“That's a really good one,” the clerk told me.
I was the only customer in the bookstore, and when he'd seen me paging through a slim new volume about the current wave of “populism” in Europe, he'd left his cash register, walked over to me, and begun waxing enthusiastic about it. He explained that he was just about finished reading it, and he repeated, not once but twice, that it was just plain terrific.
It was last Friday, and I was at the Oslo Airport, and he turned out not to have in stock the book I was looking for, so I bought the one he recommended: Simen Ekern's Folket, Det Er Meg (I Am the People). I was struck by buyer's remorse even before I'd actually paid for it – first, because, even with today's strong dollar, it cost the equivalent of $42 (welcome to the land of state-mandated book prices), and second, because on the way to the sales counter I'd recognized Ekern's name. Within a week after July 22, 2011 – the day Anders Behring Breivik massacred seventy-seven people in and near Oslo, proclaiming that he was motivated by hostility to Europe's Islamization – Ekern, then a staffer at the newspaper Dagbladet, argued passionately that critics of Islam shared blame for the murders. My name led his list. He questioned our right to freedom of speech, because “our society is not improved by cultivating ever more ‘honest’ and ‘brave’ warlike Crusader rhetoric directed against Islam.”
Ekern wasn't alone. In the days and weeks after July 22, pretty much the entire Norwegian establishment sought to use the Breivik massacre as an excuse to demonize and silence critics of Islam. Some of the nation's most respected commentators talked seriously about curtailing our free-speech rights and making arrests. With his op-ed, Ekern, a relatively young man, made it clear to the big boys that he was with them – a solid establishment lackey. I see that he's profited well from his loyalty: last December, I see, he was awarded two million kroner ($200,000) in taxpayer funds to write about foreign affairs. This is how things work in Norway: the proles are overtaxed, and much of that dough is then used to propagandize them: the nation's top media organization, state-run NRK, is a shameless tool of the political elite; major dailies get government subsidies (without them, Dagbladet would probably have folded years ago), and hacks like Ekern are paid handsomely to churn out establishment agitprop disguised as journalism.
Which is exactly what Ekern's new book is. Bearing the subtitle The Growth and Future of Right-Wing European Populism, it professes to be a work of reportage about what you or I might call the counterjihad movement – as well as of that overlapping body of Europeans who want out of the EU. In fact, it's pro-elite PR. Still, I ended up being glad I bought it, because it proved to be a near-perfect example of its genre, and therefore worthy of study. To read it is to enter into the mind of a card-carrying member of the European establishment – a fellow who wants the deplorables to shut up and let their betters (himself included) go back to running things.
Although he specializes in skirting facts, Ekern kicks off his book – wisely – by getting out of the way those facts that are simply too big to ignore – which is to say, he quickly lists the major recent terrorist attacks in Europe. But he doesn't dwell on them, doesn't admit that they're rooted in mainstream Islamic theology, doesn't acknowledge that many “moderate” European Muslims cheer violent jihad, and doesn't point out that terrorism is, indeed, only one aspect of a full-court European jihad that involves a range of gradual cultural and social transformations. He also denies – and this is the fulcrum on which his whole argument turns – that Europeans' legitimate concerns about Islam (even when combined with their anger at politicians and the EU) are enough to explain the rise of “right-wing populism.” No, according to Ekern, the reason why so many Europeans have rejected mainstream parties is, quite simply, that they've been misled and manipulated – whipped up into an artificial frenzy by people like Geert Wilders, who don't really care about immigration or freedom, only about power.
While he derides Wilders and other “populists,” Ekern cites with respect and deference a host of establishment nabobs. He approvingly quotes European Council president Herman Van Rompuy, for example, to the effect that populism, not Islam, is the chief danger facing Europe today. He gives a thumbs-up to Olivier Roy's contention that violence by European Muslims is rooted not in their religion but in the supposed fact that they inhabit an “identity vacuum” that makes them neither truly French nor truly Algerian or Tunisian or whatever. (Why is it always Muslims, and never members of other immigrant groups, for whom such excuses need to be invented?) Ekern also approves of Sudhir Hazareesingh's assertion that those who prophesy France's doom at the hands of Islam are extremely light on facts. Bull: one book alone that comes immediately to mind, Laurent Obertone's 2013 La France Orange méchanique, is almost nothing but facts, a paralyzing litany of what Obertone calls acts of “violence of conquest” by Muslims in France.
By contrast to Obertone, Ekern is a master at evading facts – immigration numbers, crime statistics, the percentage of Muslims in this or that country who favor sharia law and support jihad. He sneers consistently at the “populists'” who claim to be speaking for “the real people,” but he never faces up to the fact that ordinary European citizens – yes, “the real people” – were never asked whether they wanted their countries to be flooded by Muslims. Nor does he admit that most Europeans want a full halt to Muslim immigration. He ridicules the idea that “fundamentalist Islam” is “a totalitarian ideology.” He's disgusted by ethnic Europeans who consider some European-born Muslims part of the “other.” (Never mind that millions of such Muslims dream of a sharia-run Europe.) Ekern actually describes the counterjihad movement, which is all about defending free civilization and fighting barbarity, as a campaign “against cultural and economic liberalism.” He acts as if the movement is hostile to all immigrants. He even portrays it as a reaction to “modernity.”
What, Ekern asks, are the roots of Europe's “populism”? If he were more honest, he might have told the story of Enoch Powell, the brilliant, supremely decent British MP whose 1968 “Rivers of Blood” speech destroyed his career and is now recognized as remarkably prescient. Or Ekern might have summed up the heroic career of Pim Fortuyn, the gay, left-wing sociology professor whose awakening about the dangers of Islam led him from the academy into politics and, in 2002, thanks to a pro-Islam assassin, into an early grave.
But no: Ekern would have us believe that the father of today's counterjihad movement in Europe is the 89-year-old Jean-Marie Le Pen – a Jew-hater who shrugs off the Holocaust and liked Mussolini. Ekern spends a whole chapter reminding us, over and over, just how despicable Le Pen is – and implying that if we support border controls or hate the EU, we're in league with this old fascist. Ekern spends another chapter trying to convince us that Le Pen's daughter, Marine, head of France's National Front, shares her dad's beliefs: it's only a matter, you see, of “decoding” her rhetoric. (One is reminded here of the White House correspondents to whom every word out of Donald Trump's mouth is a “dog whistle.”)
In his taxpayer-funded travels, Ekern interviews “populist” leaders from France, Italy, Germany, and elsewhere. But not Wilders. (A planned meeting with the Dutch leader is mysteriously cancelled, and Ekern wonders aloud whether it's because one of Wilders' people read about Ekern in my e-book. The very thought delights me.) But he doesn't talk to any ordinary Europeans who have seen their worlds turned upside down by mass Islamic immigration. He doesn't meet any Muslim imams or any of the innumerable Muslim women who, though living in Europe, are as deprived of basic civil rights as they were back in their homelands. Muslim gays? Nope.
Nor does he interview a single author who has made a specialty of this topic. He obviously considers me and his fellow Norwegian Peder Nøstvold Jensen (“Fjordman”) to be beyond the pale – but what about Britain's Douglas Murray, Germany's Henryk Broder, Italy's Giulio Meotti, and France's Guy Millière, just to name a few? These are smart, well informed, and deeply humane guys – not to mention splendid writers – who have arrived at their dire forecasts about Europe's Islamic future after long and sober reflection. One suspects that Ekern prefers interviewing insurgent politicians to interviewing serious writers because the politicians' rhetoric is easier to mock and their motives easier to question.
Avoiding conversations with writers like Murray, Broder, et al., also makes it easier for Ekern, in his closing pages, to sum up his ideological adversaries' views in a way that absolutely none of them would recognize. They want, he says, a government with “an uncompromising attitude” toward immigrants. No, they just don't want their countries flooded with illegal aliens, foreign criminals, instant welfare recipients, and ISIS fans. On his very last page, Ekern introduces subjects that haven't figured at all in his book. Suddenly, and bizarrely, he wants us to believe that European “populism” isn't really about Islam at all but about – get this – opposition to same-sex marriage, distaste for contemporary art, and a desire to be able to slur dark-skinned people with impunity. How, asks Ekern, can leaders like Wilders and Le Pen say that they speak for ordinary people, when ordinary people “are also women, minorities, gays, cyclists, and contemporary artists”? Cyclists? Art? What? (As for gays, it's not Wilders & co. who want to throw them off roofs.)
I started reading Ekern's book at Oslo Airport, and stayed with it on the flight to Hamburg. After taking the subway from Hamburg Airport to the main train station, I walked toward my hotel down a street called Steindamm. The first thing I noticed was the armies of women in hijab on the sidewalk. The second thing I noticed was that more of the signs on the stores I passed were in Arabic or Turkish than in German. There were a couple of travel agencies, with window posters advertising flights to Ankara, Islamabad, Peshawar, Shiraz, Kabul. Then, on the right, rising above the tops of the buildings, I saw a steeple – no, not a steeple; a minaret.
Turning onto a side street, I found my hotel – right next to a small shop with a sign in both German and Arabic that identified it as several things at once: an Internet café; a place where you could “buy” and “sell” (it didn't say what); a “repair service” (but, again, it wasn't clear what they repaired); and a place where you could carry out money transfers. Over the course of the weekend, at various hours of the day and late into the night, I saw streams of young non-German men – no women – going in and out of that shop, and what was odd that none of them took anything in or brought anything out, and all of them emerged almost immediately after entering, not having spent enough time in there to transfer money, go online, or do much of anything else. Perhaps it was all entirely innocent, but it certainly got my attention and aroused my curiosity.
Anyway, the bottom line is clear. A new Europe is being born. Whether you consider it a delight or a disaster, the change is real, dramatic, colossal. And yet Simen Ekern, like so many other media hacks on the old continent, is determined to downplay it all – determined to pretend that the European masses, far from reacting to the palpable, world-historic transformation of their own towns and cities, are being hoodwinked by a handful of haters.