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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

Then, last year, he took in that convoy of Hamas “aid” vessels that headed from Turkey toward Gaza, and after his detention and release by Israeli authorities he claimed to be weighing the option of denying the citizens of that rogue state the joy of reading his potboilers: “I am a best-selling author in Israel and I must consider seriously whether I should block my books from being translated to Hebrew,” Mankell told Dagens Nyheter. The question, of course, is why any self-respecting Israeli publisher would want to have anything to do with this pal of terrorists.

Mankell’s countryman Jan Guillou — author of the Coq Rouge series of spy yarns and a trilogy about the Crusades — agrees with him that Israel is an apartheid state and, like him, looks forward to its demise.  A longtime member of Maoist groups who has written glowingly of Saddam Hussein, Guillou walked out of the Gothenburg Book Fair rather than participate in a three-minute silence in memory of the victims of 9/11, explaining that 9/11 was not “an attack on us all” but rather “an attack on U.S. imperialism” that was justified because “the U.S. is the great mass murderer of our time.”  (I do not know how Guillou explained later Islamist attacks on London, Madrid, and other non-American targets.)  It didn’t come as much of a surprise when, in 2009, the Swedish newspaper Expressen reported that the famed spy novelist had himself once been a paid Soviet agent — a revelation that shows no signs, by the way, of having dented Guillou’s popularity in the slightest.

Let’s not forget Denmark.  Just the other day, Danish novelist Jens Høvsgaard gave an interview to Dagbladet about his new crime novel, The Seventh Day. In Scandinavia today, rates of rape, assault, and other violent crimes are on the rise; the perpetrators are disproportionately young Muslim men, and the victims are almost always non-Muslim.  Høvsgaard, like other Scandinavian crime writers, neatly flips reality around: in The Seventh Day, the villains are evangelical Christians and the victims are Muslims.

Høvsgaard told Dagbladet that he’s concerned about the dangerous new brew in Western society of extreme religiosity and right-wing politics; needless to say, he doesn’t mean the growth of fanatical, fascistic, patriarchal Islam.  No, his type can only see Muslims as good guys; as for the bad guys, Høvsgaard invites his interviewer to “[l]ook at the Tea Party movement in the U.S., for example: Christians of a very racist bent.  The groups have the same agenda — they’re against gays, Muslims, and Africans.”  (Not only is Høvsgaard either ignorant of or dishonest about the Tea Party agenda; he also appears not to have had time to look into the position of Islam on homosexuality.)  Høvsgaard further claims that today’s Danish Muslims are in the same position that Danish Jews were in between the world wars.  Yes, who can forget those trouble-making Danish Jews who, back in the 1930s, sponged off the state, taught their kids to despise secular Western democracy, and protested newspaper cartoons by rioting violently, burning Danish flags, and plotting the murder of journalists?

It’s a close contest, but perhaps he most despicable member of this pantheon is Norwegian novelist Dag Solstad, who is generally viewed as one of his nation’s most distinguished living cultural figures.  In 2008, Solstad published an essay in the literary journal Samtiden entitled “On Freedom of Expression,” which was intended, and received, as a major statement by a leading writer about a vitally important topic. It began with the following self-absorbed sentences:

One would think that a left-leaning, oppositional author would be among the most stubborn defenders of freedom of expression in his own country….But that’s not true in my case.

I take a completely indifferent posture toward freedom of expression, as one naturally does toward truisms, and I cannot envision a future in which a situation will arise in which I will be denied the right to express myself.

Far from being threatened, Solstad says, free speech is now being used “as a weapon directed against everything I stand for.”  He is referring, of course, to the criticism of Islam by (among others) Danish cartoonists.  In Solstad’s view, some expression is simply not worth defending — on the contrary, it deserves to be silenced.

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