I have referred to racism several times recently. The problem is undoubtedly smaller in Norway compared to many other countries, but I still think it could become significantly larger if we don’t deal with the amount we have. The main problem at the moment is that we fail to (or refuse) recognise racism, which could enable it to grow strong while under cover. That could also lead to many, with good reason, feeling that they are being treated unfairly and without any possibility of being believed. Can you imagine anything worse than being discriminated against in a society that claims that racial inequality is a thing of the past? Whatever you say there’s no chance of being heard or believed.
There’s no doubt that prejudices are growing rapidly, and in this context we can’t say that we are not a member of the European community (many feel that the very open antisemitism in for example France could never happen here, which is a load of crap of course). It was probably easier being a Jew, Muslim and a Romani in Europe 20-30 years ago than it is today. No one feels, nevertheless, comfortable being labelled as a racist, and most people will thus avoid a language that could result in that kind of accusations/control techniques from their opponents. Some racists wrap their ideas into more acceptable formulations. The Norwegian sociologist Katrine Fangen studied Norwegian neo-nazis in the early 1990’s, and found among other things that they talked about ethnicity and culture rather than race. They used these terms, according to Fangen, in a clearly racist way, but they wanted to avoid any accusations of racism. One of our political parties is very populistic when they talk about immigration, and they frequently use terms like Norwegian culture and heritage, and our way of life.
You only need to read a couple of comments following an online article discussing Jews/Israel to get an idea of how widespread antisemitism is, although I do believe this term is frequently used as a technique to control opponents, not least by Israeli authorities (Muslim governments use the same tactics). There’s no room for social criticism because even a well founded criticism of the Israeli government is frequently branded as anti-Semitic. Sometimes by Israeli authorities (or the embassy), but also by many so called “friends of Israel”. I have encountered many of these friends among Christians. Another thing I find troubling is that we distinguish between antisemitism and Islamophobia. We are talking about two Semitic peoples. It is possible to convert of course, and when it comes to Jews, many seem to be of European descent. Islam developed in the same region, and although there are many white Muslims, it is still a religion that most people associate with the Arabs, which is one of the three remaining Semitic peoples. The term phobia is odd as that word is associated with a morbid fear, something irrational that doesn’t have any grounding in reality. These words makes sense when we are talking about fear of heights or social situations, but I wouldn’t even use the term, as many do, together with homo.
Islamophobia has become an accepted term, but there is some disagreement among researchers about the definition. They do, however, agree on the essentials. Islamophobia is about prejudices and generalisations of Muslims. Every Muslim has to be responsible for the actions of any Muslim, as crazy as that sounds. If a Muslim is a terrorist or against individual freedom (especially for women) and democracy, all Muslims must share those attitudes. Apart from the fact that the term islamophobia suggest that a scepticism to Islam is a result of an illogical fear or even disease, it is problematic because it can be used as a weapon to silence opponents, much like antisemitism is used. If you criticise countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for lashing or imprisoning rape victims (even children), does that make you an islamophobe? Or is it anti-Semitic when European countries express support for Palestine as a separate state, or when media covers a peaceful demonstration where Ethiopian Jews demand the same rights as other Jews in Israel have?
We need to distinguish between criticism and discrimination. The comparison with disease could also be used to get away with crime. I can imagine someone saying that they didn’t know what they were doing because it was the phobia, the illogical fear, acting. There are some exceptions, though. Anders Behring Breivik undoubtedly had some attitudes and opinions that could not be defended with rational arguments. The Eurabia theory was essential to his understanding of reality. This conspiracy theory states that European politicians and academics are working with Arab countries to colonise Europe. This conspiracy probably originated from taqiyya, and old strategy in Shiite Islam for survival. Historically Shiite Muslims have been recommended to hide their beliefs and intentions while living i oppressive Muslim regimes. I don’t know if this recommendation still stands, but it is true that we are still seeing a strong power struggle within Islam. This has been raging since the prophet Muhammad died.
Islamophobia is more than a conspiracy theory, however. It is also expressed as negative stereotypes (Muslim men despise women, they are undemocratic and terrorists etc.). I still think it would be a mistake not to require something from the people that choose to settle here. There has been a tendency in Europe to allow immigrants to live in parallel societies, and some countries have even flirted with sharia laws. Britain considered introducing Sharia laws for their Muslim population and the largest bank in Norway considered seriously to offer sharia loans to Muslim customers, which wouldn’t exactly promote the idea of equality. In the present climate you tend to be considered intolerant if you criticise this. Tolerance doesn’t seem to be about having integrity and a spine anymore.
It is only racism, in my opinion, if you ascribe negative attitudes to an entire group, such as Jews or Muslims. I don’t have to assume that an arab taxi driver with a long beard is a member of ISIS, Taliban, Al Qaida or any of the other groups that abuse Islam. I don’t have to assume that he has attitudes towards women that most people find offensive and illegal.
There has been a debate in Norway in recent weeks about Syrian refugees. The Labour Party suggested we accept 10 000 Syrians over two years, in addition to the regular refugees we would grant asylum anyway. I believe they did that because they knew the Conservative government wouldn’t go for that, and because the opposition in Parliament won’t have the responsibility of making it work. In my next post I am going to write some about the challenges I believe we and the Syrians will face here.
Some say that racism never existed here, while others argue that it is a thing of the past. That’s what you can read on Norway’s timeline. That’s where we share our lies, but sometimes things come out that we didn’t intend because we thought only our friends could read it. Quite a few politicians have learned that the hard way. So what are the messages on Norway’s timeline we don’t want anyone to know?