tirsdag 24. mars 2009

Radical Islam in Norway: Myth or Reality?

No one is surprised when FrP attacks Muslims and blames immigrants for all the ills of society or for the failure to integrate them-selves in Norwegian culture. Putting the blame for the failure to resolve the deadlock of the process of integration on immigrants and the need to blame an other when things go awry are common themes in FrP’s depoliticized conception of politics. Although no one is surprised other politicians feel obliged to respond because of FrP’s tremendous success in mobilizing, articulating and voicing people’s real fears.

FrP with its populist discourse has for some time now manipulated people’s genuine worries about an increase of the presence of Islam and Muslims on their midst. Islam is a relatively new phenomenon in Norway. It has a reputation of being a religion which induces violence. Muslims, in the last two decades, stand behind some of the worst atrocities committed against civilians all over the world. It is thus, in the minds of many people, associated with phenomena which, understandably, appear threatening and dangerous.

Politicians cannot ignore this ominous reality and the radical elements that Islam is generating worldwide. These destructive elements must be fought uncompromisingly. There is no dialogue with people who refuse to employ dialogue as a means to communication and articulating their grievances. In this case one must fully identify with Bush’s infamous dictum, “you are either with us or against us”.

But politicians have also another duty. They must assess a situation as correctly as possible before they resort to discourses which generate fear among people. A correct evaluation of a situation is paramount for reducing misunderstandings and tensions between groups and communities. Radical Islam debate is one such situation.

However, a number of politicians, for opportunist or other reasons, often fail to assess a situation sufficiently. It is in this respect that the recent declarations of Martin Kolberg of the presence of radical Islam and islamization in Norway are worrisome. «Ap skal gå i front mot ekstremistene», said Kolberg to Dagsrevyen 12. mars. “Radikal islam hører ikke hjemme i Norge på noen som helst måte og det vil vi bekjempe”. No wonder Siv Jensen mocks him, “Det hørtes nesten ut som han hadde tatt manuset mitt” (Dagsavisen, 20 mars, 2009).

Of course radical Islam has no place in Norway! No one thinks otherwise, except perhaps the radical islamists themselves. But what is radical Islam? Jonas Gahr Støre defined it as “en bevegelse som er villig til å bruke vold for å nå sine mål” (Dagsavisen, 18 mars 2009).

Politicians should be alert to these elements and when necessary take all the measures to defeat them. We would, however, like to know the evidence that proves the existence of a movement or movements of radical Islam in Norway. It is clearly insufficient to say, with Støre, that “Utfordringen vår er det som skjer bak lukkede dører”. It is to be hoped that Støre does not seriously mean what he says. That it is only to make a political effect, to stress the seriousness of the situation. Orwellian connotations of acting on the premise of wanting to know what goes on behind locked doors are readily apparent and can signify more than mere curiosity, that is, surveillance and the like.

The 2009 Politiets sikkerhetstjenest (PST) report says
I de norske ekstreme islamistiske miljøene er det indikasjoner på at aktiviteter knyttet til radikalisering er i ferd med å øke. Det finnes karismatiske lederskikkelser i Norge som kan øve betydelig innflytelse på personer som er i en radikaliseringsprosess.

If there are Islamists working behind the locked doors as Støre and the 2009 PST report maintain and the government knows who and where they are, we expect the government to act accordingly. Why is it then that the government does nothing to prevent them from growing? If it knows of the radical Islam then it presumably should do something about it.

Failure to act can be seen either as an indecision on the part of the government to act resolutely or that the threat of radical Islam is not real. Either way the prospect for the government to win the elections in September looks bleak. Hence, the not so sudden rise and the upsurge in popularity of the FrP. FrP is not strong in and by itself. It is the coalition government that is weak and confused as their handling of blasphemy paragraph and hijab goes a long way to show. Using radical Islam as carte blanche to cover up or draw away the public’s scrutinizing gaze from other unsuccessful policies that the government is trying to hide, whatever they may be, creates unnecessary fear of an impending Islamic danger and stimulates distrust among people about their Muslim neighbours. It contributes to fuelling the suspicion that Muslims are potential extremists.

This is a serious problem with enormous implications, and people are entitled to know the extent and the intensity of this threat. The government, and other political forces, is proving that it is not merely a bystander or the innocent onlooker coming in to help. The government is a party to what happens here. It is thus morally and politically responsible for what happens here.

It is not that Muslims are radical, or that there are elements of radical Islam in Norway. It is rather that some politicians have just not learned yet how to respect, rather than simply tolerate, minorities.

Would it not be better if politicians talk and listen to Muslims who create occasions for exchange across groups; to women no matter their modes of dressing; to clergy who try to build an interfaith dialogue against the dictates of their own hierarchies; and to youth organizations that work together in mixed environments. They might find that locally there is less religious animosity than they suspect.

By including Muslims in the political landscape, officials might realize that Norwegian Muslims are not attempting to create a parallel Islamist society, and that the alarm about the so-called extremist or radical Islam has been grossly exaggerated. They might discover that they are manipulating the profound fears of people for cheap populist propaganda.

Hearing these communities, officials might confirm that the aspirations of most Norwegian Muslims are not the dreams of extremists, or the stubborn refrain of amateurish politicians, but a desire deep in the hearts of all Muslims, for equality as Norwegian citizens.

My worry is that these forms of discourses, which generate more fear than knowledge, will end up producing and reproducing religion or ethnicity as the primary principle of political belonging. Instead of de-ethnifying politics, of constructing a notion of citizenship inclusive of all people, without which there can be no democracy, FrP and a number of other politicians who play the fear card seem to be moving in a direction of helping to construct a new ethnic regime.

This polarisation in terms of rigid religious or ethnic identities makes the process of integration all the more problematic. People will identify themselves and look at the others not primarily as Norwegian citizens but first and foremost in terms of their particular religious or cultural belonging. Citizenship is pushed aside or replaced altogether by the particular identities which various groups identify with.

If integration is to have any chance of succeeding it can only succeed on the level of the universal form of citizenship. That is why it is very important to resist the temptation to elevate a particular content to or identify it with the level of the universal form of citizenship. In this context, national platforms, the interests of the nation as a whole, not particular identity formations, are the only basis upon which one can mobilize constituents. The reduction of politics to identity politics creates more problems that it solves. Politics is about decisions taken collectively, but if national politics degenerates to the level of identity politics then we may end up consolidating the problems we want to dissolve.

Prevention of radical Islam is based on an understanding of local needs. As the police forces deal with security through their work on intelligence and law enforcement, a different kind of intelligence should be gathered among the local Muslim people that will be most affected by the discourses that incite and play up the fear card.

Through consultation, officials would understand what the Norwegian Muslims in all their colourful varieties hope and fear. This process would help build the trust and security that fear generating discourses, as we all know, cannot guarantee.

If democracy, security and integration of Norwegian Muslims are the desired goal, a prolonged manipulation of the fear card is not the solution. The consequences of this approach are pernicious, yet today's debate on such issues shows very little has been learned from its failure in other parts of the world.

Many Muslims I have spoken to seem to have a diffuse sense of helplessness and feel politically homeless despite the fact that Norway is the only country they pledge absolute loyalty.

Martin Kolberg is now getting ready to fight the battle against radical Islam. He is not alone. But probably FrP will do it better.

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