It wouldn’t be an understatement to say that I’m less than enthusiastic about winter, and I spend most of it longing for the spring that seems to be so distant for so long. A tiny seed of hope starts growing inside me as I eat my Valentine chocolate, but when I can start sensing the International Women’s Day, I know there’s only a few weeks of misery left. I usually write something relevant to the women’s right before or on 8th March. I have covered the most obvious angles in previous years, but it strikes me at the moment that the feminism debate is a lot wider. It’s also a debate about racism, the Middle East, religion, and about what we ca do to create a better salad (I like this metaphor better than melting pot because everyone gets to keep their own traits, while they still are a part of something different).
When a mix of migrants and refugees (about 40 % are refugees) flocked to Europe there was a number of news stories being shared in social media. The so-called alternative media suggested that there were people in this crowd who didn’t necessarily cross the entire continent solely to seek refuge from the war, while women and children were trapped in a hopeless situation in a refugee camp in the Middle East. Perhaps there were men that had something else on their minds besides seeking protection from abusers? Some of them could be abusers themselves, which wouldn’t be surprising at all. There’s always going to be men abusing women and children, but there is also the effect war and abuse has on people, especially children and adolescents. I was skeptical to those kinds of news for a long time because some of them were clearly failing when you read them critically. Many of these sources were a little too alternative.
There is still much to suggest that mainstream media has failed in the coverage of the refugee crisis. Journalists have shifted focus repeatedly. They wanted to portray the refugees positively from the beginning, but they never asked critical questions. The result was that there were a lot of articles with a lot of unanswered questions. When they later asked critical questions it was all about the few people making a lot of money on emergency accomodation for refugees. Media has also described the government in very condensending terms. The government has said all the time that Norway couldn’t invite every individual that has been turned down elsewhere, while media seems to think we should. There has been absolutely no focus on the previous government. Jens Stoltenberg, present General Secretary of NATO, was the leader of a majority government in Norway between 2005 and 2013. The refugee crisis started in 2010, so this statement from the government wasn’t surprising at all, but why did it come less than 3 weeks before the election they lost in 2013? They knew how serious it was, but did nothing. It seems like Labour is untouchable.
There has been an unwillingness to ask the hard questions. No one wants to criticize because then we could be labeled a racist. This is perhaps the most abused words these days. We’re not allowed to say that a Muslim man is capable of rape. This article from the Sunday Express convey some of what has emerged since the attacks in Köln (Cologne) on New Year’s Eve. The article, which was written 3 weeks later gives the impression that this was not confined to one incident.
This is why media needs to ask critical questions. The refugees and migrants come from a very patriarchal culture. Is that relevant when we know that rape is about power? Is there a greater risk of abuse in a patriarchal society? Are there any grounds for believing that Muslim men will commit more abuse when they move to a more liberal society? Do we need to do more to protect potential victims? Is there something we can do to stop the sick fantasy that rapists and pedophiles have? What are we doing to protect women and children in the refugee centres? Are we spending enough resources on a thorough assessment and an appropriate psychiatric treatment? These are some of the questions we should be more concerned about, whether we belong to the majority or minority. The reigning attitude, however, appears to be that these people have suffered and it would be wrong to suspect them of commtting the abuse they have been victims of themselves. The most important thing is not to offend anyone.
It is nevertheless important to expect something from the immigrants. We have to make it clear to both the refugees and the migrants what is required of them here. That also means we have to try and understand their culture, and I don’t think we’ve even tried to. I have seen many headlines, like this on from The Guardian, where a Saudi Arabian woman was sentenced to 90 lashes after she had been gangraped 14 times by 7 men. She appealed the verdict because the men recieved mild sentences, and then she was sentenced to 6 months in prison and the lashes were increased to 200. She was given this stricter punishment because she had allegedly spent some time alone with a man she was not related to. The Independent wrote about 13 year old Aisha Ibrahim Duholow who was raped. She was sentenced to death by stoning for adultary.
Most people have heard about honour killings and child brides. It may very well be that most Muslims don’t support these kinds of crimes, but it is problematic how closed Islam is. It is downright dangerous for people living in a Muslim country to criticize this. What Allah has written or said is fixed. Nothing can be changed. I have mentioned, on several occassions, a law the Iraqi parliament concidered. It’s possible they rejected it because I never heard it mention again, but the fact that they even concidered a law that would have given fathers the right to force 9 year old daughters into marriage is appalling. The former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, mentioned it in a comment he wrote in The Guardian 2 years ago. A Norwegian newspaper wrote about a worse case in 2008. A judge in Saudi Arabia refused to invalidate a marriage between a 47 year old man and an 8 year old girl. He claimed he couldn’t do it until the girl reached puberty. What do you think happened to her in the meantime?
My daughter has a nice future and I’m not interested in sacrificing her. The International Women’s Day is about fighting for women’s rights. That means a lot of things. I want her to be able to go to the beach, the cinema, or to walk/ride the bus/ride her bike home after spending time with her friends. I want her to do this without having to worry about immigrants (both legal and illegal) or Soldiers of Odin, the neo-Nazis disguised as “The Night Ravens” (an organization of adults that patrol the streets downtown at night to prevent violence). I think the consequence of the misplaced kindness I have described in this post is a spread of racism and fear.
There are several types of antidote, one of them is to demand something from Muslim men. No one wants to confirm it of course, but there seems to have been a feminist attempt to challenge the leadership in the Muslim Brotherhood in 2012. Muslim Sisters, the female part of the organization, demanded senior positions in the Brotherhood. Sabah El-Saqari’s ambition was to become the first female member, and then position herself as the favourite to replace President Mursi. She resigned in favour of a male candidate, and as we now know, the military overthrew Mursi. I still think this could be the solution in the Middle East. NATO has tried to destabilize these countries, insisting that a Western democracy is the only path to happiness and stability. It would appear that using war to force democracy on people may not do the trick. Perhaps it would be better to support Muslim feminists, while we also demand more of Muslims in the Diaspora? I think Muslims would go through the same social revolution that Jews and Christians have experienced.
I have a feeling that we don’t debate this because we don’t want the racism label. There isn’t complete equality in Norway either, but life here is still pretty good. Women have far more choices than they used to, and there is more help available. In a society with immigration we can expect influence both ways, but this doesn’t necessarily happen automatically. The European attitude has been that immigrants should be left alone. They may live in a parallel society, but after a couple of generations they are going to choose our culture. This worked with regards to Quebec in Canada, so why not try it? It has been a complete failure in Europe.
Some people seem to think that we have to allow more from people of other cultures. They come from so alien cultures that we have to let them keep most of their ways. I don’t think immigrants will automatically choose the norms we have concerning men, women and sexuality. It takes a lot of effort to create good citizens with a moral identity that belongs to our culture. The people moving here know they are no longer living in Homs, Aleppo or Bagdad. It doesn’t always look like Norwegian authorities are aware of it, though.
It is possible that we have talked sufficiently about this in Norway. It is possible that we have talked loud enough and honest enough about it. We may have already taken it as seriously as we did with circumcision of girls a few years ago, but I haven’t detected any signs. I don’t know what we can expect from the Women’s Day this year, but I think we would to well to choose a broader focus, one that doesn’t just revolve around us and what Norwegian women haven’t achieved yet. The truth is that women could actually lose a lot of the rights they have won if we don’t deal better with a massive immigration.
Feminists in the Middle East were not allowed to take part in the Arab Spring. Maybe that’s what brought the cold winter back so quickly?