Why I Chose the Name Fjordman
I have previously written a brief review of Bruce Bawer’s latest ebook The New Quislings: How the International Left Used the Oslo Massacre to Silence Debate About Islam. I am now preparing a longer text with some comments about the subjects the author discusses in his book, but will first say a few words about why I started using the name Fjordman. Bawer has some nice things to say about me, which is appreciated, but also a few critical comments, among other things about my writing under the pseudonym Fjordman.
Bruce Bawer thinks that my pseudonym is “silly.” He is, of course, well within his rights to think so. I have been asked several times why I picked that pen name, and the answer is that there is no particular reason.
I opened my old blog in February 2005, when I was already very familiar with the world of Internet websites related to Islamic issues. I even did my master’s thesis at the University of Oslo in 2004 on the subject of English-language Iranian blogs and how communications between Iranians in exile might affect the debate behind the censorship wall of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The government of Iran has copied some of the censorship measures employed by Chinese authorities. I have also seriously toyed with the idea of writing a PhD on Internet censorship, but even if you are accepted this takes years. One has to be 100% motivated before starting on something like that.
The reason why I picked the name Fjordman is partly coincidental. I wanted something that was short, easy to remember and vaguely Norwegian. I have lived next to fjords for most of my life, with a few exceptions such as the years I spent in the Middle East. I grew up in the town of Ålesund on the west coast, which has a high concentration of Art Nouveau or Jugendstil architecture due to a major fire in 1904, after which the entire town center was rebuilt in stone over the period of a couple of years. Ålesund is situated on a fjord close to the Atlantic Ocean, and has a long and living maritime history. The spectacular Geirangerfjord, one of the most famous among tourists, is located in the same district.
I began my studies at the university city of Bergen, which is a famously rainy but also very beautiful city. Founded nearly a thousand years ago at the end of the Viking Age, it was Norway’s most important city until the nineteenth century, and was a Scandinavian center of trade for the Hanseatic League in the Late Middle Ages. It, too, is situated next to a fjord. The Oslofjord may be less spectacular than some of those on the west coast, but it’s still a scenic one with plenty of nice islands to go along with it. Edvard Munch’s famous painting The Scream (Skrik) shows an agonized figure with the Oslofjord viewed from Ekeberg in Oslo in the background.
It was thus natural for me to pick this name. I may be critical of my country’s politics sometimes but I have a deep appreciation for its natural beauty, at least when it’s not too cold or dark.
As a simple blogger’s name, Fjordman worked just fine. However, when I first started out I had no idea how much controversy I would eventually cause and did not initially harbor plans to publish serious books. These plans developed gradually over the years. I agree that the pseudonym Fjordman sounds less academic than “Ibn Warraq”, which more closely resembles like a real name. I might have picked a different name today for that reason. Nevertheless, I have chosen to stick with the one I first thought of.
In the first weeks after the Breivik massacre, I considered the full range of options from never writing again to writing under a different name. I was mainly exhausted from the immense media pressure, but I also felt genuinely bad and soiled from being quoted in Breivik’s manifesto. I eventually decided to continue. Ned from Gates of Vienna and others pointed out that most of those who tried to contact me used my pen name, not my real name. Fjordman had at this point become such an established “brand” that it would be stupid to give it up.
It was also to some extent an act of defiance, in the face of Breivik himself as well as my many critics. I will probably use both my real name and my pen name in the future. It is not unheard of for writers to do this, nor for a writer to be more recognized for his pen name than for their his name.
I am puzzled, however, that Bawer criticizes me for writing under a pseudonym in the first place, especially since he expresses justified disgust over the way dissidents are treated. Take for example the case of the Swiss pastor Christine Dietrich. She was forced by her church in Switzerland, a non-EU member state and one of the freest countries in Europe, to distance herself from the German-language website Politically Incorrect because they are a “blog of hate and agitation,” or risk the loss of her job.
This is not an empty threat. I personally know or have met a number of individuals in various Western countries who have had their careers cut short due to non-violent involvement in Islam-critical or other politically incorrect affairs. Quite a few of them have been physically threatened by immigrant or extreme Leftist gangs or legally harassed by the authorities — frequently both. That’s the reality in the Western world today, and it seems to be getting worse every single year, coupled with increased electronic surveillance.
I agree that if we want to win this struggle, it is not enough for everybody to hide behind a nickname on the Internet and do little else. My real identity is now known, but the treatment I received afterwards wasn’t always very pleasant. I will not mock people who choose to write under a pseudonym, especially if they are married and have minor children who rely upon them and their steady income.
I know the consequences of being in this line of work under one’s real name, and I understand those who choose not to do so. I am somewhat disappointed that Bawer doesn’t seem to understand this. He’s met brave authors who write under a pseudonym, including Ibn Warraq. He, of all people, should know better.