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Breivik's gun fired a shot at the political hypocrisy

Published on , , Sofia

Why Norway? This is what everybody is asking after the bloodbath on 22 July, staged by Anders Berlin Breivik. He killed 76 people in just a few hours, first by detonating a bomb in a government building, and then by firing at young supporters of the ruling Labour Party. Is Breivik a Christian fundamentalist or a right-wing extremist? Or is he just a crazy guy, armed with a gun and a bomb? Did he act alone? Who put the gun in the hands of a 32-year-old young man? What made him pull the trigger and kill dozens of Norwegian young people?

Some time ago, Breivik wrote that his enemies were defenders of multiculturalism – the understanding that different cultures should live together on the basis of getting to know each other, respect and understanding. There is a difference between the theory of multiculturalism and tolerance - the first is communication, the second - just existence side by side.

The Dutch professor of urban sociology at the University of Amsterdam, Paul Scheffer, is among the first to bring openly the issue of immigrants in the spotlight of public attention in Europe - yet in 2000 he published his essay The Multicultural Drama, causing heated debates. Last year I took an interview with Professor Scheffer, who clearly explained the problem Western Europeans have with Muslim immigrants.

”Generally speaking, I think our tolerance had turned more and less into indifference. We are not living with each other, but living next to each other. The idea was 'As long as you don’t touch me, as long as you don’t interfere with my life, I’m not going to ask you any questions'. When we are living in a city like Amsterdam, where 17 nationalities are living together, are trying to live together, and where a half of the population is from immigrant families, then we can no longer ignore each other. In a certain moment it became clear where the limits of our tolerance were. Here comes the moment when we have to start asking questions to each other.”

Professor Scheffer outlines three phases of relations with immigrants, drawn from the history of immigration. The first is avoidance, which people hypocritically define as tolerance; then comes the phase of conflict, which is inevitable in order to get to the third phase - social compromise. Obviously we are now at the stage where avoidance is impossible and conflict is inevitable.

This is the reason, catalysed by the social and economic crisis, for the rise of populist and anti-immigrant parties across Europe. And if our first thought is about France and the Netherlands, statistics show serious and lasting success of the populists especially in Scandinavian countries. The latest example is with the True Finns who became the third largest parliamentary force in Finland in the general elections in April 2011. The situation is similar in Denmark and particularly in Norway, where the anti-immigrant populist Progressive Party became second largest in the country as early as 1997, and in the 2009 elections it won 24 percent of the votes. Credit should be given to the traditional parties in the country for keeping populists in isolation and never making coalitions with them, despite their strong electoral performance.

This party's success can be explained with the following statistics: in 2011 over 18% of the population of Norway (5 million people) is of immigrant origin, 90% of population growth is due to immigrants, and 27% of the newborns are of immigrant origin.

Last year, three European leaders - British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced the failure of the doctrine of multiculturalism. They acknowledged that the integration of Muslim minorities in Western Europe had not happened. However, instead to provoke debates how to make it real after all, these statements had the effect of removing the lid of a boiling pot - boiling became more intensive.

What happened in Norway a few days ago is just a bloody embodiment of this latent conflict, which has been smoldering for years. It was most successfully exploited by the populist parties, which entered the national parliaments thanks to fear and discontent of people. However, they have done nothing to solve the problem, but to continue to use it as a tool for political blackmail - as the True Finns did regarding the bailout for Portugal, for example.

Fear is a powerful weapon in the hands of unscrupulous politicians. They ruthlessly use, stimulate, nurture, guide and exploit it, searching for political gains. The result? A man grabs a gun and kills dozens of his young compatriots, because he sees them as the future politicians, who will continue the line of tolerance and integration of immigrants. Less extreme, but not less disastrous are the consequences of entering into power of questionable political subjects, riding the wave of fear and hatred.

So, if you wonder who to blame - religion or the police, or may be Breivik's shrink - blame the political class. The populists that “armed” people's fear with aggression and the traditional parties that failed to oppose populism with meaningful political messages; failed to protect the values that they supposedly profess; failed to give their voters the security they needed and answer to them with all the honesty they deserve.

What are the solutions? According to British Prime Minister David Cameron, the liberal societies have been too tolerant towards immigrants. Why, if a white man confesses racist views, we condemn him but we do not oppose the horrors of forced marriages, for example? “Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream. We’ve failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong. We’ve even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values.”

Professor Scheffer also believes that integration cannot happen without putting particular demands to immigrants, who “should be invited to see themselves as citizens. That means to do exactly what everybody else is doing - to be a schoolteacher, to work in a factory, to be a city chancellor, to be the mayor of Rotterdam - the mayor of the second city in the Netherlands is a first generation Moroccan immigrant! I expect them to feel the same sense of responsibility that I would expect of all the others.”

The blame for the failed integration of Muslims in Western Europe could hardly be put only on governments and host societies. Ultimately, immigrants choose themselves whether their wives should work, whether to have one, two or five children, whether to send them to school or not. The defensive position “we will be different after all” may give some sense of security, but on the other hand - why do you go to another world, if you don't take advantage of all the opportunities it offers you, not only the higher salary? You look for a job but don't give your children the chance to go further, to learn the local language and get educated? You keep your wife at home because this is what you've done at home, regardless that in this new world she has the right to study, to work, to be realised as a person?

Not only the immigrants, however, should answer many questions. Each and everyone of us must ask himself or herself whether he or she behaves like a real citizen of his or her country; whether, while taking advantage of every opportunity that the society offers, we respect, in turn, our duties and responsibilities to it? These are simple things - to work, bring up our children, engage with the problems of the neighbourhood, the school, the city we live in, generally - to care about. We cannot expect something from others if we are not ready to do the same ourselves.

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