Is comparing the country's totalitarians of today with the totalitarians of World War II really so outrageous?
“If you hate Norway so much,” read the email in my inbox the other day, “why don't you go back to America? Why don't you go back to the Midwest or the Southern states where you can live with your beloved Tea Party friends?”
The email was in Norwegian, and the sender had a Norwegian name. This is far from the first such e-mail I have received in my thirteen years in Norway. A few years back, in a piece for the New York Times about the Norwegian economy, I made what I thought was a harmless remark in passing about the matpakke, the wrapped-up homemade sandwich that many workers in Norway, including high-ranking executives, chow down at their desks at lunchtime because it's just too expensive here (Oslo is the world's priciest city) for most people to go out for even a modest lunch. After that article, I got several hundred outraged text messages, e-mails, and phone calls asking me why I was living in Norway if I hated its beloved traditions so much and ordering me to go back to America. I even got a couple of death threats.
The reason for this latest wave of unfriendly e-mails, however, is my new e-book, The New Quislings, in which I examine the aftermath of the dozens of murders committed on July 22 by an insane young Norwegian named Anders Behring Breivik. Breivik, most of whose victims were members of the youth division of Norway's Labor Party, explained that he was motivated by a hostility toward Norway's multicultural immigration and integration policies, which are largely the work of the Labor Party and which are turning Norway, like much of the rest of Europe, into an increasingly Islamic state.
After Breivik's atrocities, Norway's left-wing cultural elite lost no time linking him publicly with every prominent writer, foreign or domestic – myself included – who has warned about the Islamization of Europe. We Islam critics, it was asserted, had created an atmosphere of “Islam-hate” and were thus, in part, responsible for Breivik's actions. Some members of the elite insisted that we Islam critics needed to change our tune about Islam; others went further, saying that if we didn't shut up and play along, we should be punished for it – silenced.
For months, the Norwegian media were full of demonizing, menacing rhetoric – rhetoric that thoroughly misrepresented the views of people like me and Robert Spencer and Bat Ye'or, making us sound like genocidal racists, threats to civilization, democracy, and pluralism. All the while, those who truly represented a threat to civilization, democracy, and pluralism were the very people who were leveling these charges – who were cynically exploiting the acts of a lone madman in an effort to strangle free speech in Norway and destroy their own ideological opponents.
To a frightening extent, the attempt worked – and continues to work. For a time, criticism of Islam was almost entirely muted. Then, gradually, the critics began to speak up again – but in all too many cases, the criticism was more tepid, more timid, than before. In some cases Islam went entirely unmentioned, the focus instead being purely on immigration and integration policies. When word began to spread that I had written a book whose title compared Norway's would-be censors of Islam criticism to Vidkun Quisling, the Nazi puppet who ran Norway during the occupation, my fellow Islam critics in Norway rushed to distance themselves from the book and to reject the comparison. Even though many of the influential left-wingers I had written about were actively out to crush free speech in Norway, it was simply over the top, I was told, to compare them to Quisling.
It is, of course, a truism that one should not be quick to compare one's ideological opponents to Nazis. Yet in this case the comparison seemed to me amply justified. First of all, it is not as if Nazi comparisons are absent from the Norwegian public square. On the contrary, one of the most familiar memes in the Norwegian press these days is the notion that Israel is today's Nazi Germany and that the Palestinians are its victims in precisely the same way that the Jews were the victims of Europe's Nazi conquerors. Norway's most celebrated editorial cartoonist, Finn Graff, has more than once drawn cartoons making precisely this equation. He is respected and beloved, and has won major awards for his work.
Needless to say, comparing Israel to Nazi Germany is obscene. But it did not, and does not, seem to me unreasonable to suggest that there are, in fact, significant continuities between Quisling and his wartime supporters, on the one hand, and today's left-wing Norwegian cultural elite, on the other. Consider this: a few months ago, some wartime films surfaced showing uniformed Nazis parading through the streets of Oslo while Norwegian crowds cheered them, blew them kisses, and gave the Hitler salute. There was a controversy over whether these films should have been made public, because many of the people shown in them were readily identifiable. One was a woman who went on to be a famous performer. Others were the parents or grandparents of people living today, some of them quite prominent. The argument was that it was unfair to these people to have it known that their family members had been Nazis, or, at the very least, had put on a very good show of being Nazis.
To live in Oslo in the early twenty-first century is to frequently encounter plaques reminding you that, within living memory, this city was under Nazi rule. In one building the Gestapo carried out acts of torture. In another, Resistance members hid out, maintaining radio contact with the British military. In another, Jews were discovered hiding, then carted off.
There were Norwegian Nazis – not just collaborators, but full-fledged Nazis, who avidly embraced the Nazi ideology. Hitler, after all, considered Scandinavians part of the Master Race. In more than one Norwegian bar with which I am familiar, the walls are papered with wartime copies of newspapers, the articles in which demonstrate that there were plenty of journalists who did not shrink from transmitting Nazi propaganda about America, Britain, and of course Jews.
When the war ended, these Norwegian Nazis did not dissolve into the ether – nor did the widespread enthusiasm for totalitarianism, anti-Semitism, the strong state and strict limits on free speech. A generation after the war, many of the most influential figures in Norwegian society were self-declared Maoists and Stalinists. Today, although members of the cultural elite tend to be more careful about openly declaring allegiance to Communist tyrants, being an outright Communist is still no bar to being a respected member of Norway's cultural establishment. (Members of the Rødt, or Red, Party hold important positions in several major cultural institutions.) Write the most sickeningly anti-Semitic article this side of Der Stürmer, and you will still be welcome in the corridors of Norwegian cultural power. Call publicly for strictly enforced limits on free speech about Islam, and your peers will hail you as a hero.
To deny that there is a disturbing degree of continuity between all this and what went on in Norway during World War II is to shove one's head in the sand. There is, after all, a reason why we Americans still speak of our own contemporaries as, variously, Jeffersonians, Hamiltonians, Jacksonians, or Wilsonians. To take a part of one's country's history and quarantine it, as it were, treating it as an aberration, a departure from everything that preceded and followed it, is to choose not to understand the red threads (as Norwegians put it) that run through a country's history.
“If you hate Norway so much,” wrote my correspondent, “why don't you go back to America?” The fact that so many people have asked me this question in recent weeks demonstrates just how effective the cultural elite's propaganda has been at convincing many Norwegians that to dissent from officially approved views, to reject the establishment consensus, to challenged the received opinions that are served up every day in the echo chamber of the country's mainstream media, is to hate Norway.
Au contraire. I've taken on these vile people and their – yes – totalitarian views precisely because I love Norway, love the West and idea of the West, and love the Enlightenment legacy upon which these monstrous people are so blithely, recklessly, and cynically trampling. My question to my correspondent, and to every other Norwegian who has asked me the same question is this: why don't you love Norway enough to try to help save her? Can it be that, like all too many people, you're more worried about being called a racist or Islamophobe than you are about what kind of country your children and grandchildren will live in? Or are you genuinely incapable of recognizing who Norway's friends – and enemies – really are?
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