Theater of Cruelty

Shock effects without meaning

Coranoid is intriguing from a literary point of view, but it is unclear what the novel really wants to tell us about Islam.


In the years since September 11, 2001, a handful of books on Islam have been published, and this autumn we have received a number of new titles on the subject. The quality is as usual variable, but this year we have also seen a new variable – genre. Coranoid, written by the pseudonym Erik Bakken Olafsen, is a novel with Islam as the red thread. And even before it was in the store, the media whipped up the mood by calling it "the most controversial book on Islam this year".


The reception so far has been overwhelming from most teams, and one is left with the impression that many have praised the book in the clouds Fordi it represents a "fierce attack on Islam". "It must be allowed to hope that it can be received in a civilized way," wrote Dagsavisen's Anders Sundnes Løvlie, perhaps with an undertone expecting it not to be?

The tone is set already when the author chooses to publish the book under pseudonym, and it builds up that this is a publication that vile put him at risk of death. Interestingly, he also chooses to obtain a secret telephone number, according to Dagsavisen. What to do when you already hide behind a pseudonym is another matter.

The situation may be reminiscent of the circumstances surrounding Norma Khouri's book Lost honor, which was translated into a number of languages, including Swedish, and which received very positive criticism. Most publishers and consultants overlooked obvious errors in the book because it was a story that confirmed their own attitudes and thoughts about Islam and Muslims. This is in fact a phenomenon that has been thoroughly addressed by the recently deceased Palestinian academic Edward Said, in his great works Orientalism.

I do not in any way want to compare Olafsen's fictional book with Khouri's false portrayal of the Jordanian society and his friend who were killed. My point is just that some people seem to lose all critical sense when criticism of Islam emerges. When you think about what kind of societal consequences this has, and how it shapes young Muslims' views, such can neither be particularly fortunate nor particularly good in a professional way. Now Norma Khouri's lies were revealed before they were released in Norway, but I have no doubt that the mention of the brave Muslim woman who spoke out would have been just as excited in Norway as in other European countries.

Too banal

Back to Coranoid: It is written in a variety of styles and begins with a police report of a fire in an HVPU residence. The only survivor is a Norwegian autistic Muslim, who carries a Koran, some other books and a prayer blanket out of the burning building. These other books, as well as the police final report, make up the rest of the novel.

The first of these books is a journal kept by the staff, but where the journal entries for the last few days have been burned up. Here we see how the nurses adapt to themselves and the arrangement in the HVPU home after the autistic Muslim, before they then try out an experiment that goes horribly wrong: They get a book about a Norwegian ship doctor, who was captured by Algerians – and who eventually converted to Islam. This writing is used by caregivers to try to manipulate the autistic to not create problems for them. They rewrite parts of the text, where he, for example, receives a command from God, who wants him to help a Norwegian Muslim who has misunderstood Islam. This is of course our autistic, who will be helped on the right track. The nurses' idea is to let the Qur'an spread to other books, so they can use whatever they want and guide the autistic whichever way they want, because whatever they come up with is part of the Qur'an, and he will obey. Here, it is the intention that the nurses are seen as the Norwegian society, and the autistic is the Muslim who must be helped by these. It gets too stupid, too banal and too easy. The only conclusion one can draw is that trying to control the beliefs of others can have unforeseen consequences.

This part of the ship's doctor has received little attention in the reviews so far, so I would like to take a closer look at this. This is a presentation that is perhaps correct from a Norwegian standpoint in 1770, but the view of the Arabs is quite negative and tendentious. Here, sounds in the Arabic language are described as the sound you make when you do one's own vomit or vomit.

The fact that the author and others can find this funny is fine, but hardly particularly fruitful, and what it has of significance for this story is a good question. Long descriptions of Arabic spellings convey that the author understands these, but has little relevance to the story itself. At the same time, I find it strange that an Islamic expert, such as Olafsen is portrayed as, boils down to such simple and relatively banal things as the Muslim prayer call is verses from the Qur'an. It is not then. In this case, Olafsen is not the only one who has misunderstood the Muslim prayer call. After all, Carl I Hagen incorporated "kill the unbelievers" into the prayer cry from the Storting's pulpit once in a while.

Muslim sect

If we read on, we come to a longer and sometimes funny part about The Book of Clandestine. It is written by a Norwegian, who is a disciple and admirer of a somewhat mad Swedish professor. Here also comes some ridicule of academic debate, portrayed through the quarrel between this Swedish professor, Axel Mårdpäls, and the English professor Humbholdt. Mårdpäls has discovered a hitherto unknown / forgotten Muslim sect, the clandestine.

Humbhold refuses to accept this for a simple reason. He has written what is considered the definitive work of Muslim heretics, and it coincides if he has overlooked a group. At the same time, this part is marked by strange ideas that if one accepts the existence of these clandestine people, then the Muslims will have to change their view of their religion. These researchers' interpretations and strange world understanding are a bit funny, and are embedded in the text.

Furthermore, we have The Book of Clandestine, where the clandestine ones do sick and disgusting things to arouse disgust. This has been much focused on in most of the reviews, and at some points this is reminiscent of toddlers' tendency to want to be shocked by saying ugly words. Lubricating body fluids in sacred texts can hardly be meant as anything but provocation, which is what the clandestine people would achieve. What Olafsen, on the other hand, wants to achieve, is open to interpretation. I don't think the scenes have any real points, but end up as shock effects without deeper meaning.

Coranoid is exciting purely literary, and turns some writing on the head. That we never meet this Muslim autist in the text, but only through police reports and carers' descriptions, is also an exciting twist. This is a game with the way to tell the story that I found exciting and interesting. However, the book serves to be read purely as a fiction novel, and not so much more.

You may also like