by Katrine Winkel Holm
The post-Breivik debate in Denmark is pointedly different from the debate in Norway. Why the difference in the two brother countries? Sappho’s Katrine Winkel Holm offers her suggestions.
I recently had the pleasure of taking part in a panel discussion in Oslo organised by the excellent Norwegian online magazine Document.no. The theme was “Do words kill?”
My co-panellists were Walid al-Kubaisi, well-known for his documentary on the Muslim Brotherhood, Danish blogger Bjørn Stærk and Norwegian writer Ole Jørgen Anfindsen from Honestthinking.
I had been invited as a delegate from Denmark, that savage and harsh country.
Our public image in Norway is lousy — up there Carsten Jensen [ultra-liberal, PCMC writer/journalist] is the chief interpreter of events in Denmark.
After taking part in this Norwegian debate I am acutely aware of how precious the space is that we have won for ourselves here in Denmark. This kind of space is not available to the same degree in Norway — at least not yet.
Here is my slightly revised speech from the debate:
Do words kill?
If it were really true that the war rhetoric and the fierce debate about Islam created the foundation for the massacre of 22 July, then Anders Breivik should have been Danish.
I am familiar with the Danish debate and I am also familiar with Document and Human Right Service, and they are both very moderate and restrained compared with Danish standards.
I am grateful that I was already familiar with them on 22 July. Because of this I quickly saw through the lies promoted by even the Danish media: The war rhetoric, the ideology of Eurabia and the “hatred in our midst”, which were to be found at Document and Human Rights Service, were all accessories to the Utøya massacre.
I have never perceived Document or Human Rights Service as promoting hatred.
Not that I think hatred should be forbidden. If Anders Breivik had killed one of my children I’m sure I would hate him.
But hatred is not the basis for conservatism as I understand it, and as I see it represented at Document. I know you are all familiar with Roger Scruton. He said recently:
“The fundamental element of conservatism is the desire to preserve that which one loves. That is its strength; that it is founded on love and not on hatred or antagonism — which is much more characteristic of the Left. One must never perceive love as a weakness.”
So even here the mainstream media were wrong — when they accused Norwegian Islam-critics of promoting hatred.
How did the Danish media react to the massacre? Their reactions were influenced by the fact that for the last ten years we have had a non-Socialist coalition government supported by the Danish People’s Party (DF).
We have had our immigration laws tightened. We have been through the Mohammed cartoon crisis and the ensuing long, hard debate, a debate which the political Left in fact lost. So the Left has been on the defensive for ten years.
Enter the evil, right-wing Islam-critic committing his act of terror! It was time for a big clean-up. It was time for revenge. This led to a virtual tsunami of mudslinging.
I don’t need to recount the details. You all witnessed what happened:
The recurring theme was the demand for self-examination. It sounds good. But it was not self-examination they meant, because self-examination demands that you examine yourself.
What they really did was point fingers at other people. What they really demanded was that we, the others, should do penance and admit that yes, we know that we were accomplices. We know that we crossed a line. We promise to turn down the rhetoric and change course in the future.
We refused to conform. And maybe it was easier for us to refuse because this monstrous mass murderer was not a Dane. But I doubt that this alone explains the different reactions in Denmark and Norway.
And there is a difference. Today this debate is essentially dead in Denmark. In my opinion the attempts to stigmatise Islam critics as accomplices to Breivik’s crime have failed. We were not set back ten years, or five, or two. It may have looked like that last summer. But it quickly passed.
There are several explanations for this.
One important explanation is the reaction by the Danish People’s Party (DF). In the days following the massacre, the Left tried to implicate DF as accomplices.
DF reacted totally different to your own Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet). They counterattacked. Indignantly and almost angrily they accused the Left of gross abuse of a monstrous event.
That was a courageous move, as this happened shortly after the massacre and everyone was in shock. But they succeeded in knocking back the attack. And large swathes of public opinion agreed with DF: It was outrageous to rub Breivik off on DF and on the “tone of the debate”. It reeked of making political hay on a tragedy.
In other words an opinion emerged protesting against the misuse of Utøya. And that is why today, in Denmark, we do not have a “Breivik effect”.
Siv Jensen’s regret
In my opinion Siv Jensen [Leader of Fremskrittspartiet] made a big mistake when she said that she would change her choice of words and that she “regrets her use of language in debates”.
She took some of the blame on herself. In this way she willingly coupled herself to Breivik and contributed to steering the Breivik debate in the wrong direction: The debate got stuck on the question of tone and language and “words that kill”.
On a psychological level I can understand her reaction. She was, as you were, under extreme pressure in an extreme situation. But I think we can learn a lesson from this case:
You don’t save your own bacon by assuming the blame for something you haven’t done.
When others are massively trying to put the blame on you for something, it is important to keep a cool head and a straight back and really consider for yourself if this is right.
And in this case it was not right.
Mass murder as “act of martyrdom”
Here is an example:
Anders Breivik quotes the American Islam critic Robert Spencer about ninety times. Robert Spencer has written one excellent book after another in which he argues that Christianity is the religion of peace, and that it could never offer religious incitement to terror.
Nevertheless Breivik quotes him massively and then goes out and commits acts of terror, and on top of that he has the audacity to call his mass murder an “act of martyrdom”.
An act of martyrdom!
I am a theologian and as such I know a great deal about Church history, and I have never heard of a Christian martyr who achieved his or her martyrdom through killing people. A martyr is a blood witness. But it is one’s own blood, not that of others, that is the testimony to one’s faith.
Anders Breivik’s idea of martyrdom is an Islamic one. It is much more reminiscent of Mohammed Atta than of Polykarps af Smyrna.
A vulgar “televangelist” show
I would describe myself as a Christian, a conservative, a patriot and an Islam critic, but I feel no need whatsoever for self-examination, or guilt or repentance in the wake of Breivik.
For he is no genuine conservative. Nor a real Christian. Nor a patriot. And nor is he — in the true sense of the concept — an Islam critic. After all, he wanted his future Knights Templar to cooperate with al-Qaeda.
How critical of Islam is that?
A genuine patriot would not kill his own compatriots. A true Christian does not confuse martyrdom with mass murder, and a real conservative would shun terror like the plague.
That is why conservatives should not bow down, or tone down their rhetoric, or attempt excuses. On the contrary.
As observed from Denmark it was disgusting to be a witness to the media’s pursuit — post-Breivik — of public confessions of sin, of public repentance and public self-examination.
It was like being a spectator to a vulgar televangelist show — displaying an exaggeratedly pious, moralistic tendency which is more pronounced in Norway than in Denmark. What was aired was a perversion of the Christian concept of guilt, for the true Christian concepts of sin and guilt are matters between God and myself. And when He has forgiven me my sin, no media rabble shall saddle me with guilt and shame. On the contrary: With God’s forgiveness behind me I can and must not give a damn what others think of me.
Breivik reminded us that evil exists. And that it can appear even in our midst. We must remember this. Any words can be abused by a mass murderer.
In this way we have all become wiser after 22 July.
But reality has not changed. “What was true two weeks ago is still true today,” as Bruce Bawer said last summer.
Last Saturday the English Islam critic Douglas Murray spoke at the Free Press Society in Copenhagen, and he mentioned the expression: You should not shout “Fire!” in a crowded theatre.
Well, what if the theatre is actually on fire? In that case do we not only have the right, but the obligation to shout?
As far as I can see the European theatre is on fire. And we are not only entitled, but obliged to shout. And keep shouting. Even after Utøya.