Nothing could be less in doubt than the responsibility of Anders Behring Breivik for the murders committed in Oslo and on the island of Utøya on July 22 of last year. But his trial has been going on for several weeks now, and will go on for a few more. For this is more than just a trial – it's a national event, carried live on both of the country's major broadcast channels. And the question is not whether the defendant is guilty or not – that's already been settled. It's this: what will be left of freedom of speech in Norway when this grotesque spectacle is over?
For the objective here is not just to try Breivik for his actions, but to try him for his thoughts as well. The climax of the trial will come in June, when several writers who have written about Islam – myself included – will be hauled into court as unwilling witnesses for the defense. As I wrote here last month, “the goal of the defense – and of the defendant, who apparently made up the list of witnesses himself – is utterly identical with the goal of the country’s leftist cultural elite: namely, to implicate all of us writers in Breivik’s actions. Of course, Breivik wants to do this in order to mitigate his own guilt in the eyes of the court and the country; the cultural elite wants to do it in order to discredit forever the criticism of Islam.”
Among the other writers on the list of defense witnesses is Hanne Nabintu Herland, a historian of religion who's been an outspoken critic of Western feminism, the social-democratic welfare state, “reverse racism,” Norwegian anti-Semitism, and the Norwegian cult of mediocrity. She's also written – and this is why she's been summoned to testify in the Breivik case – about the importance of integrating immigrants and of preserving traditional European cultural values. But she's not having it. On Monday, she made a major announcement in an op-ed for Aftenposten: she's informed the authorities that she won't be obeying her summons. She simply refuses to be a part of “this twisted murderer's show....I refuse to be dragged around the circus ring like another clown in the perpetrator's bizarre delusions.” She asserts that “the obligation to testify is being abused. I was not in Norway on July 22. My testimony has no bearing on the question of guilt or sanity.”
Needless to say, when you're called to testify in a trial and refuse to do so, you may face serious consequences. “If this means that I will be put in prison,” Herland writes, “then make me a political martyr.”
Herland doesn't mince words. Since the day after Breivik's murders, she charges, opponents of what she calls “the throne of power, the Labor Party,” have been treated as suspects. “As things stand now, it's almost the case that if you're critical of the Labor Party, you're automatically put in the same category as a mass murderer....This political witch hunt is now so intense that it's fair to speak of undemocratic, totalitarian conditions in Norway. We're well on the way to becoming the new East Germany....the state is developing in the direction of a totalitarian democracy.”
As readers of my recent e-book about the aftermath of the Breivik killings know, Herland isn't exaggerating.
Has anyone in Norway been as forthright about the present situation – and as willing to publicly challenge the grim new orthodoxy – as Herland has been? Well, there have been a few others. In her op-ed, Herland cites a recent opinion piece by shipowner Dan Odfjell, who tells a story I haven't yet read or heard. According to him, when Breivik began shooting on the island of Utøya, Eskil Pedersen, the head of the Labor Party youth group which was Breivik's target, hopped on a boat and was the first person from the island to make it to shore. Odfjell doesn't criticize Pedersen for saving his skin; he criticizes him for allowing the Labor Party, in the days and weeks after July 22, to try to cover up the truth and turn him into a hero – an effort, charges Odfjell, that has been only one part of a carefully orchestrated effort by the party “to deliberately blur the distinction between itself...and the nation of Norway.”
Well, that's certainly true – and it's gutsy of Odfjell to say it. Equally gutsy is Nina Witoszek, a professor at the University of Oslo who fled Communist Poland in 1983. In her own recent op-ed, Witoszek actually dares to criticize the Norwegian public's response to the events of July 22. It will be recalled that this response consisted largely of immense displays of roses, massive parades, and plenty of rhetoric about the importance of peace, love, and tolerance. The implicit message was that any criticism of Islam was an expression of the kind of hate that Breivik had been acting out when he killed all those teenagers on Utøya.
In late April, the roses came out again. After Breivik stated at his trial that he despises the beloved (and, frankly, insipid) Norwegian kindergarten melody “Barn av Regnbuen” (“Children of the Rainbow”), a loose translation of the 1960s Pete Seeger folk song “My Rainbow Race,” because he considers it Marxist indoctrination, a large square in Oslo was filled to overflowing with Norwegians who sang this song in defiance of Breivik.
Witoszek points out that in the context of the modern age, with its manifold evils, it's not Breivik that's abnormal: it's Norway. Compared to virtually every other country in the world, Western Europe included, Norway has had it very good: “The Norwegian soul is virginal. Those who do not experience the Devil, do not need to believe in God. They can afford to believe in people.” Witoszek quotes the revered Norwegian author Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (1832-1910): “I will die in the belief that other people are good.” People who think like that, argues Witoszek, “often believe that evil is a technical mistake, something that can be eliminated with the right social technology. If we're good to others, they'll be good to us. Pasifisme über alles.” This is indeed a fair characterization of the Norwegian philosophy of life – the philosophy that the Norwegian elite disseminates in kindergartens, schools, universities, and the media.
Pretty thoughts. But such thinking, Witoszek underscores, has its dark side. Citing the police response to the massacre on Utøya, she characterizes it – with remarkable bluntness – as feeble and cowardly. She notes the widely commented-upon fact that on the first day of the mass murderer's trial, the judges and lawyers all shook the defendant's hand – and, when criticized, explained with a bland shrug that it was simply a Norwegian courtroom custom. Witoszek also makes the daring observation that on the island, it was mostly the handful of non-Norwegian participants “who were willing to risk their own lives to save others.”
Why? Her answer: the education given to Norwegians from infancy onward doesn't prepare them to encounter evil. Instead “they learn to be do-gooders [she uses the English word] who trust in the almighty state.” They're fed rhetoric about peace and kindness and are protected from stress – the result being that when they grow up and encounter the unexpected they're impotent and gutless. “More love” – the prescription offered by Norwegian authorities and others after July 22 – is, Witoszek insists, not enough: Norwegian young people need to learn resistance, self-control, and respect for life. “Only then,” she says, “can one stand up to the Devil.”
Wise words. God knows there's been a hell of a lot of diabolical activity here in Norway in the wake of Breivik's atrocities. Let's hope the forces of freedom – given voice by people like Herland and Odfjell and Witoszek – manage to overcome it.
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