My friend Lars Hedegaard is a dapper, courtly publisher and editor just turned 70. Like many Scandinavians, he speaks very evenly modulated English, but, insofar as I can tell, his Danish is no more excitable. A cultured, civilized fellow, he was for most of his life a man of the left, as are the majority of his compatriots, alas. But, as an historian and a chap who takes the long view, he concluded that Islam posed a profound challenge to Scandinavian liberalism. And so at a stroke he was transformed into a "right-winger."
The other day in Copenhagen, he answered his doorbell and found a man in his early twenties who appeared to be "a typical Muslim immigrant" pointing a gun at him. He fired from a yard away, and, amazingly, missed. The bullet whistled past Lars's ear, and the septuagenarian scholar then slugged his assailant. The man fired again, but the gun jammed, and, after some further tussling, the would-be assassin escaped. He has yet to be found.
The attempted murder of an "Islamophobe" is part of the scene in today's Europe. Among those targeted have been such obvious "right-wing extremists" as secular feminist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, gay hedonist Pim Fortuyn, and coke-snorting anti-monarchist Theo van Gogh. While I was in Copenhagen paying a visit to Lars's Danish Free Press Society, a young Chechen jihadist opposed to all this outrageous Islamophobia prematurely detonated while assembling his bomb in his hotel room, and we all had a good laugh. But sometimes, as on Lars's doorstep, the jihad wannabe is less incompetent and gets a little closer.
How does one report an assassination attempt on a writer for expressing his opinion? Most North American media didn't report it at all. The BBC announced, "Gunman Targets Islam Critic Hedegaard" â€” which is true, although one couldn't but notice that the Beeb and the Euro-press seemed far more interested in qualifying the victim's identity ("Islam critic") than in fleshing out the perp's. And then there were the Swedes. Across the water from Lars's home town, most prominent outlets picked up the story from the national news agency, TT, the local equivalent of the Associated Press. Here's how they began:
Lars Hedegaard, once convicted for racism, has been subject to an assassination attempt. An unknown man reportedly shot at Hedegaard outside his Copenhagen home.
The author Hedegaard is one of the few Danes who is a certified racist, as he some years ago was fined by a High Court for having stated in a blog interview that Muslim fathers rape their children. He was later acquitted by the Supreme Court.
That last sentence negates the ones above. There is no conviction for "racism": Both it and the fine were quashed, reversed, overturned, kicked into the garbage can by the supreme court. The prosecution was outrageous, and some sense of what Denmark's most eminent jurists made of it can be deduced from their decision to revoke his conviction 7â€“0. What sort of reporter writes that "the author Hedegaard is one of the few Danes who is a certified racist" ("papper pÃ¥ att han var rasist")? Even in an ever more absurdly over-credentialed world, the Danish state is not yet handing out certificates for racism. Whatever a "certified racist" is, Lars remains, as far as the Danish legal system is concerned, fully uncertified.
I have read the "papper pÃ¥ att han var rasist" line in a couple of dozen Swedish media outlets now without being able to find a name appended to the piece: It's just an un-bylined wire story that appeared everywhere. But I wonder about the furtive anonymous man who wrote it, and the agency managers who sent it out to their clients, and the editors who read it through and printed it unchanged. I would wager that all of them are considerably younger than Lars, and so marinated in the state ideology that they can barely comprehend that free societies should not have a state ideology. And so what matters to them about this story is not that in liberal, progressive Scandinavia writers are threatened with death but that writers should not be holding these opinions in the first place.
If this is how it goes when Sweden's Muslim population is 5 percent, what will it be like when it's 10 or 15? "You can't live your life that way," Lars told Douglas Murray in The Spectator. "If every time you sit down to your computer to write something you have this idea in the back of your head, 'I may be killed if I write this,' then of course you won't be as good as you could be. You've got to distance yourself from fear if you want to be a true writer."
Last year at the European Parliament, I had the honor of presenting Lars with a "Defender of Freedom" award, and noted that journalists congratulate themselves on their "courage" endlessly, far more often than soldiers or firemen do. But on the rare occasions they're actually called upon to show any, they shrink and shrivel: "All your liberal friends who went to the PEN dinners and bored the pants off you with that bit of apocryphal Voltaire â€” 'I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it' â€” all fall utterly silent. C'mon, nobody's asking you to defend anyone to the death. A mildly principled tweet would do. A tepidly supportive fax."
But no. Too much to ask.
As I said, Lars is 70. But I would rather have him fighting my corner than the young, self-neutered eunuch-men of a cowed media, watching the lights go out on free speech and slipping easily and painlessly into the accomplices of thuggery.