Sunday, July 24, 2011

Norway and extremism

My heart goes out to Norway. I've been doing a lot of reading about this, there have been tons of blog posts speculating the reasons that drove this man to commit these heinous crimes. Over on /r/atheism there's discussion that atheists should be pointing out that this was a christian terrorist and work to ensure that the name sticks. They are saying that our media uses different words because he was christian compared to muslim.

In the US this massacre will no doubt bring up debates about restricting gun usage and access. However, Norway has some of the strictest gun laws in the world, and it clearly didn't help. This blog post helps explain the extent that this man went to in carrying out this violence. Additionally Al Jazeera has an interesting op-ed lambasting NYT for quickly claiming it was a muslim terrorist then switching to christian extremist.

My take on this is a bit more complex. The op-ed writer claims that it's not a battle between Islam and Christianity but a battle between extremists and the average person. While he is correct in that, it's not as simple as we'd like it to be. Unfortunately, differences in religion and cultures make it very difficult to figure out ways of dealing with these problems. Misinformation has spread so there is a lack of trust between your average person in the west and in the middle east. Bridging that gap will be difficult. In europe there are additional problems.

In many articles there are discussions of the lack of integration of different groups of immigrants into European countries. Some of these groups have the highest rates of criminality in the country. For example in the Netherlands Moroccans are the group with the highest level of criminality in the country. They have not integrated well at all. However, this is a two edge sword, as in many cases they aren't allowed to integrate. One of my friends told me about a friend of his roommate's that is Moroccan and even though he was born and raised in Amsterdam he is excluded from most bars because he is Moroccan.

These problems are extremely difficult to deal with and the stereotyping and racism can lead to extremism. This is what we've seen in this case. In the US, it was fueled by the Tea-Party, Beck, Palin and other politicians, in the Netherlands it's been fueled by Geert Wilders, and unless we can figure out a way to make them feel responsible for the anger they entice and inflame we are not going to see these messages stop.

That's only part of it. We need to work together to create a way for both groups of people to integrate. Requiring immigrants to take language courses is a way to do this. However, at least in the Netherlands, they are extremely expensive and many of the workers are working class and may not be able to afford the courses. So, perhaps some integration programs by the government will help with this. Additionally, to help with cultural issues using full immersion courses would work best. These courses can help teach the history of the country and about the cultural heritage of the country as well. This will ease the transfer from the previous living environment to the new one, as well as make the new immigrants more likely to integrate.

Who is going to pay for that. I don't know, most likely the immigrants and recent immigrants. However, this won't address a lot of problems. Specifically how do you deal with people like this Norwegian guy? I'm not sure. But I think addressing the ability of immigrants to integrate may help a great deal with these problems.


  1. Hey Ryan, nice blogpost

    but i have to say that you follow to much of the rethoric from the rightwing parties(and unfortunately also leftwing these days) in the last paragraphs: it is a matter of correctly framing the problem..Examining the statistics and the history will tell you that the overwhelming majority of the immigrants in my country (will) integrate quite reasonably.

    Some examples to back this up: in the (i think 70s) the netherlands faced a problem, far bigger than the problems now, with the youth from the Moluk(minority oppressed in indonesia, long story) community. They went even as far as highjacking trains to express their anger.
    Now nothing has really changed, but we do not hear much about them anymore suggesting that most of the problems solved themselves. I could give a similar argument for immigrants from Suriname.

    Second example: Morrocans are more criminal then dutchies. However i would wonder what would happen if this number would be adjusted by class and more importantly age. Even if there is then a significant difference it is important to realize that the majority of them (85% at least) is not criminal. Meaning that by any statistical measure it is not worth discriminating them

    Sorry for such a long reply but my big fear is that even sensible, smart and i dare say liberal people like yourself frame the issues wrong and arrive at needless racist and anti-immigrant positions, while not focussing on the actual problems (of which expensive language courses you have rightly identified).

  2. You could be right, that integration is more of a problem of socio-economic differences rather than a racial problem. That these problems will go away over time as the group members grow older. Your are obviously correct that it's not worth discriminating them, however that means that people respond better to statistics than stories. We both know that isn't true.

    That being said, let me draw a comparison to my experiences and stories that I've heard from my fellow classmates. Integration as a foreigner in the Netherlands can be difficult even if you don't have the cultural hangups that exist in other countries. It's just come from a different world. International students, I've discovered, want to integrate and giving us the tools make that easier. You've been in conversations with me where over the period of a few minutes it went from all english to all dutch. It's not intentional, it just happens. Tools to help integrate include a better grasp on the language. In my opinion language is a representation of culture, when groups of people refuse to learn the language it can be seen as insulting and intentionally not integrating.

    In the US when some one don't talk AMERICAN, it upsets a lot of people. The influx of immigrants that don't speak the language and don't have a similar cultural background scares people. It scares people to be loosing their cultural identity, so they act out in ways that they can.
    It is some time the perception of lack of integration that is more important than the actual numbers on either side. People aren't rational, and can be extremely emotional.