“That’s a really good one,” the clerk told me.
I was the only customer in the bookstore, and when he’d seen me paging through a slim new volume about the current wave of “populism” in Europe, he’d left his cash register, walked over to me, and begun waxing enthusiastic about it. He explained that he was just about finished reading it, and he repeated, not once but twice, that it was just plain terrific.
It was last Friday, and I was at the Oslo Airport, and he turned out not to have in stock the book I was looking for, so I bought the one he recommended: Simen Ekern’s Folket, Det Er Meg (I Am the People). I was struck by buyer’s remorse even before I’d actually paid for it – first, because, even with today’s strong dollar, it cost the equivalent of $42 (welcome to the land of state-mandated book prices), and second, because on the way to the sales counter I’d recognized Ekern’s name. Within a week after July 22, 2011 – the day Anders Behring Breivik massacred seventy-seven people in and near Oslo, proclaiming that he was motivated by hostility to Europe’s Islamization – Ekern, then a staffer at the newspaper Dagbladet, argued passionately that critics of Islam shared blame for the murders. My name led his list. He questioned our right to freedom of speech, because “our society is not improved by cultivating ever more ‘honest’ and ‘brave’ warlike Crusader rhetoric directed against Islam.”