If the February 5 murder attempt on Lars Hedegaard in Copenhagen didn’t make it clear what Europe’s Islam critics are up against, the aftermath of this monstrous crime has certainly done so. I’ve already written here about the morally challenged Ekstra Bladet journalists who, when Lars felt compelled to find a new place to live after the attempt on his life, followed his moving van in an obvious effort to be able to report his new address. Then there was Danish TV host Martin Krasnik, who in a March 17 interview with Lars played prosecutor, comparing Lars’s book on Islam, In the House of War, to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and trying to paint him as a man whose purported extremism had isolated him even from his fellow Islam critics.
Krasnik got a lot of heat for that sleazy display. Now comes another Danish journalist, Klaus Wivel, who has chosen to take this occasion not only to get in a few kicks at Lars but to smack around several of those (myself included) who have responded to Lars’s close shave with shows of solidarity. To be sure, Wivel, writing in Weekendavisen, admits that Islam is not a thoroughly innocuous phenomenon and that Krasnik acted like a thug. But the thrust of his article is that Lars and his friends and defenders have gone too far. After the Krasnik interview, Wivel notes, some of the thousands of reader comments at the Free Press Society’s website were anti-Semitic. (Krasnik is Jewish.) While acknowledging that Lars and company despise anti-Semitism, Wivel finds it “significant that these weeds are growing in their backyards.” Meaning what? That Lars is responsible for the prejudices of every commenter on the Free Press Society’s site?
Wivel says that in Lars’s view, the argument about Islam isn’t a “parish-council debate”: it’s “war.” This mentality, Wivel insists, can only lead to defeat. About which I can only ask: is Wivel serious? Let me get this straight: when people are coming to the door of your home and trying to kill you, and the media, in the aftermath, treat you like the perpetrator, you shouldn’t feel that you’re at war? Does Wivel sincerely expect that Islam critics who have been subject to murder attempts and death threats, all the while being systematically, heartlessly, and mendaciously vilified in the media – people like Robert Redeker and Geert Wilders, who have to live with round-the-clock bodyguards because of would-be assassins, and people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Fiamma Nirenstein, who lived with bodyguards and ended up leaving Europe entirely – should treat the whole matter like a parish-council debate?
Wivel talks about Jews. What about all the Jews who are fleeing France and other European countries because Islam has made their lives unlivable? Is it excessive, in Wivel’s view, for them to think or speak of themselves as being at war? “If one is in the House of War,” Wivel warns, apropos of the anti-Semitism of those commenters at the Free Press Society site, “one takes on the attributes of the enemy.” But Wivel’s solution, it would appear, is to pretend that we’re not at war. He mocks Lars for believing that “we’re standing…at the gates of Vienna.” Wivel seems already to have forgotten that a few weeks ago Lars was almost standing at the Pearly Gates. Which of these two men is more out of touch with reality?
Earth to Wivel: it wasn’t we Islam critics who took the question of the Islamization of Europe out of the realm of civilized, parish-council-style debate. It was our opponents in politics, the academy, and the media – who, from the very beginning, have chosen to respond to our rational arguments not with rational arguments of their own, but, rather, by demonizing us, misrepresenting us, trying to destroy our reputations, and, in more and more cases, putting us on trial. And after the Breivik atrocities on July 22, 2011, their war – yes, war – against critics of Islam shifted into an even higher gear as they rushed to link us to the mass murderer. Wivel himself, ten days after Breivik’s atrocities, e-mailed me a battery of questions, asking if Breivik’s actions had caused me to reconsider what I’d written about Islam or to regret any metaphors or language I’d used. Did I worry now, he wondered, that my rhetoric about Islam had helped drive Breivik to his extreme actions? Would those actions change the way I wrote in the future?
Wivel had given a positive review to my Islam book While Europe Slept, but now, post-Breivik, it seemed that he, like many others in Scandinavia who had ever dared to breathe a critical word about Islam, felt pressured to change his tune – or, at least, to dramatically moderate his tone. “You, like so many other journalists in Scandinavia in the wake of this atrocity,” I wrote in a reply to his e-mail, “are allowing yourself to be led down a very dangerous road.” I noted that what had been true about Islam before July 22 was still true now. “Why is everybody over there [i.e., in Scandinavia; I was in the U.S. at the time] suddenly so scared? Why are serious and responsible writers being pressured to defend themselves from the insane charge of having contributed to unspeakable actions that are entirely at odds with everything they have ever written? I find all this very terrifying.” As for the charge that my criticism of Islam in two articles published in The Wall Street Journal and at Pajamas (now PJ) Media in the days after July 22 was somehow “indecent,” I wrote that
I have never wept so much as I did on July 22 and in the days afterwards. But I am not about to enter into a sensitivity competition….It is possible to be weeping constantly and still write a cogent, unsentimental article….That is what it means to be a responsible adult.
When I wrote those articles in PJM and WSJ, I feared that Norway would turn away from worrying about the threat of Islamization. Everything that has happened since July 22 has intensified that fear.
As it turned out, I was right to be worried about the direction in which things were heading. A few months later, I found myself being ordered to appear at Breivik’s trial – technically as an “expert witness,” but really as a co-defendant. The idea, plainly, was to use the trial to discredit the criticism of Islam once and for all, by linking it irrevocably with Breivik’s mad murder spree. In the end, my lawyer kept me out of court by pointing out to the judges that, in their eagerness to put Islam critics on trial, they’d overlooked the fact that Norwegian law forbids forcing anyone to testify as an expert witness. Meanwhile, in Denmark, Lars was busy fighting a hate-speech charge all the way to the Supreme Court.
No, Klaus, this is no parish-council debate.
Which brings us back to Wivel’s Weekendavisen piece, at the end of which he has a few things to say about me. Noting that in 2009 I had publicly criticized Lars’s association with Vlaams Belang – a Belgian political party that not only opposes Islam but also loathes secular liberalism – Wivel expressed bafflement over my support and praise for Lars after last month’s murder attempt. He just can’t figure out why, given my 2009 statements about Vlaams Belang, I would stand up for Lars now. The very fact that Wivel can ask the question is sadly illuminating. If such an assassination attempt had taken place – what? – thirty years ago, things would’ve been different. But there have been so many murders and murder attempts since – from the near-fatal 1993 shooting of the Norwegian publisher of The Satanic Verses, to the 2002 gunning down of Pim Fortuyn, to the 2004 butchering of Theo van Gogh, to the mass mayhem over the Danish cartoons – that the shock has worn off. Today, many Europeans simply take it as a given that anyone who criticizes Islam risks extra-judiciary execution. To criticize Islam is like jumping off a cliff or stepping into heavy traffic – it’s a stupid, reckless move, period. Such people don’t see somebody like Lars as a champion of their own freedom, and don’t see themselves as having a moral obligation to rally to his side when his life has been threatened. Alas, Wivel is apparently now of this number. Vlaams Belang? What? Sorry, but everything that’s happened since 2009 – above all, the broad-based post-Breivik effort in Norway to stifle Islam critics and crush free speech – has made Vlaams Belang very much a secondary issue. But Wivel doesn’t get it. In his piece, he actually refers, in a sneering tone, to “Bawer and his war buddies.” This is what it’s come to: a leading journalist genuinely can’t make sense of the solidarity of principled people in the face of a cold-blooded jihadist assassination attempt, and is capable of making snide references to “war buddies” and the like, as if would-be murderers – men with real guns who are out to end people’s lives – are figments of our imaginations.
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