Bruce Bawer is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
On April 9, 2002, the Oslo newspaper Dagbladet reported that a man named Ingmar Tveitt, who was a friend of a member of the Norwegian Parliament named Jan Simonsen, had been dining in the Parliament cafeteria on the previous day when security guards asked him to remove his jacket. Why? Because Tveitt, a supporter of Israel, had an Israeli flag pin on his lapel. Some Parliament members found this offensive – even though, as Tveitt pointed out, people were always walking around the premises in Palestinian scarces. Yes, it was a minor incident, quickly forgotten by almost everybody. But that little story stuck in my mind, and I’ve had occasion to recall it now and then, because it told a big truth about the sympathies of Norwegian officialdom vis-à-vis the Middle East
That was twenty years ago. Since then, as the Islamic presence in Norway has steadily increased, Norwegian anti-Semitism, Israel-hatred, and support for Palestine have grown. In recent years, Norway has given Palestinian government bodies about $100 million annually – over $20 per Norwegian taxpayer. Earlier this month, when Norway took charge of the U.N. Security Council, its ambassador to the UN, Mona Juul, said that the Israel-Palestine conflict deserves “more attention” – as if the five million Palestinians hadn’t been getting far more than their share of attention (and Western largesse) for the last half century. Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt, for her part, chided Israel as “inhuman” for listing six Palestinian organizations – all of which Norway helps fund, in addition to the money it transfers to government bodies – as terrorist groups. Even though, by any objective definition, they are terrorist groups.
I was reminded of the Tveitt story this weekend after being apprised of the latest development in the saga of Norwegian involvement in Middle Eastern affairs. The story broke last Friday in the country’s biggest newspaper, VG. “The Taliban,” trumpeted the headline, “is coming to Norway to negotiate.” Norway, I read, had grabbed the brass ring: of all Western countries, it would be the first since the fall of Kabul to welcome a delegation of Taliban leaders to its shores. Reportedly, the distinguished visitors would meet not just with their Norwegian counterparts but also with representatives of the U.S., the EU, the U.K., France, Germany, and Italy, as well as with Afghans living outside Afghanistan, with officials of the Church of Norway and the Norwegian Red Cross, and with sundry journalists and human-rights activists. The meetings, which the Norwegian government had hoped to keep secret, began yesterday and will conclude tomorrow.
In a sense, needless to say, the present conclave is nothing new. Norwegian officials have been meeting secretly with Taliban leaders for years. Since 2010, these encounters have taken place mostly in Doha, Qatar, the principal goal of the Norwegians being to persuade the Taliban to sit down with the Afghan government. Additional meetings were held in Oslo in 2015 and succeeding years, with Norway seeking to broker encounters between Taliban and the U.S. Representatives of the Trump administration did indeed engage with Taliban leaders to discuss the future of Afghanistan. And after President Biden let the Taliban retake Kabul, wiping out in record time all the advances scored by the U.S. military in the last twenty years, American and Norwegian officials met with Taliban leaders in Qatar to discuss “humanitarian aid” and (no joke) the Taliban’s plans for containment of “extremist groups.”
Even so, this Oslo hajj is special. Sometimes it’s necessary to meet enemies on neutral ground; playing host to them and rolling out the red carpet is another matter. Before the fall of Kabul, moreover, the Taliban was a terrorist group on the outs; now it’s back in power, and the Norwegian officials who’ve invited them to Oslo are in a position not entirely unlike that of Neville Chamberlain when he went to Munich in 1938, hat in hand, to ask Hitler politely, after his takeovers of Austria and the Sudetenland, to refrain from any further land grabs. Asked by VG about this week’s meetings with the Taliban, Huitfeldt noted that there’s “a full-scale humanitarian catastrophe” underway in Afghanistan, and contended that if “the international community” wants to help, it has to “have dialogue with the Taliban.” High up on her wish list are “girls’ education” and “women’s participation in society.” Because of course the way to get savage despots to end 1400 years of draconian oppression of women, every bit of it rooted in inalterable and incontrovertible scripture, is to invite them to Oslo for a long weekend to be hectored by a bunch of blondes.
In reporting the Taliban trip, VG noted that last fall Afghan human-rights activists told then-Prime Minister Erna Solberg that “you can’t trust the Taliban.” You’d think a seasoned politician aware of the Taliban’s track record wouldn’t have to be told this. On Friday, informed of the impending Taliban summit, Mina A. Rafiq, head of an association for Afghans in Norway, fiercely opposed it, accusing Norway, in a text message to VG, of being “the first [country] to legitimize terror…under a false cover of discussing the humanitarian situation.”
But hey: fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly – and Norwegians gotta dialogue with gangsters.
It is curious, to be sure, how impermeable naivete can be. A couple of generations ago, the forerunners of today’s Norwegian officials began permitting mass immigration from the Islamic world. They fully believed that their “new countrymen,” recognizing the merits of Norway’s culture and values, would rapidly assimilate. That assumption was proven devastatingly wrong – demonstrating that nobody in the Norwegian government had the slightest understanding of Islam. The consequences for Norway – as for most of the other countries of Western Europe, which made the same mistakes – have been disastrous.
And yet today’s Norwegian officials are approaching the Taliban with equal gullibility – and with the same eagerness to shovel out taxpayer money that they’ve demonstrated in their decades of massive handouts to Muslim immigrants. “Humanitarian aid is entirely necessary,” maintained Huitfeldt, “but it’s not enough. We need to keep basic services like health and education from collapsing. We have to support the welfare of families and local communities.” As it happens, such services in Norway itself have been slashed in recent years for budgetary reasons. But the leaders of Norway, with a population of six million, consider themselves obligated to help fund such services for Afghanistan, a country of 39 million.
In Denmark, a saner country than Norway, the Liberal Party’s foreign-affairs spokesman, Michael Aastrup Jensen, called news of the Taliban visit a “grenade shock,” “a huge PR victory for the Taliban,” and “a mockery of the fallen soldiers” of the NATO alliance, while Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod rejected any direct contact between Denmark and the Taliban. In Norway, Progress Party’s foreign-affairs guy, Christian Tybring-Gjedde, accused the government of “whitewashing” the Taliban; Vebjørn Selbekk of the Christian newspaper Dagen called the invitation to the Taliban “tasteless.” Helge Lurås of the news website Resett noted savvily that what’s really important about this summit, in the minds of Norwegian diplomats, is that it confirms their “image of Norway and themselves as creative peace brokers.” Bingo.
Anyway, the Taliban’s 15-man delegation, led by Foreign Minister Mawlawi Amir Khan Muttaqi and including Anas Haqqani (who is on the U.S. terrorist list and whose brother, Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, is one of most wanted terrorists on earth), flew to Oslo on Saturday. The Norwegian media covered the flight as closely as the British media covered Chamberlain’s journey to Munich and back. On Saturday afternoon VG posted a photo of the Taliban boys on a luxurious private jet that had been leased from a Finnish company, Jetlife, at the expense of Norwegian taxpayers. Nice work if you can get it! That evening came the news that the gentlemen had landed in Oslo; later, the media reported on their arrival at their hotel, which is being heavily guarded by police. (Finally, some real security on the streets of Oslo.) On Sunday, Aftenposten disclosed that the weekend guests, on the previous evening, had already asserted their right to arrest political opponents.
Closely following these breathless updates, I again thought back twenty years – not to the Tveitt incident, but to the invasion of Afghanistan, the collapse of Taliban rule, and President Bush’s call for a massive national reconstruction project that he compared to the Marshall Plan. Imagine thinking that that primitive dominion, that graveyard of empires, could reasonably be likened to postwar Western Europe! In the months and years after the installation of Hamid Karzai as Afghan president, the money (to quote an Evita lyric) kept pouring in, and the NATO blood kept flowing. So many wounded, so many killed, all in the service of a thoroughly misguided cause, driven by a total failure – or refusal – on the part of political and military officials to grasp the dark and inflexible reality of Islam. And so here we are now, back in a place very much like where were just before the Taliban’s Al-Qaeda chums took down the World Trade Center,: treating representatives of what is once again the Emirate of Afghanistan as if they were civilized, and acting as if nothing that happened on or after 9/11 has taught us anything at all about their vile excuse for a religion.