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archive for 2006

December 20, 2006: Here's a glimpse of what it's like to live this far north at the winter solstice.  Yesterday at 4:40 p.m. I took this picture of a scaffolded building in Oslo that's being floodlit so the workers can do their job. 

* * *

The other day a friend was wondering about this apparent paradox: while same-sex marriage/partnership is far more advanced in Europe than America, gays can adopt children in the U.S. (except Florida) but not in many parts of Europe.  I wrote the following in reply, and figured I might as well post it here, too:

After moving to Norway I was struck by the fact that while gay marriage/partnership was widely accepted as the natural way of things, gay adoption was fiercely opposed by people on both left and right.  In Norway it is illegal. 

I came to understand that the reason is this.  In social democratic countries, a chief motivation for accepting gay marriage is the desire of the all-encompassing State to have its fingers in EVERYTHING.  If there are going to be gay couples, and there are, the government is determined to know who they are, to register them, to count them, etc.  The alternative, after all, is to have a large part of the society that is in some sense living outside of the system, unregistered, uncounted, unregulated.  If it is in the interests of America's religious right to deny the reality of gay coupledom, it is in the interests of European social democrats to face reality, the better to bring it under the wide umbrella of the system.

Gay adoption works the opposite way.  In America, when it comes to gay people adopting kids, the devotion to the American tradition of keeping government out of family matters kicks in, even in the cases of many on the religious right who don't really want to see gay people bringing up kids.  For them, the idea of the government regulating families is apparently too sinister even to bring it into play in the lives of gay people.  For them, presumably, that slope is just too slippery.

But in Europe?  Once gay couples are accepted, registered, and official, they're under the thumb of the social-democratic system.  And that system is eager to use its power, to lay down the law in this regard as it does in regard to everything else.  The system knows that you can't keep people from being gay - but you can forbid them from adopting children.  For years I've heard "pro-gay" Norwegian politicians fervently declare that gay people who want to adopt children are simply being selfish.  Period!  Case closed!  That's the mantra here, on both left and right.  

If among religious-right people in the U.S. the rallying cry is family, and the right of the head of family to exercise his power unconditionally unencumbered by the power of the state, in the social-democratic mindset children ultimately belong to the State.  And the State here is not at all shy about exercising its proprietary authority in what it deems to be children's "best interests."

To be sure, there are more and more people here who dissent from this view, or pretend to.  In the last election, in September of last year, the socialist parties promised that if elected they would allow gay adoption.  They were elected.  Nothing has changed.

December 12, 2006:  The other day one of the bookstores in Norway's Ark chain cancelled a signing by Vebjørn Selbekk, the editor who reprinted the Jyllands-Posten cartoons in Magazinet.  The reason for the cancellation?  "Security considerations."  When I read about this, I made a mental note to stop shopping in Ark bookstores.  Jan Arild Snoen now proposes that supporters of free speech boycott the chain until it comes to its senses.  I'm with him.

December 11, 2006.
 On Friday I wrote in the New York Sun about the democracy deficit in the Swedish media.  If I'd waited a couple of days I could have quoted this.

December 6, 2006: A  few choice quotations from Andrew Sullivan's splendid new book:

"The message of the Gospels seems to me to be constantly returning to this theme: those who set themselves up as arbiters of moral correctness, the men of the book, the Phariees, are often the farthest from God.  Rules can only go so far; love does the rest.  And the rest is by far the most important part.  Jesus of Nazareth constantly tells his fellow human beings to let go of law and let love happen: to let go of the pursuit of certainty; to let go of possessions, to let go of pride, to let go of reputation and ambition, to let go also of obsessing about laws and doctrines.  This letting go is what the fundamentalist fears the most.  To him, it implies chaos, disorder, anarchy.  To Jesus, it is the beginning of wisdom, and the prerequisite of love." (p. 206-7)

"I call myself a Christian because I believe that, in a way I cannot fully understand, the force behind everything decided to prove itself benign by becoming us, and being with us.  And as soon as people grasped what had happened, what was happening, the world changed forever."  (p. 208)

"In religion beauty matters; the aesthetic counts.  It counts because the kind of wonder we sometimes feel when looking at a stunning painting or a sublime sunrise is the wonder we should really feel all the time in the presence of God.  What religion can be at its most sublime is the fusion of that wonder with practical life.  It is the marriage of the poetic and practical modes of experience.  This does not require the imposition of fixed rules and doctrines, although they may be helpful guides from time to time.  It requires a constant reimagination of the potential of life lived on earth as if it were heaven.  It requires letting go of our desire not to let go."  (p. 222)

November 22, 2006: After reading my posting of two days ago about the low response rate in the counties of Oslo and Akershus to invitations to a naturalization ceremony for new Norwegian citizens, Leif Knutsen offers some typically thoughtful and sensitive comments.

My own feelings are as follows:


1. If a country agrees to grant you citizenship, the least you owe it is a loyalty oath.


2. If you accept the citizenship, you should be honored and thrilled to make such an oath.  And to sing the national anthem.


In America this is a no-brainer.  Citizenship is viewed as a high honor.  If you’re a citizen, of course you pledge allegiance to the flag.  Of course you sing the national anthem.  The European tendency to think of this as the equivalent of arresting somebody and dragging him into a small room and forcing him to sign away his soul while holding a gun to his head is terribly unfortunate.


In the U.S., new citizens go to citizenship ceremonies in their best clothes.  They bring their families and take pictures and cry and hug and sing the national anthem with pride and joy.  This is how you build and sustain a country.  When a country starts handing out passports to people who don’t feel that way about it, who in fact despise it and what it stands for, the country's doomed.


But the fault here is far from entirely that of the new citizens themselves.  Here's where the big difference between American and European attitudes toward immigrants comes in. 


Get this: on October 27, Ny Tid reported that Språkrådet, which in English calls itself the Norwegian Language Council, and which on its website identifies itself as "the Norwegian government's advisory body in matters pertaining to the Norwegian language and language planning," had proclaimed in an e-mail to Ny Tid that the word "Norwegian" is synonymous with the term "ethnic Norwegian."  The e-mail went on to explain: "A Pakistani who settles in Norway does not become a Norwegian, even if he becomes a Norwegian citizen.  He is still a Pakistani....The Norwegian belongs to his group, and the Pakistani to his group....There is something that is called ethnicity, and it is not just an empty label; it is a designation that describes a reality."  


Group!  Ethnicity!  There's European thinking for you in a nutshell.  And perhaps especially Norwegian thinking.  (I see that Leif has already written about this.)  Immigrants to Norway who strive to integrate into their new society and to be hard-working, devoted citizens are out of luck if they expect that the natives will for this reason accept them as Norwegians.  Meanwhile, newcomers who have no desire to be accepted as Norwegians, but who are on the contrary determined to preserve every last (and worst) aspect of their original ethnic and cultural identity, even in defiance of Norwegian values and rights, will be praised for being true to their "group identity." 


Språkrådet's equation of ethnic identity with national identity, of course, affects not only immigrants but the Norwegian-born children and grandchildren of immigrants.  According to Språkrådet's definition, people who were born and raised in Norway, who carry Norwegian passports, who speak Norwegian as fluently as any member of Språkrådet, and who may never even have set foot in any other country, have no right to call themselves Norwegian.  Nor do the dark-skinned adopted children of ethnic Norwegian parents, who know no country but this one.


For an American, such thinking could hardly be more alien.  Or offensive.  Or just plain stupid.


To be sure, on November 15 Språkrådet revised its opinion: "The statements in the e-mail from Språkrådet have been discussed both in the secretariat and by Språkrådet's board of directors, and Språkrådet apologizes for these unfortunate statements.  The e-mail, which was approved by the director, should not have been sent in that form."


Yet the insult lingers - along with the stink of sheer stupidity.  That a government can pour untold cash benefits into the pockets of immigrants who have no intention of finding a job or adapting to the culture, yet can, at the same time, though an "advisory body," deny the very title "Norwegian" to immigrants who have struggled to learn the language, to support their families, and to be loyal, law-abiding citizens of Norway - to people who wear the label "Norwegian" with pride and who fly the flag enthusiastically every May 17th - is a cruel insult to every one of those citizens and an incredible act of national self-destructiveness.


The question, of course, should not be whether people with Norwegian passports can call themselves Norwegians.  Naturally they can.  The question is whether a democratic nation has any business setting up a star chamber whose job it is to lay down the law about the language.


November 20, 2006:
In a pilot program designed to aid integration, over 1200 new citizens of Norway living in the counties of Oslo and Akershus have been invited to a ceremony at which they can pledge loyalty to their new country and sing the national anthem.  According to Dagsavisen, only 10 percent have accepted.

The head of the Organization against Government Discrimination (OMOD), Akjenaton De Leon, believes that the loyalty pledge is the reason why many turned down the invitation: "It’s totally fine to have a ceremony, but I question whether you should take an oath."  De Leon says he himself wouldn’t take any such oath, which he calls "offensive." 

* * *

Yesterday came the news that Muslims had asked authorities to pay for prison imams to minister to the increasing number of Muslims behind bars.  Aftenposten’s article on this story noted that imam Zulqarnain Sakandar Madni has been serving as an unpaid prison chaplain but no longer has the time to devote to this task.  "Several prisons have contacted the Islamic Council of Norway (IRN) about the need [for prison imams], but IRN believes this is something the government must finance.  IRN leader Mohammed Hamdan says prison imams can guide and educate people who have done wrong so that they will not commit new criminal acts."

What kind of guidance and education might these particular imams provide?  Hamdan is the one who, under Norwegian government auspices, replied to editor Vebjørn Selbekk’s apology for reprinting the Muhammed cartoons by guaranteeing his family’s safety -- as if he were the law.  (See February 15 entry below.)  And Madni is the one who told Aftenposten readers a few weeks ago that the U.S. was behind 9/11 and that Bin Laden doesn’t exist.  (See September 12 entry below.) 

Needless to say, there’s no mention of any of this in yesterday’s article, in which it is implicit throughout that it would be a good thing for these men and their colleagues to provide guidance and education to Muslim prisoners.  As I wrote after Madni’s 9/11 comments, apropos of Selbekk’s capitulation, "That event was soon dropped down the memory hole.  This one will be as well."

November 15, 2006:
Last Saturday I was in Copenhagen for a day-long roundtable on free speech and religious liberty sponsored by Denmark’s Free Press Society and Jyllands-Posten.  I was the sole non-Danish panelist; the others included a law professor, a law instructor, a theologian, and two authors, including Kåre Bluitgen, whose inability to find an illustrator for his Muhammed book led to Jyllands-Posten’s now-famous cartoons.  The event was introduced by Lars Hedegaard, head of the Free Press Society, and chaired by Kim Eskildsen.

The discussion largely addressed the question of whether Denmark’s blasphemy law should be repealed.  The law professor couldn’t see why free speech was so important that it should trump the right of Muslims to expect criticism of their faith to be silenced by the authorities; author Stig Dalager had similarly unsettling views.  Otherwise there was broad agreement that free speech was vital and that a secular democracy should not be in the business of deciding what is and what is not blasphemous.

I wasn’t the only one who traveled to Copenhagen from Oslo for this symposium.  Also present were Hans Rustad of the indispensable weblog document.no, the distinguished immigration and integration researcher Inger-Lise Lien (whose work is cited in this article I translated), and Hege Storhaug (pictured), whose powerful and eloquent new book Men størst av alt er friheten: Om innvandringens konsekvenser (But the Greatest of All Is Freedom: On the Consequences of Immigration) outlines in devastating detail the disastrous results of Norway's immigration policies.  The book has already sold a remarkable 9,000 copies, which given the small size of the Norwegian market places her on a par with Danielle Steel.  Such sales suggest that while most European politicians, journalists, and intellectuals are still sound asleep, a good number of ordinary Norwegians are waking up.

Earlier this year (as recounted in my blog posting for February 24) I attended a conference on Islam that took place in The Hague, in a former chamber of the Dutch legislature.  Similarly, the setting for this weekend’s powwow was a sometime parliamentary chamber in Christiansborg Palace.  On both occasions I tried -- unsuccessfully -- to imagine the government of Norway allowing such a conclave to be held on its premises.  After all, the last time the Kingdom of Norway provided a venue for a major event that had anything to do with free speech was when cabinet minister Bjarne Håkon Hanssen stage-managed the capitulation to Norway's imams by editor Vebjørn Selbekk, who had reprinted the Jyllands-Posten cartoons.  (See my February 15 posting.)

Needless to say, this Saturday's assemblage was a far cry from that disgraceful episode.  How refreshing it was for this Oslo resident to breathe free air in Copenhagen!

UPDATE: My talk from the conference has been posted here.

October 29, 2006: I have before me two news items dated October 24.  One of them is from the Gay Community News, which reports that "The leading imam in Manchester...thinks the execution of sexually active gay men is justified."  The imam made his comments in a discussion with a Manchester psychotherapist, John Casson, who wanted the imam to clarify the Islamic position on the execution of gays in Iran.  Both Jihad Watch and Little Green Footballs linked to this story at GCN.  I've looked in vain for it in the major British newspapers.

The other item is a story from LifeSiteNews.com
reporting that the BBC "has admitted to a marked bias against Christianity and a strong inclination to pro-Muslim reporting among the network's executives and key anchors."  It has also admitted that "the corporation is dominated by homosexuals."  These admissions came at a secret "impartiality summit" that the Daily Mail reported on last Sunday.  The Telegraph ran an opinion column about this summit, but otherwise I can't find any reference to it on the websites of other major UK papers.

So the question is this: did the gay-dominated but Muslim-friendly BBC report on the Manchester imam's comments?  I searched the BBC site and found a brief story dated Thursday, October 26 -- meaning that apparently the BBC took two days to get around to reporting this.  And look how they spun it.  The story is framed not as a report of a Muslim leader's affirmation of the legitimacy under Islam of executions of gay people, but as a report of an effort to smear Muslims. 

The headline: "Imam accused of 'gay death' slur."  The lead: "A gay rights campaigner has accused an Imam of saying the execution of gay Muslims to stop the spread of disease is 'for the common good of man.'"  The brief story that follows seems designed to raise doubts about the accuracy of Casson's account of his conversation with the imam.  And the piece concludes with comments from Massoud Shadjareh of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, who essentially dismisses the issue of Muslim executions of gay people -- "He said homosexuality was 'not compatible' with Islam, just as it was not compatible with other orthodox religions, such as Catholicism" -- and who complains that giving attention to this issue "is part of demonising Muslims."

That's right -- to draw attention to the fact that orthodox Muslim belief approves of the execution of homosexuals is to demonize Muslims.

The BBC story ends there.  There's no indication of any effort to pin Shadjareh down on Muslim attitudes toward gays, no mention of the many previous occasions on which Muslim religious leaders have said essentially the same thing the Manchester imam did, no quote from a gay-rights activist, and (of course) no quote from a straight-talking Islam expert like Robert Spencer who might have explained that sharia law does indeed prescribe capital punishment for homosexuals.

If the BBC is in fact dominated by gays, I as a gay man am ashamed of and disgusted by every last one of them.  What can they possibly think they're accomplishing by whitewashing Islam in this fashion?  It's as if a Jewish media organization in the 1930s kept itself busy propagandizing for the Nazis and covering up plans for the Holocaust.

October 27, 2006: Morgenbladet is Oslo's answer to New York Review of Books, and above is an ad that is currently appearing on the top of all the pages on its website. 

"You know, these Muslims," they have this cab driver saying, "if you feed a person with the Koran a couple of years, give him food, security, and everything he needs, you can bet he'll get a good picture of humanity.  Then there's just as big a chance of him becoming a terrorist as there is of me becoming a millionaire at Bjerkebanen [a race track in Oslo --ed.]!  But if he's oppressed and discriminated against, and then fed with a little Islam, what he reads can be abused to legitimize violence.  What creates extremism is lousy conditions, right?  You can't just say that the terrorists have to be stopped.  We have to think through what kind of conditions create extremism.  Where that's concerned, I totally support what Basim Ghozlan said to Simen Sætre in the article on Islam in Morgenbladet's issue number 34/2006.  Want a receipt?"

Though this speech is put in the mouth of some nameless cab driver, all of it -- except a few words at the beginning and end, plus the racetrack reference -- is a direct quote from Basim Ghozlan, and is drawn from the interview he gave to Sætre, a Morgenbladet writer, in the issue mentioned.  Clearly, Ghozlan's explanation of the roots of Muslim terrorism is one that Morgenbladet finds sympathetic.

It seems rather remarkable that a publication would, in an ad for subscriptions, appropriate the words of an interviewee and put them in somebody else's mouth.  But there's nothing remarkable about the sentiments themselves -- they're exactly what you'd expect to hear from a "Muslim community leader" or a left-wing intellectual weekly.  They're utterly removed from reality.  "What creates extremism is lousy conditions, right?"  Yeah, forget that the murderer of Theo van Gogh was raised in a nice neighborhood of Amsterdam and went to college; forget that the 7/7 London terrorists grew up in comfortable homes, played sports, attended college.  Give a Muslim immigrant "food, security, and everything he needs,"  and "he'll get a good picture of humanity" and behave himself.  Yet Muslims in Europe have gotten food, security, piles of cash, etc.-- more free stuff than any immigrant group anywhere at any time in human history, including enough dough to enable many a paterfamilias not only to build a palace for himself but also to build palaces for his brothers, sisters, and cousins.  Immigrants in Norway from, say, China are independent, successful, hard-working, law-abiding; they're making a contribution to the society and the economy.  The situation with Muslim immigrants is dramatically different.  But that difference can't possibly have anything to do with the difference in religious and cultural background, can it?  No, the problem has to be that Norwegians have somehow failed to give them "a good picture of humanity."

Only a member of the pathologically detached intellectual/academic/political/media elite could buy this hogwash for a second.  The obvious idea here is to sell it to the common reader by putting it into the mouth not of a university egghead but of a cab driver who looks like a straight-talking, no-nonsense white ethnic Norwegian from Central Casting.

This ad isn't terribly surprising, coming as it does from a magazine that makes a habit of whitewashing Islam.  Typical Morgenbladet fare is an article by Sætre entitled "A Violent Religion?" in which, taking the faux-naif approach, the author presents himself as an honest, uncertain seeker who simply wants to know if Islam is intrinsically violent.  But what does he do to try to find out?  Look at the Koran?  Read Muslim history?  Consult experts like Robert Spencer (whose many books answer the question definitively) and Andrew Bostom (whose book The Legacy of Jihad richly and incontrovertibly documents the centrality of violent jihad to the history of Muslim relations with non-Muslims)?  No, Sætre goes from mosque to mosque in Oslo, asking imams questions and assiduously copying down their answers.  The answers are largely lies -- but Sætre doesn't challenge the imams, doesn't hold their bullshit up to critical scrutiny, doesn't call them on their obvious employment of taqiyya.  Typical of the piece is the following exchange between Sætre and imam Mehboob Ur-Rehman of Oslo's Islamic Cultural Centre:

But are there things in the Koran that can justify terror?
– No.
Can a good Muslim become a terrorist?
– No, no, no.

Well, that's settled!

Which brings us to Basim Ghozlan.  Who is this man whom Morgenbladet implicitly holds up in its ad as a respectable authority?  He's the director of Norway's Islamic Federation and editor of the website islam.no -- and he's an Islamist.  He has publicly supported Hamas suicide bombings of Jewish civilians, the execution of HIV-positive people, and an end to Norway's annual Holocaust commemorations.  The website Honest Thinking has noted that Ghozlan "embraces the dream of an Islamic state with Islamic law."  According to Hege Storhaug, Ghozlan's wife, Muslim convert Lena Larsen, has said that her ideal is a sharia state.  Ghozlan also has close ties to -- and has praised the scholarship of -- Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who supports the suicide bombing of civilian Jewish women and children, the death penalty for gays, and the oppression of woman according to strict sharia standards.  Al-Qaradawi also looks forward to the Muslim conquest of Europe.

Under the Morgenbladet logo in the ad, it reads: "Don't Make Yourself Dumber than You Are."  Yet the folks at Morgenbladet seem determined to stay dumb.  They cling to the politically correct, post-Marxist delusion that Islamic terror could be eliminated if only we Westerners only stopped oppressing and discriminating against Muslims.  And they close their eyes to every bit of evidence that Basim Ghozlan is not an admirable pillar of pluralistic, democratic Norway but an instrument and ally of forces that seek to replace that democracy with a woman-oppressing, homosexual-murdering, freedom-denying dictatorship by Taliban-style patriarchs.  The European establishment's cowardly groveling to the likes of Ghozlan -- its refusal to face facts, to recognize an enemy as an enemy, and to deal with that enemy firmly and bravely and responsibly -- is what helped bring about the colossal problems now facing Europe in the first place. 

The point here isn't that the Morgenbladet is exceptional in its outrageous disgracefulness.  On the contrary, Morgenbladet's ad reflects a mentality that's all too common among European politicians, academics, and journalists.  Europe is in crisis, yet too many people in positions of responsibility still play these dangerous, puerile games -- smearing as racist, right-wing extremists those who are concerned about the presence among us of Islamists who openly seek to destroy our freedoms, while holding those Islamists up as honorable men.

October 24, 2006: Amazon UK recommends books for me to buy.

October 17, 2006: Last night I watched a webcast of a panel, held earlier in the day at UN Headquarters in New York, called “Cartooning for Peace.”  It wasn’t as bad as the title and venue might suggest, but given the recent Muhammed cartoon crisis, which dramatically demonstrated the scale and nature of the threats now being posed to free speech by Islamic jihad, the discussion was still a lot more toothless than one would have liked. 

One would have hoped that the panelists –  eight or ten cartoonists from around the world –  would have used an event like this to declare their unqualified solidarity with their Danish colleagues who are still in hiding as a result of the Muhammed cartoon crisis and to defy the violent extremists who seek to curb everybody's freedoms.  Nope.  Still, one panelist, while not explicitly mentioning the Danish crisis, gave a straightforward talk about the importance of free speech.  Several others deplored the limitations on cartoonists’ freedom of expression in various countries; one cartoonist emphasized the lack of free speech in the Arab world.  And one cartoonist, in response to a woman's question about Theo van Gogh – whom she described as having been killed as payback for making an “offensive” film, the apparent implication being that the murder was somehow defensible – responded with a ringing defense of van Gogh’s film and condemnation of his murderer.  A second woman, who seemed to be there in an official capacity, cut him off, saying with curt condescension that she did not share his view of van Gogh and that in any case this was off-topic (!).

There was the predictable US-bashing.  More than one American cartoonist was at pains to make clear that he/she looked askance at the rise in patriotism in the US after 9/11.  On the other hand, it was a pleasant surprise to hear one cartoonist (not American) remind everybody that while cartoonists around the world can bash Bush all they want, many of them cannot freely criticize their own leaders, as American cartoonists can.

All in all, the cartoonists left a better taste in one's mouth than did smarmy, smooth-talking Under-Secretary-General Shashi Tharoor, who in his concluding “summary” sent out a message that was sharply at odds with the spirit of the cartoonists' actual remarks.  Tharoor did not explicitly mention the Danish cartoons, but they were clearly at the center of his remarks.

He began by speaking of cartoonists’ “ability, perhaps their responsibility, to be confrontational.  But,” he added, “as we are all aware there is a balance that must be struck.  It’s one thing to administer bitter medicine and quite another to poison a patient.”

Want to talk offensive?  This is offensive: equating a cartoon with murder.  By comparing cartoons to poison, Tharoor is implying that murders committed in supposed reaction to the Danish cartoons were in fact the fault of the cartoonists, not the actual murderers.

Tharoor: “The best cartoons provoke thought and even emotion, but they don’t seek to provoke intolerance or violence.”

Again, the implication here is that the Danish cartoonists were “seek[ing] to provoke intolerance or violence.”  To implicitly blame on those cartoonists the intolerance of jihadists for Western freedoms, and their eruption in violence in an attempt to further a jihadist agenda, is disgraceful.

Tharoor: “Our experts have told us that what is acceptable varies, that the balance is different in different places, and they must understand something of the symbolic and cultural references of their audiences if their work is to be effective rather than simply offensive.” 

In fact, the “experts” did nothing of the kind.  They deplored the limits on freedom of expression in various countries.  None took the position that these limits should be accepted or respected.  None argued for cultural sensitivity.  Tharoor’s “summary” turned reality on its head.  Incredible.

Tharoor: “Since contemporary technology can transmit cartoons from one cultural context to another where they might be considered offensive, “the responsibility of cartoonists is perhaps greater than it has ever been before.”  

In other words, cartoonists’ responsibility not to offend is greater.   But cartoonists, or anyone else with an opinion to express in a free society, can't be held responsible for the easily triggered “outrage” of others.  To take Tharoor’s position is to allow people who are either genuinely outraged – or ready to pretend to be outraged – to act, in effect, as censors.  That’s a one-way road to a Taliban planet and worldwide sharia law. 

Tharoor: “The bottom line, I suspect, is that all of us, cartoonist or not, make decisions every day about the words that cross our lips or the images we project.  People of good will and good intentions seek to understand the consequences of their actions and they try to the best of their ability to act in such a way as to leave the world no worse and perhaps even better than they found it.”

Does Tharoor understand the consequences of the words crossing his lips?  Does he see that a society in which writers, artists, and others engage in constant self-censorship out of fear of somebody’s reaction somewhere is a society that’s no longer free?

Tharoor: “Indeed free speech is a right, and if we are offended by what we hear or see the onus is on us to register our complaints or to make our protests without violence and without inciting violence…violence is never a legitimate response.”

Great – yet everything he said before this has served to legitimize anti-free speech violence. 

Tharoor: “So the bottom line therefore is a very thin blue UN line.  None of us can afford to neglect our responsibilities to our neighbors, to the world we share, and for the impact our actions might have.  The balance between freedom and responsibility is surely a delicate one.”   

The UN has no business drawing lines, thin or blue or otherwise, that delimit freedom.  Is Tharoor suggesting that the UN’s authority now overrides the First Amendment?

October 14, 2006: How about the contrast between North and South Korea at night, huh?  Don't those South Koreans know how to turn off a light when they go to bed?  What's wrong with those people?  Guess they're just like those horrible Americans -- wasting electricity all over the place and generally exploiting more than their fair share of our precious blue planet's precious resources.  What a contrast to the North Koreans, who are obviously exemplary in their environmental consciousness, living simply, modestly, and close to nature!  What great role models!  It seems to me we could all learn something from them.  There's something to think about, no? 

October 7, 2006: Last Sunday night, in Oslo, three sisters of Pakistani origin were murdered.  Shortly thereafter their brother, Shahzad Khan, was arrested for the crime.  Sources close to the family said it was an honor killing.  According to these sources, the sisters’ father and brothers thought they had become too independent.

 The sisters’ family, however, denies that it was an honor killing.  They say the murder was the act of a psychologically disturbed man, and point to Shahzad Khan’s history of psychiatric treatment.  The Norwegian media seem to have accepted this line.  In recent days the father, who has been in Pakistan during all this, has been the subject of massive amounts of sympathetic coverage.  He has been treated throughout as the grieving victim of a family tragedy.

The website of Human Rights Service provides information that does not appear in the mainstream media’s reports.  “Our contacts in [Oslo’s Pakistani] community say that the brother accused of murder exploited the opportunity for sick leave for reasons of ‘psychological suffering’ to avoid work.  He is described as a work-shy type.  A great responsibility for the girls in the family was imposed on him while the father spent long periods in Pakistan.  This task was surely anything but simple, since both Saabia (24) and Sobia (27) developed increasing independence and got by on their own in most respects, including financially.  In addition they themselves wanted to take part in choosing their own spouses, especially after Sobia’s forced marriage to a cousin from Pakistan, who knifed both Saabia and Sobia while their little sister Nafisa looked on.  But the father would not hear of the girls being able to influence the selection of their own spouses.  The girls would marry within the family in Pakistan.  People in the community considered taking on the role of mediator with the father.  At the same time sources say that many members of the Pakistani community, particularly men, are in agreement that both Saabia and Sobia had become much too headstrong, and that they had a negative influence on Nafisa.  They believe this also explains the silence from the community – the women don’t dare speak, for they have no support from their men, whether brothers, fathers, or husbands.  Another reason for the silence is said to be this attitude: The girls are murdered.  They can’t come back.  Now we can just make the best out of the situation for the murderer and the rest of the family.”

HRS also writes: We are told that the men of the family have tried to get the girls to travel to Pakistan recently, but that they refused. They feared forced marriage. They are also said to have feared being deprived of their freedom of movement in the village where the family has established itself with an impressive residence....HRS possesses more information that we cannot share with the public, though we are of course sharing it with the Oslo police.

* * *

The evening after the triple murder, the documentary series Dokument 2 on Norway’s TV2 aired an hour-long program about the Norwegian government's handling of the Muhammed cartoon controversy earlier this year. 

It will be recalled that while Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen responded to international violence and pressure by standing up for free speech and giving the editors of Jyllands-Posten (the first newspaper to publish the cartoons) his full and unqualified support, Norwegian leaders caved ignominiously and pressured editor Vebjørn Selbekk, who had reprinted the cartoons in Magazinet, to apologize to Muslim leaders. 

Some of those leaders said Selbekk deserved some blame for the vandalism of the Norwegian embassy in Damascus; some referred to the controversy as a conflict between “extremes,” thereby equating Selbekk with murdering, pillaging fanatics.  Selbekk’s fellow journalists, while serving up rote expressions of solidarity, mostly kept their distance, even though several of them had also reprinted one or more of the cartoons.

 TV2's documentary, “Truet til taushet” (Threatened into Silence), retold this disgraceful story straightforwardly, honestly, and to powerful effect.   I’ve criticized the European media plenty, but TV2 deserves nothing but praise for this program.  It was the single best original program I’ve ever seen on Norwegian TV. 

There was extensive footage of protestors destroying the Norwegian embassy in Damascus, burning Norwegian and Danish flags, and stomping on the Norwegian coat of arms.  There were also clips of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, former Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, and Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre being spineless on news discussion shows.  I’d seen much of this talking-head material before, but TV2’s producers put it all together with extraordinary effectiveness.  It added up to a devastating indictment of Norway’s political establishment.  There were also clips of Per Edgar Kokkvold, head of the journalists’ union, who struggled almost singlehandedly to remind the country’s leaders what this was all about.  There was an interview with Abu Laban, the Danish imam who traveled to the Middle East to get people riled up about the cartoons.  And there was footage aplenty of Selbekk, who ended the conflict in Norway by giving into official pressure and apologizing to Muslims, but who now bitterly says that the government betrayed him and betrayed free speech. 

“Truet til taushet” makes it amply clear that this is precisely what happened. It also makes it clear that the controversy was the handiwork of fundamentalist Muslims – both in Europe and elsewhere – who saw the cartoons as an opportunity to try to intimidate Europeans into living by their rules.  The Danish government, under great pressure, stood firm.  The Nowegian government, under considerably less pressure, buckled.

By reminding viewers of the craven public statements made by Stoltenberg, Bondevik, and Gahr Støre at the time of the cartoon crisis, “Truet til taushet” dealt a strong and well-deserved blow to the reputations of these three stooges, these hollow men.  Since the program’s airing, all three have made the rounds of interview programs in an attempt to salvage their images.  Yet they still make the same argument they did in the clips shown on the program – that, yes, Norway has freedom of speech, but this freedom must be exercised wisely, responsibly, and with an eye to the possible consequences; free speech is not a license to insult or offend, and other people’s religions, especially, must always be treated with respect.  

Some Norwegians see through this dhimmitude; others seem to accept the idea that a society can be said to have free speech even if that speech is required to be wise, cautious, and respectful.  Hurrah for TV 2 for putting all this in the right perspective.  I frankly never expected to see such a program on Norwegian TV.  Whether it marks a turning point or was just a freak occurrence remains to be seen.

It’s no surprise, though, that “Truet til taushet” was produced by TV2, an independent broadcasting channel, and not by government-owned NRK1 or NRK2, for which each TV-owning household in Norway pays an outrageous license fee of more than $300 a year.  The supposed reason for NRK’s existence is that commercial TV cannot be relied on to produce serious, worthwhile programming.  “Truet til taushet” disproves that, and underscores NRK's pointlessness.

* * *

Pity the poor academic-establishment “Europe expert.”  He knows that Islamization is Western Europe’s #1 problem…but he hates writing about it.  It’s all so unpleasant, don’t you know.  Some of the facts are so horrible that simply to report them fully and honestly makes you sound…well, like some kind of awful low-rent Islamophobe.

So it is that in his recent book Free World, about Europe's present and future, Timothy Garton Ash – Professor of European Studies in the University of Oxford, Director of the European Studies Centre at Saint Antony’s College, Oxford, and Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution – actually claims that the most important issue facing Europe today is…guess what?  The conflict between “Euro-Gaullists” who want Europe to counterbalance American power and “Euroatlanticists” who favor strong U.S. ties.  This conflict, he argues, should not be decided in favor of either side; what is needed, rather, is a Europe that satisfies both sides.  In this effort, he proposes, Britain can play a strategic role, serving both as a bridge to the U.S. and a key player in Europe.

Whatever.  Yet for chapters at a time Free World contains no mention whatsoever of Europe’s Islamization.  When Garton Ash does bring up Islam early on, he does so only to emphasize that Islam in Europe isn’t a problem in and of itself; the only problem is the “populist, anti-immigrant parties,” their lowlife voters, and people like Oriana Fallaci, whose courageous book The Rage and the Pride Garton Ash calls “garish.”

But then, toward the end of Free World, as I noted in a review of it,

Garton Ash does a sudden about-face, admitting (on pages 196-7) that there is a problem with Islam in Europe, and that if it isn’t addressed properly, “we face a downward spiral which will be the curse of the national politics of Europe for years ahead….To halt this downward spiral is the single most urgent task of European domestic politics in the next decade.  We may already be too late….”  This admission follows 196 pages of pretending that the “urgent tasks” of European politics lie elsewhere; and after he’s made it, he drops the topic cold and returns to the more comfortable conceit that the real European dilemma is this business about Britain bringing the U.S. and Europe together.

Nowhere in Free World does Garton Ash provide anything remotely resembling an adequate account of the changes wrought upon Western European societies by their exploding Muslim populations.

Now, however, Garton has published a review essay in the New York Review of Books entitled “Islam in Europe.”  Though there are many recent books that might be discussed in an essay with this title, he has chosen to focus on two: Ian Buruma’s Murder in Amsterdam and Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s The Caged Virgin.  The choice of Buruma’s book (which I review in tomorrow's Boston Globe) is no surprise: it is plainly the “safe” Islam-in-Europe book this year.  Buruma seems determined to make one jihad sympathizer after another seem more sympathetic and harmless than Fortuyn, van Gogh, Hirsi Ali & co, and avoids or drastically understates disquieting facts about Muslim subcultures in Europe while emphasizing the supposed failings of their European host societies.  (Do Muslims consider the Netherlands decadent?  Well, writes Buruma, “perhaps Western civilization, with the Amsterdam red-light district as its fetid symbol, does have something to answer for.”)  In the end, Buruma calls for “accommodation with…Muslims,” including toleration “of orthodox Muslims who consciously discriminate against their women.”  Garton Ash gives Buruma a big thumbs-up.

As for Hirsi Ali, Garton Ash doesn’t dare dismiss her out of hand – the world is already too aware of her courage for him to dare try that one – but he is breathtakingly condescending.   “It’s no disrespect to Ms. Ali,” he writes, “to suggest that if she had been short, squat, and squinting, her story and views might not be so closely attended to.”  One might similarly note that Tariq Ramadan might not be so closely attended to if he were not so good at playing the role of an equitable, civilized, Westernized Muslim -- but Garton Ash does not say any such thing.  In fact he treats Ramadan far more respectfully than he does Hirsi Ali, whom he calls “slightly simplistic.”  No: there is nothing “simplistic” about Hirsi Ali’s work.  The difference between her and Garton Ash is that she writes with total honesty about some very stark, ugly, and challenging truths, while he proffers a selective, soft-focus, “nuanced” version of these truths.  For example, he approvingly quotes Tariq Ramadan, whom he labels a “reformer,” on the hopes for a European Islam that is “compatible with democracy,” but he doesn’t bother telling readers that this “reformer” has refused to condemn the stoning of female adulterers.

Tariq Ramadan not only gets more respect here than Hirsi Ali does; he also gets more respect than Bat Ye’or, whose book Eurabia Garton Ash relegates (along with my book While Europe Slept) to a footnote in which he deplores Ye’or’s influence and says that her argument “has a strong element of conspiracy theory.”  But if Ye’or is so influential, why dismiss her in a footnote?  If her argument is wrong, why not refute it instead of trying to just sneer it away?  You would never know from Garton Ash’s dismissive treatment of her that Ye’or’s “conspiracy theory” is in fact supported by mountains of documentation. 

Like Buruma, Garton Ash seems to believe that expecting Muslims in Europe to accept secular democracy is offensive, unmannerly, “Islamophobic.”  He calls Hirsi Ali an “Enlightenment fundamentalist,” thereby equating her belief in equality and pluralism with the totalitarian mentality of religious zealots.   And he writes: “For secular Europeans to demand that Muslims adopt their faith – secular humanism – would be almost as intolerant as the Islamist jihadist demand that we should adopt theirs.”  This kind of thinking – which scarcely acknowledges any distinction between tolerance and intolerance – is repulsive and insidious.  Yet it is dismayingly widespread among today’s officially credentialed “Europe experts.” 

In the past Garton Ash, denying or radically minimizing the reality of Europe's Islamization problem, has written contemptuously about Pim Fortuyn, whose only crime was recognizing the problem and focusing attention on it.  “It is five minutes to twelve,” Fortuyn told a group of fellow Dutch political leaders in February 2002, three months before his murder.  Now, at the very end of of his New York Review of Books piece, Garton Ash, who in Free World  accused Fortuyn of practicing “poisonous populist politics” and compared him to the French anti-Semite Jean le Pen and the Austrian Hitler admirer Jörg Haider, echoes Fortuyn, though without giving him credit: “it's already five minutes to midnight—and we are drinking in the last chance saloon.”  I suppose those of us non-credentialed types who have published recent books about Islam and the West should consider it a victory that Garton Ash has finally felt obliged to acknowledge so openly that Europe has a crisis on it hands – even though he continues to write about it in prose heavy with euphemism, equivocation, and faculty-lounge remoteness, and to demean those who approach it with urgency, passion, and directness.

September 15, 2006:
The other day (see below) the head imam in Norway, Zulqarnain Sakandar Madni, said he thinks the U.S. was behind the 9/11 attacks and that Al-Qaida and Bin Laden don't exist.  Aftenposten has asked other leading imams in Norway for their views, and ran the results on Thursday.  The results were predictable.

Imam Hafiz Mehboob-ur-Rehman of the Islamic Cultural Center: "There are many theories about September 11, but no strong evidence.  I don't think Muslims could be behind the attacks....it is against the teachings of Islam to kill civilians in that way." 

He, too, claims to doubt the existence of Al-Qaida: "Neither I nor anybody I know had heard of Al-Qaida before September 11.  I don't know if it exists. All-Qaida has mainly existed in the media.  I have the impression that everybody talks about Al-Qaida because the U.S. and President George W. Bush talk about it."

Here's his "vice-imam," Mian Tayyib: "I think the truth has been kept secret.  The way the towers fell indicates that it wasn't caused by the planes.  Close-ups I've seen on TV show smoke in the towers before they were hit by the planes."

Imam Syed Ikram Shah of the World Islamic Mission also denies Muslims were responsible for 9/11: "Islam doesn't permit murder of innocents...There is no evidence that they were Muslims."

And here's Imam Nehmat Ali Shah of the Central Jamaat-e Ahl-E Sunnat: "It's five years since it happened, but as far as I know no independent court has convicted anyone for it.  Therefore I can't say today that it was Muslims or anyone else that were behind it."  As for Al-Qaida, "I have never heard that Al-Qaida has an office or a representative anywhere...."

These are the top Islamic figures in Norway today.   The Norwegian government considers them the leaders of their community.  It deals with them as partners in "dialogue."

Most of them have been interviewed frequently over the years.  They've been thrown endless softballs by interviewers -- given endless opportunities, that is, to repeat that Islam is the religion of peace, etc.  Yet apparently no reporter ever asked any of them what they thought about 9/11, Al-Qaida, and Bin Laden until after Zulqarnain Sakandar Madni answered online questions on these topics from the general public. 

(Or are there perhaps reporters who have asked these questions and gotten these answers, but chosen not to print them for fear of stirring up, um, intercultural frictions?)

For years, these imams have been consistently treated as "moderates."  In every dialogue with politicians, and in every media interview, the unspoken assumptions by their interlocutors have been that the imams share their desire for peaceful coexistence and that they represent "true" Muslim values -- peace and brotherhood -- in the joint struggle against the "perversion" of those values by a tiny number of terrorists.

What do ordinary Norwegian Muslims make of all this?  On Friday Aftenposten reported that Awais Mushtaq, leader of the umbrella group for Muslim student organizations, agrees with the imams.  Mushtaq cites "evidence that the Bush Administration was behind" the attacks.  Aftenposten also asked Muslims in the street what they thought.  They were divided -- one thought the U.S. was responsible for the attacks, another blamed them on Israel, citing the "fact" that "4000-5000 Jews" didn't show up for work at the World Trade Center that day.  Not one interviewee quoted in the article admitted explicitly that the 9/11 attacks were committed by Muslims. 

One would think all this would give even the most naive Norwegian politicians and journalists pause.  One would think it might finally dawn on them that it's not possible to have a meaningful dialogue or a trusting relationship with leaders who deny basic facts about such matters.  And if you have a large and fast-growing minority in your country who genuinely consider such people their leaders, and who echo their denial of reality -- well, you've got a problem on your hands.  Yet Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, while criticizing Zulqarnain Sakandar Madni's comments, emphasized the importance of continued "dialogue." 

In short: this will change nothing.  Everyone involved will move on and act as if this didn't happen.  The fantasy of "dialogue" and the talk of "mutual respect" will continue.

Reminder: it was to these imams and their colleagues that Vebjørn Selbekk -- editor of an independent Christian publication in a supposedly free country -- was obliged to grovel earlier this year, under the auspices of the Ministry of Labor and Social Inclusion, in abject apology for his republication of the Danish Muhammed cartoons.  That event was soon dropped down the memory hole.  This one will be as well.

September 12, 2006: On the weekend before the fifth anniversary of 9/11, I noticed on the website of Aftenposten, Norway’s closest thing to a newspaper of record, that the paper planned to mark the anniversary with two live online discussions.  They were described as follows.

“On Monday it will be five years since the terror attack that changed the world.  Many Muslims feel that they have become the objects of suspicion since September 11, 2001.  On Monday at 10 AM, meet imam Zulqarnain Sakandar Madni, head of Norway’s united ulama (scholars), in an Internet chat at Aftenposten.no….

“On Monday at 1 PM, researcher Anders Romarheim of the Institute for Defense Studies will answer readers.  He is an expert on the Bush Administration’s use of propaganda in the war against terrorism.”

An imam and an “expert” on U.S. government “propaganda”: these were the two people whom Aftenposten chose to provide with a forum for their views on the anniversary of the day when Muslims across Europe cheered the massacre of 2,973 Americans by Islamic terrorists.

After the Q&A with the imam was over, the text was posted online.  The editors of Aftenposten introduced it as follows:

“Many Muslims have felt themselves to be collectively under suspicion after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.

“Even though the large majority of Muslims explicitly reject terrorist acts, many Muslims think that the West must understand that extremism and terror are difficult to eliminate as long as Muslim civilians are being repressed and killed as a result of Western warfare.

“Imam Zulqarnain Sakandar Madni, head of Norway’s united ulama (scholars), took part in an Internet chat on Monday, September 11.”

The slant here is familiar: once again, in a discussion of Muslim terrorism, the West is portrayed as the aggressor and Muslims as victims of unjust suspicion.  There is even a hint – or perhaps more than a hint – of justification of terrorism as an understandable response to Western aggression.

Also familiar is the claim that “the large majority of Muslims explicitly reject terrorist acts.”  To be sure, as is typical in such “dialogues,” the imam speaks of “Islam’s message of peace” and says that Islam stands for peace, that “Islam is a religion that teaches people about peace and love,” that “Islam doesn’t permit one to kill or harm civilians,” that “to hurt civilians or kill them is forbidden in Islam.” 

Yet when asked explicitly about Al Qaida and Bin Ladin – the perfect opportunity to “explicitly reject terrorist acts” performed in the name of Islam – he denies their existence:

What is your honest opinion of Al Qaida and Bin Laden?
Espen, Oslo

Imam Zulqarnain Sakandar Madni: I think it is something that has been made up.

Asked about 9/11, he claims to believe that the attacks were carried out by the U.S government:

Do you believe that the US was behind the September 11 attacks?  I do!
johan, oslo

Imam Zulqarnain Sakandar Madni: I totally agree with you.

What do you think about the speculations as to whether 9/11 was only an extreme bluff by the American government? There is a little doubt as to whether the attack has strengthened Bush’s position and given even more money to the rich, white capitalists.
Kristian, Oslo

Imam Zulqarnain Sakandar Madni: A good deal of evidence suggests that it is Bush &co that are behind it all.  Watch the film called "Loose Change.”  An American film!

Such are the views of the official leader of Muslim theologians in Norway.  (By the way, those who take up the imam's suggestion to watch the crackpot film Loose Change should also read this article and watch this.)

Some of the readers’ questions, however, are no less disturbing than the imam’s answers.  Taken together, they paint a bleak portrait of the profoundly decadent state of mind of many Europeans today.  Five years after 9/11, with the brutal attacks on Madrid and London behind us, as well as the butchering of Theo van Gogh, the riots in France, and the uproar in Denmark over a handful of cartoons, it is staggering to see Europeans fatuously repeating the familiar rhetoric about “dialogue” and “mutual understanding” and seeking common ground with a Muslim leader (mostly, it seems, in the form of a shared antagonism toward America and the Jews):

What is necessary for east and west to be able to meet in dialogue and lasting mutual understanding?  Is the US, as the world’s economic and power center, alone today in preventing the development of this understanding?
Vebjørn Stuksrud, Bergen

Imam Zulqarnain Sakandar Madni: I believe so, that they want to use power to solve problems and not dialogue.  
Power is no solution. East and west must show respect for each other and not least for their religions in the same way.  They have to understand that people in the world want PEACE, whether they are Muslilms or Christians, etc.

Hi, Sakandar. I am a hundred percent sure that the Western part of the world and the Muslim world would be living in harmony now if the US, Israel, Hizbollah, and Al-Qaida didn’t exist.  Do you agree?  Hope for answer, but I’m surely not alone in that.
Olav , Oslo

Imam Zulqarnain Sakandar Madni: If people respected each other as human beings, we wouldn’t have any problems.  But everyone wants to show how much power he has.  We want peace for all, whoever they are.  That’s what Islam stands for!

The only questioner who comes close to challenging the imam is one Alex from Tønsberg, who brings up the contrast between Western democracies, where a Muslim cleric has freedom of speech, and a country like Iran, where a Christian minister does not:

Would it be possible for a high-profile Christian clergyman in a Muslim society, for example in Iran, to answer questions on the Internet about the Americans’ terror in Afghanistan and Iraq?  
Alex, Tønsberg

Yes, “the Americans’ terror.”  Not terror by Islamists, but terror by Americans.  The imam’s reply?

Imam Zulqarnain Sakandar Madni: I don’t see any problem with this.

This is, of course, sheer nonsense – a flat denial of the contemporary reality of Iran and other Muslim states, where Christians are routinely persecuted, hounded, and silenced.  No Christian clergyman would ever be invited by an Iranian newspaper to take part in an open and uncensored Internet chat with Muslim readers. 

As interesting as the contents of this Q&A is what’s not here.  For example, Oslo is currently in the midst of a serious crime wave.  Rape statistics, which had already been on the upswing for several years, are higher than ever, and the rapists are overwhelmingly Muslim.  Recent weeks have also seen a rash of gay-bashings by Muslim men.  Muslim youth gang violence is way up – this summer saw a gang shoot-out in Aker Brygge, Oslo’s touristy marina, and in June the police were called in to break up a slugfest at a mosque that involved more than 100 participants.  In March, I wrote in this blog about the latest of several violent murders committed in midday, in the heart of Oslo, by Muslim asylum seekers. 

Only a few days ago, Aftenposten published an op-ed by the Iraqi-Norwegian writer Walid al-Kubaisi that provides the frankest, fullest account I've ever read of Oslo's growing difficulties with Muslim youth gangs, whose harassment and threats have driven people out of certain neighborhoods but whom the authorities have responded to with staggering passivity.  Such articles are rare in the Norwegian media, which routinely either downplay rapes, gay-bashings, gang problems, and so forth or avoid making it clear that the vast majority of the perpetrators share a single religion and community.

When descriptions of perpetrators do appear, the criminals almost invariably turn out to be of “Middle Eastern origin” or simply “immigrants.”  It is widely understood that we’re not talking here about “immigrants” from, say, Chile or China or Canada.  But apparently nobody asked the imam about any of this.  If they had, he doubtless would have reiterated yet again one of his platitudes about mutual respect and Islam’s message of peace.

To anyone familiar with Islam in Europe today, this imam’s rhetoric – combining variations on the “Islam is peace” mantra and sweeping denials of the not-so-peaceful aspects of Muslim reality today – should come as no surprise.  Nor should the determination of his Norwegian questioners to view him as a good guy and America as a villain.  That this tissue of outrageous misrepresentations, furthermore, should be sponsored by a reputable newspaper – and introduced by that newspaper’s editors in language that, far from challenging or correcting the imam’s remarks, depicts him as a spokesman for innocent victims of Western violence and prejudice – is disgusting, but this, too, should come as no surprise.  In the world according to a broad spectrum of Western European media, there's no such thing as Muslim “propaganda”; rather, “propaganda” is the nearly exclusive domain of America and Israel.

By the way, I also read the Q&A with Romarheim of the Institute for Defense Studies, about which I will note only one curious detail.  One of Romarheim's questioners said that in the imam's Q&A a couple of hours earlier, the imam had repeated the now-familiar tall tale that 4000 Jews did not come to work at the World Trade Center on 9/11 the implication, of course, being that Israel was in fact behind it all.  Yet this supposed comment by the imam doesn't appear in Aftenposten's online record of the imam’s Q&A.

Here is Aftenposten's English-language report on the imam’s Q&A.

May 19, 2006: My take on the mistreatment of Ayaan Hirsi Ali is here

April 7, 2006: VG, to its credit, ran the following letter yesterday (my translation) from an anonymous Oslo physician:

Asylum seekers and murder

On the news we hear that an asylum seeker has killed a doctor at the doctor’s office.  We are familiar with the picture and know what will happen.

Step 1: The killer is arrested after a brief time.  He denies guilt and remembers nothing.  That he doesn’t remember is given great play in the newspaper headlines and in the broadcast media.  How simpleminded do journalists think people are?  Is there anyone who believes that the murderer will say he remembers?  In none of the many asylum-seeker homicide cases has the murderer remembered.

Step 2: Debate programs on TV.  Understanding, feeble politicians (for example Bjarne Håkon Hanssen) and pundits reel off the honorable words “tolerance” and “dialogue” and warn against assigning blame.  The focus shifts – the real problem is the Norwegian health-care system, which should have been able to prevent the murder.  Is there anyone who has taken the trouble to look into the murderer’s past?  Does he have a criminal record from his homeland?

Step 3: The murderer receives free legal help.  The lawyer becomes a celebrity, and can assure us that the asylum seeker is kind, good, and likeable.  During the run-up to the trial, the lawyer regularly appears in the media to try the case in advance.  Why should this be permitted in Norway?

Step 4: The psychiatrists must exercise crude and, in reality, rather random judgment.  The murderer can be declared insane for precisely that period when the murder was committed, and cannot be sentenced to a prison term.  The lawyer attains honor and renown for his skill.

Step 5: After a brief stay in a psychiatric hospital, the murderer is declared healthy and is out on the street again.  He can be granted a residency permit for some humanitarian reason or another.  Now he is able to claim damages against the Norwegian government.  The murderer is not the real guilty party.  It is, as usual, Norwegian society – as represented by local authorities, the public health service, or the police.

The crowning glory for the asylum seeker can be a six-figure compensation (cf. the tram murder in Oslo) – in addition to regular monthly income in the form of disability benefits and social support. 

The victims, a conscientious doctor and his loved ones, suffer the same fate as many previous victims, such as the father who was murdered in Valdres and the children and spouse he left behind.  They are soon forgotten.

Norwegian naïveté, do-goodism, and unstoppable correctness have become unbearable.  Had the politicians taken [Progress Party leader] Carl I. Hagen seriously 15-20 years ago, many murders and much violence and serious crime could have been prevented.  It is still only the Progress Party that has concrete and sensible proposals to overcome the problem.  Can’t we soon be spared the meaningless talk – year after year – from the other parties?

Doctor, Oslo


March 29, 2006: Norway's asylum policy claimed another victim today.  This time it was somebody I knew.  Stein Sjaastad (58) was a good friend of, and the primary-care physician for, several of my best friends in Oslo.  I met him several times.  He was always gentle and soft-spoken, and always had a warm, slightly wry smile and a genial twinkle in his eye.  He was by all accounts a wonderful, caring doctor, and when one of my best friends in Oslo was going through the worst crisis of his life, Stein was extraordinarily understanding, considerate, and helpful, going out of his way to help him through it.  He was what every doctor should be.

Today an Algerian national who has been living in Norway for about a year, and whose asylum application was apparently denied (but who, as is the usual practice, simply remained here anyway), walked into Stein's office and stabbed him several times in the chest and neck with a knife that he had brought along.  Apparently he had been a patient of Stein's.  This afternoon, when his name surfaced in connection with the murder, several Oslo doctors told police that they had experienced this man's aggressiveness firsthand.  But of course nothing had been done.  Nothing is ever done.  After all, lots of asylum seekers are aggressive. 

One was reminded at once of August 3, 2004, when another aggressive asylum seeker -- this one from Somalia -- murdered 23-year-old Terje Mjåland on a downtown Oslo tram, the same tram my partner takes to work every day.  That murderer, as it happens, was released by the authorities only two weeks ago, on March 15, on his own recognizance.  He can't be held responsible for the crime, they say, because he was insane at the time.  Now, apparently, he's OK.

This evening, on Redaksjon EN, NRK's premier TV discussion program [not Tabloid, as I first wrote], Mullah Krekar was interviewed.  He offered his views on Islam and the West, the main point being that the former will eventually conquer the latter.  No mention of Stein's murder. 

Stein leaves a partner, Egil, and two sons.


March 26, 2006:  My book is reviewed in today's Washington Post Book World.  The review is such a perfect expression of political-establishment [Later: of course, I meant "foreign-policy-establishment"] orthodoxy that I haven't been able to resist the temptation to "fisk" it -- i.e. provide a running commentary.  The review is in black; my commentary is in purple italics:

Guess Who's Coming to Europe?
A critic and a scholar disagree on how the continent should handle its growing Muslim minority.

Reviewed by Steven Simon
Sunday, March 26, 2006; BW05

How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West from Within
By Bruce Bawer
Doubleday. 247 pp. $23.95

Politics and Religion in Western Europe
By Jytte Klausen
Oxford Univ. 253 pp. $29.95

When a right-of-center Danish newspaper

Jyllands-Posten may be "right-of-center" by Danish standards, but hardly by American standards. It also happens to be the largest newspaper in Denmark.

published 12 cartoons in September depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist and lecher

No mention, naturally, of why Jyllands-Posten commissioned the cartoons -- because it had learned that the author of a forthcoming book on Muhammed couldn't find an artist to illustrate his book, so scared were they all of possible retribution.

, it ultimately unleashed a storm of protest in the Arab world and South Asia. The repulsion and fury -- which resulted in the torching of Danish diplomatic posts, as well as riots in Afghanistan -- were predictable. But so was the underlying provocation. Many Europeans are increasingly alienated by what they take to be Muslim rejection of Europe's liberal principles. It was only a matter of time before someone was going to return the favor. Bruce Bawer's While Europe Slept , which castigates alleged West European complacency in the face of Muslim encroachments that threaten European values, reflects these brewing resentments.

This book picks up where Bawer's 1998 Stealing Jesus left off. Then his target was American evangelicalism. Contemporary fundamentalism, he argued, had betrayed the more authentic religion of his Episcopal ancestors

As I explain at great length in Stealing Jesus, I was a convert to the Episcopal Church.  (I do happen to have distant ancestors who were Episcopalians, but this has nothing to do with the matter.)

and foisted on American Christians eccentric ideas about rapture and the apocalypse. These beliefs not only corrupted the faith, he lamented, but underpinned a combination of certainty, intolerance and social conservatism that marred American society -- and, in particular, penalized gays like himself.

Bawer, a widely published cultural critic in the United States, did not remain here. With his partner, he moved first to the Netherlands and then to Norway, which he saw as havens of rationality, measured hedonism

In While Europe Slept, I list many reasons why I moved to the Netherlands.  "Hedonism" is not one of them.

and respect for personal choice. But for Bawer, the seductive openness and easy sophistication of Dutch and Norwegian urban society

As I write in While Europe Slept, the notion that Europe is more "sophisticated" than America is misguided.  Dutch society may be sophisticated in some ways.  I would never use the word "sophisticated" to describe Norway.

were soon clouded by his realization that not all the inhabitants of Western Europe were secularized Christians. There were also an estimated 15 million Muslims, often ghettoized. An ugly encounter with gay-bashing Muslim youths and reports of similar incidents triggered Bawer's focus on this large and growing European minority, which in some countries makes up more than 10 percent of the population.

Bawer preaches here mostly to the converted.

A patently misleading statement -- this book consists not of "preaching" but of facts --  and a patent attempt to keep "the non-converted," as Simon would have it, from reading the book.  It's not "the converted" who need to read While Europe Slept, but the others -- those who don't know about Europe's problems or don't realize how drastic they are.  That's whom this book is addressed to.

The presence of imperfectly integrated communities of highly traditional Middle Eastern and North African Muslims in Europe, as well as the chasm that separates many European Muslims from the cultural norms of their adopted countries, were familiar well before Bawer arrived,

"Familiar" to whom?  Not to most Americans, certainly.  It was all but impossible to find mention of the situation in the European or American media. 

even if Christian Europeans had no idea how to cope with them.

Indeed, Bawer's complaint was vividly and conspicuously personified by the populist Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn.  A proud homosexual, he was assassinated by an animal-rights activist in 2002.

An "animal-rights activist," that is, who was infuriated by Fortuyn's stance on Islam, and who killed him after having been brainwashed by Dutch media and politicians into viewing Fortuyn as a dangerous, racist extremist.

His right-wing, anti-immigration stance rested on the insistence that Islam was too socially retrograde to be integrated into liberal Dutch culture.

For the millionth time, Fortuyn was not "right-wing."  His concern about the influx of Muslims into the Netherlands was based on the fact that many of them were incorrigibly right-wing -- and not just right-wing, but reactionary to a degree beyond the imagination of most Westerners.

So there's not much new here,

"Preaching to the converted," "not much new here" -- move along, folks.  Don't worry.  Be happy.

No, not much new.  Funny, then, how I keep getting emails -from extremely intelligent people who read newspapers like the Washington Post every day and consider themselves well-informed -- and yet have been stunned by what they've learned from this book. 

and one might be tempted to rename the book While Bawer Slept but for its passion and acerbity ("Europe is steadily committing suicide," Bawer writes, "and perhaps all we can do is look on in horror").

OK, let's get this straight.  The book should be called While Bawer Slept (ha, ha) because when I moved to Europe (in 1998) I was unaware of problems that were already universally acknowledged here.  Yet whom does Simon hold up as proof of this universal acknowledgment?  Pim Fortuyn -- who, when he sought to initiate public discussion of these  problems in the late 1990s, was viciously dismissed and demonized by the Dutch academic, media, and political establishment as a racist neo-Nazi.  Fortuyn's reasonable comments about European Islam were routinely compared by the Dutch establishment to Hitler's rantings about Jews.  Far from illustrating, then, that by the time I arrived in Europe the problems in regard to Islam in Europe were already widely acknowledged and openly discussed, the case of Fortuyn shows the exact opposite: that the European establishment was at the time in profound denial about those problems and ready to destroy anyone who challenged the officially enforced silence surrounding them.

With not a single endnote and virtually no data other than the author's personal experiences and conversations,

"Virtually no data..."?  On the contrary, every page of While Europe Slept is crowded wth data.  "The author's personal experiences..."?  The book recounts not only my "experiences" but those of many, many others.  I report in detail on a multitude of facts, documents, etc. (such as the French Government's suppressed Obin Report, which concluded last year that Muslim anti-Semitism had made it impossible for Jewish children to receive an education in France) that the Washington Post, among other newspapers, has never bothered to get around to.  Indeed, it's pretty nervy to be accused of an insufficiency of "data" in a newspaper that has itself been outrageously negligent in providing exactly the kind of information that this book abounds in.

While Europe Slept is not going to ring scholarly chimes, and the spirits of Spengler and Churchill evoked by its overwrought title will alienate many specialists.

Boo-hoo.  It is the officially sanctioned "scholars" and "specialists" who have helped get Europe into its present mess by whitewashing the problems I write about and marginalizing, mocking, and/or misrepresenting anyone who dares to speak up about them.  I have no interest in ringing their chimes. 

Their names, in any event, will live in infamy.  The handful of marginalized scholars and specialists who have actually written honestly about these issues, and who are mostly personae non gratae in establishment circles, have in fact welcomed my book.

Nevertheless, the book usefully crystallizes, without undue distortion, the apprehensions of many Europeans about what has become a dire cultural predicament.

Muslims came to Western Europe in large numbers after World War II to help provide the labor needed to rebuild the devastated continent. The largely South Asian Muslim population of Britain arrived even earlier. With the end of reconstruction on the continent and the collapse of the textile industry in England in the 1960s, these sizable pockets of Muslims were stranded in an alien land. The forebears of the Muslim kids who accosted Bawer, if they were already in Europe, would probably have been quietist without being assimilationist. Grateful for a paycheck, social services and housing, they would have accepted social prejudice and perhaps returned it, but without displays of open resentment or violence.

No mention here, naturally, of the series of clandestine Euro-Arab agreements (exhaustively outlined by Bat Ye'or in her book Eurabia and summarized very briefly in While Europe Slept) that faciliated the postwar Islamicization of Europe. 

The situation is now far more volatile. First, European Muslims generally have less income, education and political representation than their Christian neighbors. Second, as Bawer illustrates vividly, progressive European social-welfare policies have unintentionally perpetuated and even intensified both the growth and separateness of Euro-Muslims.

How do I manage to "illustrate" this "vividly" if the book contains virtually nothing other than my "personal experiences and conversations"?  How curious.

Third, Muslims are now more likely than ever to see their circumstances in global terms. Younger Muslims cannot help but be swayed by the gory imagery and heated rhetoric that now ricochets around the world on the Internet and satellite television stations like al-Jazeera. Polls show that Muslims are increasingly likely to feel that they have more in common with Muslims in other parts of the world. Along with an empowering sense of shared accomplishment, however, comes a fuming sense of shared grievance. Members of this "new umma," as the French sociologist Olivier Roy has dubbed it, participate in a worldwide community in which a war against the perceived oppressors of Muslims in Iraq, Palestine or Chechnya can be waged in the cities of Western Europe or anywhere else that Jews and Christians can be targeted.

No mention, of course, of the longing to turn Europe into a Muslim caliphate run according to sharia law.

The resulting mobilization has been reinforced by the way that Salafism -- a particularly tough take on Islamic tradition that urges a return to the faith as it was supposedly practiced at the time of Muhammad -- has usurped the benign village religion brought to Muslim enclaves in Europe by the economic migrants of years past.

"Benign" to whom?  The wives raped and beaten regularly and denied free movement outside the home?  The daughters subjected to genital mutilation, forced marriages, and honor killing?  Did Simon skip those pages?

The predominance in Europe of conservative imams newly arrived from an increasingly radical Arab world has also crowded out alternative approaches to Islam and helped activate the exclusivist, misogynistic and anti-Jewish potential in Salafism.

Bawer's neoconservative sensibilities

"Right-wing" Jyllands-Posten..."right-wing" Fortuyn..."neoconservative" Bawer...how useful these labels are!  And how effective at deflecting attention from the fact that the real reactionaries here are European Muslims.

are particularly disturbed by what he brands the supine, even collaborationist posture of threatened European societies. "In the end, Europe's enemy is not Islam, or even radical Islam," Bawer writes. "Europe's enemy is itself -- its self-destructive passivity, its softness toward tyranny, its reflexive inclination to appease, and its uncomprehending distaste for America's pride, courage, and resolve in the face of a deadly foe." For Bawer, attempts at accommodation amount to appeasement. But the costs of confrontation are also high. At the extreme, they rise to political violence, like the jihadist bombings of the London tube in July 2005 and the Madrid commuter trains in March 2004. Those attacks were launched by terrorists who saw British and Spanish participation in the war in Iraq as an attack on Muslims everywhere; in other words, the bombers saw themselves as waging a global war in which one should not differentiate between an Iraqi battlefield and a European one.

The Islamic Challenge, by the respected

Hmm: I'm "widely published"; she's "respected."  Nice touch. 

Danish-American sociologist Jytte Klausen, should be required reading for buyers of Bawer's book. Klausen is as dispassionate and methodical as Bawer is aggrieved and impressionistic.

Again, "impressionistic" is part of an obvious attempt to portray this book as deeply subjective, and thus unreliable, rather than what it is: a compilation of hard and irrefutable facts.  And by calling Klausen's book "methodical," of course, Simon seeks to suggest that it is objective and factual -- even though Klausen's "method" (as Simon describes it) is preposterous:

She interviewed some 300 European Muslim community leaders. Her detailed questionnaire explored attitudes toward a range of issues, including the degree of alienation experienced by her interviewees as well as their willingness to adapt to prevailing European liberal values. These leaders felt that Muslims were indeed marginalized by West European society. But Klausen found little evidence of the "We will bury you" stance of the bigoted, violence-prone and opportunistic Muslims of Bawer's world. She concludes -- partly on the basis of the evidence, partly on account of wishful thinking -- that Islam in Europe will evolve into a tolerant faith compatible with the commitment to equality that underpins the liberal West.


If you want to know what Muslims' "attitudes" are, you don't send out questionnaires -- you look at how they live.  The reality of life among European Muslims is blindingly illuminating about their "attitudes."  One of the main points of my book is that Europe's political, academic, and media establishment has for decades systematically whitewashed that harsh reality and substituted for it the soothing, reassuring, conciliatory rhetoric of Muslim leaders and spokespeople.  To judge by Simon's description of it, Klausen's study would seem to be yet another contribution to this ignominious tradition.

Readers will find no way to square the respective Euro-Islams of Bawer and Klausen. The vast differences between the two portraits are probably best explained by the authors' different emphases: Klausen focuses on political elites who have bet on the system as the key to their careers, while Bawer focuses on the "street."

Ahem...she clings self-deludingly to the replies to her questionnaire, while I look at what's going on the real world...? 

When Muslim rioters swept through the bleak suburbs of Paris last November, French diplomats insisted that Marx, not Osama bin Laden, brought the youths and their firebombs into the streets. That might well be true. But it will be bin Laden and his ilk who will take a select few from those streets into the cellars, where they will be transformed into something worse than arsonists -- with European documentation and technical aptitude. So it matters vitally to the United States which way events on the continent break: in the direction that Bawer fears or the one for which Klausen hopes. ·

Odd: Simon admits that Klausen's method is selective and that she's dealing in "hopes" and "wishful thinking"; yet at the same time he presents her book as an objective, fact-minded corrective to mine, rather than the other way around.

It's depressing that at this late date, establishment types like Simon still reflexively mock, belittle, and demonize the messenger in the same disgraceful way the Dutch establishment did Fortuyn.  Why, still, this need to say, in effect, "move along folks, there's nothing new here"?  Why this continued compulsion to drag in feel-good nonsense, such as Klausen's inane "study," which seeks to assure us, against all legitimate evidence, that all this unpleasantness will melt away of its own accord?

Steven Simon, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, is the coauthor of "The Age of Sacred Terror" and "The Next Attack."


February 24, 2006:   I spent last weekend in The Hague at what I think it is fair to call a historic event: the Pim Fortuyn Memorial Conference on Islam.  Organized by the Dutch political party Lijst Pim Fortuyn – whose eponymous founder was martyred in May 2002 for questioning policies that were fast creating alongside his country’s tolerant mainstream culture a parallel imported culture of singular intolerance – the conference brought together an extraordinary array of today’s most important writers on Islam. 

I should make it clear that I’m not referring to the academic-establishment “experts” whose accounts of Islam left us unprepared for 9/11 and whose whitewashings of jihad, sharia, and the longing for a worldwide caliphate continue, astonishingly, to be treated as authoritative by the mainstream media.  No, the speakers in The Hague were the brave, truth-telling outlaws of Islamic Studies – people like Daniel Pipes (who in countless books and columns has exposed the radicalism of many a prominent Muslim “moderate”), Robert Spencer (who in The Myth of Islamic Tolerance has corrected a blizzard of falsehoods about the historical treatment of infidels in Muslim-conquered lands), and Andrew Bostom (whose The Legacy of Jihad lays bare the long-sanitized record of how Islam spread).  Also present, as if this weren’t enough, were Ibn Warraq (author of the pathbreaking 1995 book Why I Am Not a Muslim) and Bat Ye’or (who in several richly documented volumes has warned of Europe’s steady transformation into a “Eurabia” in which non-Muslims will be accorded the second-class social role of “dhimmis”). 

These are people who have been pilloried from the pulpits of political correctness.  They’re also scholars who know what they’re talking about, and who may yet help prevent Europe from sacrificing its heritage of democracy and pluralism on PC’s increasingly blood-stained altar.  Not to put too fine a point on it, they’re fighting for Western civilization – and doing so with both minds and hearts fully engaged.  Never have I seen such intellectual seriousness combined with such a genuine and legitimate sense of urgency: these weren’t ivory-tower professors adding a line to their CVs, but men and women who can see what Europe’s anomic political, academic, and media elite can’t – or won’t – and who are doing their damnedest to open that elite’s blithely blinkered eyes.

In his presentation, Danish journalist Lars Hedegaard spoke of the “battle…for the soul of Europe.”  Those defending freedom, he observed, are confronted not only by Islamists for whom immigration is a conquest but also by “those who are willing to put [the] entire [Western] heritage aside for the sake of the pipe dream of a multicultural Europe.”  Perhaps to remind us what Hedegaard was talking about, the lineup of speakers in The Hague also included a Dutch professor-politician who, in the unflappably calm tone (and terrific suit) of a Kofi Annan or Dominique de Villepin, essentially recited the multicultural creed – denying the reality of jihad, depicting Muhammed as the great feminist of his time, and assuring us that Europe’s differences would work themselves out.  What, him worry?  The key, he said, was not to try to “convert” European Muslims to Western (i.e. democratic) values but to learn to live with “cultural differences.” 

It was staggering to listen to this, knowing that thanks to such “cultural differences,” Dutch legislators Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Geert Wilders – who worked in the very building in which we were meeting – required round-the-clock armed protection.  Thanks to those “cultural differences,” those of us attending the conference had been put through the strictest security measures some of us had ever experienced.  And on the weekend of our meeting, of course, the professor’s vaunted “cultural differences” were being manifested around the world in insane riots over a few Danish cartoons. 

The day after the Dutch professor advised us to calm down and embrace “cultural differences,” the Daily Telegraph reported that 40% of British Muslims want sharia law in the UK.

To be sure, conference participants differed sharply on key questions.  Are most Muslims “moderate”?  Can Islam be “reformed”?  Is it too late to save Europe?  But all (except the Dutch professor, of course) had two crucial things in common: they were all dedicated to preserving Western freedom, and they were all taking serious risks by speaking up. 

The spirit of Pim Fortuyn, then, lives on.  But whether the democratic Europe for which he gave his life endures may depend, in large measure, on whether this conference’s participants – his intellectual heirs – are heeded in the continent’s dim, arid corridors of power.

February 15, 2006:   In a 2005 book, Eurabia, a scholar who goes by the nom de plume Bat Ye’or wrote illuminatingly about what she called "dhimmitude" – the relegation of non-Muslims, in the Muslim world, to the subordinate social position of "dhimmis," individuals who have no rights and who are tolerated as long as they behave obsequiously and accept their inferior status. Ye’or warned that many European leaders were assuming an increasingly dhimmi-like posture in relation to radical Muslim leaders both in Europe and beyond, reflexively overlooking the more unpleasant aspects of Muslim culture and the widespread resistance to integration. Ye’or noted that if this dhimmitude persisted, and if present immigration and birth rates held up, Europe would soon fall under the sway of Koranic law – sharia.

To many, this sounded outrageous. But on February 10, in Oslo, came a dramatic capitulation that seemed a classic case of sharia in action. For days, Vebjørn Selbekk, editor of the tiny  Christian periodical Magazinet – the first publication to reprint the now-famous Muhammed cartoons from the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten – had firmly resisted pressure by Muslim extremists (who made death threats) and by the Norwegian establishment (which urged him to give in). But then, on that morning – the day before a planned mass demonstration against the cartoons – Norway’s Minister of Labor and Social Inclusion, Bjarne Håkon Hanssen, hastily called a press conference at a major government office building in Oslo.

There, to the astonishment of his supporters, Selbekk issued an abject apology for reprinting the cartoons. At his side, accepting his act of contrition on behalf of 46 Muslim organizations and asking that all threats now be withdrawn, was Mohammed Hamdan, head of Norway’s Islamic Council. In attendance were members of the Norwegian cabinet and the largest assemblage of imams in Norway's history.  It was a picture right out of a sharia courtroom: the dhimmi prostrating himself before the Muslim leader, and the leader pardoning him – and, for good measure, declaring Selbekk to be henceforth under his protection, as if it were he, Hamdan, and not the Norwegian police, that held in his hands the security of citizens in Norway.

Selbekk, in his prepared remarks, leaned heavily on the usual soothing multicultural language, including the word "understanding." It was clear that Selbekk had indeed come to an understanding: he understood that if he didn't relent, he risked physical harm. He also spoke of "respect" – a word that in this context must surely have been understood by the imams to refer not to a volitional regard for a social equal but to the obligatory deference of a repentant infidel. As for Handam, he noted that "Selbekk has children the same age as my own. I want my children and his children to grow up together, live together in peace, and be friends." This was rather chilling, given that Selbekk’s family, too, had been under threat.

The Norwegian government hailed this "reconciliation." Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, who had faced off with Selbekk in several TV debates when the latter had been defending free speech, now congratulated him for his apology, which he characterized, grotesquely, as an act of "responsibility" that displayed "integrity and courage." Norway’s imams were ecstatic: one said that "the fact that Norwegians have apologized gives Norway…a higher status than before." And Aftenposten, Norway’s newspaper of record, cheered Selbekk’s action, while denying that it constituted an admission that he had no right to publish the cartoons. Alas, Selbekk’s surrender plainly represented a giant step toward a purely theoretical "freedom of speech" – a "freedom" of which fewer and fewer Norwegians, after this officially sanctioned act of national humiliation, will dare to avail themselves.

On Tuesday, as if Norway hadn't already been disgraced enough, an official Norwegian delegation met in Qatar with Muslim leader Yusuf al Qaradawi (who has defended suicide bombers and the murder of Jewish women and children) and implored him to accept Selbekk's apology for the cartoons. Lucky them: he did.  "To meet Yusuf al-Qaradawi under the present circumstances," the Norwegian-Iraqi writer Walid al-Kubaisi told Aftenposten yesterday, "is tantamount to granting extreme Islamists and defenders of terror a right of joint consultation regarding how Norway should be governed."  Yep.

Then again, at least Norway had its brief, shining moment of resistance. Not Sweden. Among the European leaders who have insisted firmly in recent days that their nations enjoyed free speech – only to insist even more firmly that that right must be exercised "responsibly" – was Swedish foreign minister Laila Freivalds, who, responding on February 9 to a Muhammed cartoon in the newspaper of the right-wing Swedish Democratic Party, didn’t just call for "responsibility" but enforced it, sending the Security Police to close down the party website. "It is frightful," she sniffed, "that a small group of Swedish extremists can expose Swedes to a clear danger" – as if it were the Swedish Democrats, and not Islamic extremists, who were threatening violence. Lately, many Europeans have sought to explain to enraged Muslims that democratic states cannot silence the free expression of ideas; Freivalds appeared determined to show that in Sweden, at least, this is no longer the case.

In recent days, these acts of dhimmitude by Norway and Sweden have had their counterparts in the corridors of international power. On February 9, Franco Frattini, EU Commissioner of Justice, Freedom, and Security, promised to take steps to "regulate" speech (though he later denied this); Kofi Annan, in a February 12 interview on Danish TV, said "You don’t joke about other people’s religion, and you must respect what is holy for other people." Since when do the EU and UN tell supposedly free people what to respect and what not to respect? Since now, apparently.

Many Islamists do not hide the fact that their long-term goal is to turn Europe, step by step, into a Muslim caliphate ruled by sharia law. Alas, it looks at present as if the cartoon controversy may turn out to have been a significant step on the way to that goal. One thing is clear, at any rate: these have been the darkest days for European freedom in many a decade.

>earlier blogs here and here