On September 9, Norwegians will vote either to keep the government in the hands of a socialist coalition led by Labor Party Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg or to turn the reins over to non-socialists.
The campaign has drawn an unusual degree of international media attention. I wrote the other day about Time Magazine's report, with its shameless leftist slant. But though Time was particularly egregious, some other foreign media haven't been much better, depicting Stoltenberg & co. as a veritable Round Table of heroic knights (and ladies) and demonizing the classical-liberal Progress Party as a pack of fascists who, if handed power, will poison everything they touch.
Last week, for example, the Norwegian media gave prominent coverage to a hysterical warning by Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet, the British medical journal, that a socialist loss on September 9 might cause a world health crisis. Under the valiant Stoltenberg, you see, tiny Norway has become a "global health...superpower," spreading largesse all over the planet and, in particular, donating more dough to the GAVI Alliance, an international health organization run by former Norwegian Labor Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, than any other nation except Britain and France. Horton's article was a timely reminder that in recent years, while Norwegian hospitals have been forced to get by with increasingly antiquated equipment and Norwegians with serious health problems have been compelled to wait on line for months or even years to get urgently necessary tests and treatments, Labor Party leaders have been using taxpayer money to turn themselves into global players.
Horton wasn't the only public figure, however, to weigh in on the election last week. As it happens, two of Norway's most famous men also publicly declared their sympathies.
One of them was ninety-year-old Olav Thon, a real-estate developer and hotel magnate who is Norway's second richest citizen and biggest taxpayer. A self-made man, he's admired by many Norwegians for his down-to-earth image: his 2008 biography was titled Billionaire in an Anorak, reflecting the fact that his characteristic attire is not only modest but just this side of hobo. Thon maintains a flat in one of his hotels in downtown Oslo, and I've lost track of how many times I've seen him walking home down an icy sidewalk, laden with bags of groceries, the snow blowing in his face, a cheap-looking skicap pulled down over his head.
But he's not just a charming old fellow who believes in self-sufficiency and refuses to put on airs. He's a patriot who cares about his country's well-being -- and a canny businessman who knows how economies work. In a nation where almost everyone who's given a soapbox is a cheerleader for the socialist status quo, Thon is an outspoken critic of socialism who once called Norway "the last Soviet state." A couple of months ago he commented publicly on the armies of drug dealers, gypsy beggars, and Nigerian prostitutes that dominate central Oslo, describing the spectacle as "an exceptionally bad advertisement for Norway," and complaining that his own efforts to turn the neighborhood around (and alleviate the capital's housing crisis) have been squelched by city fathers who are more interested in preserving rundown old buildings than in revitalizing an urban area on the skids. It was a classic confrontation between the kind of left-wing thinking that destroyed Detroit and the kind of good sense that has made other cities thrive.
Last Tuesday, Thon ran a full-page ad in several national and local newspapers announcing that he'll be voting for the Progress Party. It wasn't a bombastic manifesto and it didn't read as if he'd gotten one of his people to write it for him. No, it was brief, plainspoken, to the point -- and clearly from the heart. In seven bullet points, he expressed support for the Progress Party's desire to dismantle government bureaucracies, to introduce a "sustainable immigration policy," and to encourage personal initiative rather than reliance on welfare.
The ad made headlines: it's not every day a Norwegian in the public eye admits to voting for the Progress Party. Do so, and you'll be branded a far-right bigot. (Voting Communist is OK; voting for the Progress Party, whose heroes are Reagan and Thatcher, is not.) Not that it came as a terribly huge surprise: last October Thon declared on TV that the socialist government had failed, that he'd like to see the Progress Party finally get a chance to show its stuff, and that he felt sorry for all the young people in Norway who -- taking advantage of the Labor Party's generous welfare entitlements -- spend their lives on the dole instead of working, because, he said, they'll never know what it feels like to see a dream fulfilled. (You don't hear this kind of language too often in the Norwegian media.)
Thon's announcement ruffled a lot of establishment feathers. In response to a threatened boycott of his hotels by farmers, Thon said it was unfortunate that in a democratic country one has to be prepared for reprisals if one makes public the fact that one isn't voting for Communists. The Rødt (Communist) Party answered Thon's ad with its own ad in the Communist daily Klassekampen, in which four Thon hotel chambermaids tell Thon that "our sweat has made you rich." And a close friend of Stoltenberg's launched a personal attack on Thon, calling him "selfish" for supporting the Progress Party. (The socialists routinely represent the choice between statism and freedom as one between solidarity and selfishness.) Thon took the attack philosophically, saying that this kind of dictatorial bullying will only intensify voter antipathy for the socialists.
There's only so much you can do to ruin a billionaire, but it's easy to punish an ordinary public employee who dares to criticize the current Norwegian regime. In a country where it's almost impossible to be fired from any job (especially with the government), a cop who's also an active Progress Party member called Stoltenberg a creep on Facebook and (according to media reports on Sunday) was summarily dismissed from the police force on the grounds that he failed "to show loyalty to his foresatte" -- the latter being a word that's usually used to refer to a child's guardians.
The other famous man who announced his political preferences last week was Mullah Krekar -- Norway's most celebrated resident terrorist and chief symbol of Muslim victimhood for the more misguided members of the nation's cultural elite. Since coming to Norway as a refugee in 1991, Krekar has openly acknowledged that he's at war with Western civilization, declared his admiration for Osama bin Laden, been named an active Al-Qaeda supporter by the UN, written his own autobiography, and warned that people will pay with their lives if he's expelled from Norway. At present, he's serving a five-year prison sentence for threatening to kill Conservative Party leader Erna Solberg. But since Norwegian law is concerned more with shielding terrorists than with protecting potential terror targets, efforts to ship him back to Iraq have consistently failed. (Last year, amid reports that he'd soon be returning to Iraq of his own volition, I bid him adieu here. But he stayed.)
The other day, from his cell, Krekar wrote a letter to Norwegian Muslims in which he began by rejecting the claim that it's un-Islamic for Muslims to participate in elections in non-Muslim countries. On the contrary, he insisted that Muslim voters are obligated under the Koran (specifically, verse 38 of sura 74) to cast their ballots for "whatever is least harmful for Islam and Muslims." Reminding his co-religionists that what matters is "the teachings of Islam and the aspiration to restore Islamic rule and Sharia sovereignty," he expressed the belief that the Muslim umma, which for the last century and a half has been suffering as a result of civilizational conflict, will in the next 25 years "produce something new for humanity." And given that Muslims in Norway aren't yet so numerous or so much in agreement that they can manage to form a party or to make common demands upon the politicians, he maintained that it's best -- for now -- "to vote for Labor, the Socialist Left, and the Red Party." Why? Well, partly because Stoltenberg, unlike the non-socialists, isn't "a blind follower" of U.S. foreign policy. And partly because "the left-wing parties come closer to Muslims' views."
Like Thon's support of the Progress Party, Krekar's thumbs-up for the left didn't come as much of a surprise. Krekar, noted VG, wouldn't still be living in Norway if it weren't for the socialists' asylum policies; as the Progress Party's Per Sandberg put it, Krekar understands "that a vote for the Labor Party is a vote to keep him in Norway," because the socialists "will never forcibly return him [to Iraq]." Meanwhile, one of Krekar's lawyers told TV2 that many Muslim voters will indubitably heed his advice when they head to the polls, because "Krekar is an authority in his community and enjoys great respect."
Officially, the Labor Party distanced itself from Krekar's endorsement; yet it knows there's plenty of potential Labor votes in the Muslim community and hasn't been shy about soliciting them. Last week, for example, aspiring young Labor politician Eskil Pedersen, the openly gay former head of the Workers' Youth League (the Party's junior varsity team, as it were), gave a speech at a mosque in which he urged Muslims to exercise their franchise. Pedersen is, it should be noted, the latest in an ever-growing list of openly gay Norwegian politicians to cheerfully encourage adherents of Islam -- a religion that, of course, calls for the execution of gays -- to do their utmost to bend the country to their will.
Anyway, there you have it. The choice facing Norwegian voters on September 9 was already a clear one. But the personal statements of Olav Thon and Mullah Krekar -- and the reactions thereto -- have, I think it's fair to say, helped to illuminate the whole business in an exceedingly useful way.
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