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A Field Guide to Scandinavian Literary Birdbrains

If you’re looking for a place with a high concentration of literary eminences who can be counted on to spout incredibly fatuous political clichés in a consistently self-regarding tone, pack your mukluks and set sail for the frozen North.

by
Bruce Bawer

Bio

April 25, 2011 - 12:07 am
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Every major Western country has one or two of them.  I’m speaking of world-class literary cranks — those high-profile, brand-name authors who, when not banging out novels or collecting Nobel Prizes, keep themselves busy smugly pontificating about the evils of America and Israel, tearing down capitalism and Western freedom, and celebrating totalitarians (who, if put in charge of the countries in which these writers live, would either imprison or execute them).

Until recently, for example, Britain had Nobel laureate Harold Pinter, who in the years before his death in 2008 compared the U.S. to Nazi Germany and championed “solidarity” with the PLO and Castro.  Germany still has its own aging Nobelist Günter Grass, who in 2006, after a lifetime of insufferable, self-satisfied moral lecturing from a consistently far-left, anti-American perspective, finally got around to admitting that in his youth he’d been a member of the Waffen SS.  Until last year Portugal had José Saramago, a lifelong, unrepentant Communist who likened Israel to Nazi Germany — and who, yep, also bagged a Nobel.

When Saramago died, David Frum, in a National Post article headlined “Death of a Jew-Hater,” quoted from a piece the novelist had written for El País:

“[C]ontaminated by the monstrous and rooted ‘certitude’ that in this catastrophic and absurd world there exists a people chosen by God … the Jews endlessly scratch their own wound to keep it bleeding, to make it incurable, and they show it to the world as if it were a banner.”

And hey, let’s not forget America’s own Gore Vidal, whose rants against all things American have grown more bitter and wacky with each passing year — at least in part, one suspects, a product of Vidal’s frustration over never having gotten that phone call from the Swedish Academy.

But not all famous writers are fools (though it may sometimes seem otherwise), and in fact cranks on the truly impressive level of a Pinter, Grass, Saramago, or Vidal don’t grow on trees (though it may sometimes seem otherwise).

Except, that is, in Scandinavia.  If you’re looking for a place with a remarkably high concentration of literary eminences who can be counted on to spout incredibly fatuous political clichés in a consistently self-regarding tone (though heaven knows why, aside from sheer masochism, you’d be looking for such a place), pack your mukluks and set sail for the frozen North.  For the fact is that an extraordinary percentage of this region’s most honored and bestselling writers harbor an ardent, palpable, quivering contempt for America and Israel, and express it in a language that’s breathtaking for its utter lack of moderation, nuance, or restraint (or, for that matter, originality).

Take, for example, Jostein Gaarder, author of the international bestseller Sophie’s World, who — as I noted here at PJM recently in a piece about Norwegian anti-Semitism — won new fans with a 2006 Aftenposten op-ed.  Writing in the royal “we,” Gaarder took it upon himself to consign Israel to the dustbin of history: “We no longer recognize the state of Israel….The state of Israel in its current form is history.  We don’t believe in the idea of God’s chosen people….To present oneself as God’s chosen people is not just stupid and arrogant, but a crime against humanity.  We call it racism.”  (This is, by the way, a popular trope among Gaarder and his repellent ilk: framing one’s own racism as an accusation of racism.)

“There are limits to our patience,” preached Gaarder, “and there are limits to our tolerance.  We do not believe in divine promises as a justification for occupation and apartheid.  We have placed the Middle Ages behind us.  We laugh uneasily at those who still believe that the God of the flora, the fauna, and the galaxies has chosen a certain people as his favorites and given them funny stone tablets, burning bushes, and a license to kill.”  (In the Norwegian original, those last three words are in English.)

Of course Gaarder’s fantasy of a nation run by fanatical biblical literalists is just that: a fantasy, and a bilious one at that, with no connection whatsoever to the reality of contemporary Israeli society or the to the calculus of Israeli defense.  (Indeed, Gaarder’s feverish fulminations about medieval belief systems and Master Race ideology would be far more legitimate if directed at Hezbollah, Hamas, or any one of a number of other groups and governments in the Mideast that would quash Israel like a bug if they could.)  Yet despicable though Gaarder’s essay was, many of his literary colleagues were quick to hop onto his bandwagon.  Renowned novelist and crime author Jon Michelet,  who has played a leading role in Norway’s Communist movement, and top-seeded Norwegian intellectual Thomas Hylland Eriksen, who in addition to being a social anthropologist at the University of Oslo is also a ubiquitous TV talking head and critic of “Islamophobia,” supported Gaarder enthusiastically, as did beloved children’s book author Anne B. Ragde (“a very, very good and wise op-ed”) and popular novelist-playwright Edvard Hoem (“Gaarder is doing his intellectual duty, and he’s doing it better than anyone else”).

Then there’s the Swedish writer Henning Mankell, whose Kurt Wallander mystery novels are international bestsellers — and who is a classic anti-Semite and “useful idiot” of the first water.  In a time when Jews are being driven out of Sweden by hate-crime-committing Muslims whom the authorities are too pusillanimous to punish, Mankell — a crime writer, mind you — averts his gaze, fastening it instead on Israeli Jews’ purported offenses against Arabs.  In 2009, after attending a “Palestinian literary festival” (!), Mankell painted Israelis in Aftonbladet as vicious, rancorous Palestinian-haters while claiming that he had come across absolutely no evidence of anti-Jewish feeling among the Palestinians he’d met.  (The systematic poisoning of Palestinian children with lies about Jews is an amply substantiated reality, but in such matters Mankell and his ilk prefer to disseminate propaganda rather than face the plain and simple facts.)  Mankell described Israel as an apartheid state and made it clear that he welcomed its fall.

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