Vebjørn Selbekk: a study in courage

On 26 September, 2015, in a room in the Danish Parliament in Copenhagen, there was held an event that the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office deemed so inflammatory, extremist and fraught with controversy that, clutching their pearls, they advised people against going near it. It was certainly dangerous. International Conference: The Danish Muhammad cartoon crisis in retrospect was its title. Free speech was its theme.

We have already seen the speech by Henryk Broder from Germany. Today we shall examine the contribution by Vebjørn Selbekk from Norway.

I’m afraid he’s reading. All the comments that I expressed concerning Henryk Broder reading his speech apply here. That includes the view that nevertheless I’d prefer to hear him reading this than not hear it at all.

As with Broder, I skipped to the Q&A at the end to see whether his spontaneous English speaking was strong enough to shoot from the hip. It is. At 25:09 there’s a long, spontaneous and eloquent anaphora in answer to a question. There was a little bit of “um” and “er” in his answers, but that doesn’t bother me. When people complain to me that a speaker has too much “um” and “er”, it bothers me only that people notice. If people notice, it means that they are not sufficiently absorbed by what the speaker is saying. As with any other mannerism my advice to speakers is not to try to avoid it, but to get more interesting so that people no longer notice.

Within seconds of Selbekk beginning to speak I became so gripped that he could have been wearing a pink woolly cap with a bell on it for all I cared.

His story is horrendous, and shames too many people. The picture it paints of the political establishment is a scandal. When you think of that posturing row of self-satisfied people at the front of the Charlie Hebdo march in Paris a year ago, and overlay that image with the craven appeasement that has nurtured the constant flow of abominations in the name of a religion whose name apparently means “Peace”, it represents an international outrage.

Today it seems that an unguarded reproof of Islamism on Twitter can get you charged with a Hate Crime.

Hate? At 8:00 Selbekk describes the tide of death-threats to which he was subjected as a “Black and muddy wave of hate”. That is an appropriate use of the word. The mild sort of expressed disapproval that these days apparently lands you in court is not.

Islamophobia? I have just sought a definition of “phobia” from Google. Here is the answer: an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something. If anyone can tell me what is irrational about not wanting your throat cut I’d be interested to learn it.

People in general want to get on peacefully with people in general. When a faction within those people misbehaves, and disturbs the peace, it is the duty of the delegated authorities to stop them. Is that what we have seen happening?

Selbekk shows us with stark clarity what happens when delegated authorities – and I mean governments the world over – neglect that duty. The world is paying the price.

I salute Selbekk for his courage, as I salute everyone involved with this conference.

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