by Bruce Bawer
Well, as it turned out, I didn’t end up testifying at the trial of Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik after all. As I reported here back in April, Breivik’s lawyers put together a long list of Islam critics, myself included, whom they were calling as “expert witnesses.” The summonses we were sent in the mail made it clear that under Norwegian law we were obliged to testify. If we refused to comply, we would be subject to fine and imprisonment.
The alleged reason for calling us as witnesses was to demonstrate that Breivik is not alone in taking a skeptical view of multiculturalism, of Islam, and of mass Muslim immigration – and that he is therefore sane, and should be sent to a prison (as he wishes) and not to a psychiatric hospital. This purported strategy made absolutely no logical sense. Does it really need to be proven to anyone that such views are widespread? And what, in any case, does any of this have to do with the mental state of this wacko who remorselessly gunned down dozens of teenagers? Plainly, the real reason for dragging some of Norway’s most prominent critics of Islam into court was to establish guilt by association – to link all of us, in the minds of Norwegians, with the most reviled creep in modern Norwegian history – and to send out the message that if you publicly criticize Islam in Norway, you can end up being dragged into court.
In May, as I also reported here, religious scholar Hanne Nabintu Herland, one of us “expert witnesses,” announced her refusal to obey the defense team’s summons, declaring that she’d rather go to jail than be a part of the “circus” at the Oslo courthouse.
Shortly thereafter – and I haven’t previously reported this here – the court issued an extraordinary decision in which it divided the list of defense witnesses in two. Norwegian television, the judges ordered, would not be allowed to air the testimony of those of us who are critical of Islam; it would, however, be permitted to broadcast the testimony of our critics, the people who describe us as Islamophobes and racists. In their written statement, the judges justified this outrageous decision by saying that I and other Islam critics have “indirect connections” to Breivik though “the extreme right-wing milieu” – the point presumably being that the views of people like me are so noxious, so offensive, so dangerous, that it would be inappropriate to expose Norwegian TV viewers to them. (At the same time, however, it was perfectly acceptable to broadcast comments by the Islam-friendly authors and professors who routinely smear people like me and misrepresent our views.) I found it staggering that the judges felt free to describe me, without evidence and without anything remotely resembling proper legal procedure, as a member of some “extreme right-wing milieu” to which this mass murderer also belongs.
The next big development was nothing less than a bombshell. After all these weeks, somebody looked at Norwegian criminal law and found out that you can’t force “expert witnesses” to testify. That this little fact had apparently escaped the notice of all the judges, lawyers, and journalists involved in the case, not to mention every last member of the country’s legal establishment, all of whom were following the case assiduously, was, to say the very least, pretty embarrassing. When this news hit the papers, I shot off an e-mail to the defense lawyers saying that, given this new information, I was hereby withdrawing my name from the witness list.
But Breivik’s people weren’t going to let a mere law get in their way. They went straight to the judges and asked to have their “expert witnesses” magically turned into “regular witnesses” – a stratagem which would allow them to retain the power to force us to testify. Astonishingly, the judges went along with this slimy scheme, even though classifying us as “regular witnesses” made no sense whatsoever. As Islam critic Hans Rustad commented at his website, document.no: “This is unheard-of, and, if you will, unethical.” Just to take my own example: I had never had the slightest contact with Breivik; I was in the United States on the day of the massacre; and the main thing the lawyers wanted to talk to me about on the stand, my e-book The New Quislings, was about the aftermath of July 22. How, then, could I be considered a “regular witness”? Scandalous.Fortunately, I was not without resources. Thanks to help from the Legal Project, an activity of Daniel Pipes’s Middle East Forum, I had been able to retain a lawyer, who, at my request, sent a splendid letter to the defense in which he spelled out the legal absurdity of my reclassification as a “regular witness.” Thanks, apparently, to that letter, my name was dropped from the witness list. (Peder Nøstvold Jensen, otherwise known as Fjordman, also managed to extricate himself from this circus – also, I gather, with help from the Legal Project – but I will leave it to him to tell his own story.)
Geir Lippestad, the head of the defense team, demonstrated his utter failure to understand the principles underlying my objection to testifying when he cracked at a press conference on June 1: “It’s a bit funny that those witnesses who are most preoccupied with speaking out, and who possibly think they’re not getting the opportunity to speak out, go into hiding when they get the opportunity to speak out and have the attention of the entire international media.” As if he were doing me, or anyone else, a favor – giving us a desirable forum for our views! – by pressing us into the role of witnesses for a mass murderer.
Lippestad, alas, isn’t alone. Too many people involved in this case have proven themselves incapable of grasping a very elementary point: namely, that in a democracy, you don’t haul writers into court to be grilled about their political views. Indeed, it has often seemed as if the trial were taking place in a hermetically sealed chamber, apart from ordinary considerations of simple reality and of the most fundamental notions of individual rights. “This is a trial,” Rustad wrote to me the other day, “that is oblivious to the world outside.” Bingo. Not only are the judges operating in a world of their own invention; the Norwegian media, noted Rustad, have made clear their lack of interest in a serious debate “about the future of liberal society.”
On June 5, the day I was originally scheduled to testify, there was at least one glimmer of sanity in that madhouse of an Oslo courtroom. Ole Jørgen Anfindsen, who runs a website that is critical of Islam and who had decided not to challenge his summons, was questioned by the defense lawyers, after which the head judge asked bistandsadvokatene, the lawyers representing the interests of the victims (as distinguished from the public prosecutors), if they had anything to ask Anfindsen. The reply was blunt: the victims’ lawyers saw no point in the testimony of Anfindsen or any other such witnesses, and thus had no reason to ask anything. Later, in an interview, the head lawyer for the victims made clear that, in his view, the testimony of this “new type of witness” invented by Lippestad was – hello! – irrelevant to the question of Breivik’s responsibility for the deaths of seventy-seven people.
But of course the whole travesty that has been taking place in the Oslo courthouse these last weeks has always been about much more than Breivik’s actions. A trial focused exclusively on the question of Breivik’s responsibility for all those horrific murders could’ve been wrapped up in a couple of days. No, this weeks-long circus has been something else: it has been a reprehensible effort to focus the attention of the Norwegian people not only on the killer’s monstrous crimes but also on his so-called opinions – and, by extension, on the opinions of every prominent person in Norway who has made a habit of questioning the government’s reckless immigration policies, its systematic whitewashing and appeasement of Islam, and/or its continued suicidal embrace of a multicultural ideology that one European leader after another, from Sarkozy to Merkel to Cameron, has already dismissed as sheer folly. Thanks to the eleventh-hour discovery of that law which forbids lawyers to compel “expert witnesses” to testify, Breivik’s attorneys – and their allies throughout the Norwegian cultural establishment – didn’t get quite the show trial they were counting on. Next time, however, we may not be so lucky. And let’s not kid ourselves: there will definitely be a next time.Bruce Bawer
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