Category Archives: Religion & Ideology

News from Oslo and a Norwegian Abroad

24.07.11 Sunday

Early this month I travelled from Norway down to Rionero in Vulture, Basilicata, Italy to participate in the Vultur Project,  a wonderful archaeological investigation funded by the university of Alberta. Very soon I am going to create another blog to document my life and learning here in Rionero, to which I will post a link on this blog. As I have already at this time been here for three weeks however my new blog is going to lag a bit behind, but after the things that happened in Norway on Friday I felt I had to write this post right now about my experiences of it.

There are about 58 people here joining the project this year, most of whom are Canadians and Americans. We are also many Scandinavians here, and particularly Norwegians. Seven of my class mates in the archaeology program in Bergen are participating in this six week dig as well, and there are a handful of more experienced Norwegian archaeologists/archaeology students here. All in all we number thirteen.

Since we came down here we haven’t paid much attention to the news. We were initially almost completely cut off from internet for weeks and most of us can’t read newspapers in Italian. Since about 5 o’clock Friday afternoon however we have been glued to anything that may provide news, computer screens to read online, TV screens in a restaurant to watch images on an Italian news program and cell phones close to our ear to call home and make sure everyone we know in Oslo are all right. When something new is reported we all now within minutes, news travelling like wildfire among us, across the dighouse.

On Friday afternoon a bomb went off in a governmental building in Oslo, killing at least seven and injuring a large number. A couple of hours later we got the next shocking message. A man had disguised himself as a policeman and traveled to the youth camp of the main socialist party in Norway, the party currently in government, and gone on a killing spree on the small secluded island. The news just kept getting bigger and bigger. Some said ten were dead, then one paper reported 20-30, then Saturday morning we heard that at least 80 had died just in the shooting. The number has by now risen to one hundred.

For a group of young Norwegian students abroad at the time this happened, it has so far been a disorienting time. We have been busy with stuff to do and places to see, and meanwhile these news have been looming in the back of our heads. Out of 7-800 young and politically engaged people about one hundred died in one day on the island of Utøya. The exact number is not yet known. About half of the Norwegians here knows someone who knows someone. One of us knows someone who survived but in desperation had to swim to safety. One of us knows only that a cousin sent a message from her cell phone when she was hiding in the water and that nothing has been heard from her since. She is now missing. Tonight, we all sat in a bunch in the hallway, just talking together and trying to settle our confusion.

They say that as the bomb went off and every ambulance, firetruck and police unit available flocked to the capital, the man responsible sat calmly on a train out of it. Many things are still unclear, but the image of him has already gone around the world. They say that he had been to Utøya many times before, getting to know the island and its hiding places. On Friday afternoon he walked around shooting for one and a half hour. They say that after killing over one hundred people he walked calmly into the hands of the police, the world and the justice that the Norwegian justice department can provide him.

I never intended to write about news events or  politics while I was here in Italy, and I will probably wait until after I come home before I try to focus and process it a bit more. But this has had such a big impact on all the Norwegians here and our whole weekend, and probably also on the rest of our stay here and our return, that I wanted to write about it now. I imagine already that the date 7/22 is going to hold a 9/11 kind of meaning to Norway and Norwegians in the future, especially since it is a small country and there are so few of us. This is going to impact each and everyone here.

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Filed under Religion & Ideology, Uncategorized

Fischer gives Muslims a Choice; Convert or Die

“The only thing that will give us a shot at building a democracy in an Islamic land is a mass conversion of its people to biblical Christianity.”

If you just watched the video above, I hope it genuinely shocked and saddened you.

Extreme rightism is a very scary thing and these days the US also seems to also be a scary place, speaking from a liberal European perspective. A radicalization of Islam has undeniably happened over the past few decades, but the ongoing radicalizing Christian conservative fear-mongering in the US is to me just as unnerving, expressions of it ranging from popular phenomena like the Tea Party and the ”Birther movement” to the assassination-attempt on senator Gabrielle Giffords in January. Another sad thing is, if Bryan Fischer was a Muslim instead of a Christian we would probably be using his comments to justify society’s paranoia of Islam instead of giving him money and equipping him with his own radio show. Christian and Muslim extremism are supposedly two opposites, yet the rhetoric and the hate is all the same.

I understand that the vast majority of Americans also distance themselves from extremism, just as only a very small minority among Muslims are extremists. But when I consider that there are in fact people who see the views expressed by Bryan Fischer as being just and blameless, I feel ashamed on their behalf.

When it comes to Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, the conservative Christian group classified as a hate group by the SPLC, all you can do is brace yourself for the next time he spews out something offensive. He is certainly no stranger to criticism. No wonder, when you consider he has previously stated that “Homosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler … and 6 million dead Jews”. Fischer has also claimed that the clause in the First Amendment of the US Constitution providing free exercise of religion only applies to Christians, making it a mystery why there is such a clause in the first place. In February he stated that the “savagery and sexual immorality of Native Americans” made them “morally disqualified from sovereign control of American soil” as if the European colonizers were on a moral high ground, and only a month ago he made this ridiculously racial bomb comment:

“Welfare has destroyed the African-American family by telling young black women that husbands and fathers are unnecessary and obsolete … Welfare has subsidized illegitimacy by offering financial rewards to women who have more children out of wedlock. We have incentivized fornication rather than marriage, and it’s no wonder we are now awash in the disastrous social consequences of people who rut like rabbits.”

But let’s get back to the video at hand and the claim that Muslims must be converted to Christianity before democratization is possible. I have said before that I very much distrust the notion of Islam somehow being less compatible with democracy than Christianity. I simply see no fundamental difference between the two religions that can justify this view (you are welcome to argue against me). For some mysterious reason however, Fischer seems to take for granted that Islam and democracy are wholly incompatible. He seems to ignore the fact that there are several democracies, and successful ones, in Muslim majority countries. Did he decide to just skip Turkey, Bosnia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Albania, Azerbaijan, Lebanon and Mali? Notice he at the same time failed to mention that there are Christian countries that have authoritarian or hybrid regimes as well, such as Russia, Belarus, Venezuela, Cuba, Ethiopia and the Congos, just to mention a few examples.

Perhaps someone should inform Fischer that with the successful revolution in Egypt in February 72 million Egyptian Muslims were cheering a new political order – not a new state religion.

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Buona Pasqua!

It has now been two weeks since I updated this blog, which is way too long. May my readers rest assured though; I have tons of things I want to write about, and I’m not planning to let this become ‘just another abandoned blog’. My poor excuse is that I’ve just spent a lovely week in Rome, and before that I was stressing because I had a paper due. In order to make up for lost time I have a lot of good questions coming up for you in the next few days, but for now I thought I might share some pictures from last year’s fall semester in Rome. I’ve limited myself to pictures from an early morning jog in (and back home from) Parco Borghese – just a soupcon of what the city has to offer. Having just seen it again in the spring, I still think the fall is the most beautiful. It is now Easter Sunday in Rome, so Buona Pasqua everyone!

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Politics & Religion – blurred lines?

What is the difference between religion and politics? Before, I have arrogantly called them “separate” but “intertwined” without caring to give a reason for my opinion. But what are they, and how do you succeed to divide the two? I’ll admit if I knew all the answers to that I would be a lot wiser. So these are just some quick thoughts I’ve made on the issue.

How to define religion? If you define it too narrowly, you exclude some that we suspect are religions. Yet if you define it too broadly, you include some that we suspect are not (like ideologies and philosophies). I suppose we all have our own ideas as to what religion really is, so I’ll leave it at that. Politics however can be more easily defined as a process where groups of people make collective decisions.

Spiritual and mundane matters seem to run into each other fairly frequently. When political decisions are made where moral issues have to be considered, religion often comes into the picture. Even within religious groups political decisions will sometimes have to be made. Organized religions may wield significant political power. The Pope may have been the most powerful political figure in Europe during the Middle Ages. Today the War on Terrorism is inaccurately viewed by many as though it was a religious war between Christianity and Islam.

I can’t seem to explain it well, but there is a reason why I think we ought to at least try to separate religion from politics. Personally, I think it is absurd to, for instance, try to draw a line between things like a “free market” and “Christian values”. How do these have anything to do with each other? Another thing is how the West automatically leaps in support of the non-religious political faction in countries like Egypt even if it is rotten. The only reason we do this seems to be because we have already automatically assumed that the Muslim alternative must be even worse. I think that this has been done many times, maybe without even considering the actual political differences. Not only is it hypocritically un-democratic, but I think it highlights a lot of misguided prejudices. For instance, we think that “secular” must always be more gender equal than Islam, and we also tend to think that Islam is less compatible with democracy than Christianity. But why should it be?

Though I don’t think I’ve exactly managed to illuminate the issue much, I’d like to at least bring up the question. What are your thoughts on this?

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Some Common Misconceptions about North Korea

Love and hate

The regime in North Korea is not at all as unpopular as we would like to believe. The personality cults around Stalin, Mussolini and Mao may seem like a long time ago to the modern mind, but in North Korea it is still very much a reality. People really, really love Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il. And they really, really fear the outside world. They are not some angry group of people secretly aspiring to freedom and democracy, holding their tongues out of fear yet crying for help. And if they are suffering materially they are willing to put up with it because they seriously believe in the righteousness of the ruling party.

Media attention

Media is all over it as soon as someone comes to say how they perilously defected from North Korea and how everything is so much better in the US or in South Korea. But why does nobody seem to notice how many defectors actually bribe their way back into North Korea? It is easy to say apologetically that “oh well, they are all brainwashed”, and to think of propaganda as something empty that holds no real meaning. But you can be damn sure that it means something to the North Koreans. Tragically little attention is paid to how the North Koreans actually perceive themselves, or what we can learn from North Korean propaganda.

Communism

You hear about “Communist North Korea” and the “Communist Workers Party of Korea”, but the idea of racial superiority is as far from Communism as it can possibly get. It is NOT like Marx’s idea of ”workers of the world unite” AT ALL. The North Korean ideology is a RACE THEORY. That means that the North Koreans view themselves as better than everyone else. They believe themselves to be inherently more pure and morally superior to any other races. They are better than the Americans, they are better than some of their only remaining friends in the world in Africa, and they are better than the Japanese (even though, paradoxically, the Japanese were the ones who introduced the race ideology to the Korean peninsula in the first place). To some degree they are also better than the South Koreans, who belong to the same race but are sullied by foreign influence and are now suffering under the yoke of the US. In that way the ideology in North Korea is actually more similar to Fascism – on the opposite end of the scale from the extreme left Communism. In fact, North Korea has altogether deleted the word ‘Communism’ from its constitution.

Long time view

The broader North Korean view over their own history is all about how their pureness and morality made them into sitting ducks to the evil forces from outside. Over the centuries the Korean peninsula has indeed been subject to invasions numerous times, but instead of focusing on their strategic geopolitical location as the reason why they have been invaded, the North Koreans tend to like to explain it by saying that the people are just too virtuous and too innocent to survive on their own in a harsh and evil world.

Arirang Mass Games

The perception in the West of the spectacular annual Mass Games in North Korea, which is one of the very few aspects of North Korean culture which many people know about, is that it is a sign of how the regime is trying to oppressively stamp out its people’s personal identity and independence. This is not so. The North Koreans feel pride in the homogeneity of their race as the source of its strength and unity and that is what they do to celebrate it, along with the birthday of Kim Il-Sung.

Juche

Juche is NOT the main ideology in North Korea. The Juche ideology was created by Kim Il-Sung, and is often translated as “main subject”, always placing Korean interests at the fore. But it does not contain any food for thought whatsoever. In fact, political analyst Brian Reynolds Myers goes as far as to say that Juche is just a “sham doctrine”, which enables North Koreans to place something on the top bookshelf and say “our leader Kim Il-Sung is just as good as Mao was”, and that it exists not to be read but only to be praised.

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Filed under East Asia, Religion & Ideology, The Hermit Kingdom

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Christianity

I work part time at a second hand shop, and one time I was pricing books that had come in I came across a book from 2006: The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam. It stated such abhorring claims that I looked over my shoulder to check that my boss wasn’t there before I threw it in the bin. I later found out about the controversy it caused. The idea has been swirling around in my head for a while to make a Christian/Western version of the cover, and now I finally got down to doing it. The reason why politics and religion are mixed, are simply a because it is too often mixed when talking about Islam. Please enjoy, and let me know what you think!

(PS: Sorry about the quality, it’s the first time I make something like this. I got the images from here and here, and I used Picnic and GIMP to create the image)

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Western “propaganda”?

Though most Westerners would undoubtedly reject the idea, there is a conception at the political level in many non-Western countries, notably China, that the role of propaganda in the West is just as important as anywhere else. It is just very subtle, and much more successful.

But is this idea really so ridiculous? Certainly, Western media lack many of the characteristics that we associate with propaganda. (Just to be clear, in China propaganda is not a negatively loaded word.) By contrast, the West has a free press that is not controlled by any one centralized power or strict ideology. There is unhindered discussion and debate. But there are, many will argue, many strong consensuses, as well as a desire to conform to political correctness. Does this, without us noticing, mean that media installs us with biases and presuppositions?

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Filed under media, Religion & Ideology