A Chilly Winter in Norway

While the critics of Islam quit the government, a radical Muslim is named Culture Minister.

Bruce Bawer is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and the author of many books, including While Europe Slept and Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom.

Once upon a time, Norway’s Progress Party was anti-establishment. Founded in 1973, it stood for individual liberty, lower taxes, and fewer regulations in a country whose postwar welfare state had been built on collectivism, high taxes, and ubiquitous government intrusion into every aspect of life. In later decades, as the perils of mass Muslim immigration became more and more obvious, only the Progress Party opposed the nation’s self-destructive policies on this front. Some Progress Party politicians even said that if handed power, they’d seek to end the state monopoly on liquor sales and to privatize NRK, the taxpayer-funded government broadcaster and Labor Party propaganda organ.

For years, establishment parties and mainstream media dishonestly painted the Progress Party as a bunch of far-right Islamophobes; but for a growing number of Norwegians who were unimpressed with the twin faiths of statism and Islam, it stood for freedom and competition, law and order, and common sense about the Religion of Peace.

In September 2013, the day of which Progress Party voters had dreamed finally arrived: a general election swept the Progress Party into the government for the first time, as the junior partner in a coalition with the Conservatives. While Conservative leader Erna Solberg became Prime Minister, Siv Jensen, head of the Progress Party, was named Minister of Justice. Writing at this website shortly thereafter, I discussed a recently published anthology about Norwegian society and politics that contained essays by both women. Solberg’s “toothless” essay, I wrote, painted an absurd, PC picture of “innocent Muslims being denied social acceptance by bigoted Norwegians”; Jensen’s, by contrast, was “a call to arms” in which she “tackle[d] head-on the Muslim leaders in Norway who spread conspiracies about Jews and who refuse to reject the death penalty for gays.” I called Jensen Norway’s “Iron Lady.”

Once in power, unfortunately, the Progress Party proved to be a major disappointment. Many longtime supporters felt that her ascension to high office had tamed Jensen. A few Progress Party politicians – notably Christian Tybring-Gjedde and Sylvi Listhaug – remained outspoken on immigration and Islam, but that was it.

The years dragged on. While vibrant new parties and movements, reminiscent of what the Progress Party had once been, sprang up elsewhere in Europe, Norwegians who’d voted Jensen and company into office felt betrayed, forsaken, without a political home. Then, in recent weeks, it emerged that a certain issue was causing conflict within the government. A Muslim woman who’d left Norway to join ISIS now wanted to return “home” with her children. Predictably, many legislators and commentators saw this as a “humanitarian” matter. Not Jensen. If the ISIS woman was granted residency, Jensen threatened, she’d pull the Progress Party out of the government. Sure enough, Solberg decided for the terrorist, and Jensen made good on her threat.

“I took the Progress Party into the government,” she said at a January 20 press conference. “Now I’m taking the Progress Party out again. I’m doing it because it’s the only right thing to do. We simply haven’t been able to implement enough of the Progress Party’s policies to make it worth having more losses inflicted upon us.” She promised that the party would henceforth be “tougher and clearer.” If only it had been “tougher and clearer” all along!

While Siv and her party were the big losers in this showdown, the winner was none other than Abid Q. Raja, a Liberal Party MP who in recent weeks has argued for all “ISIS mothers and their children” to be “brought home.” In the midst of the parliamentary debates over the matter, Jensen said, with exasperation, that she was “done with Abid Raja.” Alas, while Jensen is now out in the cold, Raja has taken a step closer to the seat of power: in forming the cabinet of her new minority government, Solberg invited him to be Minister of Culture, and he accepted. The torch was officially passed on Friday.

No surprise there. I’ve prophesied for years that Raja, now 44, would be Norway’s first Muslim head of government, and he’s been steadily moving toward that prize like a hawk swooping in on a hare. As I wrote here in 2017, Raja, a lawyer and the son of Pakistani immigrants, became publicly known at around the turn of the century when he wrote fiery op-eds defending arranged marriages and arguing that Norway should pay to build a school in Pakistan for the children of Norwegian Muslims.

If he came off in those op-eds like a rabid Muslim preacher, that was no coincidence: at the time, he was the official spokesman for an Oslo mosque, the World Islamic Mission, where, during Raja’s tenure, an imam was caught on a hidden tape recorder saying that that Norway is an “immoral society,” that marriages between non-Muslims are invalid, that everything non-Muslims do is a sin, women must obey their husbands, and that a Muslim girl who marries a non-Muslim man will be “punished forever in hell.”

In 2004, when a TV discussion program addressed the jihadist slaughter of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, Raja publicly savaged the show’s host for “stigmatiz[ing]” Muslims; three years later, when the same program again took on the subject of Islam, Raja demanded, in yet another of his livid op-eds, that the host be fired. (A few months later, the show was canceled and the host cut loose.) Then there was the time he spoke at an Oslo rally that was intended to show that Norway’s Muslims opposed terrorism and believed in freedom of speech (and that seemed to prove the exact opposite when only fifty Muslims, less than a tenth of one percent of the Muslims in Oslo, bothered to show up). When Raja stepped up to the podium, he condemned the rally’s very premise – why should Muslims have to prove anything to infidels? – and accused ethnic Norwegians of mistreating Muslims. Given that (a) Muslim-on-infidel crime rates in Oslo were sky-high and infidel-on-Muslim crime virtually nonexistent, and (b) a very high percentage of Norwegian Muslims lived on welfare payments funded by ethnic Norwegians, Raja’s charges were audacious indeed.  

At some point after that incident, I noticed that Raja had significantly altered his image. Almost overnight, the hell-raiser had been transformed into a bridge-builder. He claimed to have evolved in his religious and social views. He said he’d grown more “liberal.” He even began hosting high-profile “dialogue” events at which relatively assimilated people with Muslim backgrounds debated out-and-out supporters of jihadist terror. I didn’t buy Raja’s new act for a second. To me, his dramatic metamorphosis could mean only one thing: he wanted a political career. And not just any political career. As I pointed out in 2017, if Raja could be “satisfied with just being a member of Parliament, representing a mostly Muslim constituency…he wouldn't have to undergo any kind of makeover.” No, this was plainly a man who planned to go all the way – and who, in order to get there, needed to present a more moderate face to the electorate.

So it went. In 2009 Raja became a deputy member of Parliament; in 2013 he was elected MP; in 2017, he won re-election. While in office, he has, among other things, defended the idea of letting grade-school girls wear hijab. And while other politicians learned to play nice with the Progress Party after it became part of the coalition government, Raja has continued to call its members Nazis. (Yes, he wants Norwegians to build bridges with even the most radical Muslims, but the Progress Party, for him, is a bridge too far.) Through all of this, he’s enjoyed the unwavering support of Norway’s mainstream media, which love the idea of a smart, articulate Muslim in a position of power (no matter what his politics) as much as they despise critics of Islam (however fact-based their criticism may be). 

And now, well, here we are. The Progress Party, which was going to protect Norway from the likes of Raja, is greatly diminished in power, and Raja – who, behind his slick façade, is, I am convinced, as much of a religious fanatic as ever – has been handed the keys to Norway’s Ministry of Culture. This means he’s in charge – get this – of NRK, a broadcasting empire consisting of several TV channels and radio stations and with a billion-dollar annual budget; the Norwegian Media Authority, which rates movies, issues (or denies) licenses to private broadcasters, and provides cash support to selected newspapers; Arts Council Norway, which issues grants to writers, musicians, composers, theaters, actors, museums, and the like; and the Norwegian Film Institute, which funds filmmakers. In addition, Raja oversees the National Library, the National Archives, and the National Theater, as well as a number of museums and athletic organizations.

In other words, Raja has just acquired a remarkable amount of cultural power – a degree of cultural power, relative to the size of Norway, that no single individual in the U.S. comes close to wielding. Remember what Andrew Breitbart said about politics being downstream from culture, and imagine what kind of an impact a deeply religious Muslim – a wolf in sheep’s clothing – can have on a country in which he’s been entrusted with the kind of power I’ve described. Just to mention one example: there have recently been debates about the possible withdrawal of state support from radical mosques. That decision now comes under Raja’s purview. So do potential future decisions about financial support for, say, devout Muslim filmmakers or, alternatively, playwrights who criticize Islam.

Since the Norwegian Media Authority is under Raja’s aegis, moreover, he’ll theoretically be able to dictate which ideas can and can’t be expressed, and which images can and can’t be shown, on TV – and not just on NRK, either. What believing Muslim wouldn’t want to exercise such power? It’ll be interesting to see how far Raja allows himself to go while in this post. He can’t go too far, to be sure – because, after all, he’s set his sights on an even higher office, and has to keep up the moderate pose. Then again, he may be able to get away with a great deal of mischief that none of us will ever know about, because the media are firmly on his side and won’t be inclined to report on anything he does that might upset Norwegian deplorables. Stay tuned; this story has yet to reach its climax.

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