The article appeared on December 11, 2019, but I didn’t know about it until May 9 of this year. It was written by Shoaib Sultan, a Pakistani-born politician in Norway, and published at the website of Norway’s Anti-Racist Center, a left-wing group whose main goal, it often appears, is to silence critics of Islam. The article was a response to a December 10 piece I’d written at the Gatestone Institute website in which I’d mentioned a supposedly new Norwegian translation of the Koran that was being distributed for free in Oslo and Bergen.
Sultan’s headline was: “Easy to miss the target when you have hatred in your eyes.” Sultan told readers that after Anders Breivik’s mass slaughter of July 22, 2011, I wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal expressing the view “that the worst thing about the terrorist attack was that now it would be so difficult to criticize Islam and Muslims.” No, I thought the murders themselves were the worst thing. But I did suggest that the atrocity would make it tougher to criticize Islam in Norway. I turned out to be right, and then some: after July 22, Muslim and left-wing Norwegian leaders conspired to try to criminalize free speech about Islam.
But the main point of Sultan’s 2019 article was this. When I read the aforementioned Norwegian translation of the Koran, it seemed to contain renderings of notorious passages that didn’t fairly represent the originals. In fact, as I noticed after the article had been posted, the problem was that the numbering of the suras, for some reason, was off by one from the numbering in most Korans (so that sura 5:51, for example, became 5:52). In a December 16 revision of my piece, I explained my confusion. By that time, however, Sultan had already posted his article, in which he accused me of a “lack of reading skills.”
Unsurprisingly, he didn’t bother commenting on the bulk of my Gatestone piece, which was focused on the actual content of the Koran, including passages such as 5:51, which tells Muslims not to “take the Jews and the Christians for friends”; 2:88, which says that “Allah has cursed [the Jews] on account of their unbelief”; and 3:12, which foresees that non-Muslims “will be overcome and gathered together to Hell.” As I wrote in my revised piece, “These sentiments are repeated frequently in the Koran, however you number the passages.” But of course, to dare to point out Muslim hate is itself, in the view of a person like Sultan or an organization like the Anti-Racist Center, an act of hate.
Anyway, here’s why I didn’t run across Sultan’s article until May 9, and be warned that it will take a while for all this to add up. On that morning I read an essay, newly posted at the American Spectator, that was written by a young Norwegian doctor named Hannah Spier and that was entitled: “The Dark Side of Norway’s Social Democracy: The Alarming Rise of Disability Claims and Entitlement Culture.” Spier’s argument was that too many Norwegians are glomming off the government: “in 2022, 52 percent of the Norwegian population received government financial aid, with 10.5 percent of the population on disability leave….The rate in psychiatric disability is rising drastically in the youngest, while pensioners sell their hard-earned houses to afford ever higher taxations on lower-than-promised retirement payouts.”
Some of this I will readily concur with. Since moving to Norway in 1999 I’ve been surprised by the number of seemingly healthy young people who live on disability. And I’ve written myself about old Norwegians who aren’t getting the kinds of pensions they worked for all their lives. Still, I can’t agree with Spier’s description of Norway as an “entitlement culture.” Norway is anything but. Norwegians are – and always have always been – remarkably self-abnegating and self-sufficient. They don’t ask for much. They don’t expect much. Most of them wouldn’t think of having lunch at a restaurant. They’re very reliable employees.
You can only call today’s Norwegians “entitled” if you’re comparing them to earlier generations who lived in a time (pre-1970) when Norway, not yet an oil and gas superpower, was a destitute agricultural country most of whose people were farmers laboring tirelessly to eke out a modest living on very poor soil. Most of them rarely if ever left the remote valleys in which they lived and died, and most of them never expected anything whatsoever from the ruling gentry in far-off Oslo. To this day, there are older people in provincial Norway who wouldn’t ever think of splurging on steak or chicken at the grocery store and for whom, indeed, it’s a big treat to have an egg on Sunday.
Do Norwegians really exploit their welfare system, as Spier maintains? Here’s my take. There’s a social contract in postwar Norway. I don’t approve of it, but it is what it is. The people pay staggeringly high taxes – not just income taxes, but also the world’s highest taxes on goods like gasoline and alcohol. In return, they’re guaranteed that when they get ill, they’ll be taken care of. The scandal isn’t that too many people have exploited this system. The scandal is that the system has increasingly failed them.
And why has it done so? Mainly because over the last half-century, Norway’s government, like the governments of many other Western countries, has made the monumental decision to welcome huge numbers of Muslim immigrants into its borders without asking its own citizens for their opinion on the matter. The government has not required the immigrants to learn Norwegian, or to try to find work, but it has provided them with housing, clothing, furniture, and appliances. And, of course, large regular infusions of cash, plus extra sums – barnetrygd, or child benefits – to cover the cost of raising kids, of which they tend to have many more than your typical Norwegian couple.
Of course, the money for all this comes from Norwegian taxpayers. Yet NAV, the Norwegian welfare office, routinely says no to hard-working Norwegians who, burdened by outrageous taxes, have trouble making ends meet. At the same time, NAV rarely dares to say no to unemployed but highly demanding Muslims. At one Norwegian government agency after another, indeed, Muslims are first in line for pretty much everything. Take this example: from the moment of a baby’s birth, many Norwegian parents save up that child’s barnetrygd in order to pay for the driver’s license when he or she turns eighteen. Licenses, you see, are outrageously expensive. But many Muslim immigrants are handed them for free – in some cases, along with the keys to a new car.
This outrageous state of affairs – not an entitled mentality on the part of Norwegians – is the main reason why Norway’s welfare system is so strapped.
Because of the Norwegian government’s massive outlays on freeloaders, it has felt obliged to tighten its belt – but at the expense of the people who pay the taxes. There’s something called the Beslutningsforum, or Decision Forum – a panel that decides which medications are too costly to prescribe to anybody. If a med is ruled too expensive, patients who need it are out of luck, unless they can afford to fly to someplace like the U.S. and pay for it out of their own pockets. Newspapers here are constantly running articles with headlines like “How much is a life worth?” Clearly, the powers that be are determined to make the public feel guilty about putting up too much of a fight against a fatal illness, and thereby overburdening the system. Living too long is no longer a blessing but a crime against humanity.
My late Norwegian mother-in-law was an invalid, confined to a wheelchair and unable to work after a car accident at age 18. She spent much of her adult life fighting for what she supposedly had coming to her from a system that can seem wonderfully cheap and effective if you’re healthy – or privileged – but that can be downright cruel to those who, through no fault of their own, are in no position to pour cash into the system. I won’t go into detail here about the cruel way in which she was allowed to die after six months in a coma, when there was still every possibility of her recovering. It all happened because she was a nobody from a small provincial town; if she’d been a prominent Oslo politician or professor or media figure, it would’ve been different. In Norway, there’s a great deal of talk about “dying with dignity”; but there was little dignity in the last chapter of my mother-in-law’s life. She was only fifty, but was already written off as expendable.
How, then, can Spier make the arguments she does? Because she’s right about a certain, very small sector of the Norwegian population. I’ve lived among them, on the prosperous west side of Oslo. The young people there actually are entitled. In fact some of them are among the most obnoxious teens I’ve ever encountered – and I’m talking as someone who for several years lived down the street from the ultra-snotty Dalton School in Manhattan. Later, in Oslo, I lived right around the corner from Norway’s most prestigious high school, the Oslo Cathedral School, founded in 1153. It counts among its alumni the painter Edvard Munch, the mathematician Niels Henrik Abel, the poet Henrik Wergeland, the current NATO leader Jens Stoltenberg, and the current king, Harold V.
I can fully imagine that many of those west Oslo kids do indeed, as Spier complains, take a year off after high school to “chill and figure things out” while collecting NAV payments. This doesn’t really bother me so much, because, unlike Muslims who are taking and taking and taking from a system into which they’ve never paid, the money these kids are getting from NAV is only a fraction of what their parents have shelled out in taxes over the years. Looking Spier up online, I wasn’t surprised to see on her Facebook page that – surprise! – she, too, went to the Oslo Cathedral School. Which means that when she writes about young people taking a year off after high school, she’s referring to the hyper-privileged kids she went to school with. But those kids aren’t remotely representative of the Norwegians I’ve lived among since leaving Oslo for the provinces.
I noted something else about Spier: her father, it turns out, is none other than Ervin Kohn, a name I recognized immediately. Now retired, Kohn had a long successful career as a business executive. These days he holds two positions that sound mutually contradictory. First, he’s president of the Oslo Synagogue (the only Jewish house of worship in all of Norway), in which capacity he routinely files official complaints about anti-Semitism in the Norwegian media. Second, he’s deputy president of the above-mentioned Anti-Racist Center, a left-wing group that, as Sultan’s article about me makes clear, is very largely in the business of smearing, misrepresenting, and trying to silence critics of Islam.
Why do Kohn’s two current jobs sound mutually contradictory? Because the main source of anti-Semitism in Norway is, overwhelmingly, the Muslim community. Almost all violence against Jews is committed by Muslims. But how can somebody like Kohn effectively defend Jews, in accordance with his synagogue gig, while at the same time having another post that obviously obliges him to go easy on Muslim Jew-hatred? The answer is that he can’t. After all, as we’ve seen, if you’re in Norway and you dare to point out the reality of Islamic hatred for Jews (among others), the Anti-Racist Center will accuse you of hate.
So it is that, in a video interview he gave two years ago, you can see Kohn speaking very forthrightly about certain brands of anti-Semitism – namely, Christian anti-Semitism. Kohn asserts, for example, that when Christians say that Jews are above-average in intelligence, they’re being anti-Semitic. But what about other sources of anti-Semitism? About those sources, he’s mum. Yes, he acknowledges that anti-Semitism in Oslo is worse now than when he was a boy in that city. But why? Where did all the new anti-Semitism come from? He admits that these days there’s a police officer stationed outside the synagogue at all times, when this was never the case in the old days. But exactly why is that cop there? From whom are the cops protecting the Jews? He affirms that “fucking Jew” is now a term of abuse in Oslo schools, which it never was before. How come? Who exactly is saying “fucking Jew”?
Then there are things Kohn doesn’t say. Surely he knows that Jews in Oslo routinely hide their yarmulkes and Stars of David when walking to and from shul: this has been the case for years. And surely he also knows that Jewish kids – and teachers – are routinely subject to abuse, sometimes violent abuse, by mere, um, youths. But does he dare to breathe a word about who these youths are? Or about whom, exactly, the Jews are hiding their kippas from? No – at least not in the interview in question. Maybe he’s been more open elsewhere. But somehow I doubt it.
The answer, of course, is that every last bit of it comes down to the rise of Islam in Oslo. The cops outside the synagogue, the name-calling in schools, the hidden yarmulkes, and so on – it’s all about Muslim anti-Semitism. But Kohn apparently won’t go there, at least not in public. I hate to say it, but he reminds one all too much of the Jewish community leaders in the 1930s who played down the Nazi threat and encouraged their fellow Jews to keep their heads down and their mouths shut in order to survive.
I don’t know Kohn. And I don’t know his daughter. But I know this. There are very few Jews in Norway – maybe about 1500 in all – and I’ve discovered over the years that many of them have plainly decided that the best way to address Islamic anti-Semitism is to shut up about even the most abominable instances of it while railing against “Islamophobia” at every opportunity and kicking up a fuss over relatively mild and even exceeding dubious examples of Christian anti-Semitism. I don’t know whether or not this is an entirely fair description of Ervin Kohn or his daughter, but from what I’ve seen online, it certainly seems to be. And one other thing seems clear: that, given her father’s role at the Anti-Racist Center, Spier, this golden child of Norway’s elite, while feeling free to blame the financial problems of her country’s welfare system on the hard-working, tax-paying deplorables who fund it, doesn’t feel free to breathe a single word about the immigrant Muslim NAV clients who, in Norway as in other Western European countries, are steadily bleeding it dry.