The liberal dilemma

Haugesund photographed from the hospital. According to the biggest of three population forecasts for Norway there will be 15 300 more people in my little hometown in 2040. That could create tension.
Haugesund photographed from the hospital. According to the biggest of three population forecasts there will be 15 300 more people in my little hometown in 2040. That could create tension.

We are very liberal in Norway and I think most people see that as a good thing. Many applaud the freedoms we have, such as women’s liberation, abortion, gay rights, and as of this week homosexuals can also get married in the Lutheran Church. Many also feel that we should have increased Muslim immigration, which seems strange because more and more Norwegians are aversed to religion in general, and especially our own religion, and because this involves several contradictions that are hard to reconcile with the society we want.

It is likely that the religious demographics will change in Norway with a gradually decreasing interest in our own Lutheran-humanist tradition, while Islam will probably remain the biggest of the other religions. It depends on which branch of Islam we are getting, but I share the skepticism many have when I see how Islam works in countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Sudan. One of the biggest hurdles in creating a society where Christians and Muslims can coexist seems to be sharia laws. Many believe that these laws are incompatible with democracy and human rights.

Some people associate sharia law with medieval punishment like amputating limbs, flogging and death by stoning, and this undoubtedly happens in Muslim countries, including in some of our allied countries. Muslims think differently about this because they don’t distinguish between law and religion. I don’t know the details, but it appears that Islam has a view of for example infidelity, sex as a marital duty (which can lead to rape), and sexual orientation that most of us don’t support. There are also complicated rules for banking, and there is an increasing number of international banks that aim to follow the Quran even though this clearly hasn’t been historically important to the Muslims themselves. Why would we accept it for minorities if we find it unacceptable?

Muslim immigration has been a challenge in many Western countries because they have been afraid to offend the Muslims, and integration has actually been seen as an intolerant attitude towards the minorities. The result was that it took much too long before governments even tried to integrate minorities. We allowed a sort of parallel societies to develop. It is possible that Islam will change in the West, that it will become less patriarchal the next century. Nevertheless, I think we may find that it won’t develop as smoothly as we want. The problem isn’t immigration, but the fact that we are not willing to plan ahead could make the size of the immigration an issue.

Economy is one reason why the euphoria from the “open immigration for Syrians campaign” won’t last. There are some major variables that may or may not change everything rapidly. Times are changing even without the immigrants, and many agree that we have to pay a lot more tax in the future just to keep the services we have today. The problem is the aging population (and low birth rate) and without immigration the cost of paying pensions would soon be higher than the income from taxes and the dividend from the state oil fund. The oil market is unstable and last year may have been a warning that we could find ourselves in trouble long before we run out of oil. The government’s income from oil dropped by $ 2 billion the first 6 months of 2016 despite the production increasing 3,5 percent.

I think the motivation for accepting more people than we may be able to handle is the work force we are going to need in the future. It’s a risky project because it’s starting to look like we are just storing labour for the future. According to Statistics Norway there were 380 000 employed immigrants in Norway in the 4th quarter of 2015. This doesn’t sound bad because the immigrants make out 15 percent of the population and of the work force. A closer look at the statistics show that employment among immigrants from Europe and North-America is high, but much lower among immigrants from Asia, Africa and South-America. The statistics also show that immigrants from outside EU/EFTA, Australia and New Zealand have to live here for at least 4 years before they can get an employment rate of more than 50 percent, and the highest this group will ever reach is just under 57 percent after 15 years in Norway, which is significantly lower than the rest of the population.

Many compare the Norwegian minister of immigration with Donald Trump because she wants to have a controlled immigration, but if things don’t develop the way we want them to, she won’t be our biggest problem. Would you be happy in a country that supported you financially, but wouldn’t let you work? No one would!

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