Embrace immigration

My emotions were aroused (and provoked) by an article that came out in Aftenposten on the 2 January entitled “Ikkje min kulturminister” (Ikkje min kulturminister) in which journalist Jon Hustad shares his frustrations at Norwegian Minister for Culture Hadia Tajik’s inability (or unwillingness) to provide us with a satisfactory definition of what Norwegian culture is today and what it should be in the future.

Hustad’s article also reignites the sensitive issue of how unprecedented levels of immigration into Norway threaten the very core values of Norwegian society and culture. Hustad focuses in particular on the low level of corruption amongst Nordic, traditionally Anglo-Saxon, protestant cultures. According to Hustad, Norwegians are (and I quote), “un-corrupt, solution-oriented and flexible.”

The implications of Hustad’s examples are clear. Norwegians – along with other Nordic, Anglo-Saxon, protestant cultures – generally don’t take part in corrupt activities, while Muslim and Catholic cultures do. Hustad’s claims are supported by Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index for 2012 in which Norway is the 7th least corrupt country in the world.

So what would Hustad have thought if he had sat down in front of his television at 7pm on January 3rd to watch NRK’s Dagsrevyen where the headline story focussed on corruption amongst Norwegian public sector employees. The Local Authority of Verran was the culprit that was singled out this time. (Nrk.no/nyheter)

To a cross-cultural expert such as myself, what allegedly went on in Verran comes as little surprise. Verran, in line with many hundreds of small local communities that pepper the Norwegian political landscape , satisfies a number of the main factors that often characterise corrupt societies and groups.

First of all, corruption will often thrive best in smaller, collectivist (group-oriented) environments where people know each other well and have a sense of inter- dependence. Put simply, people need each other in order to get things done. I have on a number of occasions seen examples where people stay silent as garages and sheds go up in their neighbour’s garden without any sign of permission or consent from the local authorities. Most of us wish to get things done without local government bureaucracy which, after all, although legitimate, is far from being solution-oriented and flexible.

This leads me to the second factor; secrecy. Local government authorities such as Verran are far away from the prying eyes of “outsiders” like Transparency International. At the micro-level of daily human interactions (“mikronivå i relasjoner mellom enkeltindivider”) – to use Hustad’s reference from Fredrik Barth’s Ethnic Groups and Boundaries – members of these small interdependent communities are by and large able to go about their daily business relatively unchecked and unheeded, at least until NRK gets their hands on the case.

The word culture comes from the Latin cultura, meaning to cultivate, or grow. By definition, culture is a growing, changing phenomenon. The point I am trying to make is that it is too simplistic, too un-nuanced and too convenient to place the blame for changing Norwegian society and culture on immigration. The male Pakistanis involved in the Oslo taxi scandals are representative of a relatively small, MINORITY group of Pakistanis living in Oslo. I am pretty sure that most Pakistanis believe it wrong to steal money from the Norwegian tax authorities, just as much as Norwegians believe it so.

You can’t build a common Norwegian culture without having respect as its foundation; respect for the different cultures that live in this country. In order to have mutual respect, one needs to provide the necessary knowledge and insight into the values and mindsets of other cultures. I believe that the fear and scepticism that people such as Christian Tybring-Gjedde and Jon Hustad generate stems from the lack of real understanding as well as a lack of willingness to actually see the positive aspects of what immigration brings with it. Global immigration is here to stay, so focussing on the negative aspects is mostly a very unhelpful exercise.

The two Swedish cyclists that Hustad describes in his article who stop at a red light at 4 a.m. may be representing “typical” Scandinavian cultural qualities such as predictability and a sense of security. However, they also show signs of a lack of flexibility and an inability to “think outside the box”, two characteristics that had fatal consequences that fateful day in July in 2011.

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