Playing the Racism Card Like a Maestro

A disgraceful spectacle on Scandinavian TV.

fredEvery Friday night, in prime time, both Norwegian state television (NRK) and its Swedish counterpart, SVT, air a talk show called Skavlan, which is taped in Stockholm and hosted by a Norwegian fellow named Fredrik Skavlan. Part Letterman or Leno (without the monologue), part Charlie Rose or Larry King (although the closest equivalent I can think of at the moment is – if you're old enough to remember it – the old David Susskind show), it has a certain degree of cultural and political impact in both countries. There are usually several guests per show – movie stars, pop stars, politicians, writers, and so on. They come on one at a time. Skavlan interviews them individually, but as they accumulate onstage he attempts to spark interaction among them. The conversations proceed in a mixture of Swedish and Norwegian, although quite often one of the guests is British or American, in which case everybody switches into English, some more comfortably than others.

Last Friday, the opening guest was Labor Party politician Jens Stoltenberg, who two days earlier had completed his eight-year term as prime minister of Norway, handing over the government to a non-socialist Conservative and Progress party coalition. Skavlan chatted with him for a quarter hour or so, after which they were joined by the three young stars of some Swedish teen flick, whom Skavlan interviewed, then forced into an awkward exchange with Stoltenberg. (Had Jens ever been bitten by the acting bug? Are you kids interested in politics?) Painful though it was, the worst was yet to come. For the next guest, it turned out, was a Kurdish-Swedish “political comic” named Özz Nûjen, who, Skavlan told us, “has taken the title of prime minister,” his pet joke apparently being that he's the guy who should be in charge of Sweden.

From the start, Nûjen, whom I have never heard of, exuded a remarkable arrogance and abrasiveness. He said nothing remotely funny, and instead started pontificating about politics. He professed to admire Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt for “his opposition to xenophobia,” but added, “I am always the opposition because of my color.” Sweden's problem, he asserted, is that “there's no opposition”: everybody pretty much agrees on everything. Besides, neither of the leading Swedish parties has a vision for the future. Only the Sweden Democrats do, but their vision is “racist” and “xenophobic” – exactly, he said, like that of Norway's Progress Party.

Nûjen went on in that vein a bit more, after which Skavlan called on Stoltenberg to reply. Had the international news media been wrong to depict the Progress Party after the September 9 election as a gang of far-right bigots? If viewers experienced déjà vu, it was because Conservative Party leader Erna Solberg had been placed in essentially the same spot a few weeks earlier, when it became clear that she and Progress Party leader Siv Jensen would be governing Norway together. Over the decades, more than a few Conservatives have joined the socialists and their media marionettes (not least NRK) in slamming Siv & co. as Islamophobic yahoos, but now that Siv was entering the cabinet and the entire planet was being told that Norwegian voters had chosen racists to run their country, all the mud-slingers realized that, lest Norway's image as the land of peace and love be forever destroyed, they needed to change their tune about the Progress Party pronto. Solberg was quick to embrace her old rival Jensen; now Stoltenberg did much the same, declaring that while he opposes the Progress Party's views on immigration and other issues, the party isn't racist. One can discuss immigration, he said, without calling people racists. If only he'd taken that position all along!

Nûjen, who didn't hide his disgust at Stoltenberg's remarks, told about the time he did his act in New York not long after 9/11. First, he maintained that since 9/11 it's been hard to get into the U.S. “when you look like me.” (Yeah, right.) He also repeated a “joke” he'd told in New York that, he claimed, had resulted in his getting thrown offstage. Here's the “joke”: “It's nice to be here in New York, but I also have some bad memories from New York. Because one of my relatives died on 9/11. It was he who flew the plane.” (Here's a video of him telling the “joke” to a New York audience – presumably on another occasion, because this time he gets a laugh.) Absolutely everything about this part of Skavlan was disgusting. The “joke” was disgusting; the audience's applause for it was disgusting. It was disgusting for Skavlan to have invited onto his first show after the new Norwegian government's installation a lousy comic who he must've known would trash the Progress Party. And it was disgusting that Skavlan, instead of challenging this creep's assertions about the party, used them as an excuse to confront Stoltenberg on the subject.

But, it turned out, there was more. It soon emerged that NRK, but not SVT, had cut out the most inflammatory minute or two of the show, in which Nûjen lectured Stoltenberg, saying that “just because you say you're not a racist, or claim not to be preaching racism or Nazism, it doesn't mean that you don't every day do racist things, express racist opinions.” He cited calls in Norway for the deportation of Romanian gypsies: if that's not racist, he demanded, what is? (By my count, Nûjen used the word racist a total of ten times during his interview.) When Skavlan pointed out that nobody from the Progress Party was present to defend it, Nûjen shot back: “Well, neither am I when they speak.” The sheeple applauded lustily. There's been an intense debate in the Norwegian media as to whether NRK should have clipped out that part of the show. The real debate should revolve around the fact that Skavlan invited this guy on in the first place – and that Norwegian voters are forced to pay a license fee for the privilege of hearing some no-talent Swedish Muslim comic call them racists.

As noted, it was a disgusting spectacle. But it was an instructive one, too. Nûjen, though witless, is no fool. Everything he does onstage is cunningly calculated. In his interview – and, to judge by the available online evidence, in his act, too – he establishes early on the terms of his relationship with the audience. He's a victim; they're oppressors. Period. So whatever he says, they're obliged to laugh, and thus implicitly affirm his account of Swedish society. If they don't laugh, if they grumble, if they give any sign of challenging his views or the terms he's laid down for their relationship, then there's no question: they're racists. Never mind that no other society in history has ever done as much as the Swedes (and Norwegians) have done for so many foreigners who've come to their shores from so far away. No, these Swedes who've gladly provided countless people like Nûjen and his family with a country to call home, and with boatloads of benefits to boot, are compelled to sit there while he rants about their racism and xenophobia – a label he's plainly ready to slap on anyone who's concerned about the stratospheric levels of Muslim immigration to Europe. He “jokes” about 9/11, but otherwise doesn't touch on the many very good reasons for Europeans to be concerned about that immigration – among them Sweden's own unenviable distinction of having the world's second-highest incidence of rape.

In fact, Nûjen may well be a kind of genius. There's no white guilt like Swedish white guilt, and few entertainers have ever exploited it as masterfully as he does. He knows exactly how his audiences have been trained from infancy to react when they hear words like Islam, immigration, racism, and xenophobia – and he plays those poor saps like Itzhak Perlman playing a violin. He walks in front of an audience expecting dhimmitude – and he gets it. That spectacle on Friday night was stunning, actually: for decades, Norway's Labor Party has been the prime mover behind mass Muslim immigration into that country – but Nûjen, instead of showing gratitude for eveything Stoltenberg and his crew have done for Muslims, addressed him with breathtaking condescension, and knew he'd get away with it. He demands respect for himself and “people who look like me” (as he puts it), but sitting there next to the man who, until just the other day, was prime minister of Norway, he was utterly incapable of mustering up even a semblance of respect for the office, which is tantamount to having no respect for the country itself. In short, Nûjen exuded the insolence and contemptuousness of an impatient mullah who can't wait for the day when he's the one who'll be calling the shots. The Swedes in Skavlan's audience had to know, on some level, that that day is coming – for them sooner than most. Yet they applauded Nûjen enthusiastically – displaying not a hint of resistance; already behaving, indeed, like obedient subjects of imported masters.

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Tags: TV

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