Bruce Bawer is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
On the night of Friday, June 24, a 42-year-old Muslim named Zaniar Matapour shot up the city’s largest gay bar, London Pub, and the tiny watering hole next door, Per På Hjørnet (Per on the Corner). He killed two and wounded twenty-one. But even though Matapour kicked off his evening of mayhem by shouting “Allahu akbar” and was later shown to belong to a radical Islamic clique, don’t think for a moment that his offense had anything to do with Islam. And even though he committed his dastardly deeds on the eve of Oslo’s scheduled Pride parade, a week after his buddy Arfan Bhatti, a convicted terrorist, posted a note on Facebook calling for the murder of gays, don’t dare suggest that the crime might have been rooted in Islam’s deadly view of homosexuality.
After all, as I reported here on June 27, no less eminent a figure than Masud Gharahkhani, the 39-year-old president of the Norwegian parliament who is (after the king) the country’s highest-ranking person – and who, like Matapour, came to Norway as a child refugee from Iran – was quick to deny that this was an Islamic act. “Hate is hate,” Gharahkhani told a reporter for VG, “and has nothing to do with religion or background.” (Why, then, did his parents flee Iran after it became an Islamic theocracy?)
Norway’s leading Muslim organizations agreed with Gharahkhani. The Islamic Council (IRN), which for years refused to take a position on punishing homosexuality with the death penalty, condemned the atrocity and denied any Islamic connection. Ditto Senaid Kobilica of the Muslim Dialogue Network (MDN). Ditto, too, Fahad Qureshi of IslamNet, who asserted, in total contravention of the Koran, that “Islam does not permit taking the life of an innocent person, no matter gay or straight.”
You had to go into the archives to discover just how hypocritical Qureshi’s statement was. He’s on the record as saying that all Muslims support the death penalty for gays. (For obvious strategic reasons, he’s since announced that gays who abstain from sex need not be executed.) As for Kobilica and IRN, get a load of what happened in 2009 when Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the world’s leading Islamic scholar, praised the Holocaust. Asked for a comment, IRN’s then Secretary General, Sultan Shoaib, referred reporters to Kobilica, who was then IRN’s head. Kobilica, in turn, passed the buck to the Islamic Association’s Basim Ghozlan, who declined to comment on Qaradawi’s remark because, he said, it was a “political statement.”
So the same Muslim leaders who now pretend to be appalled by two murders chose to stay mum on the Shoah.
More on Kobilica. A few months ago, he assured a reporter “that Muslims aren’t allowed to hate Jews. In fact we can’t be Muslims…without believing in the Torah and Bible as holy books.” Anyone familiar with another holy book – the aforementioned Koran, natch – knows very well that devout Muslims view themselves as having been divinely commanded to kill Jews and Christians. It’s called (ahem) jihad.
But it wasn’t the Muslim organizations whose crocodile tears took the cake. No, it was Bassel Hatoum, head of Queer World (Skeiv Verden), Norway’s major gay organization, who hit a home run. “To link this to Islam,” he said about the Oslo bloodbath, “is very wrong and fraudulent.” Gays, Muslims, and everyone else, he wrote, “stand together” as “one community.”
Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre made similar noises, adding that in the wake of Matapour’s actions all Norwegian Muslims were in danger – of reprisal, presumably. (Yes, the old “backlash” fiction.) Then there was hijab-clad Attia Mirza Mehmood, a Socialist Left member of Oslo’s City Council, who took the breathtakingly dishonest line that “we don’t yet know what the perpetrator’s motive was” and that gays and Muslims share the same enemies and should therefore be allies.
At least ordinary Muslims were honest. After the shootings, as Erling Marthisen reported at document.no, Muslims who were posting at Arabic-language websites in Sweden were busy “praising the terrorist” as a “hero,” describing the victims as “filth and rubbish,” and thanking Allah. There’s no reason to think Muslims in Norway weren’t celebrating, too.
So far, in short, nothing new. These days, throughout the Western world, the first instinct of people in authority after an act of manifest jihadist slaughter is to deny its Islamic roots and paint Muslims as peace-loving victims.
Yet this time something was different: a few establishment voices broke with the party line.
First, in a June 27 op-ed for Aftenposten, Ola Svenneby, head of the Norwegian Young Conservatives (Unge Høyre), noted wryly that the ten Muslim countries that punish homosexuality with death don’t do so “because they’ve misread the Koran.” It’s time, he concluded, for Norwegians to hold real discussions about the threat Islam poses to free and tolerant societies.
(Alas, the 25-year-old Svenneby is too young to recall that frank exchanges about Islam used to take place in Norway – notably on the TV2 series Holmgang, which was canceled in 2008 after an aggressive Muslim campaign against it. Three years later, the government and media used Anders Behring Breivik’s murder of 77 people to try to silence critics of Islam who, they cynically contended, were, in effect, Breivik’s accessories. Since then, robust conversations about Islam have been relegated mostly to a couple of much-maligned alternative websites.)
In response to Svenneby’s piece, Dih Yazan Al-Obaide, the Marxist leader of the gay Muslim organization Salam, wrote that he felt “unsafe,” “demonized,” “dehumanized,” and “viewed with suspicion” – no, not by Muslims like Matapour, but (ludicrously) by Svenneby and other members of right-of-center parties, who, if returned to power, he warned, might well force gays to undergo conversion therapy or even deport them. Svenneby got a thumbs-up, however, from Anne Holt, a crime novelist and former Minister of Justice who’s arguably Norway’s most famous lesbian. In a June 28 op-ed, Holt wrote that until now she’s kept mum about Islam and mass Muslim immigration (untrue: in several op-eds she’s called critics thereof racists and xenophobes) but that the London Pub shootings changed her mind. If Matapour really acted against gays “in Allah’s name,” declared Holt, she needs to break her silence and call for a “Big Conversation” about Islam.
(How odd that twenty-one years and Allah knows how many jihadist atrocities after 9/11, it took this event to alert Holt to the dangers of Islam! Still, better to have her on side than not. Or is she really all in? At the end of her op-ed, Holt actually stated that she might be wrong about the need for a “Big Conversation.” My interpretation? If the blowback from her friends is too strong, she’ll issue a mea culpa.)
Far more impressive than Holt was the 44-year-old Progress Party leader Sylvi Listhaug, who in a June 29 op-ed, came out strongly against Gharahkhani’s absurd “nothing to do with religion” line and Støre’s disgraceful focus on Muslims, not gays, as victims. The London Pub shootings, she insisted, were an act of hatred, and “the hatred comes from someplace and deep down we know where”; hence it’s high time to “begin seriously to demand that people who settle voluntarily in Norway respect our values of freedom.” Long since high time, I’d say.
I wasn’t surprised when Kjetil Rolness, one of the few marquee-name writers in Norway to dissent frequently from the lockstep consensus, also weighed in, writing in Aftenposten on July 2 that the problem isn’t that Muslims live by other values than secular Norwegians, but that their punishments for dissent from orthodoxy are so severe. Even VG columnist Shazia Majid – after railing about “Islamophobia,” asserting that Matapour’s motives remain unknown, and making the baffling suggestion that she and other Norwegian Muslims were being “scapegoated” – admitted on July 1 that it’s well past time for Norwegian society to take on the “homo-hate that flourishes in some immigrant communities.”
Perhaps best of all, on June 30, another Muslim, Qalbi Khan, a professor of dentistry at the University of Oslo, made essentially the same point in Aftenposten – and emphasized, to boot, the need for liberal Muslims to take the lead in challenging backward Islamic attitudes. Yes, there was much in his piece to quibble with – beginning with the notion that one can be liberal and Muslim. But he closed with a wonderful line suggesting that Islamophobia – i.e. fear of Islam – can be healthy and appropriate.
None of these people, alas, chose to give a tip of the hat to their gutsy fellow citizens, such as Rita Karlsen, Hege Storhaug, Hans Rustad, and Peder (Fjordman) Jensen, who’ve been reviled for years in Norway’s media, academy, and corridors of political power for speaking home truths about Islam. In the 1980s, New York intellectual diva Susan Sontag decided to stop applauding Communism, but described others who’d opposed it for decades as “premature anti-Communists.” Will Storhaug, Karlsen, and company – not to mention yours truly – come to be known as premature critics of Islam?
Well, if the Norwegian establishment develops enough backbone on Islam to turn this country around, I won’t mind much having to wear that label, if that’s the price to pay. But what are the real chances of that happening? On Sunday, my fellow Islam critic Nina Hjerpset-Østlie wrote on Facebook that “it seems a critical number of social commentators are ready for ‘The Big Conversation’ on Islam’s obvious and extensive problem in relation to sexual minorities.” I hope she’s right – and that, if so, the conversation will take in a lot more than the “sexual minorities” stuff. But it seems to me that the bulk of politicians, professors, and popular authors have had nothing to offer in response to the London Pub shootings but the usual cowardly pabulum, euphemism, and appeasement.
Moreover, three days after the Oslo police prevailed upon organizers to cancel the gay-pride parade – lest terrorists be handed a target-rich environment – came news that made any hope of a sea change in elite Norwegian attitudes seem like a pipe dream. Oslo’s City Council announced that it had green-lit plans by the Islamic Association – the Norwegian face of the Muslim Brotherhood and, in the view of the United Arab Emirates, a terrorist organization – to build an imposing new mosque in the heart of the city, complete with a “cultural center,” library, sports complex, and café. Could the authorities have given a clearer signal of their determination to capitulate to the enemy?
Finally, as if all of the above weren’t more than enough, a week after the London Pub shootings another terrorist act occurred in the same city. Lars Thorsen is head of a group called Stop the Islamization of Norway (SIAN) and is viewed by the Norwegian establishment in much the same way that Tommy Robinson is viewed by bien pensant Brits – in other words, as human garbage. On July 1, perhaps in an effort to pacify Muslims who were put off by the sudden wave of truth-telling about Islam that followed the London Pub shootings, Thorson was arrested for hanging a banner on a mosque and spraying three people with “self-defense spray.” The next day he and several colleagues burned a Koran on an Oslo street – after which, in a scene out of a movie, an angry driver forced their jeep off the road, causing it to flip on its roof. There was one serious injury; the driver was arrested on the spot, and another suspect was arrested on Sunday.
But the police officer in charge at the scene seemed to be less interested in discussing what looked like an attempted murder than in criticizing the Koran burning. “A lot of people,” he said, are outraged by actions like SIAN’s, and “we” – the police – “understand” their outrage. Such, alas, in the year 2022, is the utterly predictable reaction of Norwegian officials to a conflict between Norwegian patriots whose worst offense is destroying a Koran and Islamic jihadists who are prepared to kill as many Norwegians as they can.