demonstration in downtown Oslo proved that at least 50 of Norway’s 70,000 Muslims reject violence and terror. The demo, a response to the murder of Theo van Gogh in the Netherlands, was intended to be a dramatic statement by Norwegian Muslims that they condemn all such actions performed in the name of their religion. Its organizer, Noman Mubashir (a young NRK reporter with a Muslim background), told Aftenposten that he had hoped the Muslim Council, or another Muslim organization or spokesperson, would arrange such an event. But this didn’t happen, so he took the job on himself.
Widely publicized beforehand, the demo was attended by every major politician in Norway. (Left: former P.M. Jens Stoltenberg, Labor; far left: Kristin Halvorsen, Socialist Left party leader, with Akhtar Chaudry Ali, Oslo City Council.) Alas, the total turnout was a staggeringly low 200.* Of this number, only about 50 were Muslims. That’s less than a tenth of one percent of Norway’s 70,000 Muslims (most of whom live in Oslo).
*My estimate. VG and NRK also say 200; Aftenposten says 300.
Tuesday, July 2, 2002: PROFILING: BBC World aired a report today on the so-called “racial profiling” of Arabs and Muslims in the US. The point was that this was a terrible and counterproductive way of treating people who are in fact loyal Americans.
Yet the disjunct between the report’s narration and its actual content was striking. One interviewee said cheerfully that he was Irish (i.e. Irish American) and that if suspicions were focused right now on the IRA the way they are on Al-Qaeda, he would thoroughly understand being “profiled” on account of his Irishness.
The report concluded with an interview with a college student (first name Jennifer) who sounded American, was apparently of Arab and/or Muslim background, and was described as fluent in Arabic. The BBC reporter asked if she would use her linguistic skills to spy for the FBI on Al-Qaeda if requested to do so. She said that she had discussed this question with some friends who had rejected the idea vehemently, saying that it would be horrible for her to spy on her “own people.” She had apparently decided that she agreed.
The reporter’s intended point was that US racial profiling had turned such people as Jennifer – who might otherwise be useful in the war on terrorism – against the idea of serving the cause. The actual content of the report made it clear that Jennifer was not turned against service to her country by racial profiling; she had decided against it because she considered Al-Qaeda, not Americans, to be her “own people.”
The BBC report, in short, managed to accomplish the exact opposite of its apparent goal: that is, it showed that for many Arab and Muslim Americans, the first loyalty is to other Arabs and/or Muslims, not to the US. Which of course makes “racial profiling” seem more, not less, reasonable.
CRASH: At first the blame for the crash of those two planes over southern Germany was placed on the Russian pilot, who reportedly hadn’t responded to air-traffic control orders to descend. Then today Anton Maag, chief of air traffic control for the Zurich area, acknowledged in a telephone interview with BBC (I happened to be watching at the time) that his controllers had waited to warn the planes that they were on collision course until a minute, or even less, before they converged – even though the controllers had noticed the problem some time earlier.
This news was staggering enough. But what was perhaps even more staggering was Maag’s terrible English! The interviewer spoke clearly and slowly, but Maag still had to ask him to repeat a sentence. He couldn’t get out ten words without making multiple errors. And this is a guy in charge of air traffic control, the international language of which is English! Why do, say, bars in Amsterdam seem to have higher standards for English fluency than European air traffic control centers? Though this problem may or may not have anything to do with this particular crash (but doesn’t it make you wonder?), it can’t help increasing your anxiety about flying.
Monday, June 24, 2002: [item separately archived here]
GAY IRANIAN TO BE DEPORTED? One of the big news events last week here in Norway was that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had decided to grant asylum to a couple of Iranians who in 1993 hijacked an Aeroflot flight and ordered it flown here. The reasoning: the Ministry feared that these criminals risked execution if sent back home to Iran. As an Aftenposten article pointed out, it somehow didn’t seem to matter to the Ministry that at the time of the hijacking, the men already had secured permission to live in Azerbaijan.
Now comes the news, buried at the bottom of page 6 of last Friday’s Dagbladet, that this same Ministry wants to throw a gay Iranian out of Norway.
The brief story, written by Reidar Mide Solberg and headlined “Gay Iranian Thrown Out of Norway” – and apparently deemed too unimportant to be featured on the newspaper’s Internet site – reads, in its entirety, as follows:
“The reason given by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for denying the gay Iranian, ‘Carlos’ (24), residency in Norway is that he can go back to Iran without practicing his orientation.
“‘I will be killed if I’m openly gay in Iran,’ says the 24-year-old.
“‘Carlos’ sought asylum in Norway on January 20, 2001. Dagbladet met with the Iranian in the room at the asylum center where he has lived for the past 15 months. Because of his homosexual orientation he was imprisoned in his homeland, where he was tortured and harrassed. After fleeing a hospital, he managed to come to Norway by way of Dubai. But he will not be allowed to stay.
“After having first denied that ‘Carlos’ could be gay, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs accepted the 24-year-old’s orientation in its second rejection of his application for asylum. Nonetheless he will not be allowed to stay in Norway. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs believes that ‘Carlos’ can travel back and live in hiding:
“‘The limitation on his ability to live openly that the complainant must endure owing to the fact that he cannot manifest his homosexual orientation in his homeland in the same manner and in the same environments as in Norway, is not a circumstance that can form the basis for a claim of asylum,’ writes the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in its decision.
“The case will now be heard by the foreign committee. If ‘Carlos’ doesn’t receive support here, he must go back to Iran.”
This is the same Ministry of Foreign Affairs, note well, that routinely grants Norwegian residency rights to fundamentalist Muslims who despise Norway’s democratic pluralism, who think that Norwegian women are whores and that homosexuals are deserving of death, and who, when interviewed by reporters, refuse to criticize fellow Muslims for committing so-called “honor killings.”
That the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs can grant residency to Iranian hatemongers and hijackers, but will not extend its protections to a person from the same country whose life is in danger there on account of his sexual orientation, makes no sense. Isn’t this precisely the kind of person for whom the concept of asylum exists, and whom a Western democracy should feel morally obligated – and proud – to provide with a refuge, a haven, a home? Why is it, one must ask, that asylum is so often granted to people from other countries who are philosophically indistinguishable from their supposed persecutors in those countries, while someone like “Carlos” is thrown back to the wolves?
Friday, May 24, 2002: [item separately archived here]
Tuesday, May 14, 2002:A thinking gay person may well feel that dark days lie ahead. The political right continues to be controlled largely by Protestant fundamentalists and Catholic traditionalists who are hostile to the cause of gay equality. As for the political left, the case of Pim Fortuyn in the Netherlands has shown that when gay rights are in conflict with other leftist causes, the other causes will win out every time. So it is that when fundamentalist Moslem immigrants in the West – whose numbers are steadily rising – openly vent their hatred for gay people, the organized left, perceiving those Moslems as members of an oppressed minority with whom it is in solidarity, keeps silent; and when a gay person like Fortuyn dares to speak up against that hatred, the left brands him as a fascist, a racist, an extremist, a right-wing fanatic.
The message to gay people is clear: we are expendable. To the right, we are anathema; to the left, our freedom matters less than the need to maintain an illusion of “solidarity” with non-homosexuals who officially fall under the category of “powerless and oppressed” – even if the first thing those “powerless” people want to do when they gain power is to drop a wall on us.
Another point. For people like Pim Fortuyn to raise concerns about fundamentalist Moslems’ prejudices is at least to pay them the respect of taking their religious beliefs seriously. Bien pensant leftists who refuse to confront the profound illiberalism of fundamentalist Moslems in order to preserve an illusion of solidarity are acting out of sheer condescension. They’re using those Moslems to reinforce their images of themselves as progressive, unprejudiced, virtuous; and this obliges them to view those Moslems as symbols rather than as full, complex human beings whose ideas, values, and beliefs are held seriously and should be taken seriously. Damn seriously.
Monday, May 13, 2002: [item separately archived here]
Saturday, April 20, 2002: A pro-Israel rally was held today outside the Norwegian parliament in Oslo. By the time we got there, however, that rally was over and the pro-Palestinian rally was underway. While speakers droned on about the evils of America and Israel, the crowd held aloft scores of signs and flags. There wasn’t a single Norwegian flag in sight, but there were plenty of Palestinian flags, and a Cuban flag with a silhouette of Che Guevara superimposed over it, and a version of the Israeli flag with a skull and crossbones superimposed over the Star of David. Here it is – taken, alas, with a crummy engangskamera (what is it in English, “single-use camera”?) that I went across the street and bought just so I could record these sights.
There were also at least two small children waving signs on which a swastika and a Star of David were depicted with an equal sign between them. I didn’t manage to get pictures of those signs, but I did take this picture of a little girl with a sign reading “Sharon Terrorist Number 1.”
There were also plenty of copies of a mass-produced sign featuring pictures of Bush and Sharon above the words “World’s Worst Terrorists.” Here’s one that someone left on a windowsill of the Parliament after the rally.
Finally, there were several large banners, among them this one, reading “Israel Is Apartheid – Free Palestine.” That building in the background is the Norwegian Parliament, where Ingmar Tveitt was required to hang up his jacket a couple of weeks ago because the Star of David on his chest pocket was considered provocative.
[Sunday, April 21: Turns out Bjørn Stærk was there too, with a much better camera.]
[Monday, April 22: My friend Norman Spencer reminds me that an engangskamera is, of course, called a “disposable camera” in English.]
Tuesday, April 9, 2002: In a story today, the Oslo newspaper Dagbladet reports that Ingmar Tveitt, a friend of Norwegian Parliament member Jan Simonsen, was ordered yesterday by Parliament security guards to remove his jacket because a Star of David was displayed on the chest pocket.
Dagbladet reporter Cato Vogt-Kielland writes that “Tveitt went into the Parliament building dressed in a thin summer jacket with the Star of David on the chest pocket. But after he had talked in the Parliament restaurant with Parliament members from the Progress, Conservative, and Labor parties, he was sought out by two security guards who asked him to come with them ‘because they had received reactions’ to Tveitt’s flag symbol.
“‘I asked who had reacted, and what they had reacted to, but got no answer,’ said Tveitt. ‘I didn’t think that showing solidarity with Israel would create reactions in Parliament – especially not in Parliament.'”
The two guards escorted him to the wardrobe. After he had hung up his jacket, they followed him back to his table.
As Tveitt points out, “People walk around [in Parliament] with Palestinian scarves and other pro-Palestinian symbols without any reaction.”
This story comes only a few days after the news that several Nobel Peace Prize committee members here in Norway now regret giving the prize in 1994 to Shimon Peres – though none of them has publicly regretted giving it to Arafat.
Sunday, March 17, 2002: “I don’t ever recall having those feelings about any group, especially the Jews,” says Billy Graham in his latest apology for anti-Semitic comments made in the Nixon White House and now available on tape, “and I certainly do not have them now.”
That’s when you know you’re getting old: when you can’t even remember that you’re an anti-Semite.
(If one didn’t know better, one might almost think Graham was making a witty Watergate reference – alluding, that is, to all the memory-challenged Nixon aides who, when called to testify before Congress, had so much trouble recalling things.)
Seriously, it may be that Graham is telling the truth, strictly speaking, when he says that he has never actually felt that way about Jews. Look, after all, at the miracle he’s accomplished over the course of his career. First, he managed to herd into his tent pretty much all of American Protestant evangelicalism – that broad, theologically fractious midriff of Protestant America that lies between the pure, uncompromising fundamentalists and the liberal mainline types. Second, he managed to retain that querulous constituency even as he welcomed Catholics into his tent – without trying to turn them into Protestants! – and even as he refused to evangelize Jews.
How did he succeed in bringing all these constituencies together? The key element,surely, was getting the clergy on his side. Can you imagine all the private meetings, over the decades, with influential ministers in various denominations, the expert massaging, the confidential assurances that, well, deep down I really feel the way you do about this or that matter, but of course I can’t say so publicly? Is it really so surprising that Graham, sequestered in the Oval Office with Nixon and Haldeman for what he thought was a private conversation, would tell the President exactly what he knew the President wanted to hear – would represents himself, that is, as sharing Nixon’s prejudices? To call Graham an anti-Semite, in other words, seems to me beside the point: he’s a consummate politician for whom a statement like that in a conversation like that does not reveal principle or prejudice so much as it illuminates the means and methods of a master political tactician – a cynical, savvy courtier, you might say, eager to enhance his position at court.