If you wanted to give some innocent soul a quick education about how things operate in today’s Europe, you could do worse than to point to the career of a certain gentleman named Shoaib Sultan. In 2007, as Secretary-General of Norway’s taxpayer-funded Islamic Council, he made headlines when he refused to publicly criticize the execution of gays in Iran; two years later, he declined to comment on Islamic scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s praise for the Holocaust as a “gift from Allah.” Not only did Sultan keep his job after those episodes; eventually, the Norwegian Centre against Racism (also taxpayer-funded) gave him an even better job– thus proving that its chief objective isn’t really to fight racial hatred but, on the contrary, to insulate even the most hateful and violent aspects of Islam from criticism by demonizing its critics as racists.
Nor has Sultan’s unwillingness to distance himself from the likes of Qaradawi kept him from becoming a mover and shaker in a range of Norwegian institutions: he’s a leading member of the Green Party; he’s sat on the boards of groups like the Global Migrants for Climate Action and the Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief; when the University of Oslo decided to consider establishing a Center for Islamic Studies, he was appointed to the committee. He was also a director of a short-lived group called the Peace Initiative, whose goal was to pull Norway out of NATO and wrest it free from evil U.S. influences. (Sultan, by the way, has a bachelor’s and MBA from Colorado State.) Now comes the news that the Culture and Education Committee of the city of Oslo has put Sultan in charge of this year’s celebration of Norway’s national day, May 17. Make no mistake: this isn’t just a major assignment, but a significant honor. Indeed, it is, implicitly, a kind of anointing – a statement that Sultan is a model citizen, enjoying the respect of the people and state and embodying the fundamental values of Norwegian culture.
What are Norwegian values? What is Norwegian culture? Last September, 29-year-old Labor Party politician Hadia Tajik was named Norway’s Minister of Culture, thereby becoming the youngest person and first Muslim ever to serve in the Norwegian cabinet. Not long after her appointment, Tajik, who was born in Norway to immigrants from Pakistan, was asked what Norwegian culture means to her. Her answer: pinnekjøtt and puréed rutabaga – both of them popular Christmas dishes in Western Norway, where Tajik grew up. One was reminded of the notorious 2004 remarks by Sweden’s then Minister of Integration Mona Sahlin, who, speaking at a mosque, said that many of her fellow Swedes envied Muslims, because Islam is a rich, unified culture while Swedish culture consists only of silliness like Midsummer’s Night. Then there’s the 2005 press conference at which a Swedish integration official, Lise Bergh, was asked by writer Hege Storhaug whether Swedish culture is worth preserving. Bergh replied: “Well, what is Swedish culture? I think I’ve answered the question.” As Storhaug noted, Bergh didn’t even try to hide her own “cultural self-contempt.”
Whether or not Tajik holds Norwegian culture in contempt is uncertain, but her feeble description of it – which she later amplified by making the self-evident observation that it’s a culture in change and by noting, bemusingly, that many Norwegian words derive from other languages – set off a major debate on the topic. In a January op-ed, “Not My Culture Minister,” journalist Jon Hustad briefly but effectively outlined the ways in which the Protestant Reformation and Lutheran piety helped shape a society of hard-working, law-abiding people who trusted one another – and who, confronted in the late twentieth century with a massive influx of indigent immigrants from a very different culture, responded with utter naivete (and Lutheran guilt over their own prosperity).
Then, in February, writer Lily Bandehy, who a quarter-century ago fled her native Iran with her then-one-year-old son, wrote her own op-ed, headlined “Not My Norway,” in which she confessed that she, too, enjoyed pinnekjøtt at Christmas, “but this is not the reason why I escaped to Norway.” She did so because a gradually modernizing Iran, where women had attained real equality, had fallen to the forces of sharia, who forced stripped women of their rights and forced them back into hijab. Not wanting to live in a country dedicated to “the stoning of women, the burning of homosexuals, the murder of converts [from Islam], slavery, and the veiling of women and girls,” Bandehy escaped to Norway “to live in the light,” in a society founded on “Enlightenment ideas about freedom” and the Western humanist tradition. “I read Norwegian literature and newspapers, I went to the theater, listened to Norwegian music, studied the culture. My dream had been fulfilled! A country without hijab, without bearded men, and with full freedom to be yourself, woman as well as man.”
At first Bandehy assumed that other Muslims who came to Europe would integrate and become secularized. But the opposite happened: all too many of them demanded that Europeans allow within their borders a hierarchical, oppressive Muslim subculture. And they won. Norwegian politicians, laments Bandehy, have already sold out much of the Norwegian constitution. Schools downplay Christmas; school cafeterias serve only halal food; taxi drivers turn away blind people with guide dogs; “even the cute little pink drawings of pigs have disappeared from the children’s wing at the hospital.” The number of mosques, Koran schools, and Islamic websites grows steadily. So does the number of women in hijab. Meanwhile the pro-sharia student group IslamNet agitates for sharia.
“We have a collective responsibility for protecting our Norwegian culture,” Bandehy pronounces. She quotes cabinet member Jonas Gahr Støre, who said last November that “we must live with” the fact that some people refuse to shake hands with members of the opposite sex. “Doesn’t Støre understand,” she asks, “that by saying this he is accepting the oppression of women? That he is selling out a critical element of Norwegian culture? Has Støre asked himself whether a woman who can’t shake a man’s hand can be treated by a male doctor? Where can she work? How does she view the rest of us women, ‘the unclean’? How will she deal with gays and ‘infidels’? Should Norway build special schools, hospitals, and fitness centers for women? Separate buses and trams for women?…Where will I flee to in ten or twenty years because democracy and equal rights have been buried here?”
So it goes. Increasingly in recent years, European governments, NGOs, universities, and media organizations have been handing over positions of power to Muslim immigrants and their children – welcoming them, as it were, into the ranks of the elite. But with very few exceptions, the people being welcomed in this fashion are not the rare and deserving Lily Bandehys, who have ardently embraced and eloquently championed Western culture and values (Bandehy, although widely known for her newspaper commentaries, makes her living as a psychiatric nurse), but the Shoaib Sultans, whose refusal to criticize even the most monstrous aspects of Islam compels one to conclude that they are hard-core devotees of sharia, and the Hadia Tajiks, the generous view of whom is that they are clueless, toothless appeasers, accommodaters, and moral relativists. Minister of Culture! Chairman of Oslo’s May 17th committee! These, in the year 2013, are the kinds of persons who have been designated as the guardians of Norwegian culture – a culture which they, at best, simply don’t understand or appreciate, and, at worst, actively despise and seek to destroy.
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