by Bruce Bawer
Anti-Semitism in Norway, where I have lived for twelve years, is over the top. I have never quite gotten used to it. Every now and then I hear or read something that reminds me that I am living in Europe, in a country that was occupied by the Nazis, and where a lot of people were perfectly okay with that. I think it is fair to say that anti-Semitism in Norway is most virulent among the cultural elite – the academics, intellectuals, writers, journalists, politicians, and technocrats – although thanks to the media and schools, it has trickled down to many ordinary Norwegians, some of whom may never even have met a Jewish person.
This anti-Semitism manifests itself in various ways. When Obama became president, former Norwegian prime minister Kåre Willoch said things did not look promising because Obama had "chosen a Jew as chief of staff." The chief rabbi of the Oslo synagogue reportedly receives a pile of hate mail every day. During the Gaza War, a major Norwegian newspaper had trouble finding Norwegian Jews who were willing to comment on the record about the war: they said they were scared of repercussions. Norwegian academics have sought to ban contacts with Israeli universities. Norwegian activists have encouraged boycotts of Israeli products. There is terrible anti-Semitic bullying in the schools. Every so often, a high-profile professor or activist or famous author will write a virulent op-ed or give an angry speech denouncing Israel and insulting Jews. Nothing could be safer for them to say; no one will seek to harm them physically or otherwise – as opposed to what would happen if, say, they made certain public statements about Islam. And they know this. Norway's most respected newspaper cartoonist, Finn Graff, who has admitted that he never draws cartoons about Islam because he is scared for his life, has frequently drawn cartoons comparing Israelis to Nazis; he knows Jews will never harm him. These anti-Semitic op-eds and speeches and cartoons are never remotely fresh, witty, or original; all they ever do is recycle tired cultural-elite clichés. And their creators get nothing but praise from their colleagues, who celebrate them as courageous truth-tellers. It is much more acceptable to scream "kill the Jews" at an anti-Israeli protest than it is to criticize Hamas.
The quintessential expression of Norwegian anti-Semitism during my time in Norway was an op-ed written by Jostein Gaarder, author of the international bestseller Sophie's World. It appeared on August 11, 2006, in Aftenposten, Norway's newspaper of record. I will quote from it just to give you a flavor of the kind of thing that is considered respectable discourse in Norway. "The state of Israel in its current form is history," wrote Gaarder. "We do not believe in the notion of God's chosen people....To act as God's chosen people is not only stupid and arrogant, but a crime against humanity....We acknowledge...Europe's deep responsibility for the fate of Jews....But the state of Israel...has massacred its own legitimacy....The State of Israel has seen its Soweto.... " Gaarder went on to describe little Jewish girls writing hateful words on bombs to be dropped on civilian populations in Lebanon and Palestine – as if it were Israel that teaches its children to hate and kill. He wrote: "We do not recognize a state founded on anti-humanistic principles and the ruins of an archaic national religion and warrior religion." You might have thought he was talking about Saudi Arabia or Iran, but no; he was talking about Israel. After reading Gaarder's op-ed, one of the leading members of Norway's tiny Jewish community, a writer named Mona Levin, said she had not read anything so disturbing since Mein Kampf. Many ordinary Norwegians agreed. Yet members of the cultural elite lined up to support Gaarder. As far as they were concerned he had struck a blow for truth and virtue.
What motivates this anti-Semitism? Several things. For one, the leading lights of Norway's cultural elite are overwhelmingly on the far left, and intensely hostile to the West, to capitalism, and therefore to the US and to Israel, which they see as America's puppet and vassal – a colonialist, imperialist outpost of Western capitalism in the heart of the Islamic world. Before the fall of the USSR, an extraordinary percentage of these Norwegian leftists were either Communists or very sympathetic to Communism. They have replaced their affinity to the Soviet Union with sympathy for the great totalitarian ideology of our time: Islamism. Thus they romanticize Palestinians and despise Israel.
Part of the motivation for this anti-Semitism is of course the influx into Norway in recent decades of masses of Muslims from Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia and elsewhere. Multiculturalism has taught Norway's cultural elite to take an uncritical, even obsequious, posture toward every aspect of Muslim culture and belief. When Muslim leaders rant against Israel and the Jews, the reflexive response of the multicultural elite is to join them in their rantings. This is called solidarity.
Then there is Norwegian history. Anti-Semitism has a long, deeply-rooted history in Norway, which was never a cosmopolitan country – no nation in Europe was less ethnically or religiously diverse. On the contrary, Norway was a remote, rural, mountainous land of pious Lutheran farmers whose early 19th-century constitution banned Jews from its territory. Then came WWII. With a few notable exceptions, Norwegians did not exactly cover themselves in glory during the Nazi occupation. Unlike their counterparts in Denmark, Norwegian gentiles made no major effort to protect their Jewish neighbors. To be sure, in the decades after the war, Norway was a staunch ally of the US and Israel; but the entrenched multicultural elite did its work through the schools, universities and media – producing a generation of Norwegians for whom being virtuous and intellectually sophisticated means, among other things, embracing the Muslim "victim," and despising the Israeli "bully," even though the "bully" in this case is a democratic country the size of the island of Vancouver and the "victim" is a group of immensely larger, unfree, and tirelessly aggressive nations dedicated to that tiny country's extermination.
On Oslo's version of Fleet Street there is a bar, a journalists' hangout, called Stopp Pressen (Stop the Presses). For years, there hung in its window a photograph of a smiling, beatific Yasser Arafat. From the way he was portrayed, you would have thought he was Albert Schweizer. I walked by that picture almost every day for years. It was a good reminder of the sickness at the top ranks of Norwegian society.
I should add that part of the motivation for all this anti-Semitism is, I think, guilt. The very existence of Jews and of Israel today remind Norwegians of what their countrymen did and didn't do during the war. Norwegians cannot forgive the Jews for having been murdered as part of a horrendous program in which many of their own parents or grandparents played a role. I think it salves the conscience of many Norwegians about their parents' and grandparents' wartime moral choices to be able to tell themselves that, "well, that was long ago, and today Norway is a virtuous bringer of peace, and Israel is a bloodthirsty warmonger."
And what about Islam? When it comes to that subject, Norway is more or less a microcosm of what is happening elsewhere in Europe. Islam is not as far advanced in Norway as in, say, the Netherlands or Sweden, or in parts of Britain and France, but it is getting there, and you see the same things happening there now that happened in other places a few years ago. Largely Muslim neighborhoods are gradually turning into sharia enclaves -- no-go zones -- where the Muslim residents are feeling their power more and more and where certain kinds of people, certain behaviors, and certain ways of dressing are increasingly being ruled out of bounds. There comes a tipping point, in other words, at which you start hearing: "This is Muslim territory! That is not allowed." One summer gay couples can walk unmolested down a certain street, and the next summer you start hearing reports of local merchants standing outside their stores and saying: "No gays here! Get out!" And then there is a newspaper story about a gay couple being chased out of that neighborhood, or beaten up, and you know that things have moved another step along toward the inevitable end.
And what makes it all so dangerous is the eagerness of the cultural elite to cover it up, to whitewash it, to pretend that none of it is happening. The cultural elite has been forced to admit that there are problems with immigration, but its mantra is still that the only, or at least the main, problem with Islam in Europe is not Islam itself but anti-Islamic prejudice. Also, pretty much any Muslim who is not an active terrorist is by definition a moderate. A few years ago I actually began hearing people in Norway talk about "moderate Islamists" and now this is an entirely familiar label. It is a perfect example of what Daniel Patrick Moynihan called "defining deviancy down."
These so-called "moderate Islamists," moreover, are routinely welcomed into the elite. In recent years, one high-profile young Islamist has become a columnist for Aftenposten, while another has become a leading member of one of the major political parties, and has established himself as an influential figure in Norwegian society, thanks in no small part to nearly reverential profiles in the media. These men enjoy friendly relations with top members of the Norwegian government and with members of the royal family, even though they refuse to say, for example, whether or not they support the death penalty for homosexuality. It is considered impolite to pressure them about such things. Meanwhile people from the Muslim community who object to the tyranny of imams and want to enjoy the same freedoms everyone else does get little support from the very authorities who should be their champions.
I might also mention Norway's resident terrorist, Mullah Krekar, and his family, who have long been the subjects of fawning newspaper and TV profiles in which they are depicted sympathetically as kind, gentle, suffering victims. (This is a man who founded the terrorist group Ansar al-Islam, and who is known to be guilty of murdering and torturing children, but whom Norway will not deport because they are worried more about his safety than about the security of their own country.)
Two years ago, supposedly in response to Israel's actions against Hamas, Muslims rioted in downtown Oslo, making a large area of the city look like Beirut or Sarajevo at their most violent moments in modern history. The violence was out of control, the damage extensive. Yet almost everyone got off scot-free. And the whole event was soon dropped down the memory hole. The media, the politicians, simply did not want to talk about it or address its implications for the future.
Early last year, in the same Oslo Square where Quisling and his henchman once held rallies, scores of radical Muslims gathered to hear a Nazi-like message of hate against Jews, gays, secular democracy, America, the West, Israel. The speeches were chilling. Yet many of the men who gave those speeches continue to be treated with respect by Norwegian authorities. One of them threatened a new 9/11 in Norway. A few weeks ago he flew to Saudi Arabia to resume his studies of the Koran. He was considered so radical and dangerous that Saudi Arabia actually arrested him at the airport and sent him back to Norway, where he is now once again moving around freely.
What can be done about all this madness? A few months ago I told an interviewer for the Jerusalem Post that in the next local elections, Norwegians need to vote for the Progress Party – the only one of Norway's several major parties that is truly friendly to Israel, and the only one that is remotely honest about the realities of Islam. A few months ago a big win for the Progress Party looked like a very strong possibility, because over the last decade there has, in fact, been a big sea change in Norway when it comes to Islam, immigration, and multiculturalism. Ten years ago there was barely any discussion of these issues; the cultural elite called the shots and pretty much nobody dissented. But over the years, there has been more and more open discussion and criticism of Norwegian immigration policy and even of Islam, and the once small Progress Party has grown in power and influence, much to the chagrin of the cultural elite. In recent months, the statements by Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy, and David Cameron that multiculturalism had failed made a strong impact across Europe. There was hope that Norwegian voters would take meaningful action – a prospect that sent a chill through the heart of the cultural elite.
Then something happened. On July 22, as you probably know, a man named Anders Behring Breivik murdered several dozen people in Oslo and on a nearby island. He was a terrorist but not a Muslim terrorist – he was an anti-Muslim, anti-multiculturalist terrorist, who targeted that island because it was the site of a Labor Party youth camp, and he blamed the Labor Party for the multicultural philosophy that has led to the Islamization of Norway. The massacre was a horror for Norway, but it was a godsend for the Norwegian cultural elite. Having felt increasingly embattled in recent years, they quickly took to the media to spread the word that the lesson of this atrocity was that Norwegians need to respect Islam, embrace the idea of a multicultural Norway, and shun the critics of Islam. Those critics, they said, and I was among those whom they named most often, had infected the mind of Breivik with their poisonous hate and thus had blood on their hands. The cultural elite were quick to link Breivik to Christianity, to Israel, and to the Progress Party, and to call for new limits on freedom of speech, especially speech about Islam. They insisted that those who had criticized Islam and immigration in the past now owed it to the memories of the people Breivik had murdered to recant.
And it actually worked. Many critics of Islam were so intimidated by this vicious new atmosphere that they stepped forward and expressed regret for things they had said and written. Meanwhile leading politicians and the Norwegian Crown Prince visited mosques to show their solidarity with imams. Never mind that those imams' opinions were no different than they had been the day before the massacre. Suddenly all that was to be forgotten. Solidarity with Islam, shunning of Islam critics: this was – and is – the order of the day. In the local elections on September 10, the Labor Party received a huge sympathy vote, and the Progress Party suffered a disastrous setback. People were quite simply scared to vote for the party that had been linked, however unfairly, to the mass murderer.
Gro Harlem Brundtland, Norway's first female prime minister, who served three terms in that office between 1981 and 1996, once famously said: "It is typically Norwegian to be good." Indeed, Norwegians pride themselves more than anything else on being "good people." And many of them are very good people indeed. But how is the Norwegian cultural elite's endemic anti-Semitism and its ready appeasement of Islamist tyranny and intolerance consistent with the idea of being "good people"?
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