How time flies! It seems only yesterday that we folks in Norway first heard the name Mullah Krekar. The sometime leader of Ansar al-Islam – which narrow-minded individuals insist on calling a terrorist organization, but which I prefer to think of as a heavily armed, Koran-toting Iraqi version of Rotary or the Knights of Columbus – the charismatic Krekar has long since become every (well, not quite every) Norwegian's lovable grandpa. Now, after many years in Norway, he has announced that he will soon be leaving us and returning to Iraq, where he will continue to pursue the task to which he has consecrated his life: that of serving his God.
And oh, how many ways there are to serve God! Ansar al-Islam, according to the Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies, has “burned down girls’ schools and beaten and killed women for not wearing the burqa.” Human Rights Watch notes that under its previous name, Jund al-Islam, Krekar's industrious associates took over villages in which they required, among other things, “the obligatory closure of offices and businesses during prayer time and enforced attendance by workers and proprietors at the mosque during those times; the veiling of women by wearing the traditional 'abaya; obligatory beards for men; segregation of the sexes; barring women from education and employment; the removal of any photographs of women on packaged goods brought into the region; the confiscation of musical instruments and the banning of music both in public and private; and the banning of satellite receivers and televisions.” The Lord's work never ends!
Krekar first came to Norway in 1991 as an asylum seeker – although, as is true of many Muslim asylum seekers, his professional obligations obliged him to travel frequently between his new nation and the country from which he had fled. But not till after 9/11 did his name become widely known here. Arrested in the Netherlands in 2002 on his way back to Norway from Iraq, he was released after four months and allowed to proceed to Norway, where he was again arrested and released – a series of torments which, as the discerning reader will readily notice, are not unlike those visited upon Jesus by the Romans and the Sanhedrin. Krekar has lived in Oslo ever since, in apartments which (in newspaper photographs) look quite pleasant, with fine bookcases full of handsomely bound volumes in Arabic. A great man deserves no less.
Over the years Krekar has provided Norway with invaluable spiritual lessons of a sort that a few stubborn Norwegian officials have failed to appreciate, simply because Krekar's brand of evangelism involves guns, explosives, and the removal of limbs without anesthesia. Consequently they have persisted in attempts to take him away from us – and have thus caused him no little amount of distress. Meanwhile those of us who appreciate Krekar can only be grateful for his long-term presence in our midst – and cherish the memories.
Ah, the memories! Here's just a sampling:
Perhaps the key event in Krekar's emergence as a contemporary Norwegian folk hero was a speaking engagement at a popular Oslo café. Krekar was the guest of the Liberal Party's youth organization, which had invited him to give his political views. The place was packed to overflowing – mostly, according to Morgenbladet, with “students in their twenties and thirties.” They greeted the Man of the Hour with spontaneous applause. Morgenbladet quite aptly described Krekar's response – a hand movement indicating that they should stop clapping – as one of “humility.” After offering a twenty-minute analysis of international affairs, the humble homme de guerre took questions and graciously accepted his fans' declarations of support. The event was the greatest success in the cafe's history. Morgenbladet called Krekar “Norway's beloved fundamentalist.”
In March, in a demonstration of the petty abuses that unfeeling authorities can visit upon their betters, VG reported that the police had confiscated Krekar's wife's cookbook, and that the mullah had been forced to eat the same kind of cake – apple! – fifty days in a row.
In an interview with Der Spiegel, Krekar again showed his humility by offering unstinting praise for a colleague: “Osama bin Laden is a good man. He is the jewel in Islam's crown.” Krekar confirmed that he had trained suicide bombers and – in a sign of his generous readiness to share the delights of Islamic law with unbelievers – declared his intention to help turn Norway into a sharia state. In August, apparently appreciative of the contribution Krekar was making to Norwegian society and culture, William Nygaard, head of the venerable Aschehoug publishing house, invited him to the company's annual garden party.
In January – would the torments never cease? – Norwegian police ransacked Krekar's apartment. Aftenposten provided a heartbreaking picture of the mullah's wife and daughters, those innocent victims of official harassment. “Daddy opened the door when the police buzzed,” said one of the girls. “We had to sit still in the living room and were not allowed to go outside or use the phone while they were there.” Krekar's lawyer, Brynjar Meling, announced that his client planned to sue the Norwegian government for unwarranted prosecution, and to call Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik as a witness. Bondevik said Krekar would be deported. In June, a Jordanian court convicted the poor, put-upon mullah in absentia of conspiracy to commit (that ugly word!) terrorism.
But not all the news was bleak. The same year saw the publication by Aschehoug of Krekar's In My Own Words. A publisher's representative characterized it as a “personal and political biography” in which the “Islamic and Kurdish activist [bless him for not using the “t” word!] examines the events in Iraqi Kurdistan and the case against him in Norway from his own perspective.” At the book launch, Krekar declared his “great respect for the Norwegian people, for the king, the people, the culture, and the civilization. And I say to you that I am proud of you.”
In April, in a small gesture toward the justice due him, the Dutch government awarded Krekar 45,000 euros in damages for wrongful imprisonment. In August, Krekar sued Norway for millions of kroner in damages for all the trouble they had caused him. In December, it was reported that Krekar, in a speech at an Iraqi mosque, had praised bin Laden for 9/11. Once again, Krekar's exemplary willingness to praise other laborers in the fields of the Lord testified to his remarkable lack of ego.
In September, Conservative Party leader Erna Solberg said she was pleased with an Oslo court's ruling that Krekar was a danger to Norway. In her view, this meant the path was clear to deport him as soon as possible. Krekar told Al-Jazeera that if he was sent back to Iraq, he would consider it a crime that demanded to be punished. The situation was put into the proper perspective in a wise Aftenposten op-ed by retired law professor Edvard Vogt, who compared Krekar, whom he called a “Kurdish politician” (bravo!), to Norwegian freedom fighters under the Nazi occupation. “During the war,” recalled Vogt, “there were many thousands of us so-called Norwegian terrorists who were saved by the right to asylum that Sweden gave us.” Did Krekar, thundered Vogt with stirring righteousness, deserve any less?
In March, the infidel US, recognizing in Krekar a valiant opponent of its imperialist designs on the Dar al-Islam, put him on a list of five people who finance – well – the “t” word, and Norwegian cabinet minister Bjarne Håkon Hanssen said that Krekar could be put on a plane to Iraq within a month or two. In July, Norwegian officials announced that all Iraqis without residency permits would now be sent home – with, thank goodness, the sole exception of Krekar. In a June interview with a Kurdish newspaper, the always big-hearted Krekar praised bin Laden and the recently killed al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. “I am proud of what he has done,” Krekar said of al-Zarqawi, calling him a “martyr.”
In June, Aftenposten's magazine section ran a heart-rending profile of Krekar by Inger Lise Olsen, who showed every side of him: Krekar the proud man reduced to being a house husband because he's denied a work permit; Krekar the loving dad, whose kids suffer from the prejudices of their classmates (some of whom actually call him the “t” word!); Krekar the pious Muslim who, in interactions with his fellow believers, seeks to help them “find their way back to the narrow path”; and Krekar the Norwegian resident who, for all the trouble that benighted Islamophobes in Norway have caused him, still loves his adopted land so much that he personally called off a planned terrorist attack on it. What more could a man do to prove his love?
“Mullah Krekar tells about the tough time for his family when the storms were breaking worst over him. But he still has a positive impression of Norwegians.” Thus ran the subhead over Lars Akerhaug's November 25 article in VG, in which he quoted Krekar as saying in an interview with al-Hiwar TV that before coming to Norway he had heard that the country was “Europe's butterfly, with peace, beauty, civilization, and culture. Nothing has changed for me, despite everything that has happened. Norwegians are a peaceful, cultivated, and open people.” Once again, Krekar proved to be the personification of that most Islamic of virtues – forgiveness.
After somebody fired a shot at their Oslo flat, the Norwegian government put up Krekar and his family in a luxury hotel, the Radisson Blu Plaza, for eleven days while a new government-subsidized apartment was made ready for them. Finally, some respect!
At a June press conference, Krekar warned that if he was deported to Iraq and killed, Erna Solberg, the killjoy who had labored for years to have him expelled, would “suffer the same fate.” In September Krekar was charged with making death threats against a Norwegian who had dared to burn a copy of the Holy Koran. In the same month it was reported that Krekar had been in regular contact with Shawan Bujak, who had recently been arrested on charges of – well, if you must know – the “t” word.
All good things, as they say, must come to an end. So it was that in early January came the dreadful news that Gramps intends to leave us soon. It also emerged that in an interview with Finnish TV just before Christmas, Krekar – persevering in his effort to educate Europeans – affirmed that armed warfare against the West is still necessary.
On February 15, Krekar is set to go on trial for threatening Erna Solberg. His testimony in court would give his fans yet another opportunity to benefit from his wisdom. Yet perhaps it was not meant to be. By then, he may already have returned to his Kurdish homeland to continue his important work. If so, those of us whom he leaves behind in Norway will simply have to be content with the thought that somewhere in the north of Iraq, yet another small village is being brought closer to God by means of Krekar's tough love.
He's not even gone yet, but we already miss him.
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