Who is Mohammed Usman Rana? He's a 31-year-old Norwegian doctor and newspaper columnist who first appeared on my radar in 2007 when, as an undergraduate at the University of Oslo, he took part in a debate about Muslim attitudes toward gay people. Rana, who at the time was head of UiO's Muslim Student Association, said that he personally opposed executing gays, but refused to criticize countries that punish homosexuality with death. Pressed further on the issue by his opponents, Rana pulled a slick switcheroo, charging that it was not he but they who were displaying intolerance. How dare they sit in judgment of Islamic law?
Did Rana's failure to condemn the execution of gay people make him an outcast? Of course not – we're talking about Scandinavia here, after all. Only a few months after the above-mentioned debate, he wrote an op-ed for Aftenposten, Norway's newspaper of record, in which he picked up where he'd left off. Norwegians, he complained in the piece, are “secular extremists” who are insufficiently respectful of orthodox Islam, who hope for an “Islamic reformation” that would in fact mutilate the religion, and who prefer to hear from secular Muslims and ex-Muslims (think Ayaan Hirsi Ali) than from genuine believers such as himself.
Rana's essay won an award from Aftenposten – a victory that catapulted him into the top ranks of the nation's commentariat and made him, in the words of author Ole Asbjørn Ness, “Aftenposten's deadly serious house Islamist.” Who, by the way, chose to give Rana the award? A fellow by the name of Knut Olav Åmås, who at the time was an editor of Aftenposten and who happens to be openly gay. Yes, that's right: a gay editor gave a major career boost to a writer who refused to criticize the death penalty for gay people. Welcome to Norway.
This year saw another milestone for Rana: his first book. It was published by one of Norway's oldest and most distinguished houses, Aschehoug, and it was launched at a splashy event hosted by Fritt Ord, a free-speech foundation, where Rana was given an oddly jocund introduction by Fritt Ord's CEO, none other than the aforementioned Knut Olav Åmås. Also on hand to praise Rana were Trine Skei Grande, head of the Norwegian Liberal Party (who took the opportunity to slam Fox News for its purported Islamophobia), and Hanne Skartveit, political editor of Norway's largest newspaper, VG. (Interestingly, while Fritt Ord was given a media lashing in 2013 for supporting a book project by Islam critic Peder Are Nøstvold Jensen, aka “Fjordman,” nobody publicly criticized Fritt Ord's support for Rana.)
What is Rana's book about? Entitled Norwegian Islam: How to Love Norway and the Koran at the Same Time, it aims to substantiate a demonstrably absurd proposition: namely, that there's no conflict whatsoever between being a devout traditional Muslim and a responsible, patriotic citizen of Norway or any other Western democracy. As his talk at the Fritt Ord event made clear, Rana's way of resolving the tension between Islamic and democratic values is to insist, quite simply, that the latter make room for the former: to do otherwise would be “not only unrealistic, but also deeply illiberal and unreasonable.” It's the same argument he used years ago at that student debate: not to tolerate Islam's extreme illiberality would be illiberal. Rana actually pointed to the tolerance of Amish communities in the U.S. as an example for Europe to follow in its treatment of Muslims, dancing around the minor detail that the Amish don't live on welfare, don't beat up Jews and gays, don't commit honor killings or gang rapes, and don't drive trucks into crowds of non-Amish men, women, and children. Ness, reviewing Norwegian Islam in Finansavisen, called it “the year's funniest book” – the humor, of course, being entirely unintentional.
Throughout his work, Rana represents himself as a moderate alternative to extremism and violence. But though he's well-spoken, temperate, and presentable and dresses in Western garb, Rana is no moderate. Ideologically, there's little daylight between him and the “extremists”; the main thing that distinguishes the one from the other is their choice of weapons. Indeed, compared to the most famous Muslim in Norway, terrorist Mullah Krekar, Rana is probably the more dangerous – not just because the pen is mightier than the sword, but because every time Europe is hit by a jihadist atrocity, the continent's elites rush to hoist characters like Rana on their shoulders, celebrating them as bridge-builders, voices of hope, embodiments of the “real,” peaceful Islam that the terrorists have “hijacked.” What those elites don't grasp is that Rana is every bit as much of a jihadist – in his case, a stealth jihadist – as those monsters who plowed trucks into crowds in Berlin and Nice. They also serve who only sit and write.
Yes, when he discusses European Islam, Rana likes to throw around the word “interpretation.” But he's not really talking about any meaningful adjustments in dogma. (Interestingly, he never speaks of “re-interpretation.”) He's certainly not one of those people, like Irshad Manji, who want to “modernize” Islam by giving it a big theological overhaul. He has absolutely no wiggle room – zero – when it comes to the crucial questions of (a) the Koran's divine origin and absolute inerrancy and (b) the proposition that Muhammed was the perfect man. He approves of hijab, and is OK with niqab. While still claiming to oppose the death penalty for gays, he also maintains that when you tolerate homosexuality you “water down Islam” and strip Islam of its “credibility” – so make of that what you will. Routinely, he's responded to events like the Danish cartoon controversy by smoothly shifting the topic from free speech to “responsible speech.” He locates the roots of Islamic terror not in the Koran but in American wars, European imperialism, and Israeli oppression of Palestinians. He says that the chief impediment to Islamic assimilation isn't Islam but Islamophobia – and (as we've seen) smears as Islamophobes all those who dare to tell the truth about Islamic belief and culture. Simply put, he's a cynical whitewasher of Islam – a wolf in sheep's clothing, determined to do his part to erode liberty and normalize sharia in the West, thereby helping to turn one country after another into a theocracy.
Most recently, Rana popped up in Aftenposten on December 26 with an op-ed about Donald Trump. In it, Rana recalled with admiration that after 9/11, George W. Bush high-tailed it to a mosque to proclaim that “Islam is peace.” Rana argued that the “respect” shown to Islam by both Bush and his successor, Barack Obama, is one of the reasons why American Muslims are such patriots (!). But, he warned, that may change under Trump, who “demonizes” Islam and whose incoming administration is packed with Muslim-haters – notably Steve Bannon, whose website, Breitbart, he described as “a platform for anti-Semitism and white nationalism” and as having published “known Islamophobes such as Robert Spencer, Pamela Geller, and Frank Gaffney.” Rana painted a nightmare picture of a totalitarian Trump-run America defined by anti-Muslim legislation, anti-Muslim hate crime, and anti-Muslim terrorism. (Needless to say, Rana dropped the terrorist attacks in Boston, San Bernardino, Orlando, etc., etc., down the memory hole.) One thing is clear from Rana's piece: Trump has him scared. And with good reason. Because Trump has his number – and Islam's number. Trump, unlike Trine Skei Grande and countless other feckless European politicians, doesn't show up for talks by the likes of Rana and pat them on the head while murmuring sweet nothings about diversity and multiculturalism; he recognizes guys like Rana as existential threats to Western freedom, and he means to do something about them. And Rana's smart enough to know it.