<back to home page

       

    memo from europe         bruce bawer's blog

Old City, Stockholm



August 24, 2007: This blog has moved to memo.brucebawer.com. 


August 7, 2007 (5:20 P.M., CEST):  I'm not the kind of person who usually travels to another city to see an art show, but I made an exception in 1999 when living in Amsterdam.  A notice of an exhibition in Rotterdam by the Norwegian painter Odd Nerdrum (whom I wasn't yet familiar with) piqued my curiosity.  I went and was overwhelmed.  And still am.  Thumbing his nose all his life at the shallow fashions of the contemporary art scene, Nerdrum is a modern master – a man of profound vision and remarkable technical sophistication who in my view is, without question, far and away Norway's most extraordinary living painter.  A while back I was asked to translate a story about him from Norwegian into English; it turned out to have been written as a foreword of sorts to this newly published omnibus of Nerdrum's work, a copy of which I just saw for the first time today.  It's a beautiful volume a comprehensive overview of Nerdrum's whole rich, incomparable oeuvre, from paintings and drawings to prints and sculptures.  All in all, a perfect introduction to an artist that no true lover of art (as opposed to a slavish follower of art-world trends) can afford not to be familiar with.  I'm proud to be a small part of it.
 

August 2, 2007 (11:35 P.M., CEST): Robert Phillips's lovely poem in the current Hudson Review drove me to churn this out, for what it's worth:

The night I saw Judy Garland

 

One day when I was ten years old, my mother

asked me if I’d like to go with her

to see Judy Garland live.  Sure, I shrugged. 

 

When the day came, my dad obligingly

drove us out to Westbury Music Fair. 

The concert?  I don’t remember it at all.

 

But I do remember this: when it was over,

my mother and I sat for a full hour

in her friend Martha’s car, awaiting my dad.

 

Where was he?  At the far end of the lot,

wondering where we were.  When we finally

hooked up, he was livid.  He yelled for hours.

 

A vivid memory.  But vivider still

is an image from two years later -- from the day

that Judy died of an overdose in London:

 

my mother collapsed against the kitchen counter,

more frighteningly helpless than anything I’d ever seen,

weeping so hard you’d think she’d lost her mother.


July 23, 2007 (11:01 P.M., CEST): Here are two fascinating discussions from French TV (but in English).  Both are about Iraq and both involve the wonderful Nidra Poller, who in both cases finds herself talking to blinkered "experts" who can't or won't see the forest (jihad) for the trees.

In the first, from July 13, Poller faces a reporter from the International Herald Tribune.  The tension is palpable, but the sparks really start flying in the second exchange, from July 17.  This time Poller's chief antagonist is a haughty academic hack from Central Casting who characterizes the Iraq War as "colonialism."  A terrific moment comes when Poller dares to link current events to "the jihad conquest."  The hack snaps back: "Which jihad conquest?"  Poller: "The one that made it that all those countries are now Muslim."  A furious look comes over the hack's face: "You’re talking about the spread of Islam.  That was not a jihad conquest!...That basically is a racist statement."  Poller stays cool: "Okay, and answering a racist, just tell me something…"  The hack: "I’m not saying you are a racist…"  To which Poller, deliciously and dismissively, replies: "Whatever."  Three cheers.


July 23, 2007 (8:00 P.M., CEST): This interview with Ayaan Hirsi by some Canadian TV guy named Avi Lewis is an instant classic.  In a few brief questions he manages to sum up the entire mindset of those who just don't get it and don't want to.  She answers each question articulately, definitively, knowledgeably.  Yet none of it seems to get through.  It's as if he's not programmed to process sense.  To think.  In place of a mind he seems to have a write-protected file of received leftist opinions.  The obnoxiousness with which this lightweight PC mouthpiece sneers at the hard-won wisdom of one of the truly great individuals of our time is breathtaking. 


July 23, 2007 (5:10 P.M., CEST): Michael Moore's Sicko hasn't come to Norway yet, but I've read enough reviews of it to get the idea.  I've also read an interview in which he said he didn't cover Norway's health system in the movie because that system "was so insanely good, that I said, 'No one is going to believe this.'" 

OK, Michael, check this out: according to the lead story in yesterday's Aftenposten, 200,000 Norwegians were waiting in line for hospital care during the first four months of this year.  That's just under five percent of the country's population.  And the number is growing steadily.

Norwegians boast of their system's "total coverage" – but total coverage doesn't mean guaranteed care, or care on demand.  Far from it.  Even the media here, which generally push the official line that Norway's system is far superior to its U.S. counterpart, run occasional stories about Norwegian children who've been turned down for life-saving medications, who've had to fly to the U.S. to get the care they needed, or who've died while waiting for treatment.  In America 20% of women with breast cancer die from it; in Norway, owing to the long queues for treatment, the figure is 27%.  Fewer than one out of five American men with prostate cancer die of it; in Norway, one out of three die.

Yes, America's health-care system has serious problems.  But so do Canada's and Europe's.  What's different is that Americans are keenly aware of their system's problems, are arguing vigorously about those problems, and are trying to decide how best to fix them.  In Norway, by contrast, the people have been taught from earliest childhood to be grateful for the wonderful health-care system their social-democratic government has given them.  (A patient who had to wait four months for a knee operation told Aftenposten: "I don't think it was long to wait.")  They've also been fed a lifetime of lies about America's system: most people here firmly believe that only rich Americans get good health care and that Americans without health insurance are routinely turned away from hospitals. 

None of which is meant to suggest that the U.S. system doesn't need fixing.  It does.  But the solution to its problems doesn't lie in copying Canada or Europe.


July 22, 2007 (8:25 P.M., CEST):
Ain't denial grand?  In recent years, rising concerns about the growing Muslim presence in Europe have forced the Economist to publish the occasional article, or even cover story, about Muslims in Europe
the consistent purpose of which has been to deny that there's any real problem.  The rest of the time, the Economist seems happy to pretend that the Muslims aren't there at all.  Consider this sentence from an Economist article about the use of English in Brussels: "Perhaps Brussels should accept its fate as an international city, and switch to English."  To which one can only say: if the city wants to accept its fate, maybe it should switch to Arabic or Turkish.


July 22, 2007 (7:40 P.M., CEST):
After noting on Friday that other readers of Roger's posting on Babs' competition for top female singer had already mentioned Ella and Sarah, both of whom would be on any short list of mine, I scribbled down the following additional names:

Nina Simone
Rosemary Clooney
Doris Day 
Peggy Lee
Nancy Wilson

I should also have included Carmen McRae. 

I see Nina, Rosie, and Dodo have all since been mentioned in the comments on Roger's posting, but not Peggy or Nancy or Carmen.


July 22, 2007 (2:10 P.M., CEST): One of the most patently inane statements you could make about Oslo is that it’s successfully integrated.  Yet city manager Erling Lae, who has long made clear his intention of remaining in La-la Land where such matters are concerned, has dared to make just that claim.  One pol who dares to disagree is Lae’s fellow Conservative Party member Mubashar Kapur, a Norwegian-Pakistani pilot and member of his party’s general council. 

“Today,” says Kapur, “we have two parallel societies in Oslo” – a fact obvious to anyone who's ever spent five minutes on the city’s east side.  The solution?  To be less naïve and more selective in deciding who gets to move here: “It’s time to be more cynical and selfish.  We must focus on those who have skills and whom we have use for.”  Kapur calls for the government to be “ruthless with immigrants who don’t have residence permits” and for police to be aggressive in checking residence permits to ensure that people are here legally.

Kapur agrees with Lae that Oslo can stand a doubling of its immigrant population.  I agree, too: a tripling or even quadrupling of Oslo’s immigrant population could be a terrific boon to this city both economically and culturally.  But it depends on who the immigrants are, where they come from, and why they want to live here.  If they sincerely want to work, learn the language, and be responsible, law-abiding members of a free society where (for example) women have equal rights and everyone has free speech, great.  If not, not great.

Kapur seems to contradict himself when he states that immigrants and natives must “find a common foundation of values and build a common society upon it.”  Meaning what?  The free West already has a foundation of values.  The idea should be to let in people who share those values and keep out those who don't.

The topic of this article is Islam, of course, but the words “Muslim” and “Islam” (unsurprisingly) appear nowhere in it.  Among Norwegian journalists and politicians, the word “immigrant” is the standard euphemism for “Muslims who live here” – even though many Muslims in Norway aren't immigrants and many immigrants in Norway aren't Muslims.

* * *

Last night, just before closing time, the closest grocery store to my home was robbed just before closing time by two masked men, with a third waiting in the getaway car.  A customer who tried to stop them was stabbed seven times in the stomach.  He's hospitalized in serious but stable condition.  In a distinctively European touch, the crooks drove off in a Smart car.

* * *

Don't ever accuse Norway's Muslim leaders of not dealing with the important issues.  Now the country's imams and ulema have issued an official statement declaring that purchase of Norwegian chicken by Muslims is forbidden because the chicken isn't halal, even if it's marked as halal.


July 20, 2007 (4:00 P.M., CEST):
Yesterday the Wall Street Journal ran a condensed version of Dana Gioia's recent commencement address at Stanford.  Read the full text so you won't miss the poem at the end. 


July 20, 2007 (3:15 P.M., CEST): Pieter Dorsman offers a richly informed and insightful overview of the last few years in Dutch politics.


July 14, 2007 (7:15 P.M., CEST):
Comments by British readers on a Telegraph piece today about the U.S.-U.K. "special relationship" range from "The so-called special relationship is dead because it never existed" to "Can we have annexation by the US just now please, to save us from Gordon Brown."  What's heartening, and perhaps surprising, is how many of the comments reveal a strong, genuine attachment to Americans and the Anglosphere - an attachment that for some plainly represents a bulwark of national and cultural identity in the face of a European connection that they perceive as a threat to that identity:

The special relationship is special because most real Britons (not immigrants) feel a kinship with America that they do not with the rest of Europe.

* * *

We have far more in common with the USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand...than we do with the European continent.

* * *

My husband has fought alongside, and indeed commanded, US troops on operations over the last 6 years and has often remarked on the seamless, and close relationship which exists between them and their UK, Canadian and antipodean comrades.

This reminds me of Norwegian class.  There were 18 of us from 17 countries.  There was a great feeling of community and I liked everybody.  Nonetheless, the four of us from the "Anglosphere" (two Brits, one Yank, and one Aussie) gravitated toward one another and, as our teacher made a point of observing one day, ended up forming a bit of a clique.  Not so much because we shared a language (there was a strict Norwegian-only rule) but because we shared cultural traditions, values, and assumptions that made us react similarly to certain aspects of Norwegian society.  We also tended to find the same things funny - and, I think it's fair to say, to find more things funny than most of the others did.

* * *

In an article for the Times of London entitled "Muslim Heads Stuck Firmly in the Sand," Hassan Butt basically repeats the message of his recent Guardian piece.  Keep 'em coming, Hassan!  Obviously this message needs to keep being repeated until the people you're addressing start to listen. 
 

July 14, 2007 (12:36 A.M., CEST): They're rested, re-energized - and ready to burn more Danish flags!  On Friday, Danish politician Pia Kjærsgaard was found not guilty of libel for having used the word "treason" to describe Danish Muslims' efforts to stir up anti-Danish disturbances abroad over the now-famous Muhammed cartoons.  The non-traitors are so angry over the acquittal that they're threatening to send another delegation to the Middle East to commit more non-treason.

UPDATE (4:35 P.M., CEST):
Flemming Rose of Jyllands-Posten has the latest.


July 13, 2007 (11:50 P.M., CEST): 
Unreconstructed faculty-lounge pinko Terry Eagleton doesn't leave you in doubt for a moment about his political leanings.  "The great communist poet Hugh MacDiarmid died," he writes in a classically inane Guardian piece that appeared last Saturday, "just as the dark night of Thatcherism descended."  Reading this crank, it's depressing to know that he not only teaches literature but is a famous and influential critic.  Here, he grades the big names in the modern British literary canon according to how radical the noises they made were -- no matter how insincere or hypocritical those noises (snobby socialite Virginia Woolf gets full points for being a socialist), or ignorant or misguided (Blake gets a thumbs-up for "dream[ing] of a communist utopia"), or (heaven forfend an English prof should care about such things) how crudely their politics entered their art. 

Eagleton also flails Christopher Hitchens and Salman Rushdie for selling out their glorious leftist ideals to the evil neocons and laments that the only major British writer today who's "prepared to question the Western way of life" is Harold Pinter, famous for his meaningful pauses and his comparison of the U.S. to Nazi Germany

Inane.  I'm glad Eagleton wrote the piece, though, because it provoked this wonderful comment by a Guardian reader: 

I am a university student, and we are bored of you.

Hitchens is our hero. Orwell is our hero. Paine is our hero. Dostoevsky is our hero.

We are humanitarians, and The Left is dead to us.


July 13, 2007 (6:30 P.M., CEST):
I was delighted to run across this a few minutes ago, by Aaron Hanscom.   


July 13, 2007:
Claire Berlinski, author of Menace in Europe (which is excellent), reviews Walter Laqueur's The Last Days of Europe (which I haven't read yet).

At this point there seem to be more books around about how Europe is headed for disaster than there are powerfully placed Europeans willing to do anything about it... 

P.S. (July 14): Thanks to Dave Lull for the link!
 

July 11, 2007: Andrew Boston, M.D., author of The Legacy of Jihad, writes in the New York Daily News:

The London/Glasgow terror suspects are now added to a long list of Muslim physicians who have been prominent jihadists. The apotheosis of this mentality is contemporary jihadist ideologue and mastermind Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri - Osama Bin Laden's "deputy." Zawahiri, who is known to be a skilled surgeon, is the son of Dr. Mohammad Rabi al-Zawahiri, a professor of pharmacology at Ain Shams Medical School in Cairo and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Add to their ranks a long list of physician-radicals. Among them: Dr. Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi, the late Hamas leader, was a pediatrician. Dr. Mahmoud al-Zahar, Hamas' co-founder - and a hard-liner among hard-liners - is a surgeon. Dr. Fathi Abd al-Aziz Shiqaqi, the late founder of Palestinian Islamic Jihad - and one of suicide bombing's pioneers - trained as a doctor in Egypt.

Just remember: the root cause of terrorism is poverty!

* * *

A reader forwards this article from the Montreal Gazette, which makes it clear that as far as Agence France-Presse is concerned, it's a matter of debate whether Cuba is a democracy.  No such word as "dictator" or "dictatorship" disfigures this text, which describes Fidel variously as "president and chief of state," "the country's official leader," "first...secretar[y] of the Cuban Communist Party," and even "the famously bearded revolutionary."  If you didn't know otherwise, you might believe after reading it that Cuban elections are legit, that Castro's major offense is not against human rights but against his bullying northern neighbor, and that the notion that Cuba is anything other than a full-fledged democracy is a conceit peculiar to "human rights advocates."


July 6, 2007:
Now it's Al Gore who's sharing a stage with the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens.


July 3, 2007 (8 P.M. CEST):
This is beyond belief, beyond reason, beyond parody (linked at LGF):

Gordon Brown has banned ministers from using the word “Muslim” in connection with the terrorism crisis.

Why do some people never understand that this kind of rank dhimmitude only invites more contempt, more terrorism, more demands for appeasement, concession, compromise?


July 3, 2007:
Last Thursday night, in the latest of a rash of such incidents, two gay men were physically attacked and threatened with murder in Amsterdam's Rembrandtplein by six men of Moroccan, Surinamese, and Turkish extraction.  This is a square surrounded by gay bars in every direction -- the heart of the part of Amsterdam where gay people used to feel safest.  But it's not safe anymore.
 

July 1, 2007 (5:45 P.M. CEST): Last night Anna and Lene, a lesbian couple who don't want their last names publicized, left a Gay Pride Week party at Naken, a nightclub in downtown Oslo.  One of them was wearing a sticker with the word "Lesbian" on it.  (These stickers, along with others reading "Gay," were handed out this week in the "Pride Village.")  A man stopped them and asked for a cigarette.  Next thing they knew they were being brutally beaten up by him and three other men.  "I have no doubt," one of the women said, "that we were beaten up because we're lesbians."  VG does not describe the men. 


July 1, 2007:
I've seen relatively little TV coverage of the terrorist attempts in London and Glasgow, so I may have missed something, but what I have seen -- mainly on CNN Europe, but also on the BBC -- has confirmed my longstanding awe at the ability of some British reporters to go on and on about these things without using the word "Islam" or "Muslim."  No, the word of choice is, as usual, "Asian," as if these acts had been plotted by disgruntled busboys from Chinese restaurants or by Mitsubishi executives who just couldn't stand the pressure anymore.

True, the reporters will freely suggest that the suspects may be Pakistani, and they'll acknowledge a possible Al Qaeda link, but it's clear that if they can help it at all, they prefer not to have to use the words "Islam" or "Muslim," either alone or in combinations such as "Islamic jihad."

I've watched tape on both CNN Europe and the BBC of the witness at the Glasgow airport who said that one of the perpetrators had kept shouting "Allah!  Allah!"  On both networks, the reporters just let this fact lie there, as if it were some indelicate detail that we're all supposed to look away from.

Likewise, CNN's Robin Oakley said that some anti-terrorism measures, if they're too severe and are taken too hastily, will backfire because they'll antagonize "certain elements in society."  Since we all know who those "elements" are, why not just say it?  Why this habitual circumlocution, this bizarre tiptoeing around basic facts?

Meanwhile "London Mayor Ken Livingstone called on Britons Saturday not to demonize Muslims...."  Who's demonizing Muslims?  In the West nowadays, it's those who talk frankly about the facts of Islam and jihad who are routinely demonized.  When somebody like Livingstone "calls on" the public not to "demonize" Muslims after incidents like this, what he seems to be trying to do is to scare people away from mentioning, discussing, and making an effort to understand the theological underpinnings of these acts, lest they be labeled racists or "Islamophobes." 

Here, writing in today's Guardian, is a former aspiring terrorist, Hassan Butt, who strongly criticizes Livingstone's refusal "to acknowledge the role of Islamist ideology in terrorism."  Butt argues that the only way out of this nightmare of endless jihad is for the Muslim community to stop repeating the mantra that "Islam is peace," to confront "those passages of the Koran which instruct on killing unbelievers," to "slap itself awake from this state of denial and realise there is no shame in admitting the extremism within our families, communities and worldwide co-religionists," to "start openly to discuss the ideas that fuel terrorism," to liberate itself "from defunct models of the world," and to face the fact that "the concept of killing in the name of Islam is no more than an anachronism." 

All of which, of course, is a foreign language to the Ken Livingstones of the world, who cling to the mantra that all this terrorism is simply an aggrieved and desperate reaction to something we've done. 

* * *

On Thursday, the American Embassy in Oslo held its annual, and always delightful, Fourth of July celebration on the grounds of the ambassador's residence.  Here's a picture:

* * *

This is Gay Pride Week in Oslo, so from the embassy we went straight to the "Pride Village" in City Hall Square, where we listened to a set of boilerplate presentations on gay rights (it wasn't really a debate) by representatives of Norway's eight -- yep, eight -- major political parties.  That's them under the canopy, carefully arranged according to their places on the political spectrum, from Revolutionary Left to Progress Party. 

Let's just say you didn't miss anything.

By the way, the woman in yellow who's standing with her back to us, asking the participants a question, is gay-rights doyenne Kim Friele, believed to be the first person ever to come out of the closet in Norway. 


 

June 28, 2007: Terry Teachout links to the American Film Institute's latest ranking of top 100 American movies and notes the films on the list he's never seen.  Here are the ones I've never seen, at least not in their entirety:

12. The Searchers, 1956.
18. The General, 1927.
49. Intolerance, 1916.
50. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 2001.  (Rented it, gave up after 20-30 minutes.)
68. Unforgiven, 1992.
79. The Wild Bunch, 1969.  
82. Sunrise, 1927
92. Goodfellas, 1990.
96. Do the Right Thing, 1989.
97. Blade Runner, 1982.
99. Toy Story, 1995.

I'm also not sure how much I've seen of the three Chaplin films on the list (City Lights, #11; The Gold Rush, #58; Modern Times, #78).

It's interesting how certain films turn up repeatedly on these lists not because they're so much better than some other films that never turn up, but because they seem to have come to be accepted over the years as representative of a certain genre or subgenre.  Singin' in the Rain (#5), for example, has attained the status of the canonical Hollywood musical.  Nonetheless I much prefer The Band Wagon, which was made a year later by the same producer and writer, and which didn't make the list at all.  (The Band Wagon is certainly far better than Yankee Doodle Dandy, #98, a movie I find unwatchable.)

One question: what makes Lawrence of Arabia (#7) an American film?

The AEI list isn't the list I'd make, but all in all it's not bad.  By contrast, the Guardian's alphabetical list of 1000 best films, which it's running serially, is horrible, depressing even.  (American Pie but not All about Eve?!)

One thing that's notable about both lists, but especially striking about the Guardian list, is the relative shortage of classics from Hollywood's Golden Age.  One has the impression that the Guardian list, in particular, was drawn up by people who haven't seen many movies from before a certain date, except for a few that may be film-course staples or that are shown a lot on TV. 

Which, these days, isn't many.  In the 1960s and 1970s, an amazingly wide range of movies from the 1930s onward could be seen on TV (at least in New York, where I lived); nowadays there are far more TV channels, including some devoted exclusively to old films, but they tend to show the same ones again and again, while countless movies that you could catch on TV 30 or 40 years ago never turn up at all. 

Consider, for example, the oeuvre of Jean Simmons.  In the last couple of years two of her movies, This Could Be the Night and Until They Sail, both of which are relatively obscure but quite good, have been on frequent rotation on TCM Europe; in the last year or so I've also noticed TV listings for Spartacus, Young Bess, and Hamlet (the Olivier version).  Meanwhile titles like Elmer Gantry, The Big Country, Guys and Dolls, Desirée, and The Robe are on DVD.  But first-rate Simmons pictures such as All the Way Home, The Actress, and Home Before Dark, not to mention highly watchable ones such as Trio, Affair with a Stranger, Hilda Crane, Footsteps in the Fog, The Blue Lagoon, and a dozen others -- all of which I saw on New York TV as a kid, and none of which appears to be available on DVD -- seem almost to have vanished from the face of the earth.

Anyway, Terry picks his ten favorite movies on the list.  Here are mine:

2. The Godfather, 1972.
3. Casablanca, 1942.
25. To Kill a Mockingbird, 1962.

28. All about Eve, 1950.
35. Annie Hall, 1977.
44. The Philadelphia Story, 1940.
55. North by Northwest, 1959.
65. The African Queen, 1951.
67. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, 1966.
81. Spartacus, 1960.

P.S. (July 15): When I made my top-ten list, I overlooked The Shawshank Redemption, which is #72 on AFI's list.  Consider it added to my list, which makes it a top eleven.

 

June 27, 2007: Norwegians are brought up on the so-called "Jante Law" -- the belief that there's something morally suspect about excellence, achievement, superior knowledge or skills.  Today comes proof that the Jante Law is alive and well: at a high-school graduation ceremony in Modum, west of Oslo, the principal called the names of 21 graduates and asked them to come forward.  They were then handed roses to celebrate their top grades.

The response?  Sheer outrage.  Parents and students walked out in protest at this appalling display of forskjellsbehandling ("differential treatment").  "It was unfair," one mother thundered.  Yes, she admitted, the students with good grades had worked hard -- but many of the others had "also worked hard without achieving such good results."

"Everybody feels it was embarrassing," groaned one of the students who'd been given roses.  "It wasn't fun to walk around with the rose afterwards.  I was simply mortified."


June 25, 2007:
I'm no fan of Scientology (far from it), but it's pretty funny that Germany, of all countries, should get on its high horse about it, refusing to allow a movie starring Tom Cruise to be filmed on its territory because Cruise's religion is, in Germany's view, a moneymaking cult, not a legitimate religion.  This from a country where a judge recently denied an abused Muslim wife a divorce, saying that according to the Koran it was OK for her husband to beat her. 

Maybe if Scientologists start committing honor killings, knifing movie directors, flying planes into buildings, bombing train stations, and holding worldwide riots over cartoons, knighthoods, and papal speeches, Germany will take them seriously as a "real religion"? 


June 22, 2007:
Welcome words from Giuliani:

"I find it particularly disturbing when American politicians and Hollywood people embrace Fidel Castro. I don’t know if they understand they are embracing a murderer, a dictator, a man who has been horrible to gays and lesbians, particularly focused on homosexuals," he said during a brief session with reporters. "He had a whole campaign to basically, I would call it torture gays and lesbians. I don’t get it when the Hollywood people kind of embrace him."

And from Irshad Manji and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, too.


June 21, 2007:
Just as a pendant to the winter solstice picture I posted six months ago, here's one I took last night at 10:35 p.m. from the 21st-floor bar of the Radisson SAS Scandinavia Hotel in Oslo: 



And here's a neat map linked to by Andrew Sullivan, in which each state has about the same GDP as the country with whose name its name has been replaced:




June 19, 2007:
In Britain, honor killings are "increasing rapidly."  Meanwhile, Muslims around the world are enraged over Salman Rushdie's knighthood. 

Under the latter story there are several dozen reader comments.  Most are from Britain and the U.S., and all but one are sensible.  The exception was posted by a Norwegian:

As he is not considered a great writer this award can only be interpreted as an insult to Islam. The British government must have realised that this was sensitive issue. To give a knighthood to Rushdie can only be seen as either naive or provocative. It will be interpreted as the latter . It just amazes me how stupid the British government is and how little understanding it has of the sensitivities of the rest of the world.

Anna, Bergen, Norway

Now there's someone who's been well trained.
 

June 16, 2007: From the Washington Post obituary of Ruth Bell Graham, it appears that her advice over the years played no small part in the fact that her husband, Billy, by nature a vulgar, egomaniacal showman, was able to build and maintain an image as a man of dignity and selfless faith.

At the end, alas, Ruth Graham apparently lost her final battle against vulgarity and ego.  From an article that appeared in the Post a few days ago:

With his wife, Ruth Bell Graham, in a coma at home in western North Carolina, the Rev. Billy Graham announced yesterday that she will be buried in the city of Charlotte and not in her beloved mountains at the site she said she favored as recently as a week and a half ago....

The burial site has been a matter of contention for months, threatening to break apart the country's most famous Christian family. A Washington Post story in December revealed that son Franklin Graham, chief executive officer of the BGEA, had told potential donors that he planned to bury his parents at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte.

Two of the other four Graham children, Ned Graham and Anne Graham Lotz, objected, as did Ruth, who called the library, a Disney-like building in the shape of a barn, "a circus." In the presence of six witnesses, including Ned, a neuroscientist and a Graham employee, Ruth signed a notarized statement saying she wished to be buried in a memorial garden at the Cove, a mountain retreat center that she and Billy built about 20 years ago.

Originally, she and Billy wanted to be buried there, the document said, and "under no circumstances am I to be buried in Charlotte, N.C."

But in March, Ruth and Billy signed another document saying they wanted to be buried in Charlotte, according to BGEA spokesman Larry Ross. Ross said the paper was signed in the presence of an attorney and a doctor.

Hustlers.


June 15, 2007:
In Amsterdam, young Muslim men are hanging around gay bars so they can rob the customers.  In Oslo,
an 18-year-old Iranian-Norwegian girl walking down a busy downtown street was kicked, punched, and called a whore by a married Muslim couple, strangers to her, apparently because she wasn’t wearing a veil. 

The girl, who suffered internal bleeding and is still in pain, belongs to a Kurdish family that has taken a stand against Islam’s narrow view of women.  Though most of her friends wear hijab, she and the other females in her family dress like non-Muslim Norwegians.  "Many people react to the fact that I’m allowed to have a Norwegian boyfriend and go without a veil," she told Dagbladet.  "A boy I know once said that if I’d been his sister, he’d have killed me." 

Dagbladet's reporter also talked to one of the girl's brothers, who said that many of their acquaintances "act as if they’re still back home in Kabul or Teheran.  I think over 90 percent of the Muslim girls in Norway have to submit themselves to the men and follow their orders.  Many girls are treated like slaves.  According to Islam, women don’t have any freedom of their own."  Accusing politicians and the media of shirking this problem, he called Oslo today "a ticking time bomb." 

I can't say I disagree.

P.S.  Then there's this, from earlier this week.


June 6, 2007:
NRK, the Norwegian national broadcasting corporation, has requested that the obligatory TV license fee be raised by 4.6%.  The annual fee is already 2103.84 kroner per household (including value-added tax), which is equivalent to $352 or €261, which apparently makes it the fourth highest such fee in Western Europe.  According to Wikipedia, the license fees are as follows:

Iceland                                                      € 347
Switzerland                                               € 292
Denmark                                                   € 288
Norway                                                    € 261
Austria (varies by region)                           € 206-263
Finland                                                      € 208-215
Sweden                                                     € 210
Germany                                                   € 204
Britain                                                       € 200
Ireland                                                      € 156
Belgium (Walloon region)                          € 150
France                                                      € 116
Italy                                                          € 104

The Netherlands, Spain, and Portugal have no TV license fee. 

Such fees are unfair in principle, but the size of the fee in Norway is particularly outrageous, given the mediocrity of what you get in return.  Today's NRK 1 schedule consists mostly of regional and national news programs, including news in Sami, plus a Norwegian reality show, Law & Order: New York, a Danish documentary on global warming, and a BBC documentary on Iraq.  NRK2 doesn't go on the air until 4:45 PM, and aside from news programs the prime-time highlights are a Larry Sanders Show rerun and a Danish documentary on Cuba, Cuba between West and East, which is described as follows: "The senses are challenged, the heart is opened, and the mind grows dull.  Beautiful women, sweet rum and electrifying conga drums, the warm tropical night, and the hand-rolled cigars are some of the explanations for the magical spell one experiences in Cuba."  (Which is not to be confused with Havana Libre, a Norwegian documentary broadcast on NRK in 2004, which was advertised as providing "a glimpse of the joy in life and the human spirit that breathes through an expressive culture that we usually experience only in fragments...here in the market-driven West.")

* * *

According to a Dagbladet article entitled "Two Flights a Year Are Enough," Jostein Gaarder, whose anti-Semitic op-ed in Aftenposten won him new fans a while back, is now telling Norwegians that for environmental reasons it would be best to ration air travel.  Norway's Environmental Minister finds Gaarder's proposal, which he made at an environmental summit at the Nobel Peace Prize Center, "very interesting."  Goody, a new idea for a law! 

Nice to know, by the way, that Gaarder's remarks about Jews apparently haven't lost him friends in the government, the environmental community, or the Peace Racket.


May 31, 2007: 
In a Salon article, "Danish Cartoons, No Longer the Rage," Danish-American sociologist Jytte Klausen celebrates Naser Khader, a Danish Muslim politician who "became a target of activist Muslims during the cartoon crisis when he formed a new organization, 'Democratic Muslims,'" and whose recently founded New Alliance Party is gaining popularity.  What prompts me to comment on Klausen's piece is not her representation of Khader (who is also profiled here) as a potential savior of Denmark so much as her whole way of talking about the cartoon crisis and its handling by Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen (whom she casts as the villain here to Khader's hero).  Her take on these matters is summed up in
her subhead: "Danish politics lurched right as the scandal provoked Muslims worldwide. But now Danes are fed up with their own 'Bush-lite' - and are backing a Muslim immigrant." 

"Lurched right"?  "Bush-lite"?  OK, let's get this straight.  An editor of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, on hearing that illustrators are scared to illustrate a forthcoming book about Muhammed, commissions drawings of Muhammed in order to make a statement about free speech.  In response, Muslims around the world - encouraged by Danish Muslim leaders who see in this an opportunity to win a battle in the jihadist war on the West - protest, riot, vandalize Danish embassies, and commit scores of murders.  Muslim governments, the UN, the EU, Danish business interests, Denmark's left-wing political and media establishment, and even the U.S. and his other allies condemn Jyllands-Posten and pressure Fogh Rasmussen to apologize for the cartoons.  But Fogh Rasmussen, who knows that to apologize would set a dangerous precedent that radical Muslims would be quick to exploit, chooses instead to stand up for free speech.  This is the man Professor Klausen dares to call "Bush lite"!  He's nobody lite.  On the contrary, he's a model of principle and courage for heads of democratic governments everywhere.

On to the article itself.  "Many Danes," Klausen begins, "were shocked when political cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed, published by the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten, sparked Muslim outrage around the world in February 2006.  Nevertheless, a majority of them backed Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen and the 'never say sorry' policy of his government and its key parliamentary partner, the far-right Danish People's Party."  Note the "nevertheless"; note the "never say sorry": plainly, in Klausen's view, it would have been only reasonable for the prime minister of a democratic country to apologize to bullies, vandals, and murderers for an independent newspaper's exercise of free speech.  Klausen goes on to mention that she "wrote during the cartoon crisis that those in the Danish government and media who were spoiling for a culture war had failed to recognize the depth of Muslims' feelings and did not know what they had bargained for."  First of all, the only people "spoiling for a culture war" were the jihadists who used the Jyllands-Posten cartoons to stir mayhem in an effort to compel Denmark to compromise its freedoms - and thereby advance sharia in Europe.  Given his obligation to defend democracy, Fogh Rasmussen responded in the only responsible way: he stood firm.  Second of all, note that Klausen, for all her respect for "the depth of Muslim feelings" regarding the depiction of Muhammed, is incapable of seeing some Westerners' equally deep feelings for free speech as anything other than an unwelcome impediment to multicultultural harmony.  Like many others in the West, she treats Muslims' "feelings" as a fixed quantity, a given, to which the rest of us simply must adapt ourselves - no matter how much of a challenge those "feelings" pose to our liberties.

Briefly, Klausen steps away from this implicit according of precedence to Muslim feelings over democratic values to indulge in moral equivalence of the sort favored by professors Timothy Garton Ash and Ian Buruma (both of whom have recently opined that Ayaan Hirsi Ali is as much a "fundamentalist" as are the Islamofascists who are out to kill her).  "There was," Klausen writes, "cynicism and grandstanding on both sides of the divide - defiant diatribes from xenophobes defending free speech, and defiant diatribes from Muslim leaders bent on stirring religious radicalism."  Thus does she equate defenders of free speech with enemies of democracy who encouraged riots and worse (and, to boot, suggests that to defend free speech is somehow tantamount to xenophobia).  She goes on: "But after the hysteria died down, Danes were in for some soul-searching. They didn't like that the rest of the world suddenly thought they were racists."  This, alas, is true: many Danes who should be proud of their prime minister for his courage and resolve in the defense of liberty have instead been convinced by journalists, politicians, and academics - such as Klausen herself - that they should be ashamed of him for not apologizing to freedom's enemies.  Such is the spinelessness and moral slovenliness of our times.

"That discomfort," Klausen continues, "grew over time, as their government and the Danish People's Party continued to pursue a zero-tolerance policy on immigration matters. Now, a little more than a year later, an increasing number of Danes want to restore more tolerant Danish values ["tolerant" apparently meaning "acquiescent, passive, ready to appease"] and are looking to a new political rescuer - a Muslim immigrant, who was himself caught up in the explosive cartoon controversy."  Which brings us finally to Klausen's actual subject, Naser Khader, of whose recent career she proceeds to furnish an admiring account.  What she neglects to mention is that Khader, this "liberator" supposedly poised to rescue Denmark from "Bush-lite," actually supported Fogh Rasmussen's handling of the cartoon crisis.  Indeed what matters to Klausen here is not how ideologically far afield Khader is or isn't from the man she calls "Bush-lite" - what matters to her is that he's a Muslim.  Ultimately, in other words, this is less about political ideas than about image: if Khader became prime minister, policies might not change drastically, but Danes would be able to breathe a sigh of relief and tell themselves that they're not racists and Islamophobes after all.  People like Klausen could once again hold their heads up high at international conferences and cocktail parties.  Once again they'd be able to command the moral high ground simply by stating their nationality.  Gudskelov!

As noted, my primary concern here isn't with Khader, or even with Klausen's distortions (for example, she claims that "the Danish People's Party used its influence to prevent the government from giving asylum to approximately 500 Iraqis who had served as translators for coalition forces and their families"; in fact the case involved 20 translators, whom the Danish government has promised to protect); it's with the malfunctioning moral compass that enables Klausen, after likening Khader to two other Muslim politicians (the Netherlands' Nebahat Albayrek and Sweden's Nyamko Sabuni) whom she admires, to contrast all three, to their advantage, with the "dogmatic" Ayaan Hirsi Ali - whose "dogma," of course, is individual liberty.  How depressing that a supposedly liberal Western academic can consider it anything but morally reprehensible to use Muslim politicians as clubs with which to throttle a woman like Ayaan Hirsi Ali!

* * *

A reader of this blog (who prefers to remain anonymous) sends the following:

Here's a passage from a book I was reading that I found eerily familiar, especially considering the current climate, and especially when I removed certain words. What do you think?

"But ____ success during the next nine months, again mainly in the East, discouraged so many ____ voters with the prospect of ever winning the war that the Democrats made great gains in congressional elections and potentially threatened the ____ administration's ability to continue the war.

"____ was an avid reader of ____ newspapers smuggled across the lines. From them he gleaned not only bits of military intelligence but also - and more important in this case - information about ____ politics and the growing disillusionment with the war among Democrats and despair among Republicans. One of ____ purposes in the ____ invasion was to intensify this ____ demoralization in advance of the congressional elections in the fall of ____. He hoped that ____ military success would encourage antiwar candidates. If Democrats could gain control of the House, it might cripple the ____ administration's ability to carry on the war."

Bet you didn't think that the author was talking about the Civil War, right? Here's the full quote:

"But Confederate success during the next nine months, again mainly in the East, discouraged so many Northern voters with the prospect of ever winning the war that the Democrats made great gains in congressional elections and potentially threatened the Lincoln administration's ability to continue the war.

"Lee was an avid reader of Northern newspapers smuggled across the lines. From them he gleaned not only bits of military intelligence but also - and more important in this case - information about Northern politics and the growing disillusionment with the war among Democrats and despair among Republicans. One of Lee's purposes in the Maryland invasion was to intensify this Northern demoralization in advance of the congressional elections in the fall of 1862. He hoped that Confederate military success would encourage antiwar candidates. If Democrats could gain control of the House, it might cripple the Lincoln administration's ability to carry on the war."

From McPherson's new book, This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War.

* * *

Paris-dwelling expatriate Nidra Poller is traveling around the U.S. and has written an absorbing piece about it.  Among her observations is that bread in the U.S. is tasteless compared to that in France:  

After a few weeks, no matter what I eat I’m starving for bread and butter. What could be more simple than bread? Flour, water, oil, salt, yeast, and air. So what’s missing here? Is it the yeast that makes all the difference? Or the air?

This struck a chord with me because ever since I moved to Norway I've been missing American bread.  It ain't French bread, but it's better than what you get here, where even croissants are heavy as lead.  After puzzling over this mystery for eight years, I was told recently by somebody that flour in Norway is actually heavier than elsewhere.  I don't know if this is true, but if so it would explain a lot.


May 28, 2007:
In Moscow yesterday, neo-Nazi skinheads and members of the Russian Orthodox Church attacked a small group of peaceful gay-rights demonstrators who sought to deliver a letter of protest to that city's mayor.  The demonstrators included several members of the European Parliament:

Italian MEP Marco Cappato was physically assaulted, and when he demanded to know why the police were doing nothing to stop the violence, they detained him.

"We believe these perverts should not be allowed to march on the streets of Moscow, the third Rome, a holy city for all Russians," said Igor Miroshnichenko, who claimed he is an Orthodox believer.

Under Communism, Russians justified gay bashing by arguing that homosexuality was a decadent import from the capitalist West; now they defend it on religious grounds.

Among the demonstrators were the British gay activist Peter Tatchell and Richard Fairbrass of the British pop-music group Right Said Fred.  Both were brutally punched in the face while police officers stood by and watched.  The police then proceeded to arrest the victims - but not, according to some reports, their assailants.  Last night I watched video of this horrible episode on CNN and the BBC.  Imagine how much worse it would have been had there not been international media present to document the savagery.

That was yesterday.  Today, I ran across a Washington Times op-ed by Paul Belien, who blogs at Brussels Journal.  The op-ed, which appeared last Wednesday, begins by asserting that "Europe is in the middle of a three-way culture war, between the defenders of traditional Judeo-Christian morality, the proponents of secular hedonism and the forces of Islamic Jihadism."  I agree, though I'd characterize the first two sides - representatives of which we saw in action yesterday in the streets of Moscow - rather differently than Belien does.

First take that odd phrase "secular hedonism."  Hedonism!  What we're talking about when we talk about secular democracy is not hedonism but, as the Declaration of Independence so wonderfully puts it, the right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" - a very different thing.  We're talking about a society in which all citizens have individual freedom and equal rights, in which there's no establishment of religion, and in which church and state are separate - in other words, the American system as outlined in the U.S. Constitution.  (Here in Norway, where there's still a state church, we're not quite there yet.)  This is the kind of society of which Vaclav Havel dreamed while locked in a Communist prison, the kind of society Ayaan Hirsi Ali fell in love with in the Netherlands and so courageously advocates in her campaign against Islamofascism.  It's the kind of society that Anders Fogh Rasmussen is striving to preserve in Denmark and that Nicolas Sarkozy has vowed to defend in France.  Yet Belien has no appreciation for it.  For him, it seems, the mere fact that more and more people now understand individual freedom to entail equal treatment for gay people is a deal-breaker; read his op-ed and you'll see that in his mind the very idea of secular government is hopelessly tangled up with hedonism and that hideous thing, homosexuality (which he appears to regard as a veritable synonym for hedonism).

I agree with Belien that a member of the French parliament shouldn't have been fined for saying homosexuality was inferior to heterosexuality - that's the man's right.  By the same principle, however, it was wrong of Polish President Lech Kaczynski to ban a gay-rights march in Warsaw in 2005 - to march was their right.  But Belien (who is a traditionalist Roman Catholic) doesn't see it that way.  In his view, European governments should not be in the business of guaranteeing equal rights and individual freedom but, rather, in the business of enforcing a certain species of religious "morality."  For him, secular democracy is just a void, a nullity: observing that "the religious vacuum left by the demise of Christianity" in Western Europe "is being filled by the Muslims," he says that "since one cannot fight something with nothing, the European secularists are no match for Islam."  While Islam, then, is "something," secular democracy is "nothing."  Individual liberty is "nothing."  The U.S. Constitution is "nothing."  This inability to find anything worth fighting for in a free society - a society, in other words, that is not inextricably yoked to some set of religious traditions and restrictions - is scarcely less disturbing when exhibited by a Catholic writer in Belgium than it is when exhibited by an imam preaching sharia law.*

Belien describes his own team in the big European face-off as "the defenders of Judeo-Christian morality."  To my mind, this is an inexact label for a group that includes not only self-identified Christians - with Pope Benedict in the lead - who share a hostility toward secular democracy and individual rights (think of Dinesh D'Souza, whose preference for patriarchy-enforcing imams over partnershipping homos is shared by many self-styled Christians in both America and Europe), but also neo-Nazis and nationalist fanatics who belong to parties like the far-right Vlaams Belang (which Belien's wife, Alexandra Colen, represents in the Belgian Parliament) and who vote for the likes of Jean LePen.  It's true, as Belien says, that this movement has been eclipsed in Western Europe by secular liberalism, but it's hardly died out; on the contrary, it now appears to be gaining strength and visibility in response to the rise of Islamofascism and the EU superstate.  In While Europe Slept I noted that Pope Benedict, as many of his pronouncements have made clear, doesn't "despise the suppression of individual rights in the Islamic world - he envie[s] it"; this is, alas, a common attitude in the so-called "Judeo-Christian morality" cabal.

In 1930s Europe, a conflict was taking shape among three factions - (1) Communists; (2) Nazis and other fascists; (3) supporters of liberal democracy.  Back then, many in the West wrote off liberal democracy, saying it stood no chance in the face of two powerful and dynamic totalitarian ideologies.  But World War II and the Cold War proved them wrong; U.S. troops whose memory we honor today proved them wrong.  Among those troops were believers in a wide variety of religions as well as agnostics and atheists.  They weren't fighting for any given faith - they were fighting for the freedoms set down in the world's first secular Constitution.  Today, Europeans who cherish those same freedoms seem destined to face a strikingly similar challenge in the twin foes of Islamist jihad and far-right Christian nativism.

Happy Memorial Day.

-----

* Belien, by the way, commits a humongous logical blunder here: his claim that "one cannot fight something [i.e., Islam] with nothing [i.e., secularism]" immediately follows the statement that "the fight between Christians and secularists is all but over" in Western Europe and that "the secularists have won" - an admission, in short, that "nothing" (secularism) has in fact triumphed over "something" (Christianity).


May 19, 2007:
When I first heard that Jerry Falwell had died, I chose not to write anything about him – I’d already said what I had to say about him and his compeers ten years ago in Stealing Jesus.  But then came all the tributes from political and religious leaders, celebrating Falwell as, in President Bush’s words, “a man who cherished faith, family, and freedom.”

Faith?  Family?  Freedom? 

This was a man who, instead of challenging Christians to live up to the high calling of their faith by rising above their bigotry and educating themselves out of their ignorance, won adherents with a twisted, ugly message that exploited and affirmed their bigotry and ignorance.

This was a man who said that America had deserved 9/11, partly because of its tolerance of people like me.  He later apologized for this remark, but then, in comments made not long before his death, seemed to take the apology back.  In any case, the remark was of a piece with his entire theology. 

This was a man who railed against secular pluralist society and the separation of church and state.  He certainly didn't believe in my freedom, or that of any other gay American.  If he hadn’t come along, my Norwegian partner and I might today be permitted to live together in my country, in the same way that we’re permitted to live together in Norway.

This was a man who did real harm to real lives.  How many of his followers, on learning their kids were gay, were encouraged by his rhetoric to believe that kicking those kids out of their homes and hearts, far from being a betrayal of the gospel, was in fact the Christian thing to do?

This was a man who damaged everything he touched.  He made American society more vulgar, made American politics more fractious, made the public face of American Christianity uglier.  In a healthier society, he’d have been dismissed by all and sundry as a bumptious fool.  Instead he was taken seriously by millions, and won immense influence. 

Some time around 1970, the year I turned fourteen, I discovered that back in 1925 a teacher in Tennessee had actually been put on trial for teaching evolution.  What a relief, I thought, to have been born in a time when such idiocy was far behind us!  But in 1979 Falwell brought it all back.  And among the phenomena for which he's largely responsible is today's loony left (Michael Moore, Rosie O'Donnell, 9/11 conspiracies, etc.), which first arose as an extreme response to the inanity he unleashed.

In recent days a few people – notably Christopher Hitchens – have spoken candidly about Falwell only to be called mean-spirited.  Yet Falwell made his name by being mean-spirited.  His career was built on demonizing.  He used prejudice to win power.  He was a pimp for hate.  He never hesitated to tell people that they were going to Hell or that their loved ones were already there.  But now we’re told that even to mention this, his true legacy, is to be mean-spirited.

Falwell is dead.  But we’ll be living for a long, long time with the gruesome consequences of his lifetime of mischief-making. 

* * *

Speaking of which, Bill Moyers introduced his interview with me, which aired last Friday, with a few choice words about Falwell.


May 10, 2007:
Jan Haugland links to this story at the website of NRK (Norwegian public broadcasting):

The majority of Swedish young people have no idea what Communism is.  Nor do they know which countries border on Sweden, shows a new study.

90 percent of young people aged 15 to 20 don't know which foreign capital is closest to Stockholm, equally many don't know what Gulag means, and 40 percent think that Communism has increased affluence in the world, shows the study.

"They lack understanding of basic concepts such as dictatorship and democracy, and this is unpleasant," says Camilla Andersson, head of the organization Information about Communism, which commissioned the study.

Schools Minister Jan Björklund agrees. Now he will change history education in Swedish schools.

"It is very worrying that Swedish history teaching is so limited.  Many have suspected, to be sure, that all is not well where historical knowledge is concerned," says Jan Björklund to the news bureau TT.

No surprise here.  But the problem, pace Björklund, is not "limited" history teaching.  It's slanted history teaching.  It's not that kids aren't taught about Communism - it's that they're taught lies, half-truths, and carefully selected and edited truths.  And they're given a picture of the U.S. that Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky would be perfectly happy with.  In While Europe Slept I write at some length about how Western European schoolteachers and the Western European media work together to foster a sympathy for Communism and hostility to America.  As Haugland notes, this is why there are many clueless young people over here running around in "hammer-and-sickle and Che t-shirts."  And the problem is even worse in Sweden (and Norway) than in most other countries in Western Europe.

The only surprise here, indeed, is that NRK, which is as responsible for this execrable state of affairs as any other institution, didn't bury the story.


May 8, 2007:
This morning, VG hosted an online Q. & A. with Jan Egeland, former Kofi Annan underling at the UN and soon-to-be director of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs.  One might have expected tough questions about, say, what Pedro A. Sanjuan has called "the anti-Semitic UN culture," about the UN's sky-high levels of corruption, and/or about the multitude of rapes that were revealed a while back to have been committed by UN peacekeepers.  One would certainly think there'd be a question or two about the Oil-for-Food scandal, which Claudia Rosett has called "the biggest fraud in the history of humanitarian relief," and in which Annan has been deeply implicated. 

But this is Norway, where the UN is sacred and Annan a saint -- and where the scandal was hardly reported at all.  Therefore the Q. & A. read almost entirely like this:

Q. Is Kofi Annan as nice and sincere as he appears to be?  He seems like an unbelievably decent man!

A. Yes, he is a really good human being.


May 3, 2007:
The Finnish government is harassing a blogger for writing critically about Islam. 

* * *

Nidra Poller turns in a vivid report on the Royal-Sarkozy debate.  


April 25, 2007:
More on Islam vs. Islamists (see April 11 entry below) in Investor's Business Daily (via LGF):

According to Gaffney, MacNeil refused to air "Islam vs. Islamists," because it is "alarmist" and "extremely one-sided." Gaffney, in turn, blasted MacNeil's film as "an appalling, politically correct but disinforming paean to organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Muslim Student Association and others who are part of the Islamist problem in this country."

CAIR and MSA also are lionized in the PBS film that aired in place of Gaffney's. Several executives of CAIR, a spinoff of a Hamas front, have been convicted of terror-related crimes. MSA was funded by the Saudis, and founded by members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Ignoring such relevant facts, PBS dismisses criticism of CAIR as coming from "pro-Israeli groups." And it likewise pooh-poohs MSA's critics as "right-wing bloggers."...

PBS' documentary whitewashes the Islamist threat inside the country. It could have just as easily been scripted by CAIR propagandists.

Since 9/11, while major newspapers and newsmagazines have been engaging in the same kind of shameless whitewashing as PBS, a handful of conscientious editors at publications like Investor's Business Daily have taken up the slack and published the facts.  Three cheers.


April 25, 2007:
The bad news is that in 2007 a mainstream-media organ like the Washington Post/Newsweek website is still running sheer nonsense like this piece by Nabil Fahmy: "Don't Judge Islam by Acts of a Few."  The good news is that in 2007 there are a number of readers who know better and who, in the comments section below Fahmy's article, share information that their fellow readers would otherwise be unlikely to find in either the Washington Post or Newsweek

* * *

Surprise!  Not a word about Ho in any Halberstam obit that I've seen.  The New York Times doesn't even include it on a list of his books that were reviewed in the Times.  (Surely Ho was reviewed in the Times?)  The obits' running theme is that Halberstam told America the truth about Vietnam while the government lied.  The Los Angeles Times quotes a colleague who calls Halberstam "a person of totally unswerving integrity."  It also quotes writer Gay Talese: "'David set the record straight,' he said. 'If Halberstam reported something, you could believe it. There was never any doubt in a serious reader's mind.'"  The AP obit in the Philadelphia Inquirer quotes a journalist who says that Halberstam "kept the faith in the belief in the people's right to know."  Alternate views of his legacy aren't even hinted at.  (Compare this with any number of Yeltsin obits, which stress the downside of his career and minimize the fact that he gave Russia the closest thing it's ever had to democracy.)

If Halberstam were anybody other than a left-wing journalist, the media would be rather more honest about his record.  Instead they're quick to drop down the memory hole the fact that he dropped the full truth about Ho Chi Minh down the memory hole.


April 24, 2007 (3:09 AM CET):
David Halberstam is dead.  How much attention, one wonders, will the obituaries in the New York Times and other mainstream media give to his 1971 book Ho, which Michael Lind, in Vietnam, calls "perhaps the most sympathetic portrait of a Stalinist dictator ever penned by a reputable American journalist identified with the liberal rather than the radical left"?  Lind writes:

In Ho, Halberstam omits any mention of the repression or atrocities of Ho Chi Minh's regime....From reading Halberstam, one would never guess that in 1945-46 Ho's deputy Giap carried out a reign of terror in which thousands of the leading noncommunist nationalists in territory controlled by Ho's regime were assassinated, executed, imprisoned, or exiled. Halberstam condemns the repression carried out by the Saigon regime: "Diem and the Americans had blocked elections in 1956 and Diem had carried out massive arrests against all his political opponents, particularly anyone who had fought with the Vietminh." Of the far more severe repression in North Vietnam, there is not a word in Halberstam's book. The Maoist-inspired terror of collectivization in the mid-fifties, in which at least ten-thousand North Vietnamese were summarily executed because they belonged to the wrong "class," is not mentioned. Nor is the anticommunist peasant rebellion that followed; nor the deployment of the North Vietnamese military to crush the peasants; nor the succeeding purge of North Vietnamese intellectuals; nor the fact that almost ten times as many Vietnamese, during the brief period of resettlement, fled from communist rule as left South Vietnam for the North. The equivalent of Halberstam's book would be a flattering biography of Stalin that praised his leadership during World War II while omitting any mention of the gulag, the purges, and the Ukrainian famine, or an admiring biography of Mao that failed to mention the Cultural Revolution or the starvation of tens of millions during the Great Leap Forward.

Halberstam is even less forthcoming when the subject is relations among North Vietnam, China, and the Soviet Union. He accurately describes Ho's background in the French Communist party and his residence in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. But Halberstam omits any mention of Soviet or Chinese support for North Vietnam after 1949....No mention is made of the fact that the Hanoi government was aided by the Soviet superpower and China, a great power. The fact that in 1950, responding to pressure from Ho, Stalin ordered Mao to support Ho's regime; the fact that the victory of North Vietnam against the French depended on military supplies and advice from the Sino-Soviet bloc; the fact that Ho's dictatorship modeled its structure and policies on Mao's China and Stalin's Soviet Union; the fact that Soviet and Chinese deterrence forced the United States to fight in unfavorable conditions in Vietnam; the fact that hundreds of thousands of Chinese logistics troops, as well as Chinese and Soviet antiaircraft troops and Soviet fighter pilots, took part in the Vietnam War; the fact that North Vietnam would have been forced to abandon its effort to conquer South Vietnam, if not for massive Soviet and Chinese subsidies--all of these facts are omitted from Halberstam's Ho.

That these damning facts were omitted by design rather than by mistake becomes clear when one examines the sources that Halberstam lists in his bibliography. Halberstam's book leaves out everything critical written about Ho Chi Minh by the authors that Halberstam used as his sources. For example, one of Halberstam's authorities, Joseph Buttinger, described the repressiveness of Ho's government in great detail, and bitterly condemned it, in Vietnam: A Dragon Embattled (1967). The major source for Halberstam's Ho appears to have been the book Ho Chi Minh published by the antiwar French journalist Jean Lacouture in 1968.  In an interview in the late 1970s with a Milan newspaper, Lacouture, referring to the communist dictatorship in Cambodia, spoke of "my shame for having contributed to the installation of one of the most oppressive regimes history has ever known." ... Lacouture described pro-Hanoi journalists in the West like himself as "vehicles and intermediaries for a lying and criminal propaganda, ingenious spokesmen for tyranny in the name of liberty." In light of this confession, the fact that Halberstam is even less critical of Ho than his source Lacouture, then a supporter of Hanoi, raises serious questions.
 

April 23, 2007: During a recent visit to Amsterdam, I went into the American Book Center.  It used to be on the main shopping street, Kalverstraat, and was dreary, cluttered, uninviting.  Now it’s a couple of blocks away on the Spui and is one of the most delightful bookstores I know.  While there I purchased, among other items, the Everyman’s Library edition of George Orwell’s Essays

It contains not only the essays, with most of which I was already familiar (from this collection), but also dozens of book reviews, plus dozens of columns that Orwell wrote for the Tribune from 1943 to 1947 under the title “As I Please.”  The typical “As I Please” column consists of two or three unrelated items that read like blog entries.  And as in a blog, they’re all over the place.  Orwell praises books he’s been reading, reflects on conversations he’s had or remarks he’s overheard, makes observations about quotidian details of everyday life in wartime.  Fascinating stuff.

A couple of excerpts:

From a 1941 review of Alex Comfort’s pacifist novel No Such Liberty: “Pacifism is only a considerable force in places where people feel themselves very safe, chiefly maritime states.  Even in such places, turn-the-other-cheek pacifism only flourishes among the more prosperous classes, or among workers who have in some way escaped from their own class.  The real working class, though they hate war and are immune to jingoism, are never really pacifist, because their life teaches them something different.  To abjure violence it is necessary to have no experience of it.”

From a 1946 essay, “The Prevention of Literature”: “…in England the immediate enemies of truthfulness, and hence of freedom of thought, are the Press lords, the film magnates, and the bureaucrats, but that on a long view the weakening of the desire for liberty among the intellectuals themselves is the most serious symptom of all.”

UPDATE: Turns out Eric Weinberger has written an engaging essay on Orwell's "As I Please" column as a proto-blog.  Check it out. 

* * *

Boris Yeltsin is dead.  From the New York Times obit:

During a visit to the United States in 1989, he became more convinced than ever that Russia had been ruinously damaged by the centralized, state-run economic system where people stood in long lines to buy the most basic needs of life and more often than not found the shelves bare.

He was overwhelmed by what he saw at a Houston supermarket, by the kaleidoscopic variety of meats and vegetables available to ordinary Americans.

Leon Aron quoting a Yeltsin associate, wrote in his biography, “Yeltsin, A Revolutionary Life” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000): “For a long time, on the plane to Miami, he sat motionless, his head in his hands. ‘What have they done to our poor people?’ he said after a long silence.”

He added, “On his return to Moscow, Yeltsin would confess the pain he had felt after the Houston excursion: the ‘pain for all of us, for our country so rich, so talented and so exhausted by incessant experiments.’ ”

He wrote that Mr. Yeltsin added, “’I think we have committed a crime against our people by making their standard of living so incomparably lower than that of the Americans.”’ An aide, Lev Sukhanov was reported to have said that it was at that moment that “the last vestige of Bolshevism collapsed” inside his boss.

UPDATE: Predictably enough, the left-wing Norwegian daily Dagbladet sought out -- and found! -- a small group of Russians celebrating Yeltsin's death.  Why were they celebrating?  For reasons that doubtless resonated strongly in Dagbladet's editorial offices: they miss the good old days:

"My father spent 50 years of his life in the Communist Party and thought he was doing something good for the people.  In the final analysis, he did it for a handful of swindlers," said Vladimir, a retired doctor, who was chided by his wife for speaking ill of the dead.

"I have negative feelings for him because the privatization he carried out was illegal and even criminal," says Timur, a 24-year-old economist.

Just to give you the flavor of Dagbladet, they've also just posted a profile of Magnus Marsdal, whose new book is about how the Progress Party (which is now Norway's first or second largest party) has "cultivated the worst of Norway's national soul."  What is Marsdal's own party affiliation?  It's not mentioned in the piece, but if you look at his Wikipedia profile, you'll see that he belongs to the Communist organization Attac, worked at the Communist newspaper Klassekampen, and has also been a member of the Communist youth organization Rød Ungdom (Red Youth).  There was no reason to mention any of this in the Dagbladet profile, of course, because in the Norwegian media such affiliations are considered entirely mainstream -- as opposed, of course, to membership in the Progress Party.


April 11, 2007:
When in history has any people ever been at war with an enemy that it's unwilling, for reasons of sensitivity, to name?

We're at war with Islamism (a.k.a. Islamofascism).  But the President of the United States, after a brief bout of honesty about this a while back, reverted to calling it a "war on terrorism."  Meanwhile the media elite, by and large, is more willing to smear the enemy's critics as "racists" or "Islamophobes" than to call the enemy by its own name.

The Drudge Report links to a couple of articles in the Arizona Republic about the cancellation of a PBS documentary called Islam vs. Islamists.  Confronted with the documentary's focus on the likes of Zuhdi Jasser who is apparently one of those rare, brave Muslims who dare to criticize Islamofascism – the PBS people, in the words of Doug MacEachern, "could not bring themselves to declare people like Jasser 'moderate' because that would mean criticizing the fundamentalists whom the Jassers of the world oppose."  Chilling.

If this nonsense keeps up, we lose.  Simple as that.

UPDATE:
An interview with the filmmaker at Hugh Hewitt.


March 24, 2007:
While Europe Slept, just out in Spain, has received an extremely gratifying review from José María Marco at Libertad Digital:l"Un libro valiente, complejo y claro a la vez, y además ameno como pocos. Se lee de un tirón, sin exageración de ninguna clase. No dejen de precipitarse a comprarlo, ahora mismo, en la librería más próxima. De lectura obligatoria."


March 22, 2007:
On Sunday I sent off a piece to Human Rights Service responding to a snarky column about While Europe Slept that appeared in the March 9 issue of the left-wing Norwegian newsweekly Ny Tid.  The next morning, on my way to Madrid (where I gave a talk at the launch of the book's Spanish edition), I saw the March 16 issue of that same publication staring at me from a rack at the Oslo train station. 

"Are the Islam critics issuing a warning or are they crusaders?" read the question on Ny Tid's cover.  I turned to the cover story (pp. 48ff).  It was illustrated with a big picture of Oriana Fallaci and other critics of Islam in crusader garb.  Apparently the answer to the cover question was (b).

The piece was titled "Angry White Men" - a title that seemed especially silly, given that it appeared right under the picture of Fallaci.  Such is the mentality that reigns at places like Ny Tid, where all criticism of Islam is automatically associated with whiteness and maleness, with the forces of reaction and European nationalism, with conservative Christianity and the political right - never mind that perhaps the most high-profile critic of Islam at the moment is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a black, female, liberal atheist.  The cover story itself included a list of books on Islam that have appeared lately in Norway, and any reader who bothered to look at the sales figures listed there could see that the country's two biggest-selling recent titles in this genre were both written by women, Hirsi Ali and Hege Storhaug.

"Angry White Men" pretended to be a serious consideration of recent books that are critical of Islam.  Yet after the opening sentences, in which several titles were listed - among them Robert Spencer's The Truth about Muhammed, Andrew G. Bostom's The Legacy of Jihad, and my own While Europe Slept - the piece's author, Thomas Berg, wrote: "One does not need to read more than the titles to understand that this is not about bridge-building." 

There was, in fact, little evidence anywhere in the cover story that Berg had read anything more than the titles.  Instead of offering even a cursory account of these books' contents, Berg proceeded to give us several hundred words of dismissive comments on them by three supposed authorities on these matters.  First up: Kari Vogt (Norway's answer to Karen Armstrong), who said that these books "have an idea about what is authentically 'Norwegian' or originally 'European.'  Then they describe a sort of moral infection that accompanies the presence of those with different beliefs."  Second, Lars Gule: "Many people are ignorant and scared, and so you have a market for simple interpretations and answers.  Many of these books mix prejudices with conspiracy theories.  We recognize the result from the classical anti-Semitic thought structure: Not only do 'the others' - whether Jewish or Muslim - belong to a foreign culture; they are also sly and calculating, and it is in their 'nature' to seek world domination."

Finally, Iffit Qureshi ("Scots-Pakistani-Norwegian social commentator and course leader for immigrants"): "The fear of Islam is great among many people.  For this we can thank, among others, the Progress Party and Human Rights Service."  Yes, the Progress Party and Human Rights Service.  Forget the terror attacks on New York, Madrid, London, Bali, etc., etc.; forget the murder of Theo van Gogh and the death threats issued against Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Robert Redeker, and countless other critics of Islam; forget the cartoon riots, the Pope riots, the riots in the French suburbs and Belgian suburbs and elsewhere; forget, here in Oslo, the recent waves of gay-bashings and rapes by increasingly aggressive Muslim youth gangs.  No, if people in Norway are concerned about Islam, it's the fault of the Progress Party and Human Rights Service.

Throughout this breathtakingly mendacious tissue of calumnies, neither Berg nor Vogt nor Gule nor Qureshi provided anything remotely resembling a frank description of the contents of the books supposedly under discussion.  Of course that's the only way to write a piece like this.  For if you were to honestly discuss a book like, say, Bostom's The Legacy of Jihad, you'd be forced to acknowledge that it's a sober, factual, and extraordinarily informative account of the history of jihad - and that it sheds a disturbing light on our present challenges.  Better to dismiss it, and other important books, as shrill, bigoted, racist, and so forth than to grapple with the uncomfortable truths they explore.

* * *

As if Ny Tid hadn't already provided enough silliness for one week, yesterday - on a plane from Madrid to Munich - a flight attendant handed me this week's issue of the European edition of Newsweek.  The cover story was a "special report" on "Europe at 50."  Like Thomas Berg, this piece's author, Andrew Moravcsik, began with a list of book titles, which again included my own.  Like Berg, too, Moravcsik cited these titles only to dismiss them and the concerns they raise about Europe's prospects.  "To most who live in Europe - or have visited lately - all this [concern about demographic decline, Muslim assimilation, etc.] seems wrong, even absurd," Moravcsik insisted.  He then proceeded to paint the rosiest picture of Europe's present and future that I've seen in years.  His conclusion: "50 years after the EU's march to unity began, it is now Europe, not the United States, that's held up as a new lamp unto the nations."  Never mind the EU's flagrant corruption and wastefulness; never mind its determination to micromanage the lives of millions of Europeans who've never even been given the opportunity to decide whether they wanted to be subject to the ever-expanding, and radically undemocratic, authority of the European Commission's unelected technocrats: in Moravcsik's view, the EU is "the model for a continent."  He quotes "futurologist Jeremy Rifkin," whose enthusiasm for Europe's emphasis on "community relationships over individual autonomy" Moravcsik shares - never mind that this disdain for "individual autonomy" is what got Europe into its 20th-century nightmare of totalitarianism in the first place.

Piled up on the airplane seat next to me, as I read Moravcsik's piece, were yesterday's issues of the International Herald Tribune and several Spanish newspapers, all of them packed with dire reports about Europe's various social and economic crises. 

How irresponsible of Newsweek to run such blatant propaganda (Moravcsik directs Princeton's European Union Program) as a news report.



March 14, 2007: Dan Savage gives liberal darling, and homophobe, Garrison Keillor exactly what he deserves.  (Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan.)

Keillor’s charm was always utterly lost on me.  NPR liberals adore him.  Few of them seem ever to have noticed that his cozy anecdotes, with their implicit lessons in tolerance and affection for quirky and diverse humanity, were virtually homo-free.  I always sensed beneath all the supposedly endearing (yet consistently unfunny) whimsy an egomaniac, a prig, and a phony who had no appreciation for the struggles of gay people to lead lives of dignity and integrity and whose worldview had no place for gay couples or parents, however dedicated and self-sacrificing.
 

March 6, 2007: The broadcast monopoly enjoyed by Norway's state-owned TV and radio network NRK didn't end until 1990, when Parliament finally voted to permit the establishment of privately owned, ad-funded TV2.  It went on the air in 1992, and while its news reports have often reflected the same left-wing establishment biases as NRK's, TV2 has done a far better job than NRK of addressing controversial issues.  Perhaps its most important contribution in this regard is the discussion series Holmgang, hosted by Oddvar Stenstrøm, which has confronted with admirable frankness topics that the NRK had long shrouded in self-censorship and circumlocution.

In Norway's left-wing establishment, the word "dialogue" is a veritable mantra.  But that establishment has always looked down its nose at Holmgang precisely because it has given air time to views that had previously been omitted from the public debate.  They especially dislike the fact that the series has given a platform not only to the usual cohort of apologists for radical Islam but also to critics thereof.  

Enter Abid Q. Raja, a lawyer and prominent member of Norway's Muslim community.  Back in November 2004, enraged by a Holmgang episode which asked the question "Are Muslims a threat to Western values?" (97% of viewers who called in said yes), Raja published in VG a bullying "open letter" in which he savaged TV2 managing director Kåre Valebrook for airing the show, which he described as "raw populism."  (I write about this on page 197 of While Europe Slept.)

Last week Holmgang asked the same question again, this time adding the word "radical": "Are radical Muslims a threat to Western values?"  This time 98% said yes.  Once again Raja took to the newspapers.  In an article in yesterday's Aftenposten, he insisted that "Oddvar Stenstrøm must be taken off the air."  The front page of today's Dagbladet (no link) features a picture of Stenstrøm over which the words "You're a COWARD, Stenstrøm" -- Raja's accusation -- are printed in huge letters.  Why does Raja call Stenstrøm cowardly?  Because he won't meet Raja in the media for a debate about whether he, Stenstrøm, should be taken off the air. Stenstrøm replies, quite reasonably, "I cannot participate in a debate about whether I should be taken off the air."

Raja isn't alone in attacking Holmgang.  Among his supporters are Martine Aurdal, editor of the newsweekly Ny Tid, who says Holmgang is "the debate program that goes the furthest in simplifications and populism" (this means, basically, that it doesn't suppress, soft-pedal, or euphemize about the facts), and Frank Aarebrot, a high-profile media commentator who has called on Stenstrøm to share with the public his own views on immigration.  (As far as I know, Aarebrot has never called on other Norwegian journalists to share their views.)

Raja has a right to his opinions.  But it's crystal clear what he's up to.  He's trying to close down one of the few public fora in Norway in which Islam, immigration policy, and integration problems are discussed frankly.  His campaign against Holmgang represents yet another effort to silence discussion and criticism of Islam in the West -- and, as such, cannot be seen in isolation from the murder of Theo van Gogh, the Danish cartoon riots, the violent response to the Pope's speech at Regensburg University, and the death threats made against Robert Redeker in response to his op-ed on Islam in Le Figaro.

* * *

Last year it was the cartoon riots.  Now, in recent days, Copenhagen has been subjected to street violence by protesters outraged over the eviction of leftist radicals and anarchists from a "Youth House" (Ungdomshuset) to which they never had title in the first place.

The protesters don't have a leg to stand on.  The "Youth House" was illegally occupied, period.  But the sense of entitlement, and of injustice, that underlies the squatters' (and their supporters') rage is no surprise.  The Youth House denizens, and their counterparts in other European cities, have long enjoyed -- and taken for granted -- the tacit support of a significant portion of Europe's political and media elite.  They've been the establishment's spoiled anti-establishment kids for so long that one can hardly be amazed to see them reacting so petulantly when Mommy tells them it's time to get out and pay their own way like everyone else.

The Youth House gang's counterpart in Oslo is a group called Blitz.  It, too, has its own house, which it first occupied illegally but for which the city of Oslo later granted it a rental contract and charged it a nominal rent.  Since then, the boys and girls of Blitz have made a habit of holding violent street demonstrations and injuring cops.  In 1986, a bunch of them interrupted a meeting of Oslo's city council; several times in the 1990s, they disrupted a series of conservative political gatherings.  Far from being punished for their aggressive behavior, they've been rewarded: in 2002, Oslo's city council put the Blitz House up for sale, only to change its plans after Blitz members vandalized City Hall. 

In While Europe Slept, I write (on page 161) about a Blitz action I witnessed in 2004 in which thirty or so Blitz members spray-painted anti-Israeli slogans on and above the main entrance of a major government building in Oslo.  Meanwhile a couple of dozen cops stood passively a few yards away, obviously having been ordered to let the vandals do their work unimpeded. 

Now it's been reported that demonstrators who threw rocks and jars of paint yesterday at cops (injuring one of them) outside the Danish embassy in Oslo were carrying a Blitz poster.  André Oktay Dahl, a Conservative Party politician who sits on the Parliament's Justice Committee, says that if the protesters do indeed turn out to have been Blitz members, "we should follows the Danes' example.  Throw the dregs out!"  Good for him.  But it seems doubtful that Norway's Blitz policy will turn sane any time soon.


February 22, 2007:
Where on earth, these days, can one find liberals willing to stand up for liberal values against brutal intolerance? 

In Europe, purportedly liberal officials have sacrificed liberal values rather than offend outrageously illiberal Muslim sensibilities.  Now purportedly liberal higher-ups in the Episcopal Church are apparently ready to renounce liberal values to pacify African archbishops who preach (as Steve Miller puts it here) a gospel of hate.

The Episcopal Church's antigay bishops are almost starting to look good to me: at least they're true to their convictions.  Meanwhile many of their supposedly gay-friendly colleagues – bishops who have preached stirringly, in sermon after sermon, about God's unconditional love for all His children, and who have encouraged gay Christians to view the Episcopal Church as a welcoming home – are now making it clear that preserving the institutional ties that bind the Episcopal Church to the Anglican Communion is far more important, in their view, than being true to the imperatives of the faith as they've claimed to understand it. 

In other words, they're willing to sell out the gays – and the gospel – in order to keep their place on the organizational chart. 

Not that this is anything new.  
 

February 13, 2007: Pieter Dorsman notes the following exchange between CNN host Glenn Beck and Muslim lesbian author and activist Irshad Manji:

BECK: OK. Real quickly, we have about a minute. What -- who is standing with you as a woman`s organization? Who -- what National Organization of Women is coming up and saying I`m with you?

MANJI: You know there isn`t one.

BECK: Why?

MANJI: Fear. Fear of offending. So many people today in America come up to me to say, "Irshad, I wish I could support your call to reconcile Islam with human rights, but if I do, you know I'll be called a racist for sticking my nose in somebody`s else`s business."

Against people who are willing to die in the cause of destroying freedom, people who are unwilling to stand up for freedom for fear of being called a name don’t stand much chance of victory.


February 6, 2007: While Europe Slept finally gets coverage in the New York Times...

 
February 5, 2007: Why do I have the feeling that the people who are calling While Europe Slept "racist" and "Islamophobic" wouldn't have responded to Stealing Jesus, my book about Protestant fundamentalism or, say, to this article of mine about the Catholic Church by calling me "Christophobic"?

Some people think it's terrific for writers to expose the offenses and perils of religious fundamentalism just as long as it's Christian fundamentalism.


January 31, 2007:
I write in While Europe Slept about how Europe's establishment kowtows to Islamists who revile the free, tolerant societies in which they live but tramples on immigrants who strive to be respectable, productive members of those societies.  In the book I mention a Paraguayan immigrant to Norway who couldn’t find work in his field until he legally changed his name from Lidio Dominguez to Nils Myrland.  Today’s Aftenposten brings another case study

“Norway is crying out for civil engineers,” writes Kristin Solberg.  “Yet civil engineer Sheraz Akhtar (31) has applied for over 250 jobs and been rejected for all of them.”  Akhtar, a Norwegian citizen who has lived in Norway since he was a baby, studied engineering in Trondheim, where he and his classmates were told repeatedly that “You’ve chosen a field in which you’ll get a job.  A job isn’t a problem, as long as you complete your studies.”  Four and a half years later, Akhtar’s classmates, who presumably don’t have names like “Akhtar,” are working as engineers; meanwhile Akhtar is waiting tables at an Italian restaurant.  (And he’s probably lucky to have that job.) 

You can be sure that most of the employers who tossed out Akhtar’s 250 job applications pride themselves on being enlightened and utterly free of prejudice.  They're not Americans, after all.
 

January 29, 2007: I've just read that when the nominees for the NBCC awards were announced at a party the other night, the author who was selected to recite the names of the criticism finalists took the opportunity to call my book (which is one of the finalists) "racist."

As I and many others have pointed out a few million times, radical Islam is not a race.  (Is Ayaan Hirsi Ali a racist?  Is Irshad Manji?  Is Chahdortt Djavann?)  But it's easy – and, in some circles, highly effective – to fling the "R" word instead of trying to respond to irrefutable facts and arguments.

One of the most disgraceful developments of our time is that many Western authors and intellectuals who pride themselves on being liberals have effectively aligned themselves with an outrageously illiberal movement that rejects equal rights for women, that believes gays and Jews should be executed, that supports the coldblooded murder of one's own children in the name of honor, etc., etc.  These authors and intellectuals respond to every criticism of that chilling fundamentalist code – however cogent and correct the criticism may be – by hurling the "R" word.

I will not be cowed by such disgraceful, duplicitous rhetoric.  Civilized, tolerant, pluralist values are at stake – values that affect freedom-loving individuals of all races.


January 26, 2007: Europe's Stockholm Syndrome

The sensational story about Shawn Hornbeck, the Missouri boy who stayed with his kidnapper for four years though he apparently had endless opportunities to escape, has occasioned a lot of talk about Stockholm syndrome.  This is, of course, the psychological mechanism whereby hostages come to identify with their captors, kidnap victims with their kidnappers, abused people with their abusers.  It takes its name from a 1973 Stockholm incident in which four people, held hostage for six days by bank robbers, refused afterwards to testify against them and even contributed to their defense fund.  The most famous case was probably that of Patty Hearst, who after being nabbed in 1974 by the Symbionese Liberation Army joined the group and helped knock over a bank.

Some observers have called into question the syndrome’s very existence.  I, for one, don't doubt it exists.  For Western Europe's cultural elite has long been suffering from a malady that can’t easily be distinguished from Stockholm syndrome.  Just look, after all, at the way that elite deals with Europe’s Muslims – especially the imams, gang members, and sundry “Islamic Councils” and “Muslim Associations.”  You can’t help being reminded of an abuse victim who – for some psychological reason that outsiders can't understand – not only fails to flee or to fight back when given the chance but actually defends and praises his abuser.

It’s no exaggeration to use the word “abuse.”  A wildly disproportionate percentage of Western Europe’s Muslims are living on state support – and committing brutal crimes against the taxpayers who fund it.  “Moderate” imams (as shown on Channel 4's recent “Undercover Mosque” exposé) call regularly for the murder of Jews and gays and for Muslim conquest of Europe.  Meanwhile the “councils” and “associations” (also supposedly moderate) repeatedly declare their “understanding” for everybody from Theo van Gogh's murderer to the July 2005 London bombers.

Europe is being held captive.  Yet just as Shawn Hornbeck, who had a cell phone and computer, was in theory perfectly free to flee his captor or contact his parents, European officials have a clear route out of this nightmare.  They have armies.  They have police.  They have prisons.  They’re in a position to deport planeloads of people every day.  They could start rescuing Europe tomorrow.  Yet how have they responded to the gangsters who are holding it hostage?  In precisely the same way Shawn Hornbeck apparently did: like prisoners under lock and key.  They’ve been incredibly docile, compliant, submissive. 

Europe’s media, for example, when confronted with events or statements that vividly illuminate the goals of Muslim leaders and agitators, either don't report on them or edit out key facts.  (Few media accounts of the fall 2005 Paris riots, for example, mentioned the participants' cries of “Allahu akbar,” which made their religious motive clear.)  Though a 2006 Telegraph poll found that 40% of British Muslims want Britain to become a sharia state, politicians still respond to every new riot, rape, honor killing, or foiled terrorist plot by reassuring the public that the overwhelming majority of European Muslims are law-abiding, peace-loving supporters of democracy.  No British official so much as commented on “Undercover Mosque” – yet days after it was broadcast, in a colossal denial of the reality it exposed, Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Ian Blair announced a jaw-dropping plan to share anti-terrorist intelligence with Muslim community leaders.

Yes, some Europeans – notably Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen – have resisted this self-destructive pattern of collective passivity and prostration.  But you'd think most members of the cultural elite were tied up in a basement with a gun to their head.  Like Shawn Hornbeck, they've been given ample opportunity to end their captivity – yet instead they persist in helping, praising, offering excuses for, and apologizing and submitting to their captors.  What can you call this other than Stockholm syndrome – which in this instance, instead of afflicting a single child, has somehow taken hold of an entire culture?

Perhaps the only difference is this.  Shawn Hornbeck got out alive.  Europe may not be so fortunate.

earlier blog entries >