COMMENTARY: “The rose democracy, in which the Norwegian people now stand together around an open, multicultural society, is a false image. The reality is that the natural response of many Norwegians on the 22nd July was to abuse and bash Muslims” - Associate Prof. Svein Tuastad, Stavanger Aftenbladet, 4 August 2011.
This false image was often accepted as a norm in the media, online blogs and political debates, until 22th July, in any case. I have experienced how even the most liberal Norwegians get upset when confronted with facts and examples about how Norway is not a multicultural society, but a society where immigrants are ranked second-class. This hate mentality, group thinking and xenophobia worries many immigrants who have grown up in multicultural societies elsewhere in the world, including myself. Many like me have accepted Norway with her weaknesses and strengths and now call her home. Norwegians and immigrants are discussed as two separate groups in Norway, but in a multicultural society this division and debate would be less of an issue.
Professor Paul Stephens at the University of Stavanger has recently described the modern British society as a “salad bowl”, similar to the Canadian and Australian versions of multiculturalism. These models are quite different than the melting pot model preferred by some Norwegians which has been used in European Continent countries, such as Germany, without success. Instead of an exciting salad, Germanyhas ended up with a society that has integration problems with her immigrants.
It is perhaps not too hard to see what is going wrong in Norway. The invading Germans that built “Festung Norwegen” (Fortress Norway) during World War II developed a problem; namely an “Übermensch” mentality. They believed that they were a better race, with higher standards and values. Whilst the version of this mentality experienced by us immigrants in Norway is, admittedly, mild, Stephens calls this “the Norwegian standard”.
Building a multicultural nation in Norway is difficult when some Norwegians see themselves as inhabiting a society with higher standards than the rest of the world. Put simply, how are we going to create a bowl of salad when the lettuce prefers not to mix with the cherry tomatoes, the feta cheese, olives and the pomegranates?
I have seen Norway becoming an ostrich nation where own values, ways of thinking, bureaucracy and traditions are perceived to be the best in the world, regardless of what really is going on in the country or overseas. There exists a
Mert Akin/©2011 The Foreignercompletely different Norway, disconnected from higher standards, where an African female is assumed to be a prostitute, rather than an engineer; where a Muslim is seen as a terrorist or a wife beater, not an accountant. Where Norwegians with an immigrant background are still called “3rd generation immigrants”, whereas their parents´ international food store is termed “immigrant shop” (innvandrerbutikk) in Norwegian
And in this “alternative” Norway, a family reunification visa application to the Directorate of Immigration (Utlendingsdirektoratet/UDI) results in the throwing of qualified, educated immigrants into society without an ID number and out of work, meaning they have to live in limbo for months. Where the very same qualified and educated immigrants have problems getting a job in their own field, having to settle with delivering newspapers at 3 am in the morning, or take a job at the mink farm, which no Norwegian would take.
Paul Stephens claims that, “those of us with non-western background, especially with dark skin or with a “gipsy” background, can never become a “real Norwegian” because Norwegian blood is thicker than a Norwegian passport”. Correct, but one does not necessarily need to have darker skin or Roma heritage to be refused the golden status. Entry into the “übermensch” club is “verboten” if one dares to criticise Norway’s false view about herself.
In a “multicultural” Norway, we need a state that welcomes its immigrants with as much enthusiasm and open arms as she does her oil income, a country where immigrants can retain their citizenship like in Canada, Australia and the UK, for example. We need a country that respects not only ethnicity or religion, but previous national identity too. We need a country where there is neither a big debate about, nor a requirement for who is allowed to call themselves a Norwegian. We need a Norway that seeks dedication and loyalty by showing respect for ethnic religion, tradition and language.
A ‘multicultural’ Norway needs a state that is secular and properly equipped with a modern regulatory framework, and institutions that do not just regulate immigration, but plan the nation’s future with it if this is to happen. Today’s cumbersome and outdated framework is direly in need of reform.
We do not become multicultural by reading that people from 170 countries live in Stavanger, nor do we become more tolerant by celebrating Norway as we do nowadays. We indeed live in a country where people believe the name “Fremskritt”(Progress), is the name of a political party, rather than a process when a society thinks critically about itself and finds ways of improving.
To be multicultural requires openness, magnanimity and a will to change. Nevertheless, it is difficult to see how this openness, magnanimity, and will to change will arise now, after 22 July, if these did not exist before.
Mert Akin - 2nd time immigrant
First published in Stavanger Aftenblad. Reproduced and translated by kind permission.
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