Music star Deeyah speaks pride and multiculturalism in Norway

Eva Fernández Ortiz – WNN Features
Mutlitcultural people get on a train in Oslo, Norway.
A multicultural crowd gets on a train in Oslo, Norway June 7, 2010. Image: Ellen Macdonald

(WNN) Oslo, NORWAY: As Norway’s 32-year-old right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik looked out at a Norwegian public courtroom in Oslo, Tuesday, November 14, 2011, he made a formal statement before the court in an attempt to place himself at the head of a “resistance movement” against immigrants and multiculturalism in Norway.

In spite of Breivik’s attempt, Norway’s Court Judge Torkjell Nesheim stopped Breivik from completing his statement. Breivik’s court appearance was the first public one made since his arrest and confession to the killing of 77 people during his July 22, 2011 attack against pro-immigrant advocates inside Norway. 

“My goal is that the hearing be carried out with dignity, not least out of consideration for the plaintiffs and survivors,” said Judge Nesheim in an interview with Norway’s daily newspaper, Dagens Naeringsliv, one day before the court date.

Lining up in freezing weather for over four hours in front of Norway’s public courtroom at the Oslo City Court (Tingrett), 300 seats were made available for journalists; members of the press; families of the deceased and injured; as well as the public. Under high security the seats were made available on a first-come-first-serve basis.

Before Breivik’s violent attack against Norway’s multiculturalism only one death and 13 injuries have taken place from politically based attacks in Norway since 1979.

To find out more about the immigrant experience in the country WNN (Women News Network) journalist Eva Fernández Ortiz talks with Norway-born music celebrity Deeyah, producer of the acclaimed album, ‘Listen to the Banned,’ and winner of the 2008 Artventure’s  Freedom to Create Prize through a nomination by Freemuse — the only global organization dedicated to musicians’ and composers’ rights to “freedom of expression.” In 2011 Deeyah launched a searing and ongoing website – Memini (Remembrance) that acts as a memorial to immigrant women worldwide who have died from honour violence.

Identifying herself as a Norwegian who grew up inside Norway but  “currently lives outside the country,” Deeyah comes from a diverse Sunni Muslim background with Punjabi/Pahtun parents — which includes a mother and father who are both first generation  immigrants to Norway. Her family heritage spans generations with a proud cultural background that is a mixture of Persian, Afghan, as well as Pakistani descent.

Deeyah’s album “…is a collection of songs from artists around the world who have faced censorship or had their music banned.”

“These artists and other like them in the different corners of the world must have the right to exist and freely express their feelings and opinions through their art,” says Deeyah. “We can not allow our freedom of expression to be compromised. Music must not be silenced.”

Speaking from her own personal feelings and insights and as a member of an immigrant family living inside Norway, Deeyah also talks about Norway’s nationwide struggle with multiculturalism. . .


WNN: You were born and lived for many years in Norway, what is your opinion on the July 2011 violent killings? The killer argued that he was protecting Norway and Western Europe against Muslims and multiculturalism, how big is the presence of the Muslim community in Norway? How do you think multiculturalism influences society?

Deeyah: Extremist violence of whatever background is detrimental to us all. The enormity of the hatred this man carried with him inflicting such violence and carnage on the people of Norway was extremely shocking to us all.  It is nothing short of evil actions, evil intentions with gut horrifying wrenching consequences.  

The severity of the shock and pain this man has brought on all the people of Norway could have broken the spirit of Norway and its people by crushing its innocence with such violence but instead what fills my heart with such joy, pride and admiration is the reaction of the Norwegian people and Norwegian leaders being one of love, unity and deep courage. 

As our Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg mentioned we will react to this not with fear, hatred,  violence or revenge but instead with more democracy,  more humanity and more openness.  This is the greatness of Norway that I love, admire and support with all my heart.  

I agree deeply with what so many have said in Norway that the world that hate cannot drive out hate — only love can do that .  Darkness cannot drive out darkness — only light can do that; and that if one man can unleash this level of violence just watch how much love all of us can give and stand for.  

The response of the Norwegian people is tremendously inspiring proving that we will not be broken by this and we will not be provoked to resort to violence but instead we will stand up for human rights,  for freedom of expression,  for equality,  for democracy and peace and all the values that we all hold so dear to our hearts. 

My heart is broken for the ones who have lost their nearest and dearest in this tragic event. I whole heartedly support and wish to honour what the youth on Utøya (Norway) were there to celebrate and what they believed in. They believe in a society that is open, accepting and unified in its diversity; a society that believes in the future of a multicultural Norway. I believe the outcome of this brutality will be the exact opposite of what the killer intended.

What is important is to not look away from the fact that many of his beliefs are shared by thousands of people across Europe and that is something worth looking at and openly addressing; not for fear of such violence but for the hope of overcoming these prejudices and hatreds.

His actions do not reduce or excuse the difficult conversations and questions we do face within all our communities,  but rather highlight the real need to openly address the challenges we all face together.  

The Muslim community in Norway consists of around 100,000 people. Like most other countries in Europe, Norway is a multicultural society and like others it has experienced its own growing pains and challenges when it comes to fostering a positive, open and accepting multicultural society. 

On a state and official level Norway has always had a real commitment to nurturing an inclusive society, the will is definitely there and judging by the response of unity and togetherness from the Norwegian people in this painful time I am very hopeful that Norway might find itself at the forefront of moving this dialogue forward in a positive, fearless and productive direction, setting a very positive example for the rest of Europe as well.

Groups like the EDL (English Defense League), BNP (British National Party) and their equivalents in Europe have been gathering momentum as well as figures like Geert Wilders have been gaining popularity in Europe. I feel the success of such populist voices who are trying to appeal to a sense of lost national identity is a part of creating a divided society rather than an inclusive one. 

Also with several prominent mainstream European leaders declaring that multiculturalism has failed and using rhetoric that resonates with a right-wing perspective when discussing multiculturalism I feel is not useful.  Similarly we have seen what I would call the equivalent right wing within Muslim communities in Europe also exercising similar tactics of division, segregation and  fear mongering fanning further fear of each other.  Both sides if you will seem to fear each other in the very same ways fearing their identity being compromised and changed by the presence of the other and the extreme factions within both sides seem to act out their fears of each other in the same violent, divisive and discriminatory ways.

In my view this is contributing to the widening gap between the Muslim communities and white Europeans.  

I feel we are not taking the time to really understand each other.  The majority of us on all sides wish and hope for the same as each other which is a safe, enriching and peaceful coexistence.

However this mutual fear, mistrust and suspicion of the other is preventing us from really moving this dialogue forward. It allows us to build walls between people and accept that we should lead segregated and parallel realities. Instead of becoming a more unified open, informed society where we support our common humanity instead of holding on to what the world looked like pre immigration, this is not realistic.  Instead we could encourage dialogue about what it means today to be Norwegian, to be English, to be Dutch, French and re-imagine a new identity that includes all of us. 

Moving the conversation away from the right wing, extremists in both communities is needed, those voices should be acknowledged but should not get to be the anchors of the dialogue.  

Diversity is a reality now and pretending like Europe can go back to it’s pre-immigration state or for immigrants to expect Europe to become a copy of the countries left behind is not only unrealistic but a bit delusional.  I believe firmly that diversity is strength and not a weakness.

For any real progress to be made in this context the conversation about these issues will need to become less negative and become more honest instead, even if that’s uncomfortable at times.  However there has to be a real will to address this.  We also need to take the dialogue out of the hands of groups and individuals who shut down conversation and take topics off the table instead of allowing it all to be openly addressed.

I believe we need to move away from such reactionary and restrictive representatives.  People have to feel ok about being honest and speaking out about their fears and concerns and questions, there has to be real honesty if we are to get beyond this mutual and revolving cycle of fear and distrust of each other.

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