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Most of the theoretical literature on terrorism mainly deals with theoretical aspects of religion and religious violence (in the sense that religion is danger), and not its practicalities and possible ways out – dealing with religious terrorism. In these theoretical discussions, in many ways, religion itself is blamed for violent acts, e.g. religious terrorism. To suggest that religion should be obliterated seems highly inconsiderate, and hardly has any place in academic discussions on how to deal with, or rather, counter terrorism.

In answering this (ambitious) task, I have chosen to have main focus on what is being assessed as Islamic terrorism. This, is in turn limited to dealing with potential Islamic terrorism among the (mainly) Pakistani diaspora group in Norway and current debate, as well as for suggestions to counter, or rather prevent terrorism of occurring in Norway – with possible validity in other European countries as well. In the following, I will, based on recent events in Norway and my discussions with scholars on the subject, briefly discuss and propose certain practical ways of ethically dealing with this (apparently existing) potential in the Norwegian setting.

The Pakistani Diaspora in Norway
Pakistanis, being the largest non-Western immigrant group in Norway, has received formidable attention in Norwegian society. This attention has not always been positive, rather; positive remarks represent the exception. The majority (sometimes estimated at as much as 80%) of the (original) immigrants came from the sub-district Khariyan, Punjab. The largest groups of immigrants from this area came to Norway in the 1970s, and onwards. Recent immigration is mostly coupled with family re-union. The marital structure has been linked to a ‘within-the-family’ marriage pattern, where it is usual to marry either cousins or other in its own lineage. This in turn, has for the Pakistani diaspora’s sake, meant that there is little relative distinction in place of origin. Most share the same cultural and religious pattern.

  • Situation in the Punjab at the time (1970s)
  • Effects of Zia’s islamization process
  • Support for mujahedin (throughout the 1980s)
  • Certain decrease of feudal (jagidar) system
  • Religious movements (Deobandi influenced) filling (some) vacuum), as welfare providers etc.

‘The first immigrants’ to Norway

  • Most wanted to save-up money, return
  • Often described as ‘Secular’
  • The ‘old’ generation is now on its last legs, children are getting married (need for religious knowledge).
  • Religion as (one) factor for status
  • Throughout the 1980s
  • In general, lack of quality integration policies from the state
  • Constant stigmatization à racism (and perceived racism)
  • Remittances, building of houses à building societies (including mosques /madrassas).
  • Media as transmitters of ‘Pakistani culture’ (Indian, violence, selected news, etc). Building a (distorted) picture of what Pakistan is, gets their info from Indian Satellite channels.
    • The mid-1990s and onward
    • New type of immigrants (result of re-emphasis on religious practices, more formal religious education
    • Local disputes, marital problems (so-called honor killings etc).
    • Sectarian Demarcation lines (no longer ‘just Sunni’, and minority ‘Shia’).
    • The 9/11 factor, Madrid bombings, London bombings and Cartoon controversy
    • Largely polarizing factors, possibly radicalizing people
    • Tendency to send children to Pakistan (3rd generation).
    • ‘Finding their own way’, sadly manipulated by radical forms of mindset, sometimes mistaken for religion.

The above mentioned is mostly valid for Punjabis, in addition; Baluchis, Kashmiri, and other groups have a tendency to integrate easier.

Terrorism in Norway
The concept of the ‘terrorism phenomenon’ has reached (almost) every human being living in the modern world in the post 9/11 setting. Although, neither a new trend nor a new strategy, terrorism has, because of the 9/11 al-Qaeda attacks, been given a much wider context (sometimes referred to as trans-national or global terrorism). Religious terrorism in our day and age, most commonly refer to Islamic terrorism, allegedly being performed by Muslims under the ideological mindset that it is justified to kill infidels/non-believers, or kafirs. The concept of Islam as a ‘religion of terror’ is, sadly, the Norwegian-layman framework of understanding terrorism. Islam is regularly, faulty, described by commentators as being a ‘religion of the sword’, wherein its worshippers, Muslims, are ready to wage holy war, jihad, against Norway. This is of course fictitious, at least on a community or group level (community of Muslims in Norway). In addition, common perception also holds true that when people refer to Muslims in Norway, they commonly refer to the oldest and largest non-Western diaspora group in Norway – the Pakistani diaspora, being majority Muslim (at least in theory).

Norway has thus far been safe from any terrorist attack, except for the (Israeli) Mossad murder of a Moroccan national (wrongfully assessed to have been involved in the Munich-massacre in 1972) at Lillehammer 21. July 1973. In recent years allegations of conspiracy to commit terror has been put forward in the case of the highly controversial Iraqi Kurd Ansar al-Islam leader, Mullah Krekar. However, the charges against him were later withdrawn – in effect meaning: they could not be substantiated. The potential for religious terrorism, and more precisely Islamic terrorism against Norway and its citizens, however, is being widely discussed on a frequent basis. Discussions take place both in the media picture, as well as being addressed by politicians and government institutions.

As mentioned above, Norway has not yet seen any large-scale attacks of terrorism, but it is regularly believed that is really a matter of when, and not whether, such will occur. To this end, recent investigations concerning an ongoing case, suggests that such has been in the planning, and a second-generation Pakistani man is accused of ‘masterminding’ the plot.

How to Deal with (Potential) Islamic terrorism in Norway
The whole debate regarding (especially Pakistani) diaspora and problems relating to Islam in the media, as well as (certain right wing) politician’s statements are commonly seen as aggressive, stigmatizing, and possibly polarizing (Pakistani) diaspora groups in society. This should be countered. In relation to this, the issue of defending (journalistic) ‘freedom of speech’ has also been debated, especially in the wake of the cartoon controversy case (late 2005 and beginning of 2006).

There should be (a) renewed debate on how far one can push borders of freedom of speech in order to convene a message, when such a message could harm persons (mentally, leading to reprisal on other). This is of course difficult in our democratic tradition and also raises (universal) ethical questions relating to democratic traditions, having spent the latter part of the 20th century in gaining such rights, however, in the post 9/11 setting debate on such seems vital. There exist several clauses relating to (for instance cultural racism) in ratified conventions, that actually could be interpreted in this context, e.g. UN’s International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Norway at a state level and Norwegians generally, has little knowledge of ‘real Islam’ and its practices. Mostly Muslims in Norway come into the spotlight not for doing something good or right, but rather in connection with so-called honor killings or matters of illicit practices (honor killings and circumcision of girls etc.) – wrongly justified by members of diaspora groups themselves. To this end, who is to say what ‘real Islam’ really is, probably none considering distinctions between Sunni/Shia, the many variants of Islamic schools of law (Hanafi, Shafi, Maliki and Hanbali), and sub-schools (or rather internal interpretations, e.g. Deobandi, Barelvi, Wahhabi, Salafist etc.). This being mentioned, I strongly believe in a ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans’ way of adapting in any society, something also put forward by the Bosnian scholar of Islamic law; Fikret Karcik (spelling uncertain). Karcik proposes an adaptation of religion in order not to intervene with (secular) law in host societies (where immigrants, diasporas have made their ‘new’ home), while at the same time not compromising own religious beliefs. He points to practices of early Islamic society, as found in Hadith collections, as justifications to such adaptations.

I propose to establish normative knowledge and acknowledgement of what ‘Norway’s Islam’ should look like. This should be established under supervision and in collaboration with the university framework. (It has been proposed to establish such, as a separate division at the Faculty of Theology at the University of Oslo).

In the wake of recent arrests, and ongoing investigation, of persons allegedly conspiring to commit acts of terrorism against Norway, the discussion on police method and implementation of ‘new terror laws’ have been discussed, as it have throughout Europe. Some states (for instance UK) have already implemented such new laws. Such laws may have broad ethical complications, again, possibly leading members of diaspora to feel (even more) polarized – and, perhaps radicalizing them.

Any ‘new terror laws’ as well as application of existing laws should be carefully examined by external referees, and if possible, discussed in cooperation with religious (Islamic) scholars represented among diaspora groups.

One way of capturing ‘real terrorist’ is of course by having in place sufficient apparatus of surveillance and intelligence. It is by the police regularly claimed that international cooperation is vital for protecting Norway against terrorism, and that it seeks to broaden its own expertise.

Enhancement, and upgrade of the above-mentioned field of police and other agencies, should carefully include emphasis on cultural, linguistic, religious, and societal knowledge of their ‘target groups’, e.g. possible terrorists. This, in order to “as quickly as possible prove people innocent”, instead focusing on the real dangers of (international) terrorism (e.g. al-Qaeda related), and not ‘petty’ use of rhetoric by people who feel strongly disempowered and frustrated by new policies. Also by implementing new methods in police work etc, there should be organs keeping checks on transparency and the actual need of such, in order to protect people’s civil liberty rights as such.

On a slightly more over-national, or rather transnational level, it is believed that international relations, such as being involved in peace processes in the Middle East, deployment of troops to Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as how Norway dealt with the cartoon controversy case, will impact on whether and how Norway becomes attention of focus for terrorism.

I have no clear solution to this, except that international relations in the post 9/11 world has to consider more than the obvious factors existent in the past, hereunder taking into consideration diaspora reactions as well as matters of universal ethics in transnational (i.e. bi- or multilateral arrangements that will have adverse consequences). Foreign aid could be concentrated in areas known to decrease prospects of conflict (and of course include transparency issues). Focus should also be to portray Norway in a positive light in areas were it is regularly assumed that terrorism is being facilitated, e.g. Pakistan. This, again, requires cultural, religious, societal understanding – in a slightly higher degree than what has thus far been displayed by the political sphere in Norway. (In this context, it has to be mentioned that the Norwegian Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg’s initial response to the reprisals of Syrians attacking the Norwegian embassy in the aftermath of the cartoon controversy was: “Jeg reagerer med vantro”. In English, the semantic translation of this is merely: “I react to this in disbelief”, while in Norway the word ‘vantro’ also implies infidelity).

There is no simple way to deal with religious terrorism, neither on the international scene nor in our home societies far away from the traditional conflict areas. It is however, a need to further investigate how one should implement further ‘instruments’ in countering threats in our societies, as it is regularly believed that failing to include diaspora groups in such processes polarizes, alienates, and possible lead such groups into seclusion, and arguably causing them to be radicalized. This in turn, requires a higher focus on understanding.

Furthermore, there are several concerns relating to the use of police, and other government institutions, in dealing with religious terrorism. The issue of protecting civil liberty rights is very much at stake, and it has been argued by some, that the adverse outcomes of such (e.g. deprivation of, or feeling of being deprived of, these rights) actually rises the potential for acts of terrorism itself.

As we might discuss later, Norway and Scandinavian countries have to a high degree, failed in properly integrating immigrants, and has done little in facilitating assimilation of diaspora groups (thus maintaining the need for the term diaspora and maintaining a ‘us and them’ vision of citizens in society). This in turn, might be related to our own nation building processes, which in Scandinavian countries are, more or less, based upon blood-bonds, jus sanguinis, disabling immigrants of ever being ‘real Norwegians’ for generations – as opposed to ‘the American model’, jus soli, wherein second-generation immigrants are widely seen as first-generation Americans. This mindset, of real citizenship, will arguably take generations to change – but it ought to be starting.

About the Speaker:
David Henson is a researcher and analyst associated with Faculty of Humanities, University of Oslo, Norway. His area of interest is the growing extremism and radicalization in Muslims, particularly those Muslims who migrated from Pakistan to the other foreign countries. He visited Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) Lahore on April 17, 2007 where he delivered his presentation on “The Pakistani Diaspora and Potential for Terrorist Acts”.