Emily C. Skaftun
The Norwegian American
I want nothing more than to let this subject go for once and all, but I’m afraid I can’t resist getting in the last word on it first. We have received an unusual amount of angry messages about a recent article entitled “Today’s Islamophobia challenge,” an opinion article that I thought was pretty innocuous. It argues that the fear and hatred of our Muslim neighbors is overblown.
But over on Facebook I had people telling me that “Islam just wants to rule the world, but they still live in the Middle Ages so it won’t happen [camel emoji],” and “If they could stop killing people, that’d be great;” telling me to “Find better writers;” and asking whether the article was a paid advertisement.
I even had one woman reach out through Facebook Messenger asking me to take down the article because it contained misleading information. When I asked her what specifically she thought was misleading, I got this: “I do not believe Islam is a peaceful religion. They r taught it’s ok to lie if u do so in the name of Mohammad. Scares me to death!! Their religion suppresses women!! They believe martering [sic] will send u to heaven!! I could go on and on…”
She did, in fact, continue to go on and on, ending with the observation that “U just don’t get it!!”
She is right. I don’t get it. I’ve developed a pretty thick skin as a writer and an editor, and yeah, I know the internet is a cesspool, but I confess it hurt my mood pretty badly. It made me sad to think that people feel so free to hate other people just because of their religion. The last time that kind of thinking got out of hand we called it the Holocaust and said “never again.”
Real talk: do you, dear readers, honestly think that all Muslims support terrorism? Leaving aside statistics, which we’ve agreed can be used to say just about anything, does it even make sense for there to be 1.6 billion members of an evil religion? What would that say about humanity?
If you look at only the worst examples of any religion, they all come out looking pretty awful. The KKK called itself Christian, as do a number of people who think it’s okay to bomb abortion clinics, and if those things aren’t terrorism I don’t know what is. Even Buddhists have had their moments, as in Myanmar where the Buddhist majority burns homes and periodically rampages with machetes, killing their enemy—who happen to be Muslims.
But no one looks at that example and uses it to say the Buddhism is an inherently violent religion. Why isn’t Islam given the same benefit of the doubt?
There were two criticisms of the article that went beyond mere knee-jerk ugliness, and I’ll address those.
The first was our use of CAIR as a source. I’ll admit that I didn’t know the controversy about the Council on American-Islamic Relations until after the article was published. I don’t claim to know whether the group is entirely on the up and up. But since it was only quoted with the definition of “Islamophobia,” I feel this criticism is unfair. We could have used the dictionary for the same information. Not accepting it because it comes from a source you distrust seems disingenuous.
The second criticism is that it has nothing to do with Norway. Which is a fair point. But not everything we publish does. We shared a story about a Danish papercut artist recently; we do stories on American healthcare, education, gun laws, even Brexit—all without any complaints or irrelevance.
And is the story really so irrelevant? Like it or not, Norwegians and Norwegian Americans alike live in pluralistic societies that call on us to love our neighbors.
Whether or not Muslims deserve to be treated with human dignity may not in fact be a strictly Norwegian or Norwegian-American topic. But is it so offensive that it’s worth writing nasty comments and threatening not to read the paper anymore? What does it say about us if that makes us so angry?
Those comments made me sad not because I’m a “snowflake,” or even because anything so bad was said, but because I expect better of my readers.
Let’s prove that hate isn’t a Norwegian value. Let’s live up to the reputation for tolerance and understanding that Norway has and the reputation for kindness that Norwegian Americans have imbued onto whole regions they settled in (Minnesota nice, anyone?).
Amid all the hateful comments, this comment stood out like a bright light shining through a cloud break: “I was looking through this page with caution because sadly a lot of people who are especially proud of their heritage if it is a European one also tend to be quite racist and xenophobic which makes it hard to enjoy anything that I come across. I feel that I can like it safely now, just thought you’d like to know. :D”
That one comment—that someone felt safe because of something we published—is worth more to me than 100 comments from people offended that we stuck up for Muslims. Because no matter how “irrelevant” it might be to non-Muslim readers of this paper, it shouldn’t make you feel unsafe or like we think you’re evil or less worthy of human rights.
In the end, making people—of all colors and religions—feel welcome in our community is more important to me than making sure that no one is ever upset by something we publish.
Norwegians come in all colors and creeds. Norway is a terrific country, so people move there from all over the world, and they become Norwegians. Their children are born Norwegians. Norwegian Americans are probably an even more colorful bunch. Just think how many of you have some non-Norwegian ancestry! I want people to feel safe reading this paper even if their other ancestry is from Pakistan or Kenya or the Philippines, just like they would if it was from Sweden or England or Germany.
The writer Joan Didion famously said, “I don’t know what I think until I write it down,” and so I want to thank all of you, even those of you who wrote me things that upset me, because by forcing me to write this editorial you’ve helped me to clarify what I think. From now on this paper will work harder to uphold the principles of inclusivity that both Norway and America claim to hold dear.
This article originally appeared in the July 28, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.