The following op-ed by Alexandra Irene Larsen is a startling change from the usual fare served up by the Norwegian MSM. It takes a hard look at the radical Left’s love affair with radical Islam, accurately describing the academic currents that have carried today’s fashionable opinions into cultural prominence.
Our Norwegian correspondent The Observer, who translated the piece, includes this introductory note:
This is a refreshingly candid and honest criticism of Norwegian social sciences, where empirical data has been replaced by radical ideological theory. Your readers may remember that Mattias Gardell, who is mentioned in this op-ed, appeared as an ‘expert’ witness in the Breivik trial along with (among others) Lars Gule, a former wannabe terrorist who was caught with 750 grams of plastic explosives hidden in his backpack at the airport in Beirut in 1977, which he had intended to use to blow up a target inside Israel.
By the way: Gule is a research fellow at the University College in Oslo, which does strengthen the claims made by Larsen in this op-ed.
The criteria for becoming a professor or lecturer in Norway or Sweden: a background from a radical and violent political organization, or a strong desire to blow up innocent civilians…
Both Gardell and Gule fit the bill.
The translated op-ed from yesterday’s VG:
Researchers romanticize Islam
Middle Eastern studies are dominated by former leftists who have worldviews romanticizing totalitarian Islamism.
By Alexandra Irene Larsen, fellow at the University of Agder, Department of Religion, Philosophy and History
Fear of addressing issues
These researchers have embraced a method of interpreting Islamism and the Middle East in which Third World romanticism and anti-Americanism is used to absolve political extremism and label any form of criticism as “Islamophobia”.
Many of the prejudices that characterize Middle Eastern studies are a direct legacy from Edward Said and his angry book Orientalism from 1978. With his strong support of the Palestinians, Said was incapable of keeping his political and professional work separate. No truths existed; only “narratives”. Facts were reduced to whatever people wanted them to be. One was not supposed to criticize “the other”, and was expected to deconstruct and confront one’s own culture, while others cultures and traditions were to be endorsed and preserved.
This has resulted in a fear of addressing non-Western totalitarian, anti-democratic and repressive undercurrents.
The influence of Said coincided with two other processes. One was the radicalization of the social sciences in the wake of the youth rebellion. The second was the abandonment by many leftists of the activist movement and their return to the universities in the 1980s. They brought with them the left’s post-colonial guilt complex and anti-racism and channeled these into courses like Middle Eastern studies, minority studies and anthropology.
These studies were now meant to serve socialism and the interests of the working class and oppose Western imperialism.
Militant groups in the developing world were not classified as extremists but rather as liberation movements and their use of violence and repression was accepted or at least seen as an understandable response to Western oppression. This is how it became fashionable to defend non-Western extremism, Islamism included, in academia.
Ideologically colored picture
The strongest exponent of Said’s teachings in Scandinavia is probably Mattias Gardell, a Swedish theologian with a background from the revolutionary movement Anti-Fascist Action. His book Islamophobia (2010) has gained popularity and has even made it into the curriculum of Islamic studies at the University of Tromsø [city in northern Norway]. And just like Said, Gardell has a clear political agenda. He skims the surface looking for unconnected quotes that coincide with his worldview and he presents these as the essence of Western academia and its public responsibility.
Bjørn Olav Utvik, a professor at the University of Oslo and a former member of AKP-ml (The Workers’ Communist Party — Marxist-Leninists) has helped shape the discipline in Norway with a left-wing political bias.
Utvik has distinguished himself by embellishing events taking place during the Arab Spring. He claims that Islamism modernizes societies, promotes education and encourages political activity, leads to economic development and creates more individual freedom — while in reality it does the exact opposite. He claims that Islamic values differ very little from secular values, which says a whole lot about the ideologically colored picture that Utvik is trying to paint.
Spreads romanticized views
Utvik believes that Sharia law is non-racist and “more broad-minded” than what Christian Europe used to be. Perhaps that’s why he isn’t too concerned about the Islamization of Egypt under the rule of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Utvik has on numerous occasions argued that the Brotherhood is the equivalent of a Christian conservative revival movement. Meanwhile religious minorities in Egypt are displaced, the legal system is under pressure, sharia law is being praised and Morsi is steering towards an outright dictatorship.
These ideas have been spread to new generations of students and researchers who themselves don’t have a left-wing political background.
Rather than confronting the discipline’s ideological roots, scientists such as Oddbjørn Leirvik, Knut Aukrust, Knut Vikør and others contribute to spread a romantic view of Islamism. “Islamophobia” has replaced “Orientalism” as the shameful blemish of Western academia. And just as with Orientalism, the prosecutors have little empirical data on the prevalence of Islamophobia: it is omnipresent.
The threat is being downplayed
This is not merely a Norwegian or Scandinavian phenomenon. In his book Ivory Towers on Sand, the author Martin Kramer alleges that U.S. Middle Eastern researchers behave just like Utvik and Gardell. As Islamism was met with mounting suspicion in the West, the researchers in Middle Eastern studies came up with the idea of placing the various Islamist groups in the same category as other “democratizing” movements.
As long as they wanted something other than the existing order, they were labeled “reformers”, and should be accepted and supported.
Thus the threat of the rise of radical Islam is downplayed and almost ridiculed — so it is constructed by the media, experts and bureaucrats who are prejudiced towards Muslims.
Empirical data before myths
The researchers on Islam are guilty of exactly the same thing that they themselves used to accuse other Western intellectuals of: namely, constructing a story using selective facts, unfounded generalizations and tendentious language to serve a particular political purpose. By actively beautifying reality the discipline has engineered a type of social research that doesn’t convince with its rationality, but rather with its rhetoric.
This is a derailment of the Western academic spirit, with potentially dangerous consequences in the face of an emerging totalitarian Islamism.
It is therefore about time for the discipline to open up, go back to the sources, focus on empirical data rather than myths and become more tolerant of criticism.