In July 2011, a lone-wolf terrorist murdered 93 people in Norway, in the interest of driving home an anti-immigration message. The killer, Norwegian native Anders Behring Breivik, was identified as a right-wing extremist with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. While Breivik’s action was severe and driven in part by mental illness, his feelings about immigration were in alignment with those of many Norwegians.
Given its open-door policy, generous welfare system, high standard of living, and progressive values – including equal rights for new immigrants — Norway is an immigration magnet. The number of immigrants soared from 1992-2012, increasing from 4.3% of the population to 13.1%.
While Norway remains hospitable, going out of its way to ensure the comfort and success of its new immigrants, racism simmers just beneath the surface. In response, Norway’s Contact Committee for Immigrants and the Authorities (KIM), a government appointed independent advisory committee, is hosting a conference this May, to discuss the challenges of integrating foreign cultures into Norwegian society. The conference is called “Belonging,” with the implication that belonging is a necessity for achieving peace.
The keynote speaker will be Shakti Butler, PhD – filmmaker, educator, and the founder and creative director of World Trust, an organization working to facilitate social equity through film, dialogue and transformative learning. An American woman of African, Arawak Indian, and Russian-Jewish heritage, Butler is a living, breathing example of racial integration and is a sound choice as a mentor on topic.
The once-homogenous country of Norway is struggling with its attempt to integrate diverse new members into its socialized system, as are other Scandinavian countries in their parallel attempts. Unlike the United States, which has been multicultural since its genesis, northern European nations are accustomed to a long-standing, singular culture.
In the United States, Butler says, racism is embedded in a system of economic segregation: Certain ethnic groups get more or less opportunity for advancement than do other ethnic groups, and the carving up of opportunities results in economic gaps between each group. The social divide of racism, she says, is therefore intertwined with economic inequality. “Economic dynamics create structural barriers that continue historical patterns created by the dominant culture,” Butler elaborates. “These dynamics also set the cultural standards for what is ‘normal.’ People of color are disproportionately impacted by these structural barriers, which play out in education, job placement, housing, incarceration, and poor health, as by-products of generational poverty. We walk the world with very different realities.”
In socialized Scandinavia, to the contrary, the economy of one group is fairly even with that of another. All residents, including the new immigrants, get the same standard of health care, education and social services. In fact, the new immigrants get additional state aid for housing, re-education and monthly living expenses, since immigrants may have difficulty finding employment – as a result of what a Harvard Political Review article calls “an institutional incompatibility’ between the specificity of skills which accompanies Nordic welfare states and immigration.”
In this context, economic divide is not the only fuel for feelings of inequality.
As countries such as Norway, Denmark, and Sweden open their arms and coffers to immigrants, Scandinavian retirees watch their fixed incomes decline with higher taxes, after a lifetime laboring to lift their country out of post WW2 depression and into prosperity. Numerous Scandinavian citizens question the fairness, or are downright resentful, of their countries’ policies towards immigrants. And so the rage of Breivik exploded, targeting his own nationals — particularly the government leaders and student activists in support of the immigration policy. By giving immigrants equal access to the privileges of nationals, what seemed fair to policy makers seemed unfair to citizens such as Breivik. So fairness, being subjective, is not the glue that binds us.
Love, in the form of genuine respect, is that glue. We often believe that giving aid fulfills all needs, demonstrating our loving compassion. In doing so, we make the mistake of thinking that love is only the one side of giving and forget that the other half of love is receiving. While we give assistance to those in need, we typically do not get their input on what they need, like teaching without allowing the student to ask questions. Problems are not solved without the connection between the supporter and the supported.
Giving love without tailoring or plugging it into the need, want, or yearning is not love. “I can treat you fairly without love,” Butler says. “Without that love, however, there is no connection.”
I applaud the Norwegian government for creating and supporting the Committee for Immigrants and Authorities. The design reminds me of the non-profit organizations in the United States that connects the input from individuals and minority groups with policy makers. Yet, the success of the system depends on the ability “to expand our ability to hold onto paradoxes,” Butler says. In other words, we need to see the many human versions of “the right way” as being equally legitimate. The dualistic attitude that a specific norm is “good” and all else is “bad” limits peaceful growth in society.
In my opinion, the reality of a new immigrant population demands, a new economic system built together, taking into consideration everyone’s needs. This kind of transformation is possible only through a love that empowers us to see ourselves in “the other” and see “the other” in us – thus opening the heart to a paradigm shift and, in turn, opening ourselves to the possibility of a unified and harmonious society
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