“The Left Now Seems To Have Reverence for Fanatics:” An Interview with Denmark’s Salman Rushdie


DENNIS PRAGER: Are you in Copenhagen as we speak?

LARS HEDEGAARD: I can’t really tell you where I am at the moment.

DP: Can you tell me what country?

LH: I’m in Europe somewhere.

DP: The reason you can’t tell is that there was an attempt to murder you just a few weeks ago. A man came to your door, speaking perfect Danish. Tell us what happened.

LH: There was a buzz on my door phone, and a man said he had a package for me, in accent-free Danish. He was, I’m certain, an immigrant from some Arab country or possibly Pakistan. I went down to get the package, and as soon as I opened the front door he pulled out a gun and shot at my head. He missed, and there was a struggle between us. I tried to hit him in the face which made him lose the gun. He then recovered it and tried to cock it for a second shot, and he didn’t manage to do that. And we fought some more, and then he grabbed the gun and ran off. That’s what happened.

DP: You were nearly murdered. What did you write and what are you fighting for?

LH: I don’t know exactly what motivated the attack. I’ve been writing on Islam, Islamic history and Islamic ideology for about ten years. I haven’t done anything differently recently except that we started our new newspaper, the weekly Dispatch International, on the third of January. It’s a Swedish language newspaper, but we have an online edition in English.

I’ve been wondering, of course, why someone wanted to shoot me, and I cannot think of anything that I’ve done differently recently than what I have been doing these last couple of years. I’ve been called a hate speaker, and I’m not a hate speaker. I’ve been called a racist, and I’m not a racist. I’m just a normal historian and a journalist. It’s my job to describe what’s going on in the world, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do to the best of my abilities.

DP: Correct me if I’m wrong: You are a man of the left.

LH: Yes.

DP: Where are the attacks on you being racist coming from? What part of the ideological spectrum?

LH: I would say almost exclusively from the left. (Of course, also from Muslims. Not all Muslims, but some.) I seem to be very unpopular with my old friends. I think the problem is that I know what it’s all about to be left-wing; I used to be a leading Marxist in this country. But I’ve held to the opinion that we first of all have to fight for free speech and freedom and equality between the sexes and the rule of law; and also, that we should not bow before religious fanatics of any type, regardless of where they come from. This seems to me what was the essence of being left-wing back in the days. No longer.

The left now seems to have reverence for fanatics — as long as they are Muslim. Of course, they can criticize Christianity all they want. But when somebody threatens with violence — if you criticize me, I’ll come and kill you — then all of a sudden they become soft. They become understanding. They talk about tolerance; we have to show respect. I don’t want to show respect for people who say that men are worth more than women, that women can be killed if they are adulterers; that apostates from Islam should be killed; that people should be stoned, etc. I mean, I don’t like that. I want to fight that. I want to describe it. And I don’t think the left does.

DP: I think it comes with greater credibility to many when you say this, as a man of the left, than when I say this. I share every moral sentiment you have just stated and I am considered, in America, conservative.

LH: Well, good for you. Many of my friends are conservative

DP: I’m sure more and more are.

LH: Can we disagree on politics in a civilized manner? Can we stop killing each other? Threatening each other? That is my point. Can we maintain free speech — the First Amendment?

DP: You write in your Wall Street Journal article that in your home county of Denmark, “some newspapers have availed themselves of this opportunity to emphasize what a despicable racist I am. But at least they express their satisfaction I am not dead. Not so in Sweden. They seem disappointed that my delivery man was not a better marksman.”

DP: And Sweden is more left than perhaps anywhere else in Europe.

LH: I wouldn’t exactly describe it as left. It’s more politically correct.

DP: Forgive me, but political correctness is a brainchild of the left.

LH: It is. It is indeed. I’ve got to admit that.

I think among all the countries in Europe, Sweden has the most politically correct media. They are in absolute agreement on anything you can imagine, from man-made warming of the world to Islam. And any deviation from the line will be considered a sin.

DP: Do you still call yourself a Marxist?

LH: Yes, to some extent. I don’t believe in the desirability or inevitability of revolution or socialism. But some of the analytical terms of Marxism I still use to the great amazement of my friends, who think I’m an idiot. But I stick to that.

DP: Is there any way for us to support your work for freedom, other than reading your work? Can we sign up for anything, do you take money?

LH: Well, you can subscribe to the paper [Dispatch International] in English online. By the way, I am suing the Swedish media for libel, and there is a donate button on our website www.d-intl.com. I think it’ll be a big thing. They have been lying through their teeth.

DP: What have they been saying?

LH: They’ve been saying that I’m a convicted racist, and the fact is, I’ve been acquitted by a unanimous Danish supreme court.

DP: In America, at least as of this moment, there is no such thing as being convicted as a racist. You are free in this country to say what you like.

LH: I know that.

DP: Europe does not have that.

LH: We do not. We don’t have your First Amendment. The Free Press Society has been fighting for nine years to introduce a first amendment in Denmark and other places in Europe. We don’t have that. We have an article in our penal code called 266(b), which means that you can be convicted of hate speech, racism, denigration of religion, or a number of things, which is despicable.

I agree with the American Constitution — you should be able to say anything you want, and if you’re an idiot or a jerk you should be corrected by other people. You can lose your career, you can lose your reputation if you talk ill of people because of their race, which I have never done. But you should have the right to say anything. You should have laws against libel, lying about people, threatening people with violence, revealing state secrets, etc. You have that in any civilized country. But apart from that, I agree with the First Amendment. We don’t have it here.

DP: I’ll tell you another thing you don’t have there, which I periodically say to Europeans that I have on my show: You don’t have talk radio. This has been a major factor in America in offering the alternate universe to that which the Swedish press and the American left, such as the New York Times, which would be perfectly at home in Stockholm, present to us.

LH: You’re right. Speaking about the New York Times, they had an article today about me, that I’m full of “bile and viciousness and racism” and what-not. No, we don’t have talk radio. What we do have is state radio, something that the people are forced to support by their tax dollars.

DP: Thank you. Good luck to you.

Dennis Prager’s latest book, “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph,” was published April 24 by HarperCollins. He is a nationally syndicated radio show host and creator of PragerUniversity.Com.

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