Norway's national witch hunt against a dissenting voice.
I am currently completing a book about the Anders Behring Breivik case and how I got dragged into it against my will. The working title is Witness to Madness, with the subtitle How I Became Public Enemy Number Two. I was considering dropping the reference to being a “public enemy,” as it might be seen as hyperbole. Yet after the reactions I’ve received since the beginning of June 2013, this title actually seems warranted.
On Friday June 14, I announced on my Twitter account, in Norwegian, that I’d just been awarded a grant of 75,000 kroner to support the completion of my upcoming book about the Breivik case. This grant came from Fritt Ord, which is Norway’s largest and most well-funded free speech organization by far.
I was quite happy to receive it, as it had not at all been certain that I would get it. The decision was bound to cause some controversy, given how controversial I am in Norway, but the mass media reactions once again exceeded anything I had truly expected. A full week after my tweet, the debate had still not died down. A Member of Parliament representing the ruling government coalition blasted the decision and me personally on the state broadcaster NRK. The crux of the debate is: Does freedom of speech apply even to truly loathsome creeps like Fjordman?
The good news is that quite a few individuals have taken a principled stand in favor of free speech. The support that meant the most to me personally was that of the long-time publisher William Nygaard. He was the Norwegian publisher of Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses and was nearly killed outside his own home in Oslo in 1993. In other words, this is a man who has personally paid a price for doing what he does, and who probably also genuinely disagrees with many of the things that I write, but who nevertheless supports free speech as a matter of principle. He is also not alone in doing this, which is encouraging.
However, the reactions were a very mixed bag, sometimes bordering on the hysterical. Fritt Ord has previously supported the publishing of books by Communists who supported the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, yet in my all but unique case, the chair of their board, the former Supreme Court Justice Georg Fredrik Rieber-Mohn, found it necessary to distance himself from me in public while at the same time giving me a grant.
Rieber-Mohn stated to the press that this was one of the most difficult decisions Fritt Ord has ever made, considering my allegedly “extreme” viewpoints, but they saw the value in letting me present my side of the story as well. He further stated that it would be of great value for society to have a debate about what Mr. Peder Jensen stands for, so “that one gets him out into open terrain and that everybody who wants to attack him has the opportunity to do so.” That’s very thoughtful and considerate of Mr. Rieber-Mohn, who in statements to the mass media has repeatedly labeled my ideas and opinions as “avskyelige,” that is, abominable or loathsome.
Fjordman became a sort of all-purpose bogeyman in Norway, post-Breivik. A man named Daniel Kalvø in June 2013 published an essay in English comparing me to a cancerous tumor. I’ve previously been compared to toxic waste or a plague epidemic, among many, many other colorful designations.
At the liberal conservative periodical Minerva, the writer Eirik Vatnøy has previously indicated that he is in favor of free speech. Vatnøy thinks that my essays should be taught in high school alongside Adolf Hitler’s autobiography Mein Kampf, so that young people learn to recognize evil when they see it.
The popular author Ingvar Ambjørnsen found it provocative that I had applied for a grant from Fritt Ord at all, but he recalled that in 2006 they had supported the publishing of a Norwegian translation of the speeches of Osama bin Laden, so supporting me should presumably be OK, too. Yes, that Bin Laden, who led the terrorist network al-Qaida, responsible for the murder of thousands of people around the world in dozens of terror attacks, of which the ones in the USA on September 11, 2001 are simply the deadliest and most spectacular.
Eirik Vatnøy and Ingvar Ambjørnsen thus support freedom of speech even for incredibly evil people such as Adolf Hitler, Osama bin Laden or me. Which is good, I suppose.
As it turned out, the book by Osama bin Laden which Fritt Ord supported in 2006 did not cause too much controversy. When Fritt Ord decided to give financial support in a similar manner to my book in June 2013, all hell broke loose. This must presumably mean that I am more controversial in Norway than Osama bin Laden.
Several newspapers dedicated editorials specifically to the controversy surrounding my yet-unpublished book. The left-wing daily Dagsavisen declared that this support to publish a book by me was “dangerous.” Dangerous in what way, and to whom? The editorial reminded the readers that this was not the first time Fritt Ord had given support to persons with “radical views.” I initially thought they meant the Muslim terrorist Osama bin Laden, but the newspaper was referring to the Christian philosopher and author Nina Karin Monsen, who has criticized gay marriage.
It should be mentioned in this regard that Dagsavisen received more than 41 million kroner in direct press support in 2012 alone, sponsored by all of the country’s tax payers whether they want to or not. It’s one of the main reasons why the paper exists today. I’ve paid for this myself for years, against my will. Yet when a private organization decides to award a political opponent 75 thousand kroner in a one-time grant – 0.0018 times as much as they get from the state annually – they complain.
Rune Berglund Steen of the Norwegian Centre against Racism, which has received millions in state funding for many years and still does, was openly critical of this decision by a privately funded organization to give me a grant, although that same organization has supported the Centre against Racism a number of times, too. The Centre got 75,000 kroner in support from Fritt Ord for various “anti-racist” projects in the month of May 2013 alone, which is exactly as much as I got in June 2013. And this came on top of their millions in state support.
On June 18, 2013, the major national daily VG in Norway published a special editorial entitled “VG believe: Our democracy can withstand Fjordman.” This opinion piece was unsigned, but the paper’s CEO and editor-in-chief is Torry Pedersen, and its political editor is Hanne Skartveit. The newspaper claimed that I do not share the fundamental values of our civilization but instead spread unfounded “hate” against Muslims. In essence, they virtually branded me a public enemy. Nevertheless, in the end the paper came out in favor of the decision by a private foundation to support the publishing of my book. VG gave this justification for their thinking:
“Our main argument in favor of supporting the monetary grant from Fritt Ord is that it illustrates the strength of the Norwegian democracy. A man who clearly despises our society and our values is applying for money to be able to continue denigrating this society. This money he will get, because we as a society are confident that we can meet this hate speech in an open terrain. Our democracy can withstand Fjordman, precisely because we have the strength to beat back hate speech and anti-human attitudes. With words as weapons.”
Please note that at the time this was published, my book wasn’t even fully written yet, let alone published, something which I had told the press. My intention is to have the manuscript for Witness to Madness completed by the end of this summer and hopefully have the book in circulation by late 2013, if that is practically possible.
Moreover, it was also known that I no longer live in Norway since I had to flee the country after being partly blamed for the terror attacks of July 22, 2011 carried out by Anders Behring Breivik, a person I have never once met. I have also not been a member of any political party throughout my adult life. So what this editorial in newspaper VG actually said is that the Norwegian democracy is strong enough to withstand a book that has not yet been published, written by a single individual with no criminal record who no longer lives in Norway. I suppose that’s good. Norwegian democracy must be really, really strong to withstand that kind of pressure.
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