When it comes to the right to speak one’s mind about Islam, the record of the last few years makes it clear which direction the West is moving in. In France and Italy, Oriana Fallaci is put on trial for disparaging Islam. In Canada, Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant are hauled before “human rights commission” tribunals for criticizing Islam in print. In Australia, an Islamic organization sues two pastors for “vilification of Muslims.” In Britain, a Daily Telegraph columnist is arrested on charges of hate speech for having written negatively about Islam, and the Archbishop of Canterbury proposes that Parliament pass stronger laws against such speech acts. And in the Netherlands, Geert Wilders, the head of the Freedom Party, which performed so well in the June 9 general elections that Wilders may end up in the governing coalition, still faces trial for having made a film about the Koranic foundations of terrorism.
Then there’s Norway, where I live, and where the last few days have seen yet another dark development. By way of background, permit me to begin by quoting myself. On pages 230-31 of my book Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom I sum up the more alarming aspects of Norway’s Discrimination Law, passed in 2005:
It forbids “harassment on the grounds of ethnicity, national origin, ancestry, skin color, language, religion, or beliefs,” and, in turn, defines harassment as “actions, omissions, or utterances [my emphasis] that have the effect or are intended to have the effect of being insulting, intimidating, hostile, degrading, or humiliating.”
In other words, it’s illegal just to say certain things.
Defendants may be accused not only by the individuals whom they’ve supposedly offended but also by semiofficial organs such as the Anti-Racist Center and the Center against Ethnic Discrimination (both of which helped formulate the law, and both of which exist less to oppose real racism and discrimination than to oppose political incorrectness generally) or by the government’s Equality and Anti-Discrimination Ombud.
Which means that a handful of far-left organizations have been given enormous power to silence those they disagree with.
Violations of the law by individuals are punishable by fine; violations by individuals in concert with at least two other persons (such as a writer conspiring with an editor and publisher, perhaps?) can be punished by up to three years’ imprisonment — this in a country where murderers often get off with less. Moreover, the burden of proof is on the accused: you’re guilty until proven innocent.
And this in a supposedly free country.
Which brings us to the most recent developments. Over the years, I’ve had a close association with Human Rights Service (HRS), a small Oslo-based foundation that formulates and proposes government policies designed to combat the subjection and abuse of females in Muslim communities. I’ve translated materials for HRS and written pieces in Norwegian for the HRS website. Last fall, after suggesting that HRS expand its site to include articles in English by contributors from around Europe and elsewhere — so that writers from different countries could compare notes, as it were, about their experiences with Islam, immigration, and integration — I began working regularly for HRS, writing, soliciting, and translating pieces for their new international web pages.
Meanwhile HRS was going through a rough patch. Ever since its establishment in 2001, it has been despised by many people on the Norwegian left — the same folks who hate Israel and who feel warmly about Hamas. The two women who run HRS, Hege Storhaug and Rita Karlsen, have labored tirelessly against monstrous practices like honor killing, forced marriage, and female genital mutilation, and for doing so have won the lifelong gratitude of countless Muslim girls and women — but as far as their PC enemies are concerned, to condemn any aspect of Islam is to be an Islamophobe, pure and simple. Last summer, a couple of newspapers, the far-left Dagbladet and the Communist Klassekampen, waged a brutal and breathtakingly mendacious smear campaign against HRS, the obvious intent of which was to bring it down once and for all.
Now, HRS receives its funding from the Orwellian-sounding Royal Norwegian Ministry of Children, Equality, and Social Inclusion. Since last October, the ministry has been run by Audun Lysbakken, 32, a member of the Socialist Left Party (the furthest left of the three left-wing parties in the current governing coalition) and a former journalist at — where else? — Klassekampen. Lysbakken’s contempt for HRS is palpable — and that contempt is shared by a number of far-left organizations (including the above-mentioned Anti-Racist Center) which also receive funds from his ministry, and which plainly want to see HRS defunded and driven into bankruptcy. On June 10, the Anti-Racist Center (or, as it styles itself in English, the Norwegian Centre against Racism) issued something called the “NGO Shadow Report 2010.” Produced in collaboration with nine other groups — Amnesty International Norway; The MiRA Resource Center for Black, Immigrant and Refugee Women; The Norwegian Helsinki Committee; The Institution against Public Discrimination (OMOD), PMV (Primary Health Workshop); The Human Rights Committee of the Norwegian Bar Association; The Human Rights Committee of The Norwegian Psychological Association; The Union of Education in Norway; Norwegian People’s Aid; and The Tenant’s Association of Norway — and written in English (although, it must be said, not very good English), this document was commissioned and funded by Lysbakken’s ministry and purports to be a supplement to and commentary upon “Norway’s combined 19th/20th Periodic Report Submitted by Norway under Article 9 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.” (Submitted, that is, to the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.) In short, this “shadow report” has official status.
The “shadow report” is 68 pages long, and is divided into five articles. Article 5 is entitled “Prohibit and Eliminate All Forms of Racial Discrimination and To Ensure All Equality before the Law.” The first item under this heading is “Islamophobia.” And the section about Islamophobia is entirely devoted to HRS and me. HRS, which has formulated laws that are now on the books in Denmark and Norway and that help to protect the rights of Muslim women and girls, is described as “a state funded advocate of anti-muslim prejudice. … HRS has a constant negative focus on Islam and muslims. … HRS is both a major actor in and of themselves and a major resource for anti-Islamists.” The report further denounces HRS for having posted articles on its website in support of Geert Wilders.
But HRS’s major offense, it would appear, is having employed me. I am the subject of no fewer than three items under the category “Islamophobia.” The first item notes that when my book While Europe Slept was named a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for 2006, the president of the NBCC called the book an expression of “Islamophobia” and an NBCC board member (who, by the way, later turned out not to have even read the book, only the title and subtitle) called it “racism as criticism” (whatever that means).
The second item about me reads as follows:
Bawer himself states in the book that rising Muslim birth-rates and a “refusal” to integrate will allow them to dominate European society within 30 years, and that the only way to avoid such a disaster is to abolish the politically correct and multicultural doctrine that, according to him, is rife within the continent. He also suggests a physical solution for the problem he perceives: “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 everyday. They could start rescuing Europe tomorrow.”
Actually, that quotation doesn’t come from While Europe Slept. It’s from a blog entry dated January 26, 2007, in which I compared Europe’s situation vis-à-vis its enemies within — the Muslim imams and other radicals who condemn freedom and call for sharia law — to that of somebody with Stockholm syndrome: “Europe,” I wrote, ”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.”
As it happens — and this is just a parenthetical curiosity I feel compelled to share — I’ve seen those exact same lines from that blog entry cited several times by Norwegian reporters in the last year or two. In the Norwegian media, those few brief sentences from my blog have now come to define me. For months I wondered: why do the reporters here keep quoting that same old blog entry, instead of — say — actually cracking open one of my many books and finding out what’s inside? Also, how did they dig up those lines? Had some member of the Norwegian press corps — which is notorious for its laziness and lack of enterprise — actually read through several years’ worth of my blog entries, amounting to heaven knows how many hundreds of thousands of words, in order to find just the right quotation? Nope. It turned out that the blog quote was on my Wikipedia page. That’s where they’d all found it: on Wikipedia. In Norway, that counts as investigative journalism.
Anyway, back to the “shadow report.” The last of its three items about me returns to the subject of Geert Wilders, and quotes a single sentence I wrote at the HRS website about the court case against Wilders: “In fact, Wilders has only done one thing: he has made visible important truths about a very dangerous ideology.”
And that’s it. To sum up, two members of the NBCC think I’m a racist; I hold certain views about Islam; and I’ve deplored the fact that Geert Wilders is on trial for holding essentially the same views. These offenses on my part are sufficient, apparently, to qualify me officially as (to borrow the title of a play by Norway’s greatest playwright) an Enemy of the People.
Controversy is one thing. I’ve been a professional writer for three decades, and have long since become accustomed to controversy — accustomed to being criticized severely, to seeing my words misquoted and my views misrepresented, to being attacked in print and to answering back. But this is something entirely different. We’re talking about the government of a supposedly free country stepping in, tapping me on the shoulder, and telling me: You’re not supposed to say that. It’s a chilling development, and the more I think of it the more chilling it feels.
The question is: what comes next? I’ve now been singled out, in a report commissioned and funded by the government of the country in which I live, as a perpetrator of Islamophobia. The items about me appear under the heading “Prohibit and Eliminate All Forms of Racial Discrimination and To Ensure All Equality before the Law.” Exactly how does the Ministry of Children, Equality, and Social Inclusion propose to “eliminate” the supposed “racial discrimination” on my part? Will I be arrested and prosecuted under the Discrimination Law of 2005? Am I about to join the company of those who have been hauled into court for daring to speak the truth about Islam, Muhammed, and the Koran? What say you, Herr Lysbakken?