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Bombs In Norway Breaking Down Multiculturalism?

Originally published on July 28, 2011 10:03 am
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MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

NPR spoke to Sigrid Skeie Tjensvoll. She was in Oslo, just blocks away. And she heard what she initially thought was thunder.

(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW)

SIGRID SKEIE TJENSVOLL: When I found out there was a bomb, I thought it was some kind of terrorist (unintelligible) and because of all the other things that have happened around the world.

MARTIN: French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron have uttered similar comments in February. Today, we wanted to dig into these feelings from a variety of perspectives, and we're going to start with our own Eleanor Beardsley from Paris. She's traveled extensively around Europe for her reporting for NPR. She spoke to us recently about the French veil ban. She's with us on the line from Paris. Eleanor, welcome back. Thanks for joining us once again.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: It's great to be with you, Michel.

MARTIN: Also joining us is author and anthropologist John Bowen, who's written extensively about this issue, most recently in this month's issue of the Boston Review. John Bowen, welcome to you. Thank you so much for joining us.

JOHN BOWEN: Pleasure to be with you, Michel.

MARTIN: Eleanor, I'll start with you, and sort of the table for us, if you will. This confessed attacker, he's acknowledge his responsibility, but he says he wasn't criminally responsible and he lays out his reasoning in this 1,500 page manifesto calling on Christians to rise up and defend Europe against the threat of Islamization. And now we've heard of other attacks in Europe involving skinheads and sort of extreme splinter groups, and I wanted to ask if this has been a concern for some time, or is there a sense that this sentiment is growing?

BEARDSLEY: Of course, there was just the law to ban, you know, the face and body covering veil, what's called the burqa, here in France. So there's a lot of things going on that show that maybe these new immigrants are not being absorbed so well by their host countries, and there are tensions that are growing. Yes.

MARTIN: Well, in this country, you know, obviously, in the United States, we also have some tensions over immigration, but the articulated concern is generally economic. The argument is that in a period of economic stress, that immigrants - particularly illegal immigrants - are suppressing wages, and here's the quote: "taking jobs away from native-born citizens who otherwise would have them." Is it - is there a similar story in Europe? Is it generally perceived to be rooted in economic competition, Eleanor?

BEARDSLEY: So, yeah, I've sort of heard both sides of that. But it's more, sometimes, of a physical, like, the way people look, their beliefs. I mean, you know, mosques, when people pray in the streets here, like in areas of Paris, where whole streets are blocked off because people are praying. I mean, Muslims, you know, in the street. I mean, this sort of like is kind of a shock to some of the native French people who are just not used to seeing this.

MARTIN: John, what's your assessment of this? You've been thinking and writing about this for quite some time, and so two questions here. Do you agree with Eleanor that it seems to be primarily rooted in, you know, cultural differences and lifestyle differences rather than economic differences? And I also want to ask you, when people in Europe talk about multiculturalism, what are they talking about?

BOWEN: There's a different Europe, which is Norway, Sweden and some other countries, that, first of all, they weren't colonial powers. They weren't used to having an empire, having people that look differently in their midst. And they've had a rush of new immigrants since the 1980s, many of them much more than is the case in England or France, many of them refugees or people who are asking for political asylum, and they've been very generous. But that's been a really different kind of shock than is the case for France and Germany or England.

MARTIN: John, is there a sense that the people who have resentments against these immigrants, is the resentments that they have that these immigrants aren't assimilating fast enough, or is there a sense that they are making demands upon their host countries, if you will, that are - or their new countries that other people consider unreasonable? Like, for example, Eleanor talked about people, you know, praying in the street. You know, is that the sense that people feel that they're literally taking up too much space, or do they feel that people are making demands of them that they don't like - like, for example, changing the way they live, like expecting them to change their dress?

BOWEN: Yes, that's right.

MARTIN: Or change their habits. What is it?

BOWEN: Yeah, it's at least both of those. I think for some - I mean, and this is especially true in some of these countries of relatively new immigration. There is a concern about people not fitting in fast enough, not learning the language fast enough. But Eleanor can talk to this, too. In France, that's just not something you hear. These people speak French, and you're talking about second, third, fourth generation immigrants. What you do hear is things like praying in the street, a sense that, hey, Islam is becoming more and more visible in a way that we really don't like. So it really depends on which country you're talking about.

MARTIN: Eleanor, where is the sentiment most pronounced? Is it in France?

BEARDSLEY: So people are saying, you know, we haven't even absorbed the second wave, so now there's a third wave of people coming from, you know, Asia, all these different places. How can we absorb them? So it's like it's not, yeah, they're not assimilating fast enough and there are demands. So it's both.

MARTIN: Now we'd like to bring in Nabila Ramdani. She's a French journalist of Algerian descent, and we'd like to get her perspective on this. And, Nabila, I'm not - we've called you as a journalist, not as a representative over the group. But you have also reported on this. And I just wanted to get the perspective from the vantage point of these Muslim immigrants. And I just wanted to get your take on it. Is there a sense among Muslim immigrants that they are not welcome to assimilate?

NABILA RAMDANI: So this is very dangerous ideology which should be, you know, taken into account with great seriousness.

MARTIN: Our guests are the journalist Nabila Ramdani, NPR Paris correspondent Eleanor Beardsley, the author and anthropologist John Bowen. They are all with us. Please stay with us on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.