Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Grappling with Jostein Gaarder

I haven't been blogging so much lately because I've been wrestling with a number of issues, mainly related to the recent war. I've been grappling with identity issues and struggling to understand my own thoughts and feelings vis a vis Israel, anti-Semitism and the world at large, and am feeling quite unsettled, to say the least. I have been avidly following the debate surrounding an article written by author Jostein Gaarder, which appeared in the Norwegian daily newspaper Aftonposten several weeks ago. The original article appeared in Norwegian, and the unofficial translation I've included here was written by Leif, the blogger over at Heretics' Almanac. At this stage, I am going to refrain from sharing my own opinions, as I do not want them to cloud your own. In any event, once you've finished reading the article, I'd appreciate hearing your reactions and thoughts, no matter what your background may be.

If you'd like to read more on this piece, Leif has written a number of blog entries surrounding this controversy (his first one, which includes the translation below, is here), as has Jan over at Secular Blasphemy (with his first entry being here). The comments that each received were most interesting, to say the least.

The translation of Gaarder's op-ed piece is as follows:

God's chosen people

Israel is history. We no longer recognize the State of Israel. There is no way back. The State of Israel has raped the world's recognition and will get no peace until it lays down its weapons. The State of Israel in its current form is history.

No way back. It is time to learn a new refrain: We no longer recognize the State of Israel. Vi couldn't recognize the apartheid regime in South Africa, we didn't recognize the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. And there were many who didn't recognize Saddam Hussein's Iraq, or the Serb ethnic cleansing. So now we must get used to the thought: the State of Israel, in its current form, is history.

We don't believe in the illusion of God's chosen people. We laugh at this people's conceits and cry over its misdeeds. To act as God's chosen people is not only stupid and arrogant, but a crime against humanity. We call it racism.

Limits for tolerance
Our patience has its limits, and so does our tolerance. We don't believe in divine promises as a basis for occupation and apartheid. We have left the Middle Ages behind us. We are embarrassed by those who believe that the god of plants, animals and galaxies has appointed one particular people as its favorites and given them funny stone tablets, burning bushes and a license to kill.

We call those who murder children child-murderers and will never accept that such people have a divine or historical mandate that can excuse their shameful acts. We can only say: shame over all apartheid, shame over ethnic cleansing, shame over all terrorist acts against civilians, whether perpetrated by Hamas, Hizballah, or the State of Israel!

Art of war without scruples
We recognize and accept fully Europe's deep responsibility for the fate of the Jews, for the shameful harrassment, the pogroms and the Holocaust. It was historically and morally necessary that the Jews got their own home. But the State of Israel has with its unscrupulous art of war and repulsive weapons massacred its own legitimacy. It has systematically violated international law, conventions, and numerous UN resolutions and can no longer expect protection from such quarters. It has carpet bombed the world's recognition. But have no fear! The hard times are nearly over. Israel has seen its Soweto.

We are at the watershed. There is no way back. The State of Israel has raped the world's recognition and will not see peace until it lays down its arms.

No defense, no skin
May spirit and words blow Israel's apartheid walls over. The State of Israel doesn't exist. It is without defense now, without skin. May the world have mercy on the civilian population. Because our prophecies of doom are not directed at the individual civilians.

We want the people in Israel everything well, everything well, but we reserve the right to not eat Jaffa oranges as long as they taste badly and are poisonous. We easily managed without the blue apartheid grapes for a few years.

They celebrate the triumphs
We don't believe that Israel mourns more over 40 Lebanese children than they for the last three thousand years have complained about 40 years in the desert. We take note that many Israelis celebrate such triumphs the way they once celebrate the Ten Plagues as "suitable punishment" for the Egyptian people. (In this story the Lord of Israel appears as an insatiable sadist). We ask ourselves if one Israeli life is worth more than 40 Lebanese or Palestinian [lives].

For we have seen the pictures of Israeli girls who write hateful messages on the bombs to be released over the civilian population of Lebanon and Palestine. Israeli girls are not cute when they take pleasure in death and agony on the other side of the front lines.

Retribution of the vendetta
We do not recognize the rhetoric of the State of Israel. We do not recognize the the bloody spiral of retribution of the vendetta and an "eye for an eye." We do not recognize the principle of ten thousand Arab eyes for one or two Israeli eyes. We do not recognize collective punishment or population diets as a political weapon. It's been two thousand years since a Jewish rabbi criticized the ancient doctrine of an "eye for an eye."

He said: "All that you would others do for you, you should do for them." We do not recognize a state that is built on anti-humanitarian principles and the ruins of an archaic religion of nationalism and war. Or, as Albert Schweitzer put it, "humanity is to never sacrifice a human for a cause."

Mercy and forgiveness
We do not recognize the old kingdom of David as normative for the 21st century's map of the Middle East. The Jewish rabbi who claimed two thousand years ago that the kingdom of God is not a resurrection of David's realm, but that the kingdom of God is within us and among us. God's kingdom is one of mercy and forgiveness.

It's been two thousand years since the Jewish rabbi disarmed and thoroughly humanized old war rhetoric. Already in his time there were Zionist terrorists.

Israel doesn't listen
For two thousand years, we have emphasize the curriculum of humanity, but Israel doesn't listen. It wasn't the Pharisean who helped the man who lay on the side of the road because he had been attacked by robbers. It was a Samaritan, today we'd say a Palestinian. Because first we are human - Christians, Muslims, or Jews. Or as the Jewish rabbi said: "And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?" We do not accept the abduction of soldiers. But we do not recognize the deportation of entire groups of people and the abduction of lawfully elected parliamentarians or members of a cabinet, either.

We recognize the State of Israel of 1948, but not of 1967. That is the State of Israel that doesn't recognize, respect, and yield to the legal 1948 state. Israel wants more - more villages, and more water. To achieve this some are enlisting God's help to find a final solution to the Palestinian question. Some Israeli politicians claim that the Palestinians have so many countries, while we have only one.

USA or the world?
Or as Israel's highest protector puts it: "May God continue to bless America." A little child noted this and asked the mother: "Why does the president always end his speeches with God bless America? Why doesn't he say God bless the world?"

And then there was a Norwegian poet [Henrik Wergeland] who exclaimed the following childlike sigh: "Why does humanity progress so slowly?" He was the one who wrote so beautifully about the Jew and the Jewess [two epic poems by Wergeland]. But he rejected the the illusion of a chosen people. He called himself a Muslim.

Calm and mercy
We do not recognize the State of Israel. Not today, as we write this, in our hour of sorrow and rage. If the nation of Israel should fall under its own acts, and parts of its population must flee the occupied areas and into another diaspora, we say: May those around them show them mercy and calm now. It is always a crime without any mitigating circumstances to to lay a hand on refugees and the stateless.

Peace and right of passage for the fleeing civilians who no longer have a state that can protect them! Don't shoot at the refugees! Don't aim at them! They are as vulnerable as snails without their houses now, vulnerable like the slow-moving caravans from Palestinian and Lebanese refugees, defenseless as the women, children, and elderly in Qana, Gaza, and Sabra and Shatila. Give the Israeli refugees shelter, give them milk and honey!

Don't let a single Israeli child's life be lost. Too many children and civilians have already been murdered.


lisoosh said...

Oh man. I've had so many fights with so many morons over this crap, I don't think I have the energy any more. Maybe I should just prepare a standard piece and copy and paste.

Where do you even start?
The sanctimonious "we" used by someone who has had a comfortable middle class upbringing in a comfortable, peaceful country and has decided that awards them superior morals?
The endless misquotes and misunderstanding of the bible? How many times do I have to write "G-d chose the Jews to follow his laws, a pretty crappy job some might say, it doesn't mean 'favorite', get over it. If you have an issue with it, either start following the laws or take it up with the higher power of your choice, probably the god who did the choosing"? How many times do I have to point out that if they read the whole "eye for an eye" quote and some commandments, they would realize that revenge is prohibited and that it actually talks about providing compensation to those you hurt?

Why did I know, right from the beginning, that the writer would bring Christianity into it? A "my religion is morally superior to yours" pissing match. A "how come YOU get to be chosen and I don't" competition. And what is with the patronizing, "I am more than happy to have you lose your homes, but so holy I wouldn't dream of attacking you in your pain, I'll just stand and watch and gloat" crap. REALLY CHRISTIAN, I must say. Sure Jesus would approve.

Whatever happened to "love your enemy/neighbour/brother"?
This is far left gone extreme stuff wrapped up in twisted religion. Israel sure isn't perfect, and I have plenty to disagree with but this is just hatred wrapped up in the pretty package of rational discourse.

And on the other hand, I am also sick of the messianic "Israel is supposed to be a theocacy, Israelis aren't religious enough, lets take every word of the torah literally, including descriptive passages and historical narratives, no one else is holy enough to live here" crowd. Trying to get a whole country to live a certain way in order to satisfy their dreams. They complicate every stupid issue. Security and peace first, then religious issues.
And I am sick of all fundemental Islamasists. OK, they weren't really part of this piece but I just want to be balanced.

Thanks for the rant forum. Can't we just throw all of these people into a big pit and let them claw each others eyes out?

By the way, what is being said in the debate surrounding the article?

Savtadotty said...

The problem will solve itself as Europe is overrun by Muslim immigrants. As if that were any consolation.

Anonymous said...

I live in sweden and know nothing about the author, but if he is the average scandinavian he is secular and doesn´t believe in god. In general, religious people (christians included) are considered wackos around here. To many scandinavians and other europeans, Israel is just "too much". Take for example the fact that there are no civil weddings and that you have to go abroad to marry a non-jew. The get for divorces. No constitution. The women in wigs. Then you have all the religious settlements. Just too weird for us. But I do believe there is a strong support for a secular Israel minus the occupied territories. People actually love seeing signs of "normality" from Israel, like that group that won Eurovision or tales from the night life in Tel Aviv. In a very stupid way i think that is what the norwegian might be trying to say.

Maybe this negative attitude towards the religion is antisemitism? I don´t know. It probably is, but all religions are looked upon as trouble and religious people as primitive by most.

By the way, to live in scandinavia as a secular jew is perfectly ok. My partner is jewish and has never ever suffered from any sort of discrimination. His whole family has done very well indeed since they arrived here after the holocaust. Much easier to be jewish than muslim. But they are all secular and have all intermarried. Don´t know what its like for religious jews.

I have never read the bible, berely know who jesus was, so i really have no opinion about the chosen, etc...

noorster said...

I've read this before. And I felt physically ill.

lisoosh said...

Anon -

Most of the inaccuracies in the authors piece are common misconceptions among Orthodox Christians that their church has been propagating for centuries.
As to Israel, you should find out a lot more about it, it is much more varied than you seem to imagine. About 70% of the country is secular in varying degrees (probably less than in Scandinavia) but the political system is one that requires a lot of compromise and one of those is that the more religious groups tend to control the ritualistic parts of life, such as weddings, which can be quite frustrating for secular Jews.
Israel planned on having a constitution but never quite finished it, viewing it as a work in progress. However, lots of countries don't have them, or adopted them only recently, it is not that unique.

As for the religious, they are not that weird, or at least no more so than very religious people in any other faith.

You should try visiting Israel some time, I think you would be pleasantly surprised.

Nominally Challenged said...

Norway? Norway? Isn't that that bit of fjord-filled ice that the Danes couldn't be bothered keeping after their last war with Sweden (some 200 years ago)? Wasn't that the country that just sort let the Nazis in, in WWII, because they couldn't be bothered fighting them?
Do we recognize them?
(scratches head) ...

nrg said...

Liza, Do you really want me to start on this? Should I just copy and paste yesterday's chat?
Oh, I don't know that I have the energy...

And, it was the Danes who lasted only hours in WWII, the norwegians fought for days and lost, but had one of the most active resistance movements on record throughout the occupation. Not bad for a bunch of farmers and fishermen in an incredibly poor country (this was before they found the oil, you see).

This article is one man's opinion and it was poorly expressed if you ask me... If anyone reading the translation (or the original-I have read both) doesn't like what he said, take issue with Gaarder, but I believe that generalizing about Norwegians would be as uninformed as his generalizing about Israelis. Keep the discussion where it should be, please.

I don't think he is an anti-semite. I do think he is toting a very superior attitude which is easy when one is so far removed. I have so many opinions on this... hmmm, will just have to think a while longer....

Nominally Challenged said...


I have nothing against Norway or Norwegians. I was simply trying to point out the stupidity of generalizing. I mustn't have employed enough sarcasm :) (The "Do we recognize Norway?" question was supposed to have been funny ... well, it was about 3:00 am here when I wrote it ...) Apologies, especially if I offended you.

I do, however, object to Gaarder's article, particularly because I enjoyed reading both Sophie's World and the Solitaire Mystery when I was younger, and I find it hard to take when an author I admire turns out to be a biggot (or merely someone with a "very superior attitude"). I do not find his opinions, as expressed in this article, excusable on any grounds.

nrg said...

Thanks for the clarification, am not Norwegian, so I wasn't personally offended, but I do live here and I didn't get that you were generalizing to show that generalizing was one of the things you disliked about the article.

Just shows how quickly words can be interpreted in a way that is very different from how they were meant to be read. I think that Gaarder has experienced this to an extreme. I fault him almost entirely for poor writing, (I think he should stick to fiction), a total lack of understanding of the potential reactions to his piece, gross generalizations and for mixing up and intertwining the Israeli government/state with its inhabitants and their religion in a way that offended so many and clouded what I think he wanted to say. I expect more from a celebrated author.

However, I think that the reactions were also overstated. Jostein Gaarder is not a danger or a threat, I don't even think he's an anti-semite. I think he wanted to criticize the Israeli government, and that is a valid thing to do. Quite deserving, in my opinion. But he dragged in arguments that had no place in the same article and he allowed the sentiment "Anti-Israel=Anti-Semetism" to gain strength. And that is a dangerous stand point. One doesn't necessarily have to be an anti-semite to dislike Israel. Anti-Israel (as a gov't) is fine, if that's the opinion one has. Anti-Israeli is not. That is holding all citizens responsible for their govt's actions.
I'm American, but I don't want to be held responsible for the mess my government regularly creates worldwide and at home.
Gaarder didn't manage to keep those seperate and for that he is 100% at fault. It was a sloppy article, it isn't surprising that it offended people. But I think that he is being labelled incorrectly and that his op-ed piece is being misused by critics and supporters alike.

Nominally Challenged said...


He should have thought about all that before he wrote it. Especially if he wanted to avoid people drawing the same conclusions about his own country.

nrg said...

nomimally challenged: he should have thought of a great many things before publishing that article... I think there is wide-spread agreement on that. I do disagree with your last sentence, though. There is no logical reason why individuals who are angry about his generalizations should then make their own generalizations in return, is there? I would think that those who take issue with his article would specifically not do that which offended them.

Anonymous said...

His use of the term "we" is so inappropriate. Not in my name, brother!

nrg said...

I think that was what angered me the most in his article. He seemed to be speaking on behalf of some larger group, some self-appointed greater good. Not only was he offensive, but he seemed too cowardly to just write "I".

Liza, you have gotten me on a kick, now I've been rereading the norwegian back and forth on this from Aftenposten...

lisoosh said...

nrg - exactly what has the response been in Norway?

nrg said...


This link should hopefully get you to all the articles that have been translated to english in aftenposten. I wish I could find the time to translate the comment section of one article. It was a huge range of opinions from people saying Gaarder's use of the royal WE is a sign of some superiority complex to Israel is the greatest obstacle to peace in the world (odd, I thought that was GWBush...) to cries for some type of moderation (something I am more in tune to)--asking that people stop comparing a poorly written article to Mein Kampf on one side and praising it as the best written honest account of the situation in Israel on the other. Norway may only have 4.6 million people, but their opinions are as varied as can be. It's been quite entertaining to read, often disturbing with input from both sides of the debate. There's no shortage of fanaticism on either side...but there are clear and concise voices of reason out there and the debate has been a good one, in my opinion.

Lisa said...

You know, I could deconstruct this article and show, point by point, why it is pure, unadulterated anti-semitism. But, like Lisoosh, I simply do not have the energy.

What I do find quite interesting, though, is that a whole lot of intelligent, secular, well-educated, well-traveled Jews are saying that they find this article offensive and anti-semitic. But instead of apologizing for offending us, Gaarder's defenders are telling us that we don't have any cause to be offended. When someone tells me that I have offended him, even if I didn't mean to offend, I always apologize and I also accept that person's explanation as to *why* he found my words offensive.

I was always taught that that is proper manners.

nrg said...


I think you are making an unfair generalization here.

I don't think that Gaarder's defenders have any obligation to apologize for what he wrote or the fact that he has offended people. That is Gaarder's job. And he has apologized. That doesn't excuse the fact that his article was a horribly written piece of work that combined what I think was a valid criticism of the gov't of Israel with a jumble of garbage that made his valid criticism fade into non-existence.

I don't know Jostein Gaarder from a hole in a wall, but I don't believe that he is an anti-semite. I think he was trying and failing at saying that he doesn't believe religion has any place in politics. Of course, his op-ed was so poorly written, who really knows what he was thinking. It certainly wasn't, "I need a good editor", or he never would have sent it to print.

Do you think, in response to your comment about basic manners, that if you offended someone, but you know that they misunderstood what you meant to say, that in addition to apologizing you might feel compelled to clarify what you really meant, defend yourself a little? Just curious. I know I would. I would apologize for having offended but absolutely pointed out that had I made myself clear, the person perhaps wouldn't have been offended after all.

rami said...

I would like to point out one thing for now... i will come back later for an extended reply.

Although norway is a NATO country and all that, it still a world leader in promoting peace.

Universities in norway have many specialisations in conflict resolution, peace-building..etc.

Besides hosting the noble peace prize, the gov't of norway always tries to broker peace deals, whether they are succeful or not, i.e. the oslo agreement, sri-lanka's deal between the tigers and the government...etc.

I have been to the aften posten, and I've met the persons in charge of their foreign desk. I must say, journalistically and academically speaking, the newspaper goes alot of extra miles in trying to be 'objective', that including embedding its journalists with gurellas sometimes. However, it is still critized within the norwegain peace-journalism academia for its coverage of the war on iraq...etc.

i don't know if any of this is useful here, but i think we oughta give norway a break.

lisoosh said...

nrg - Thanks for the link. I haven't had time to read all of it but I did read one of Gaarders explanations.
As one of Lisa's (hopefully) "intelligent, secular, well-educated, well-travelled Jews" who was obviously offended by this article, one of the reasons I was so offended was because there was so much religion in it, especially common misconceptions used typically by the Orthodox Church in its vendetta against the Jews of Eastern Europe. A good example is the whole "chosen' thing which has been used for centuries and even today to "prove" that Jews are arrogant and care for no one else. Or this bit: "For two thousand years, we have emphasize the curriculum of humanity, but Israel doesn't listen." - he is not talking about Israel, he is talking about Jews.

I found this piece from Gaarders explanation really interesting:
"I have long thought of confronting Israel and the abuse of religion for political ends taking place in Israel itself. I drafted this with several Middle East experts before I published it. Many Israelis have messianic ideas about their nation and the war being waged. They believe the land is given them by God."

Obviously I have no problem critisizing the use of religion for political ends, nor do I have a problem critisizing Israeli policies, I do both all the time. But he is taking the position of an extremist minority and using it to explain all the actions of a multicultural nation of different religions and varying levels of belief. And he is doing it through the lens of Christian disatisfaction with Judaism.

Lisa said...

Hi nrg,

I think that if I called a black person a nigger he would have the right to tell me he was offended. And if I then told him that I hadn't meant to be racist, but was just using a term I'd heard in hip hop songs, he would be perfectly within his rights to tell me that I simply was not aware of my own racism. And if I then refused to acknowlege that I had indeed said something very racist and unacceptable, he would be quite justified in being offended.

lisoosh said...

Rami - I should point out that I don't think anyone is actually angry with Norway. Just with this author.

lisoosh said...

I think the Professor Fure piece (hardly supportive of Israels actions in Lebanon) puts it pretty well:

"With all this in mind, Fure cannot assess the Gaarder article as anything but negative.

"He describes Christian Europe as the bearer of humanism. But is he unaware of the catastrophes Christian Europe has brought upon itself and the world, such as crusades, slavery, colonialism and imperialism, two world wars and genocide of enormous dimensions? His discussion of the relationship between an assumed Judaism and Israel's policies is of such a character that it can hardly be taken seriously," Fure said.

What he writes nevertheless must be taken seriously when he exceeds the boundaries of an acceptable level of debate of such incendiary matters. His statements "We no longer recognize the state of Israel" and "Israel does not exist" are an irresponsible play on words that can be exploited by those circles that wish to wipe Israel off the map. An expression like "a final solution to the question of Palestine" is a tasteless transference of Nazi terminology and practice to Israeli politics. The most worrying is that Gaarder's article contributes to moving boundaries - to dismantling inhibitions in descriptions of Judaism and Israel," Fure said."

Liza - really sorry about the rant. I have just seen a lot of similar stuff from many far left activists, and it really pushes my buttons.

lisoosh said...

And it also frustrates me that the right uses the label of anti semitism too frequently when people critisize Israel so that when the label is warrented, people don't take it seriously enough.

I'm going away now. Off to Costco so I can't write anymore.

nrg said...


I hear what you said but don't find it to be a good comparison of what happened here.


I think you have made some excellent points and agree whole-heartedly that Gaarder's article is negative and can be used by anti-semites as fuel for the fire, so to speak. I still don't think he is an anti-semite, but I do agree that his writing left me with the impression that he was talking about Jews and not the government/state of Israel. It was, I agree, a disturbing article on many levels. Had it been written by a political figure rather than a fiction novelist, I probably would have been much more angered. In many ways, the article has opened up a great dialogue and allowed people to discuss misconceptions. My initial reactions have changed as a result and I'm sure that there are many people here in Norway who are reconsidering their points of view.

Liza, thanks for taking the discussion out of Norway, it is always good to get a larger perspective.

Liza said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Liza said...

First of all, these comments have made for a very interesting read. I purposely held off commenting until now because I want to see where things went. I was actually hoping to hear from more people who don't have such a vested interest in Israel, but what can you do? Hopefully, more people will weigh in here.

And, despite some of the differing opinions (and a few questionable comments), I have to say that I'm very pleased that y'all have kept it civil! Comments on this subject in some of the other forums I've been following have been scary, to say the least.

lisoosh: I don't think I've ever "heard" you rant before! Humor aside, you've made some very good points here. I'm always impressed by the way you address different subjects and state your case.

I couldn't agree with you more regarding the inaccuracies and misconceptions about the role that religious Judaism plays in day-to-day Israeli life, and after reading different comments regarding this subject (both here and in other forums), I'd say that the misconceptions are simply staggering, and that clearly, we are not getting the word out to the world very well at all. Some of us have been discussing this issue, and trying to figure out what we can do to address it.

savtadotty: That is one very serious issue, to be sure, but as long as Israel exists, it is not really our issue (thank god!). We "only" have to deal with the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, how it relates to the state of Israel, and at what point the line between the issues becomes blurred. I think we've got our work cut out for us.

anonymous: Lisoosh stated her response regarding the levels of religion in Israel very well.

Please don't take this the wrong way, but if most Scandinavians share the view of Israel that you have described here, then you are all grossly misinformed about daily life in Israel. While there are certainly religious traditions that may play a role in the day-to-day life of most Israelis, a large segment of the population is quite secular. Of those who are religious, this is also to varying degrees, with the "women wearing wigs" making up a very small minority, and usually living in neighborhoods and areas where everyone shares identical beliefs). It is true that there are a number of religious settlements, but there are also settlements that are mixed (religious-secular), and settlements that are mostly secular.

I can go out for a ham and cheese sandwich, and can by pork products. You can find seafood (shrimp, calamari, clams, etc.) pretty much everywhere these days. A few years ago, some family was visiting from the US, and they only eat Kosher food. My husband and I were hardpressed to come up with any Kosher restaurants in Tel Aviv, as most of the restaurants that we go to are not at all Kosher.

There is a gay pride/love parade in Tel Aviv every year, and had we not had the recent war, the international gay pride parade would have been held in Jerusalem this year. You can go clubbing in any of the major cities here and stay out until the morning.

Most people I know do not go to a synagogue at all, even on Jewish holidays.

As for the get required for divorces, this is true of Judaism the world over, for anyone married in a Jewish ceremony. It isn't an Israeli thing. If two Jewish people get married by a rabbi in Sweden, they will need a get if they wish to be married again in a Jewish ceremony.

On the face of it, Israel is a very "normal" country, and most Israelis lead a life that is probably not too different from your own.

Also, when you say that living in Scandinavia as a secular Jew is perfectly ok, does this mean that it is not ok for a religious Jew? Just curious.

noorster: That is exactly the way that I felt. When I first started following this story, I was just so shocked and nauseous. I couldn't believe that a serious newspaper would actually find it acceptable to print something like this, and I was horrified by the reactions. I'd actually started writing another post on the subject, but didn't like the way it was going, so I set it aside, and then came up with this.

nominally challenged: You made some good points. I would definitely have to agree with nrg regarding how easily it is to have your words misinterpreted. I've learned that the hard way here on my blog. I think the Gaarder piece (and subsequent controversy) is too serious of an issue to joke about. Had you made a humorous comment about Norwegian salmon, however, I'm guessing it would have been much better received. BTW, love your blog! I could so relate to the "tick" story (because we have a dog too, and not for any other bizarre reason)!

nrg: While I'm not going to address each of your comments separately (I think we spent enough time discussing this issue last week, and you know my thoughts), I think it's good that you brought in a "Norwegian" view, in that you were able to provide information from Norway that us non-Norwegian speakers would not have gotten. As different as our opinions can be occasionally (though not often - they're often quite similar), you help me see things from another perspective, which is so important. I may not always agree with your assessments on certain issues, but they do give me a clearer picture of the whole.

I've gotten you on a kick, eh? I've also found this subject to be quite "addictive", as you know, and haven't been able to get it out of my head since I first heard about it (and as I mentioned above, this was my second attempt at a blog entry on the subject), always looking for more to read, probably because I found it so hard to believe that this piece, as it was written, could be seen as acceptable discourse. I was so shocked, and found the words so chilling, positively laden with anti-Semitic content.

I agree with your assessment of Lisa's comment (in your last comment), but will address it in my response to Lisa.

As far as taking the debate out of Norway, I am only sorry that more people who aren't directly related to Israel didn't comment. I see Gaarder's piece as a sign of bigger problems (not just in Norway, but rather in Europe as a whole), where people simply cannot (or choose not to) make distinctions between anti-Semitism (not acceptable) and anti-Israel sentiment (acceptable, though sometimes questionable). Just today, I read an entry on Secular Blasphemy that showed an incredibly anti-Semitic cartoon recently published in a different Norwegian newspaper. I imagine the cartoon was intended to be critical of Israel, but given that one of the main "characters" was on ultra-orthodox Jew, it seems that the boundaries have once again been crossed. While obviously, not all Europeans are anti-Semitic, there is a very disturbing trend that must be dealt with.

Promise me we won't discuss any of this stuff in Amsterdam!! :-)

beth: I couldn't agree more! I read that part, and thought, "how obnxious! How rude, condescending, and patronizing"! What an ass!" Mr Gaarder should definitely stick to fiction.

lisa: You were right on the mark with your query as to why Gaarder's supporters refused to accept the accusations of anti-Semitic rhetoric from "a whole lot of intelligent, secular, well-educated, well-traveled Jews ". I'm not sure that Gaarder's defenders should be apologizing for offending us, as they were not the ones who did the offending (they merely supported the one who did). I would prefer to see a situation where these people, instead of rushing to Gaarder's defense, had taken a look at what those who were offended were saying, and instead of insulting our intelligence by telling us that we were wrong to be offended, accept that perhaps there was something to what we were saying. I think there is, unfortunately, a lot for us to learn about the current situation in Europe based on the unmitigated support that Gaarder received from some people.

I'm not if sure your "nigger" analogy works here, though I can see the point you're trying to make. If a person who had never heard the term before heard it for the first time in a hip hop song and assumed that it was okay for every day use, I'd say that person is just seriously ignorant, and not necessarily a racist. If, on the other hand, the person continued to use the word even knowing what it meant, that is a different story.

rami: I actually read an article on the Haaretz website today entitled, "Sarid rejects Norway's offer of citizenship to bypass Bali boycott". According to the first paragraph of the article, "Former MK and Haaretz journalist Yossi Sarid has declined an official offer from the Norwegian government to grant him citizenship so he can attend an international conference on freedom of expression and tolerance in Bali, Indonesia. His invitation was rescinded because he is Israeli." Now, on the one hand, I am sort of impressed with this Norwegian gesture, so that an Israeli journalist could have the possibility of attending this conference, but on the other hand, given that Norway is one of the two sponsors of the event (and the other is Indonesia), shouldn't they do more to ensure that Mr Sarid (one of Israel's great leftist politicians) could attend such a conference as an Israeli? I find it rather frightening that the Norwegian government, as co-sponsor of a conference whose stated goal is "bridging gaps between different religions, cultures and peoples," is not taking a harsher stand in this matter, given that they invited him to the conference in the first place.
And, I'm still waiting for the longer response that you promised here... :-)

rami said...

Dear Liza..

I was earlier working hard on arranging a 'peace journalism' conference, bringing arab and israeli journalists to the same hall to discuss how to work together for peace...

The problem was, the location.. if I did this in an arab country, it will be hugely critisized and huge security measures will have to take place, as well as alot of arabs will not show up..

if i did this in Israel, only 'normalising' journalists would make it, and they won't make it back to their posts.

if i did this in Europe, i need triple the finances necessary for this.

I think the norwegian governments was only trying to offer a solution as a protection to the Israeli politician, because he will not be safe in Bali as an Israeli, yet they want his expertise.

In general, i think this post has so many beautiful ideas, i enjoyed reading 'bless the world'. we all have to think about the good of all.

Rob said...

I think Gaarder simply put into words what most of the civilised world has been feeling for the past forty years. And good luck to him.

Rami - the Nobel prizes are hosted by Sweden, not Norway. I assume evyone else was too busy shrieking about anti-semitism (read: failure to adopt the approriate attitude of bowed head when faced with Israeli ethnic cleansing in the Occupied Territories) to point that out.