Norway Incident: Theoretical and Cultural Backgrounds

Monday, August 8, 2011

Interview with Dr. Gholamali Khoshroo
Senior Editor of the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Islam

Following the terrorist incident in Norway, its political and human aspects were more in focus while a correct analysis would be impossible without due attention to its cultural and theoretical root causes. The main factor which claimed the lives of about 100 human beings in a few hours was product of a long process which has been going on for years in Europe. In the following interview with Iranian Diplomacy, Gholamali Khoshroo, Senior Editor of the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Islam, has talked about theoretical and cultural backgrounds of the incident.

Q: How is Islam progressing in Europe and what is the situation of Islamophobia on that continent?

A: The situation of Muslims in Europe should be considered from various standpoints. Some Muslims migrated to Europe in contemporary times following decolonization of their countries. Examples included Algerians moving to France, Indians or Pakistanis moving to Britain ... They gradually bred in those countries and their third or fourth generations are currently living there.

Immigration policies have been stricter on Muslims in recent years, especially following 9/11 and the subsequent crusade. They are trying to prove that all Muslims are violent, terrorist and fundamentalist. There are also extremist views in Europe in addition to that propaganda.

 Muslims living in Europe now, in comparison with their former generations are engaged in relatively high-level professions and are among the elite and while being committed to Islamic principles, respect citizenship laws of Europe. In the meantime, mosques, religious books, religious courses and universities discussing various religions have been growing all over Europe.

The problem, however, is that less attention has been paid in recent years to multicultural policies which stressed on integration of Muslims and followers of other faiths into the Western societies. This has been a major problem which has made Muslims target of rife suspicions.

Q: They say an ultra-rightist figure has embarked on the recent terrorist operation in Norway. What is the relationship between ultra-right extremism and Islamophobia?

A: The terrorist attack which claimed the lives of about one hundred people has been quite a rarity in a pacifist country like Norway and cannot be generalized. The main issue is existence of people who promote such hatred. The impact of Bernard Lewis views is quite evident as such people consider Islam a great threat to their societies. There is also newer viewpoint which alleges that ideas disseminated by Iran pose a serious threat and everything should be done to block that threat.

Such views are quite rife in Europe and their advocates have found their own audiences there. What the Norwegian youth did is the result of theories promoted by old men like Bernard Louise. This is logical continuation of the clash of civilizations theory. Such young people cannot have a good understanding of the situation and they think that Europe is really in for a nightmarish situation when Muslims will conquer the whole Europe. Therefore, they do such things to make the world listen to their cries of innocence!

Efforts made by Western media to build a negative image of Islam and Muslims have given birth to such mindset which ends in such consequences.

Therefore, although this is a rare incident in Europe, its theoretical grounds are pervasive. We must address those grounds and correct them. This is why when President Khatami of Iran came up with the idea of dialogue of civilizations, the main goal was the dialogue between Islam and the West. The goal was to eliminate grounds of extremism, fundamentalism, violence, and hatred and replace them with mutual understanding and respect while accepting the existence of different identities. Not all humans are assumed to have a single identity, nor should the Islamic culture be totally assimilated with the Western culture. The Islamic culture has its own identity and the Western culture has its own. Therefore, we must build a bridge between these cultures.

This, however, needs a long way to go and can start with schools. Changes should be also made in media as well as movies, public culture, music, and so on. These are the main grounds to shape young people’s mentality and through this means, the Western countries’ attitude to Islam should be corrected.

The point I want to underline here is that the young man committing that crime has asserted that Muslims are gradually conquering Europe. If Muslims go to Europe, they do it through difficult conditions which have been set by Europeans and they have to comply with the laws and regulations of those countries. Otherwise, they will be prosecuted.

This is a vain fear. The contemporary history shows that Europeans have invaded Islamic countries in many occasions killing Muslims. Algeria is an example. No good records, either direct or indirect, can be found of colonialistic powers in Africa, Asia, or the Middle East. They gave birth to Israel which has been the focus of the deadliest encounter between Muslims and the West for the past 60 years. What they did in Tunisia, Egypt, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan are other examples to the point.

So, in fact, it has been Europeans that invaded Islamic countries, colonized them, killed people and tried to change them. Muslims have never done that and their presence in Europe has caused no problem for the Western culture and civilization. They have helped diversity and plurality in Western societies. Taking crusade-like approaches or fostering public hatred against Muslims is very dangerous. Differences can only be solved through dialogue and understanding.

Q: What has been the role of current economic conditions in creating the existing atmosphere in Europe?

A: Immigration laws have been tighter in recent years. They were previously much laxer. Despite the existing economic crisis in the world, which has also hit European countries quite badly, a country like Norway has oil and a lot of wealth with a small population. Therefore, it has nothing to do with many problems which are nagging other European nations. Countries like Portugal, Greece, and to some extent, Italy and Spain are entangled in the economic crisis while Norway is not.

Therefore, I put less blame on economic factors and more on ideological and cultural ones. An anti-Islamic mindset which is based on violence and hatred is the main reason. Otherwise, the Norwegian population is quite small with a high per capita income. Therefore, no other factors save for ideological and theoretical ones could have created such a high level of hatred in that country.

Q: What roles have states played in bringing about the current situation and what role can they further play in correcting these conditions?

A: This is not a purely political problem, but also a cultural, social, and educational one. Civil, educational and nongovernmental organizations should do their parts. The government, as a big organization with many facilities, should be naturally more active. Sometimes, European governments or parliaments give voice to viewpoints which foster hatred and wrong ideas. This is how governments indirectly affect media and educational system. Such issues can further expand violence.

I hope that what happened in Norway is an isolated and unique incident. However, while we must condole with the families of those who became victims of such insanity, we must not easily close our eyes to fundamental factors which have led to it. We must not stop on psychological problems of the criminal person. We must work on those grounds and correct them. This is possible through dialogue between Islam and Christianity. Both Islam and Christianity represent Providence of God and are based on compassion and kindness. Therefore, there is no reason for us to witness such a high level of violence which has been condemned by both religions.

Governments can play both constructive and destructive roles in this regard. Governments should adopted constructive policies and listen to ideas which call for less international violence. When Huntington came up with his theory of clash of civilizations, he was offering policymaking recommendations to the US government. Governments should not suffice to viewpoints of people like Huntington and the likes of him. They should also care for viewpoints which are benevolent and stem from human goodwill. They should avoid from the view that the Western culture is the most complete culture and should dominate all. Respect for cultural diversity and other cultures and revering all religious faiths will lead to cultural growth and excellence.

Of course, good measures have been taken in this regard and various centers have been trying to do this. It is necessary, however, to do more to preclude repetition of such ominous and bitter incidents.

Q: Following the incident, the Norwegian prime minister attended a mosque where Muslims were mourning over victims. Do you think that the incident will awaken Western governments and change the situation?

A: After such incidents, people are usually highly charged with emotions and are apt to make irrational decisions. An example of this was terror attacks on September 11, 2001. If certain circles managed to provoke extremist groups making them attack mosques, churches, Muslims’ gatherings, or Muslim women wearing hijab, this would trigger a cascade of violence and bloodshed which would not remain contained within a single country’s borders. It would sweep through all Europe and, therefore, it could be very dangerous.

Governments should take measures to prevent those conditions from happening. The Norwegian prime minister, no doubt, was trying to prevent the unique incident to lead into a series of operations based on mutual hatred and violence. In that case, the situation will soon get out of control and become too costly. When spurious emotions are at a climax, governments should try to calm down the situation and prevent further excitement and violence.

Otherwise, if any person that carries a symbol of Islam like head scarf or beard is attacked, it will lead to a religious war among modern societies which will easily spread.

Western and Muslim countries are interdependent in terms of labor force, energy resources as well as production and consumption markets. In a globalized world, cultural relations should be based on mutual respect for all religions and civilizations. Otherwise, everybody would lose. Nobody can imagine a purely European culture. Cultures are influenced by and deal with one another in order to grow and progress.

Source: Iranian Diplomacy (IRD)
Translated By: Iran Review

*Link for Further Reading: The Rising Tide of Islamophobia By: John L. Esposito:

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