The Media's Character Assassination of Lars Hedegaard

Danish TV stoops to new lows.

It’s starting to look like the Book of Job. For years, he’s been demonized in his nation’s media for criticizing Islam. In 2011 and 2012, he was put on trial – not one, twice, but three times – for violating a Danish law that makes it a crime to insult or denigrate a religion. Last month, a guy came to his door dressed as a mailman and tried to kill him; his survival seems nothing short of a miracle.

You might think that in the wake of this assassination attempt, Lars Hedegaard would get some respect – or at least solidarity – from the Danish media. But you could only think that if you were unaware of the aftermath of the murders of Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh, whose bodies weren’t even cold when Dutch journalists set about smearing them even more enthusiastically than they had before, essentially blaming them for their own deaths. Many of Lars’s fellow Danes, to be sure, did rally round him after his close call. But in large part, the Danish media’s reaction was depressingly predictable. As I noted just last week, a couple of morally challenged employees of the newspaper Ekstra Bladet actually tried to follow a moving van to Lars’s new home, apparently so they could print the address; fortunately, the police foiled their effort.

Alas, that wasn’t the end of it. On Sunday, Deadline, a program on the state-owned TV channel DR2, aired a half-hour taped interview with Lars by reporter Martin Krasnik. Krasnik’s introduction, tacked onto the beginning of the show later, was not promising. In a manifest attempt to paint Lars as an extremist, Krasnik mentioned Lars’s hosting of Geert Wilders at the Free Press Society and Anders Behring Breivik’s citation of Lars in his “manifesto.”

The interview itself began congenially enough. Krasnik asked Lars about the assassination attempt; Lars recounted the details. Then Krasnik started in on Lars’s view of Islam. And the tone shifted. After showing a videotape in which Lars likened today’s appeasing Danish politicians to wartime Nazi collaborators, Krasnik, assuming a prosecutorial mode, and professing astonishment at Lars’s comment, called on him to explain himself. It was as if Lars was on trial yet again. Krasnik then mentioned Lars’s 2003 book, I krigens hus: Islams kolonisering av vesten (In the House of War: Islam’s Colonization of the West), a solid work of history written with Torben Hansen and Helle Merete Brix, which – hold onto your hat – Krasnik actually had the audacity to compare to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

And as if this weren’t more than obscene enough, Krasnik thereupon proceeded to argue – and this seemed to be his intended coup de grâce – that Lars is so extreme that, as he put it, “you are more and more isolated even among the opponents of Islam.” In an effort to support this claim, Krasnik cited a January 2010 article in the newspaper Weekendavisen which quoted me as expressing dismay over Lars’s friendliness with the Vlaams Belang Party in Belgium. Yes, it’s true: Lars and I have disagreed openly over Vlaams Belang. News flash: unlike our jihadist enemies, Lars and I and other critics of Islam do not belong to a monolithic army, in thrall to a tyrannical, all-encompassing ideology. On the contrary, we disagree with one another, often vigorously and passionately, about any number of things. This is called freedom of thought. It’s exactly what we’re defending.

If Krasnik wanted to know what I think about Lars, he might have sent me an e-mail. He didn’t. Or he might have quoted more recent statements I’ve made about Lars. A while back, for example, Lars’s colleagues at the Free Press Society asked me to contribute a few sentences about him to a Festschrift that was intended as a surprise seventieth-birthday present. The book, Frem for alt frihed (Freedom above All), came out recently, and includes my tribute, which reads, in its entirety, as follows:

I first met Lars when I was writing my book While Europe Slept. We had dinner in a pub on Kongens Nytorv in Copenhagen and talked about the rise of Islam in Europe. I was stirred by his seriousness, his intellect, his deep historical perspective, and his palpable love of freedom and of his country. And I was strengthened and inspired – made to feel less alone and less hopeless in my own struggle – by his quiet but fierce determination to resist what he recognized as a threat to both his freedom and his country. The torments he has been put through in recent months by the Danish judiciary have only proven that he was right all along about everything he has raged against – and have proven, too, that he was every bit as strong and insuperable a champion of liberty as he seemed to me on that evening.

The Festschrift, by the way, contains similar tributes to Lars from a wide variety of friends, colleagues, and other admirers around the world. “More and more isolated”? Hardly.

If Krasnik couldn’t get his hands on the Festschrift, a quick Google search would’ve led him to my piece about the murder attempt on Lars, in which I praised Lars’s courage and called him a hero. But no, Krasnik was plainly determined to use me as a club with which to beat his interlocutor – the facts be damned.

In my piece on the murder attempt, Krasnik would also have encountered a couple of sentences that, if he had any conscience, might have caused him to pause for a moment do some soul-searching – sentences in which I expressed my disgust with the jihadists’ “abettors in the media,” who are eager “to relativize jihad and tear down heroes.” See yourself in that mirror, Krasnik? Similarly, if he’d looked at my piece last week about the creeps who trailed Lars’s moving van, Krasnik would’ve discovered an unambiguous statement of contempt for “so-called journalists” who, far from standing up for people like Lars – gutsy truth-tellers who are, after all, fighting for the very rights that enable those so-called journalists to do their jobs – choose instead, out of sheer cowardice, to try to bring them harm.

Lars’s composure during the half-hour of duplicity and abuse on Deadline was remarkable. After everything he’s been through in recent weeks, I wouldn’t have blamed him for crumbling under this weight of this latest despicable blow. But no – he sat through it with his head held high, a model of self-control, responding to Krasnik’s loathsome calumnies with the plain facts. To quote my own words from the Festschrift, Lars proved himself, once and for all, to be mind-bogglingly “strong and insuperable” in his defense of liberty.

As for Krasnik – well, he may well have provided us all with a definitive answer to the age-old question: Exactly how low can a journalist go? Want to know how Krasnik persuaded Lars to come to DR’s studios and hear his book compared with The Protocols of the Elders of Zion? Here’s how. He lured Lars onto his show with the following e-mail:

I don’t believe we have met each other, but I have followed you painstakingly since the Muhammed crisis. I am a great admirer of your persistence and your courage to speak your mind! It gives me unbelievable pleasure that you survived the cowardly, dreadful attack on your life and I am constantly amazed by the widespread failure to support you clearly and explicitly. It would be absolutely terrific and interesting to have you on the program for a long interview.

There you go. Such is the character of the kind of media folk who are out to destroy Lars – and to destroy anyone who seeks to tell the unvarnished truth about Islam. For some members of the Fourth Estate, no betrayal of ethics is too exorbitant, no charade too unsavory, no misrepresentation too outrageous, no lie too repellent, when the business at hand is vilifying and demonizing Islam’s critics.

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