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Nothing could be less in doubt than the responsibility of Anders Behring Breivik for the murders committed in Oslo and on the island of Utøya on July 22 of last year. But his trial has been going on for several weeks now, and will go on for a few more. For this is more than just a trial – it’s a national event, carried live on both of the country’s major broadcast channels. And the question is not whether the defendant is guilty or not – that’s already been settled. It’s this: what will be left of freedom of speech in Norway when this grotesque spectacle is over?
For the objective here is not just to try Breivik for his actions, but to try him for his thoughts as well. The climax of the trial will come in June, when several writers who have written about Islam – myself included – will be hauled into court as unwilling witnesses for the defense. As I wrote here last month, “the goal of the defense – and of the defendant, who apparently made up the list of witnesses himself – is utterly identical with the goal of the country’s leftist cultural elite: namely, to implicate all of us writers in Breivik’s actions. Of course, Breivik wants to do this in order to mitigate his own guilt in the eyes of the court and the country; the cultural elite wants to do it in order to discredit forever the criticism of Islam.”
Among the other writers on the list of defense witnesses is Hanne Nabintu Herland, a historian of religion who’s been an outspoken critic of Western feminism, the social-democratic welfare state, “reverse racism,” Norwegian anti-Semitism, and the Norwegian cult of mediocrity. She’s also written – and this is why she’s been summoned to testify in the Breivik case – about the importance of integrating immigrants and of preserving traditional European cultural values. But she’s not having it. On Monday, she made a major announcement in an op-ed for Aftenposten: she’s informed the authorities that she won’t be obeying her summons. She simply refuses to be a part of “this twisted murderer’s show….I refuse to be dragged around the circus ring like another clown in the perpetrator’s bizarre delusions.” She asserts that “the obligation to testify is being abused. I was not in Norway on July 22. My testimony has no bearing on the question of guilt or sanity.”
Needless to say, when you’re called to testify in a trial and refuse to do so, you may face serious consequences. “If this means that I will be put in prison,” Herland writes, “then make me a political martyr.”
Herland doesn’t mince words. Since the day after Breivik’s murders, she charges, opponents of what she calls “the throne of power, the Labor Party,” have been treated as suspects. “As things stand now, it’s almost the case that if you’re critical of the Labor Party, you’re automatically put in the same category as a mass murderer….This political witch hunt is now so intense that it’s fair to speak of undemocratic, totalitarian conditions in Norway. We’re well on the way to becoming the new East Germany….the state is developing in the direction of a totalitarian democracy.”
As readers of my recent e-book about the aftermath of the Breivik killings know, Herland isn’t exaggerating.
Has anyone in Norway been as forthright about the present situation – and as willing to publicly challenge the grim new orthodoxy – as Herland has been? Well, there have been a few others. In her op-ed, Herland cites a recent opinion piece by shipowner Dan Odfjell, who tells a story I haven’t yet read or heard. According to him, when Breivik began shooting on the island of Utøya, Eskil Pedersen, the head of the Labor Party youth group which was Breivik’s target, hopped on a boat and was the first person from the island to make it to shore. Odfjell doesn’t criticize Pedersen for saving his skin; he criticizes him for allowing the Labor Party, in the days and weeks after July 22, to try to cover up the truth and turn him into a hero – an effort, charges Odfjell, that has been only one part of a carefully orchestrated effort by the party “to deliberately blur the distinction between itself…and the nation of Norway.”
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