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First the large-scale level: it may sound absurd to an American reader, but it is also tragically true that it is nearly taboo in Europe to admire your country. Better to feel shame and guilt for Europe’s history – the Crusades, colonialism, etc. This form of self-flagellation is encouraged especially by the intellectual elite. It seems almost to have been dropped down the memory hole that the world’s most humane and developed societies were created in the West as a result of a several-hundred-year-long struggle for freedom. Why have we managed to create such good societies that give individuals such a unique degree of personal freedom? Why is there a one-way stream over the bridge from the Muslim world to Europe? I think we need to be more aware of the process that led us to this freedom, for that’s the only way we can pass on this magnificent liberty to the next generation.
Europe has been in deep ideological crises before. I think that every generation needs to be brought up to understand and appreciate freedom – to know how it comes into being, to know what makes it tick, to know what can bring it down. In the 1930s and 1970s, many young people and intellectuals lost sight of crucial democratic values and principles. At those times, the threats we faced were Nazism, and later Communism and Marxism. Today, and for the foreseeable future, the danger takes the form of ideological fanaticism on the part of people who think that religious law should supersede democratic law,
In order to be able to resist this menace, we need a society in which citizens have a firm appreciation of democracy, a knowledge of its history, and a familiarity with its key texts, and a reverence for its fundamental values. Democracy stands or falls on citizens’ love and persistence – their fierce loyalty to these fundamental principles and values. For this reason I want to see a ”democracy canon” introduced into European schools and into the public debates about issues that will shape the society we leave our children. Our democracy is precious; we can’t afford to lose it. Yet we may well lose it, nevertheless, if we take it for granted and sleep in class.
We need a quick wake-up call, and political action, and forms of immigration that are sustainable in terms of both economics and values. Let me give an example of the latter. There’s at least one group of Muslim immigrants in Europe who represent a decided asset for the societies in which they live. I’m speaking of those Persians who fled Iranian despotism beginning in the 1980s and 90s. Most of them are well educated people who came from intellectual and political families. They had already assimilated into our values before they arrived. Most of them have been success stories: they got good jobs and are full and active members of society. At the same time they have preserved traditions from their culture which do not interfere with human rights, such as celebrating the Iranian New Year.
On the other hand, we find typical immigrants from rural villages in Pakistan who have come to the West, in most cases, through a relative. This immigration has cost a lot, both in a literal economic sense (because of low employment rates and high welfare dependency) and because most of these people, in their minds, are still living in Pakistan. For many of them, Norway is only a cash cow. In other words, immigration policy must be changed in such a way as to ensure that Europe will receive immigrants who can contribute to their new societies in every possible way. If not, welfare outlays will have to be cut, as is already happening in places like Britain. Such developments may well lead to social unrest and conflicts between groups.
Let me just add this, to avoid any possible misunderstandings: I think we should be generous to real political refugees. For example, an Iraqi friend of mine had his back broken in Saddam Hussein’s prisons. He’ll never be able to work and contribute economically to society. Of course a person like him, a real freedom fighter, should be allowed to live in the West and receive public benefits.
An immigration policy that is genuinely sustainable in terms of values requires that we be extremely wary of the power of Islam. For this reason, applications for asylum should be rejected if they’re based on religious grounds that guarantee that the individuals will remain on the outside of mainstream society. I’m thinking especially of people who don’t allow their daughters, say, to take swimming lessons or to go camping. When immigrants refuse to take part in mainstream society, and refuse also to allow their children to do so, they are treating their children intolerably and acting in a way that will ultimately bring down the society itself.
Which brings us to level number two: forms of assault that Europe has never seen before, including family executions (honor killings) and genital mutilation. Europe is failing to prevent these outrages. Let me give an example that shows how barbarity needs to be dealt with, and one example that shows the opposite, both of them drawn from the book. In June 2006, nine people were on trial in Denmark. One was accused of having shot his 18-year-old Danish-Pakistani sister, Ghazala, in the open street. The eight others, family members and friends, were his accomplices in what had clearly been an out-and-out hunt for the young woman. The family had set up guard posts, patrolled the streets, kept in close touch with one another in order to circle in on the girl and lure her into the trap by exploiting her weakest point – her hope for forgiveness from those whom she loved, in spite of everything: her own family. Forgiveness for having married the person she loved, a young Danish-Afghani man.
But this hope ended in murder – a murder in which nine conspirators were involved, and for which all of them were found guilty. The father, who had pronounced his daughter’s death sentence, was sent to prison for life, The brother who had been chosen by the family to commit the murder got 16 years. The aunt who lured Ghazala into the trap by exploiting her longing for her family’s love got 14 years, after which she would be expelled from the country (she was not a Danish citizen). The mildest sentence – 8 years – was meted out to the person who had driven around in a taxicab searching for the girl.
These verdicts represent a milestone in the history of European judicial rulings and are unique in international jurisprudence. Denmark firmly refused to show ”cultural understanding.” Or, more accurately, Denmark showed that it understood these people’s culture very well: Ghazala had been the victim of a planned execution in which everyone played a part. This is the way that honor killing should be treated by courts, and since that ruling, Denmark has not experienced a single honor killing.
The other case is a complete tragedy that concerns four Norwegian born sisters with Gambian parents. The girls were taken to Gambia in 2003, at which time they ranged in age from 3 to 9. There they were subjected to ritual female genital mutilation in the African jungle. In the summer of 2005 I visited them in Gambia, and found four emotionally withdrawn children under the “care” of their father’s wife number two.
When I returned to Norway I reported this crime to the Oslo police. They acted at once. But they ran into a wall: the Gambian authorities, ignoring these girls’ Norwegian citizenship, treat these girls as Gambian nationals, and as long as the parents refused to cooperate by returning the girls to Norway, there was nothing the Norwegian police could do.
Nonetheless, three years later, in 2008, something was done: the parents had two more daughters, who were then aged 3 and 5. They were given medical exams, which showed that the older girl had also been genitally mutilated. The father was taken into custody (a historic imprisonment in Norway), but was let out after a couple of months. Even though the police had definitive evidence that the girl had been mutilated, the father was not charged with a crime. The parents got off simply by denying that they knew that the girl had been mutilated! All four of the sisters in Gambia are still being held captive there – and this has had no effect on their parents’ status in Norway. On the contrary, the parents have continued all along to receive Norwegian welfare benefits.
My conclusion in this extremely serious case is that we need to employ much, much stronger methods – especially where the health and human rights of children are concerned. In the book I argue that these parents have proven beyond a doubt that they still live, mentally speaking, in Gambia; they have violated all their obligations as parent; and they refuse to bring their children home to Norway, the country of their birth. These parents have acquired Norwegian citizenship only for their own economic convenience. My proposal in the book is that these people’s citizenship should be revoked and that they should be sent back to Gambia, while Norway takes custody of the two girls who live in Norway. After all, if Norwegian authorities had been able to take such action in 2003, when the girls were dumped in Gambia, I believe the girls would still be in Norway – going to school, unmutilated. The parents would not have dared to risk the possibility of being kicked off the Norwegian gravy train.
We need to address these problems, and fast. To quote one of Norway’s most beloved poets of the post-World War II era, Inger Hagerup, wrote in her poem “Be Impatient!”:
There’s no time to lose.
It can go wrong again.
What is it we want?
We must be committed to the defense of our fundamental values. We must be committed to the creation of a society based on these values. And we must be committed to raising everyone’s awareness that our contemporary struggle for freedom in the West requires the contributions of everybody.
FP: Hege Storhaug, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.
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