A Blow to Freedom in Norway

The government slashes funding for one of the most cost-efficient -- and freedom-promoting -- items on its annual budget.

On July 22, a crazed loner named Anders Behring Breivik set off a massive explosion that rocked central Oslo, taking eight lives, and then, in an action which proved the explosion to be a mere diversionary tactic, gunned down sixty-nine people, mostly teenagers, in cold blood, on an isolated island, Utøya, an hour or so west of that city.  It was the darkest day in Norwegian history since World War II, and it set off a wave of nationwide mourning like nothing the country, or most Western countries in modern times, had ever seen.

It also had profound political repercussions.  For while the explosion in Oslo had initially been assumed by all and sundry to be the work of Islamic terrorists, it turned out that the perpetrator was a young man fiercely opposed to the Islamization of Europe.  It was clear why he singled out that particular island for attack.  It is owned by the Workers' Youth League, the junior division of the Norwegian Labor Party, which at the time of the massacre was holding its annual summer youth camp.  Amid more ordinary camp-like activities, the aspiring Labor Party politicians were spending their days on the island delivering political speeches to one another, listening to speeches by Labor Party leaders, being propagandized by Labor Party functionaries about the glories of socialism, and, generally, being groomed for power in the Norwegian government in years to come.

As it happens, it is the Labor Party which, far more than any other, has shaped the course of modern Norwegian history, designing its elaborate social-democratic economic system and, over the last generation or two, following a multicultural philosophy that has transformed the face of Norway, introducing into its borders, without ever consulting the electorate, an ever-growing minority of Muslims.  Some of these Muslims have assimilated magnificently, making clear that they are grateful to live in the free West and to become productive and loyal members of society.  All too many, however, have exhibited a contempt for democratic values that renders them utterly unassimilable and that identifies them, indeed, as looming threats to Norway and to Western liberty.  Breivik could not forgive the Labor Party for having put his country in this perilous position.  He shared this concern with many sane people; but he himself proved insane, choosing to react to this dilemma with mass murder.

In the wake of the atrocity, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, who is a member of the Labor Party and who had been scheduled to give an address to the campgoers, called for greater openness and democracy in response to a mass murderer who, he said, had clearly despised openness and democracy.  Yet while Stoltenberg was airing these lofty sentiments, many of his most prominent ideological allies were singing a different – and very dark – tune.  Breivik, they warned, was only the public face of a large and dangerous movement which over recent years had been gaining a disturbing respectability in the Western world.  Serious critics of Islam, such as Robert Spencer, Daniel Pipes, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Bat Ye'or, and the late Oriana Fallaci – and myself – were slammed day after day in the Norwegian media by left-wing multiculturalists eager to associate our views with Breivik's crimes.  We were not spreaders of truth, they argued, but sowers of hate – namely, that ugly and irrational hatred for Muslims and their religion known as Islamophobia.  It was not Islam that represented a menace to Europe; it was our writings.  One after another of these multiculturalists insisted stridently that, in order to prevent future Breiviks, limitations on freedom of speech must be imposed on the critics of Islam who, they insisted, had created Breivik.

Now this appalling line of argument – though the mot juste is actually not argument but invective – is having palpable, and thoroughly predictable, results.  On October 6 the Norwegian national budget for 2012 was unveiled.  Among the changes from last year was a cut by more than half in the already very modest allocation for a tiny but vitally important think tank called Human Rights Service (HRS).

I have worked for HRS, and am proud of it.  Founded a decade ago by two women, Hege Storhaug and Rita Karlsen, with a passionate interest in guaranteeing the rights of Muslim women and girls living in Europe, it has always batted very much above its weight, producing solid reports that have led to important legislation in both Norway and Denmark relating to subjects like forced marriage, honor killing, genital mutilation, the sending of European Muslim children to Koran schools in Pakistan to be “educated,” and the difference between men's and women's right to divorce under sharia law.  HRS's work has always been controversial among multiculturalists, because instead of bowing before the immigrant group and its cultural and religious values, HRS has fiercely defended the human rights and integrity of individuals within that group.  This emphasis differentiates it dramatically from a raft of other official and quasi-official “rights” groups in Norway and elsewhere in Europe, which produce little more than PC rhetoric designed to promulgate the idea that the only real problem with Islam in Europe is native Europeans' Islamophobia.

The public face of HRS is Hege Storhaug.  Although her career has been driven by an ardent devotion to equality, religious liberty, and freedom of expression, she has consistently been smeared by left-wing critics as a disrespecter of Islam, and she was among the figures who were most brutally blasted by the cynical multiculturalists in the weeks after July 22.  Audun Lysbakken, a young member of the furthest left of Norway's major parties, the Socialist Left (which makes Labor look moderate), serves as Minister of Children, Equality, and Social Inclusion; it is through his ministry that HRS is funded, and he has for some years now played the Javert to HRS's Jean Valjean, making no secret of his eagerness to leave HRS high and dry.  July 22 provided him with a great deal of leverage to do so.  Now, with the release of next year's budget, he would appear to have succeeded, if not entirely but in very large part, at his unworthy goal.

If this is a sign of things to come, it is not a good one.  For it suggests that one of the legacies of July 22 may be an abandonment of official support for the kind of work HRS does and the values for which it stands.  Such a shift would represent a major victory for the multicultural mentality which, in the name of cultural respect, insists on turning a blind eye to the most monstrously barbaric aspects of other cultures and on embracing as friends and allies Muslim leaders who have nothing but disdain for Western freedom and democracy.  And it would constitute a terrible defeat for women and girls born into Muslim communities who thought that living in Norway meant that the authorities respected their rights under the law as surely as it did those of any native-born Norwegian woman or girl.  It is hard, in short, not to conclude that in slashing funding to HRS, the Norwegian government has given a tacit thumbs-up to every petty tyrant in Norway's Muslim community and has slapped in the face every female Norwegian Muslim who yearns to breathe free.