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I wrote out of disgust for the war [Jostein Gaarder in Aftenposten]

I wrote out of disgust for the war

Jostein Gaarder sticks to the intentions behind his controversial critique of Israel's conduct in recent fighting in Lebanon, but admits that the approach chosen was 'problematic'.

Author Jostein Gaarder regrets causing offense, but still hopes that his intended message will be discussed.


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"I must admit that the reactions have been stronger than I expected. But now it is over for my part. Starting today I have no intention of further comment on this matter," Gaarder told Aftenposten.

"Now it can run its course without my participation. But I hope that in a month or a year I can think back and not regret what I have done. I don't regret it today at least," Gaarder said.

The reactions to Gaarder's editorial "God's chosen people", published on Saturday, have been ferocious. The author of the bestselling "Sophie's World" has been accused of being anti-Semitic, muddled, ignorant and mixing an ill assortment of themes. He now admits that he would have chosen a different form for trying to make his point if he were to do it again.

"I said in advance that my greatest fear was to offend Jews and when I now see that I have done this I have to ask myself what could have been done differently. First and foremost I would have tried to differentiate more clearly between religion and how religion is used politically and rhetorically in Israel," Gaarder said.

"Also, I think it is sad that the debate has turned away from my intention, namely to confront the war Israel is waging... but I must also point out that I have received hundreds of encouraging and supportive mails and messages, much more than would have thought from the debate in newspapers and other media. The support also concerns the style of the article."

Form and content
Gaarder is asked if he could expect to urge reconciliation from Israel while writing in the manner of biblical prophecy, and if he should not have given greater thought to the consequences of his article and the mood of anger that inspired it.

"Perhaps. It is a bit early to say. Let us see how the debate develops. I see that the rhetorical devices chosen were debatable. On the other hand, I am a writer. The piece is written in literary style, formed as a prophecy. And I am absolutely not about to retreat from the content, despite the clarifications I have now given you. 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. This is naive and dangerous. I believe we must confront this type of thinking - no matter where we find it. 'God bless America' says President George W. Bush. Why can't he say 'God bless the world'?", Gaarder said.

Gaarder said that calls like those of Professor Helge Høibraaten, who wrote that he should 'shut his face', only remind him of those who ask for an author's books to be burned. Gaarder confirms that he has been frightened by the reactions.

"It is correct that I have started to look over my shoulder when I walk down the street. Not that I have any objective reason to do so, it could well be just that I am just a bit crazy. And I have no fear at all of being attacked by Norwegian Jews. They are very peaceful people," Gaarder said.

'Laughable obsessions'
Gaarder is asked about the passage "we laugh at this people's obsessions", one of the article's flashpoints.

"...We must ask: Is it so that we can discuss some religions and not others? Some aspects of a religion and not others? It must be possible to put forth religious criticism in the public sphere. We have traditions for this in Norway. Arnulf Øverland wrote "Christianity - the tenth plague" in the 1930s and was accused of blasphemy. This is over and done with," Gaarder said, and goes on to stress the importance of using freedom of speech, and that it must be possible to have such discussions without being branded an anti-Semite.

"I have said it countless times and I can repeat it again: I am a humanist, not an anti-Semite. Both the Jewish and Greek traditions of thought are part of the foundation on which I stand. My article was written from disgust for the war, and the assault of the Israeli war machine ... and I also condemn Hezbollah's missiles over Israel, to make that clear," Gaarder said.

Mohammed caricatures
Gaarder paused when asked if he would have published the caricatures of the prophet Mohammed that set off violent reactions in the Muslim world last winter.

"I have seen the drawings and didn't like them. I have seen caricatures of Jesus, too, and don't like that either. So if I had been the editor I would not have printed the Mohammed drawings. Of course I don't mean that it should be forbidden, but that I personally would not have done it," Gaarder said.

"It has to do with giving offense. This is not the type of religious criticism I want. I don't want to offend people. That is also why I say that the only thing that I am truly sorry about my article is that it has been hurtful."

Aftenposten's Norwegian reporter
Per Anders Madsen
Aftenposten English Web Desk
Jonathan Tisdall

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