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Under the Volcano

Socialism, air travel bans, radical Islam, and other items in the Norwegian landscape.

12:00 AM, Apr 21, 2010 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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Oslo

Under the Volcano

For anybody with a lingering belief that some form of socialism is benevolent, a visit to Norway, where I came during my first visit to Scandinavia, should settle any doubts: successful socialism is a fantasy.

Norway has oil wealth, a claim to superior public morality on which its awards of the Nobel Peace Prize are based, and a full-fledged social-democratic welfare system, based on confiscatory taxes. But even apart from its onerous tax levy, it has left ordinary Norwegians surprisingly poor. Once one leaves Oslo, which is drab, uninspiring, and depressing, and goes out to the countryside, many roads are as unpaved and potholed as in war-devastated and long-undeveloped Kosovo.

Norwegians are also astonishingly quick to admit that oil income does not reach their country's ordinary citizens. A young man I met defended its system by arguing that Norway has collectivized want. "Since nobody was that rich, nobody complains that our system produces equality of poverty," he told me, as we traveled in a rundown railroad car from Oslo to the rural town of Hamar. "But sometimes we ask ourselves why our infrastructure, including the transportation system, is so badly neglected." I did not have the heart to lecture him on the classic free market critique of socialism, proof for which he had just provided.

Norway has a considerable Muslim immigrant population (about 100,000 or 1.8 percent of the national total), among whom Bosnians and other Balkan Muslims are the most popular, because they tend to avoid radicalism. A Bosnian Muslim I met in Oslo enthused about his new homeland, where he had lived for 18 years, by equating it with Communist Yugoslavia, for which many Bosnians are nostalgic. "We were happy when we first came here because people welcomed us and the mountains and snow reminded us of home. But then we realized it offered us a better version of Tito's socialism--and not a very different one. We have jobs for life, free health care, and guaranteed housing, without the secret police or other political restrictions. For a Bosnian, Norway seems like heaven, although a bit colder and darker in the winter. When we tell our relatives and friends back in Sarajevo, they don't believe it."

In mid-April, snow was still on the ground and fjords and lakes were frozen. Then came the eruption of the Icelandic volcano, and air travel throughout Europe was frozen as well. By Monday, April 19, airlines and airports in the affected zone had begun protesting against the flight ban, imposed on them in what, from Norway, seemed yet another intrusion of the socialist nanny-state into daily life. The decision to ground all air transport emanated from a shadowy and bewildering array of official bodies, including the European Agency for the Safety of Air Navigation, ominously known as Eurocontrol, along with national air control authorities.

Iceland had already clouded Europe with its economic meltdown, beginning in 2008. In Britain and the Netherlands, whose savers put their money in Icelandic banks intoxicated by derivatives, and still have received no repayment, a common jibe holds that the British and Dutch demanded "cash" from the Icelanders, and instead have gotten "ash." In Norway, bank and money exchange terminals post notices advising that trading in Icelandic kronur has been suspended. Scandinavian countries bear a further resemblance to ex-Yugoslavia and other former communist lands in seeming to imagine that the only alternatives in economic and social policy are rigid socialism and wildly speculative capitalism.

Scandinavians remain radical leftists on other issues, and in one of the ugliest and most disturbing aspects of their public life, countries that preen over their record of protecting Jews in the second world war (such as Sweden) now encourage anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish rhetoric.

Notwithstanding the challenge of radical Islam among such non-Balkan newcomers as Somalis, Palestinians, and Iraqi Kurds, Muslim extremists, and the Norwegian traditional left come together in hatred of the Jewish state. With the pretext of protesting the Gaza conflict in 2008-2009, a street demonstration in Oslo on January 8, 2009, turned into riotous attacks on police and businesses, and a notable "Jew hunt."

Kristin Halvorsen, representing the not-so-ex-Communist Socialist Left party and then serving as finance minister in the cabinet of Labor Party prime minister Jens Stoltenberg (she is still in the cabinet as minister of education and research) spoke at the turbulent rally, where participants screamed "Death to the Jews!" Halvorsen had already created a record for herself as an Israelophobe, urging the Norwegians to boycott Israeli products. But she is by no means the only anti-Israel inciter found in the country. Since 1991 Norway has protected an Iraqi Islamist political asylee, who calls himself Mullah Krekar and claims to be a Kurd. Krekar is notorious as the founder of a bombing and assassination network, Ansar al-Islam (Volunteers for Islam). Inspired and financed by Saudi Wahhabis, Krekar's followers shed a considerable quantity of the blood of innocents in Iraqi Kurdistan, until the Iraqi Kurdish government, with the help of the Baghdad authorities and the U.S. military, put an end to his criminal campaign.

Yet the terror chief, who supports al Qaeda and the Taliban, and claims to be undaunted in his jihadist frenzy, continues to hide behind Norwegian piety about human rights. Oslo asserts that it cannot return the Mullah to Iraq, because he would face the death penalty. Which, let me suggest, he fully deserves. The blood of the victims his adherents butchered moves the Norwegian politicians less than the possibility they could be charged with complicity in an execution. Earlier this year, shots were fired at his home in Oslo, probably by Kurds unwilling to wait for the Norwegians to deport him.

If their experience with Mullah Krekar was not enough to educate the Norwegians, in 2004 they were, I was told, perturbed when an Algerian radical Islamist, Ibrahim Bentera, found an airport without security procedures and boarded an internal air flight, carrying an axe and a knife. He attacked the plane's crew but was subdued by the pilots and a passenger. He claimed he had suffered a psychotic lapse and had no memory of the incident, and was sentenced to prison. It was reported that Bentera was another example of a terrorist wanted in his native country, for involvement with the Wahhabi marauders formerly known as the Armed Islamic Group (GIA by its French initials). According to Norwegians I interviewed, a prison sentence in their country would hardly be uncomfortable for Bentera, especially when compared with jail in Algeria.

Yet another such character is Irfan Bhatti, a Pakistani associated with Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET or Army of the Righteous), which serves as an  al Qaeda backup around the world. LET has organized terrorist conspiracies in India, where it carried out the Bombay terrorist assault of 2008; in the U.S., where it is known for creating the so-called "North Virginia paintball jihad" group; and in Britain, where it was involved in the 2006 Heathrow airport plot that resulted in the banning of liquids in anything but small quantities from international air travel. Bhatti lives in Norway. Although he had written a will and tried to go to Jordan to become a suicide terrorist, and fired shots at a local synagogue in 2006, the Norwegian government does not consider him dangerous. Bhatti has filed legal complaints against the Norwegian authorities for allaged harassment, and launched a seditious campaign by claiming that the Norwegian police had placed an anti-Muhammad caricature on their public website, where anybody can post anything. Muslim taxi drivers massed in Oslo and were harangued by a Norwegian Muslim studying in Saudi Arabia, Mohyeldeen Mohammad, who declared that Norway faced a 9/11 on its territory.

Radical preachers appear safer on Norwegian soil than critics of Islamist extremism. An Iraqi-born critic of Islamist radicalism, Walid Al Kubaisi, was visited in his Norwegian residence by a group of Somalis who threatened to kill him if he did not end his polemics. Worse was the fate of Hege Storhaug, a feminist who was attacked and beaten in her home in 2007. The Algerian axe-wielder, Ibrahim Bentera, claimed to have no memory of his act. Storhaug's suffering included a real memory loss, so she cannot identify her assailants. She now lives in hiding.

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