The partiality of the news media, heaven knows, is an international phenomenon. But there are few places on this fragile blue planet of ours where consumers are forced to shell out so much money to be fed so much outright, shameless, and (not infrequently) downright vile propaganda as is the case in little Norway. At present every Norwegian household that owns a TV must pay an annual “license fee” of $451.00 a year to subsidize NRK, the government-owned TV and radio network. (Next year the fee will climb to $568.57.) You have to pay, even if you never, ever watch NRK, most of whose programming is not unlike a triple dose of Ambien. Take the schedule for Wednesday, October 24, which consisted of a blizzard of national and local news programs (one of them in Sami); “Murder, She Wrote”; reality shows, one set on a remote Finnish island, another on a Danish chestnut farm whose proprietors run it “the good old-fashioned way”; an investigative program that asked why the number of moose in Norway has tripled in the last decade; and a musical tribute to United Nations Day by the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra. (You may not know that October 24 is United Nations Day, but I can assure you that every kid in Norway does.)
But what’s worst about NRK is not the comical dullness of much of its daily menu but, well, two things: first, the day-to-day, knee-jerk, petty mendacities of its news reporting, which is almost invariably tilted against the U.S., Israel, capitalism, and so on; and, second, the larger, grander, more sweeping, and even, at times, utterly breathtaking duplicities of some of the few high-profile prime-time programs that NRK actually produces itself. Case in point: Brennpunkt, or “burning point,” a series that pretends to be devoted to investigative journalism, and that, on the evening of October 23, served up an hour entitled “Intet kommer i en lukket hånd.” It was explained that this title, which literally translates as “Nothing comes in a closed hand,” was a quotation from Indira Gandhi; a quick Google search established that the original quotation was: “You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist.”
Whose “clenched fist” was the title referring to? That became clear quickly enough. Director/reporter Frode Nielsen told us that “more and more right-wing extremists are directing their intense hate against Islam.” Standing outside the Olso courthouse, and noting that in recent months both mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik and terrorist Mullah Krekar have been brought to justice in that building, he declared that “the hate is equally dangerous on both sides.” Yet Nielsen’s topic wasn’t Islamic hate. It was, rather, “those who have devoted their lives to running a hate campaign against a religion.”
Other Bad Guys were raucous groups of English Defence League, Norwegian Defence League, and Danish Defence League protesters who were shown at street demos, waving flags and placards and screaming about Islam. Lots of people with lots of hate, but behind all of them, Nielsen said, is a small group of ideologues who spread their “hate propaganda” to the multitudes via the Internet. Not only have these ideologues influenced all these Bad Guys; they’re also responsible for creating the baddest Bad Guy of all, Anders Behring Breivik. We heard a good deal about these mysterious puppeteers, these shadowy instigators, before the names of a few of them (including Brigitte Gabriel and Geert Wilders) were finally mentioned.
And only then, in the big reveal, did Nielsen actually show us a couple of these Satanic creatures, live and in person, addressing a street rally in Stockholm late in the summer of 2012. Their names: Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller. Nielsen, in voice-over, described them as “right-wing extremists” who are “strongly tied to Israeli extremists.” We saw them making their presentations in Stockholm, while cops in riot gear struggled to subdue a mob of violent protestors who were screaming: “Fucking racists! No racists in our streets!” Gesturing toward the rioters, Spencer said calmly: “That’s the force we are fighting against.” Such people, he said, employ violence precisely because “they cannot defeat us intellectually or morally.” Spencer made sense and didn’t look dangerous, but Nielsen assured us he was: both his and Geller’s “propaganda,” Nielsen said, “is described as dangerous by those who monitor the anti-Islam movement.” Nielsen spoke about Spencer’s “propaganda” as if it were hidden away on clandestine websites with top-secret passwords, rather than published on a widely read website and in New York Times bestsellers.
Arrayed against Spencer and his armies of hate were a handful of Good Guys. Norwegian Bishop Gunnar Stålsett murmured PC platitudes about brotherhood. Matthew Collins of the group Hope Not Hate (whose magnificently mendacious Counter-Jihad Report I wrote about here) compared the EDL to the Tea Party, which, he pronounced, is “as dangerous as any Islamist.” Nathan Lean, author of The Islamophobia Industry, said that Breivik took the writings of Spencer and company “to the logical conclusion…They weren’t the ones who committed the acts of violence, but they certainly were the ones who shaped the way he viewed the world, the way he views the Muslims, the way he viewed Europe.” Lean added that “people like bin Laden and people like Spencer are mirror images of one another,” saying that instead of fearing “stealth jihad, and creeping sharia…we should fear these groups…that promote and produce an environment and an atmosphere of hate.” Potok also linked Spencer to Breivik: “Words have consequences….If you say that the dirty Muslims are coming to rape our daughers and destroy our society…you can’t be shocked when somebody like Anders Breivik starts to murder people. You have some kind of responsibility for that.” (As if to assure us that the SPLC is the voice of truth and virtue, Nielsen prefaced Potok’s comments with a montage of uplifting images from the civil-rights movement.)
At no point in the program was there so much as a hint that anything Spencer or any of the other Bad Guys say about Islam is true. Lean did mention the film Obsession: Radical Islam’s War against the West, but instead of actually examining its content, he used it as an example of the Bad Guys’ determination to “provoke Muslims” and to “advance the fear of Muslims.” While he talked about Obsession, we got a quick glimpse of You Tube clips from the film on a computer screen: a church being set aflame, an imam preaching takeover of the West. But none of this material was discussed. It was as if the contents of films like Obsession, and of books like Spencer’s, were all sheer Islamophobic fantasy.
One of Nielsen’s interviewees was Lena Andreassen, a young Norwegian woman who, visiting the U.K. a couple of years back, met leaders of the English Defence League and was installed by them as head of its Norwegian counterpart. She was unsettled, however, when she discovered that some EDL members “were a lot more extremist than she had thought.” Told that some of them were planning a mosque bombing, she called the cops; when she began expelling NDL members whom she considered extremists, the EDL sent her packing. You might think that Nielsen would conclude from the case of Andreassen that there are, indeed, reasonable people who are concerned about Islam in Europe but appalled by anti-Islamic violence – but Nielsen didn’t go there.
No, Nielsen plainly wanted us to understand that if people are getting worked up about Islam, it’s because they’re confused and ignorant. “The world is changing rapidly and people are frightened,” volunteered Potok. Lean, for his part, noted that some people “argue that Muslims don’t constitute a race,” but maintained that this is just “a convenient way to avoid addressing…the civil rights issue of our time” (from which Nielsen cut to the Lincoln Memorial and that new, Chinese-looking statue of Martin Luther King, Jr.). The director of the Rosa Parks Museum counseled that when people fear, “they just lash out and attack,” even though many of them don’t even know what they fear, and end up discovering that their fears are “completely unfounded.” The program concluded with a musical message from Gatas Parlament, a trio of white Communist rappers who are famous in Norway for (among other things) putting up a website a few years ago in which they offered a bounty for the head of George W. Bush. Dancing in an Oslo street, the three men sang into the camera: “Are you sure that your prejudice makes sense?…Stop tolerating intolerance!” This, indeed, should be the bottom line when it comes to this topic: stop tolerating intolerance. But the obvious agenda of Nielsen, and of his masters at NRK, is to turn the reality of all this – the reality of exactly who, in the West nowadays, is tolerating whose intolerance – upside down.