The debate that was held tonight (19.08.09) at the Grønland mosque on the topic of the failure of integration in Norway did not succeed in enlightening us as to the reasons of why is integration failing. The panellists Jonas Gahr Støre (Ap), Abid Raja (V) and Per Willy-Amundsen (Frp) evinced considerable weaknesses, displayed lack of progressive visions and their political message was fraught with ambiguities and evasions of the relevant questions.
I had waited with considerable anticipation the debate in the mosque hoping that politicians will come up with some concrete suggestions or a set of guidelines as to how and within what parameters should the integration of ethnic and religious minorities proceed. The end of the debate left me wondering if I had not just witnessed a political debacle: I became more confused than I previously was. No single practical suggestion was offered which would facilitate the integration of minorities and asylum seekers. It is merely assumed that immigrants must be integrated. How should integration concretely happen is left unanswered. We didn’t even get to know what they meant by the concept “integration”. Was it institutional integration or cultural integration that they were discussing? Institutional integration would require addressing the issues of discrimination in employment, education, housing, etc, as well as redressing the reasons for the high percentage of crime among minorities. Is Norwegian language the only requirement of integration or are there other requirements? If there are other requirements, what are they? Per Willy-Amundsen was more concerned with the question of values, implying that minorities fail because of their values. He offhandedly dismissed the importance of employment as being the most relevant factor in the process of integration. When discussion of integration shifts from the socio-economic to the cultural, so too, does the yardstick of its measurement.
The issue of majority vs. minorities’ prejudices was raised only to be quickly swept under carpet. It raises troubling questions which politician would rather do without. Moreover, we didn’t get to know which particular prejudice they had in mind and what institutional mechanism should be employed to dismantle negative prejudices? Amundsen categorically denied that ethnic Norwegians had any prejudice against other minorities. This was a startling claim. Not only that he himself has continually contributed to spreading a number of prejudices and stereotypes against minorities, particularly against Muslims, but that if one reads the comments that are published in response to more positive articles on Muslims in various newspapers, one cannot avoid noticing that prejudices against certain minorities abound.
This should not be understood that minorities are prejudice free. On the contrary, some of them continue to live as if they have never migrated to Norway and expect all the traditions of their country of origin to be recognized and respected. When they find that that is not the case they anyway engage in practices which clash with values of Norwegian society (informal prohibition of women to marry outside the group, an exclusionary practice justified on cultural or religious terms, bringing spouses from their countries of origin), and sometimes engage in practices which even go against the laws of the country (forced marriages and, to a lesser, but no less important for that matter, degree, the genital mutilation of the girls…). These are real problems and they cannot be set aside as some form of cultural difference. A culture that does not respect the basic universal human rights loses the right to acquire respect and autonomy.