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.
On July 22, 2011, a 32-year-old maniac named Anders Behring Breivik set off a truck bomb next to the most important (but almost entirely unguarded) government office building in Oslo, killing eight people, and then gunned down 69 people, mostly teenagers, at a (totally unguarded) indoctrination camp for members of the Labor Party youth group, the Workers Youth League (AUF), on the nearby island of Utøya. Before committing these atrocities, Breivik posted online a compendious document, later referred to as his “manifesto,” that was in part an anthology of thoughtful political texts lifted without permission from various writers and in part a very long stretch of his own exceedingly demented prose, in which he not only explained how to pull off acts of mass slaughter but offered grooming tips and other insane advice for potential butchers of children. Much of the borrowed material was critical of Islam, and the stated objective of Breivik’s actions on July 22 was to punish the Norwegian Labor Party for encouraging large-scale Muslim immigration into Norway and thus threatening the country’s freedom and culture.
In the days after July 22, leading members of the mainstream media and the Norwegian left, from Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (now head of NATO) on down, gassed on solemnly about how everyone in the country should come together in love and solidarity. At the same time, with ruthless cynicism, these same people exploited Breivik’s atrocities in an effort to demonize, silence, and, if possible, destroy their own political adversaries. Critics of Islam, they proclaimed, had shaped Breivik’s views and thus bore a share of responsibility for his evil acts. Prominent figures called for severe limitations on free speech, at least on the topic of Islam, and for harsh punishments for those who failed to fall into line. “NRK [the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation] and the Labor Party and the Socialist Left Party…are not in grief,” a fellow critic of Islam wrote me shortly after July 22. “They are going for our throats.” A Facebook friend warned of “NRK’s Gestapo hunt for all ‘right-wing extremists.’” It was verboten to suggest that all the rhetoric about the evils of terrorism and the massacre of innocents would have been more effective had the kids on Utøya not been propagandized by their party elders to hate Israel and cheer Palestinian jihadists. AUF began “collaborating” with the youth division of the Fatah terrorist organization in 2006; two years ago, it was announced that AUF and Fatah Youth were now “sister organizations.”
After July 22, I saw my name linked repeated with Breivik’s. But the person who got it the worst by far was Peder Jensen, who under the nom de plume Fjordman had written thirty-nine of the essays that Breivik had cut-and-pasted into his “manifesto.” I knew Peder. I liked him. As I wrote in my 2012 e-book The New Quislings: “Jensen had studied Arabic, worked in the Norwegian foreign service, and been stationed in Hebron. I was impressed. He was polite, friendly, smart, serious, obviously very widely read, and knew what he was talking about when he talked about Arabic culture and about Islam….he recognized it as a threat to Europe, but I don’t remember him ever talking about Arabs or Muslims personally in an offensive way; on the contrary, he was steeped in Arabic culture and in many ways admired it.” Yet after Jensen publicly revealed that he was Fjordman, he was widely treated as Breivik’s co-conspirator.
Ultimately, the effort to drive critics of Islam from the Norwegian public square failed. Life in Norway returned to normal, more or less. In 2013, the Progress Party, noted for its opposition to mass Islamic immigration, became the junior partner in a center-right coalition government. In 2018, two films, both entitled 22 July, were released. Paul Greengrass’s centered largely on Breivik and his lawyer; Erik Poppe’s focused on the teenage victims of the shooting spree. Neither of these movies sought to politicize the story. But now NRK has gotten into the game. From December 29 to February 2, it broadcast a new six-part dramatic series, also entitled 22 July (pictured above). Written by Sara Johnsen and directed by Pål Sletaune, it isn’t about either Breivik or his victims, but about people on the atrocity’s periphery. “They take in the wounded,” reads a promotional text on NRK’s website. “They comfort the survivors.” Most of the characters are composites. Anine and Harald are fictitious Aftenposten journalists who cover the Breivik story; Helga is a fictitious schoolteacher trying to console a pupil whose sister died on Utøya.
But there’s one leading character in the series who doesn’t fit NRK’s catch-all description – and he is, in fact, at the story’s heart, and appears in every episode. His name is Mads Pettersen, and he’s a blogger who writes about Islam under the name Breidablikk (which can be loosely translated as “wider perspective”). NRK contends that, like Anine and Harald and Helga, Mads is invented. Horsefeathers: Mads is plainly based on Peder Jensen, with whom he shares a long list of personal attributes. When we first see him, he’s writing (in English): “The war on Islam is not just about Muslim terrorists. It’s about the governments who [sic] are responsible for today’s situation in Europe and the anger of the people.” And later: “The Muslim invasion must be stopped immediately. If not, ethnic Europeans will soon be living in dhimmitude under Sharia law.” In reality, Peder Jensen did write such things. He was right. He was prophetic. But NRK presents Mads’s views as a fanatic’s fantasies. While Breivik, moreover, is barely seen in the first episode, Mads is a looming presence.
And so it remains during the whole series: nary a glimpse of Breivik, but lots of Mads. In Episode 2, Mads learns about the bombing in Oslo and at first, like everyone else, pins it on jihadists. “Our main enemy,” he blogs, “is not the Muslim terrorists. Our main enemy is the elites, the government, and all the cultural Marxists who have made this possible!” In Episode 3, Mads is stunned to hear that the Utøya shooter looks Norwegian. Breivik’s manifesto comes to light, and a newspaper runs the headline: “Norwegian blogger inspires mass murderer.” In Episode 4, Harald interviews an “expert” on the “counterjihadist movement” – whom NRK, on its website, admits is based on writer Øyvind Strømmen, who has made a career of smearing “counterjihadists” while all but pretending that jihad itself doesn’t exist – and who, in the series, makes the case that Breidablikk can indeed legitimately be considered Breivik’s co-conspirator: “They have the same objective, the same enemy….Breidablikk’s words legitimize violence….Breivik’s actions are a consequence of Breidablikk’s actions.”
We’re clearly meant to buy this argument. To be sure, Mads isn’t the only villain: in a scene set at the offices of Aftenposten, we glimpse a list of names on a whiteboard: Daniel Pipes, Bat Ye’or, Robert Spencer, Bruce Bawer (yes, me), Lars Hedegaard, Anders Gravers Pedersen, and Geert Wilders. This image is followed by a shot of a few dozen caskets. Honestly, can you go any lower? Utterly ignored here – and throughout – is the vital fact that neither Jensen nor anyone named on that whiteboard has ever called for violence. On the contrary, our preoccupation with Islam is grounded in the fact that it’s a fountain of violence – a fact that has been proven again and again ever since the time of Muhammed (PBUH), and demonstrated with unsettling frequency all over the world in the years since 9/11. The Koran explicitly commands believers to massacre infidels just as the Prophet (PBUH) did – an authentic cause-and-effect connection that the left rushes to deny every time Muslims carry out acts of terror.
Anyway, on it goes. In Episode 5 of 22 July, Mads, who has come out as Breidablikk, tells the media he’s had to move to a secret address because of harassment by strangers. This incenses Anine: “Is he a victim now?” she snaps. She gets angry again when two forensic psychiatrists rule that Breivik is insane – specifically, a paranoid schizophrenic – and thus not culpable for his crimes. All those people, Anine says, are dead – how can nobody be culpable? She’s read Breivik’s manifesto and, she insists, he “doesn’t seem crazy” there. We’re patently supposed to buy this. It’s another big NRK lie: the parts of the manifesto that Breivik wrote himself are classic specimens of the prose of a madman.
That first diagnosis angered a lot of people in Norway – especially in the media and on the political left, who wanted to use a Breivik trial not only to prosecute the killer but also to link him inextricably and for all time to critics of Islam and opponents of the Labor Party. So the judges ordered another evaluation. Surprise! The two new doctors decided that Breivik could stand trial. Which brings us to Episode 6, in which Mads, having been informed by Harald of this switcheroo, spells out the facts: “This tragedy is being used to scare people out of thinking for themselves.” Harald’s reply: “What’s the difference between you and Breivik?” He’s not looking for an answer. He knows the answer. For him – and for this series – Breivik’s not a bloodthirsty psycho but a Frankenstein’s monster, a villain with no agency who sprang full-blown out of Mads’s mind, like Athena being born from the head of Zeus.
Meanwhile, the trial approaches. Mads is summoned to testify by Breivik’s lawyer, Geir Lippestad, and at first agrees, then wimps out. In fact, when Jensen refused to take part in the trial, it was not out of cowardice but because he realized that Lippestad’s goal was to spread the guilt around. Jensen wasn’t the only critic of Islam to be summoned: I was too, as were a few others. Since none of us knew Breivik and none of us had witnessed his crimes, we were called as “expert witnesses,” supposedly on Islam. I smelled a rat instantly, and evaded Lippestad’s trap after consulting a lawyer who told me that under Norwegian law you can’t be forced to serve as an expert witness. In short, Lippestad had tried to pull a fast one. No hint of this slimy move, which should have led to disbarment, makes it into NRK’s series.
Anyway, just to make sure we’ve gotten the point that critics of Islam have blood on their hands, the last episode’s closing title cards tell us that the character of Mads “is inspired by several bloggers and websites that influenced the terrorist.” Of course, the very fact that the series gives Mads perhaps more screen time than any other character is enough to indicate that, in the view of the people who put this thing together, the story of Mads – of Fjordman, of Peder Jensen – is the story of Breivik. They’re not alone. After Jensen was given space in Aftenposten to comment on July 22, the newspaper Vårt Land ran an inane editorial arguing that Jensen shouldn’t be accorded a platform because “words can kill.” No, you idiots. That’s the whole crux of the matter. Words can’t kill. Jensen never killed anyone. Strømmen also weighed in, accusing Jensen of using the language of ”ethnic cleansing” and of practicing “genocide as a desktop exercise,” whatever that’s supposed to mean.
None of these finger-pointers seemed to reflect on the fact that something or other that they’d written might just as easily have been seized upon by some madman to justify mass murder. “One is responsible for what one writes!” contends Anine at one point in 22 July, plainly speaking for screenwriter Sara Johnsen. But how can Johnsen not grasp that if you followed her logic to its natural conclusion, then nobody should ever express a strong opinion about anything? If somebody watched 22 July and then went out and killed Peder Jensen, would Johnsen be responsible? But such, alas, is the mentality of today’s cancel culture. The claim that “words can kill” is Antifa’s justification for going on rampages to prevent people like Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking. It’s Twitter’s excuse for de-platforming Katie Hopkins. It’s the Home Office’s excuse for banning Robert Spencer from Britain. It’s why people like Lars Hedegaard in Denmark, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, and Tommy Robinson in the UK have been dragged into court. “What’s the difference between you and Breivik?” is just another version of “Jordan Peterson is Hitler!” We live in an age when forces on the left, realizing that they can’t win an honest debate with truth-tellers like Peder Jensen, recognize free speech, and freedom generally, as threats to their authority, and realize that the only way to overcome the Peder Jensens of this world is to play Thought Police and criminalize their words.
Granted, NRK’s 22 July could have been worse. In his Aftenposten comments, Jensen acknowledged that the state broadcaster is, at least, treating him better than it did in 2011, when it painted him as a monster. 22 July portrays Mads as a human being with a conscience; Fredrik Høyer, the actor who plays him, imbues him with a distinct air of doe-eyed innocence. Yes, we’re told repeatedly that Mads helped create Breivik, but we’re also meant to come away with the idea that he did so out of a well-intended but naïve devotion to ideas that proved misguided and dangerous. This may appear to be a kinder, gentler picture of Jensen, but in my view it’s just a cannier way of going after critics of Islam: in 2011-12, painting us as sheer evil turned out not to work; the makers of 22 July apparently decided that a more effective way to freeze us out of the public square is to depict us as people who may mean well but whose rhetoric is toxic.