We hear relatively often these days about the large and growing Muslim communities in major European cities. Less frequently a subject of media attention in the U.S., however, is an equally significant phenomenon: the asylum centers that dot the landscape in many countries. In Norway alone, with a total population of only five million, there are a hundred or so such establishments around the country, some of them in largish cities, some in rural hamlets. In these centers reside individuals of foreign origin, mostly from the Muslim world, who are awaiting decisions about their applications for asylum. The places aren’t locked. (Those who humbly propose locking them are routinely depicted by the political and cultural elite as inhuman bigots.) Consequently, they serve for many of their residents as handy bases from which they can venture out and plunder the locals. They are, in other words, Ground Zeroes for criminality. It should also be pointed out that many, if not most, of the people living in them have no legitimate right to asylum at all.
On Wednesday, November 27, a group of men who live in the Hvalsmoen asylum center on the outskirts of Hønefoss, a town in the southeastern Norwegian municipality of Ringerike, staged a protest against what they considered lousy meals and small portions in the cafeteria. The protesters, who numbered somewhere between 25 and 30 and hail from Syria, Sudan, Iran, Morocco, Somalia, and the Palestinian territories, vandalized their blue food trays, scrawling “Hungry strik” (which isn’t correct in any language) and “Nei rasisme” on them (picture here), and marched into downtown Hønefoss, crying racism.
“We’re fleeing the war, not the food!” one asylum seeker complained – his point apparently being that the Norwegian government should provide them with the kind of Middle Eastern cuisine that they’re accustomed to. Another fellow maintained that some of his fellow residents are “doctors, engineers, and teachers” – his point apparently being that gentlemen of such accomplishment deserve far finer fare. “We know our rights!” he added. (Here’s a picture of some of the men in the asylum-center cafeteria. Just wondering: which one do you think is the doctor?)
When confronted with these complaints, the head of the Hvalsmoen plant, Tove Brorson, pointed that the asylum used to be a military facility, and that the cook was serving the men exactly the same food, in exactly the same size portions, that used to be presented to the soldiers. Brorson also rejected the charge that the food was bad. It’s ordinary Norwegian food, she said. “It’s not about bad food, but about culinary culture.”
The men’s complaints didn’t set well with many of the people of Ringerike, who, like other Norwegians, are already less than thrilled with the presence of these centers in their midst. (As reported early last month, a number of residents of the center in Hønefoss have been caught stealing merchandise – mostly beer – from the nearest supermarket. I was curious to know whether these crimes have been punished at all, but Brorson did not reply to my e-mails.) Several readers who posted comments at the website of the Romerikes Blad newspaper suggested that if the men don’t like Norwegian food, they’re welcome to leave the country. “Send the parasites home,” wrote one. “No,” replied another. “Throw them in the sea.” A reporter asked some of the asylum seekers if, in fact, they’d prefer to go back to where they’d come from. They answered with a firm no – though none of them, to judge from the account I read, showed the slightest hint of gratitude to Norway for taking them in. “Would you stay or go if there were a war here?” one of them shot back in reply to the reporter’s query. Another said, “I don’t like having to be in this cold country, but I’m wanted [yes, as in wanted by the cops] back home.”
On Thursday, the men claimed to have won their fight for more and better food, pronouncing themselves satisfied with the dinner they were served that evening: three chicken thighs apiece, plus boiled potatoes and salad, and the opportunity to get seconds. “Everything is different today,” one of the men declared. “Nonsense,” said Brorson, pointing out that the dinner was exactly what had already been listed on the weekly menu. Meanwhile a girl from Tanzania and a man from Somalia attested that the food at the center was fine and always had been.
Although their neighbors in Hønefoss weren’t thrilled with the asylum seekers’ protest, the demonstrators did receive outspoken support from one local political leader – Jørn-Inge Frøshaug, the head of the regional chapter of the Workers’ Youth League, the junior division of the Norwegian Labor Party. Frøshaug expressed anger at the people of Ringerike who’d been turned off by the food protest, calling their remarks “shocking and frightening” and accusing them of being “hateful.” They had displayed, in his view, a “fundamental attitude toward people in flight that is utterly reprehensible. I’m unbelievably disgusted.” He said he had a message for them: “Get a grip on yourselves!”
After all, asked Frøshaug, “what if it were nursing-home residents who were demonstrating against the food? I’m sure people here would’ve sung a different tune then. Or a child-care facility?” He attributed the Norwegians’ reactions to fear and ignorance, and wondered aloud: “Why do some Norwegians need to denigrate asylum seekers who are fleeing war and persecution? Is it about a need to say ‘don’t come here and complain’? Given that complaining is maybe the most Norwegian thing there is, it seems to me like successful integration.”
Well, well. Frøshaug is just a kid, but he’s plainly been very well trained and seems to be well on the road to being a proper Scandinavian socialist leader. He already views the voters not as his potential employers, whose opinions he should respect and take seriously, but as his potential subjects, who should either fall into line and echo the official ideology or shut up and obey orders. His remark about “complaining” is especially telling: during the recent election campaign, when it was pretty clear for a long time that the socialists, who have been in power for eight years, were headed for defeat, some of them got exasperated enough on occasion to gripe that there were too many complainers out there who just didn’t appreciate everything that the Labor-led coalition had done for them.
On the contrary: far from being a country of complainers, Norway is a country where most of the people work hard, deal uncomplainingly with the harsh climate, accept with a quiet fatalism the curve balls that life throws them, grit their teeth as their government floods their land with imported practitioners of soft (and not-so-soft) jihad, and subsist, for the most part, on – yes – simple, hearty traditional dishes that are, apparently, not good enough for people who claim to be fleeing war and persecution in some of the poorest and most oppressed parts of the world. Frøshaug imagines old people at a Norwegian nursing home organizing a protest about the quality of their food – but anyone here could tell you that such a thing would be next to inconceivable. Norwegians, especially older Norwegians, would never think of doing such a thing.
By Friday the trouble at Hvalsmoen seemed to be over. But on Saturday morning came the news that ten to fifteen residents had been involved a donnybrook. It had nothing to do with the food, apparently. Just one of those things – grown men throwing fists. The cops were called and put an end to it. Afterwards, the local police department tweeted: “The fight calmed down and both parties agreed to start the day by being friends…brotherly fellowship.” One can only hope that whoever tweeted that was being sarcastic.
So it goes. How depressing it is that while so many ordinary Norwegian citizens plainly have a very clear picture of what’s going on at these asylum centers – and of what it bodes for the future of their countries – their elected representatives seem not to grasp (or not to want to face the fact) that people who can be so arrogant, demanding, and belligerent even while their asylum applications are being scrutinized are probably not very likely to end up as peaceable, law-abiding, and productive citizens of Norway. Legitimate refugees don’t act this way; conquerors do.
For me, the most poignant reader comment on any of the news stories about this food flap was one that was posted by a young man who identified himself as Geir. “How did it get like this in Norway?” he asked. “I don’t get it. It wasn’t so bad when I was growing up in Oslo in the 1990s. What’s happening? It’s enough to make you go crazy.” Yes, it is. And what can make you go crazy even faster is that, thanks to the top-notch efforts of the schools and the media, somebody who grew up in Oslo in the 1990s can have reached adulthood without really understanding what’s been done to his country in his name.
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