Monday, July 25, 2011

Norway, Immigration and Faith

I have seen only bits and splatters on the terrorism in Norway. My heart goes out the people of that country. As the news began to trickle in over the white noise of the American press reveling in what starlet wore or got arrested for, I was shocked by the fact that the terrorism that had been acted out was home-grown. Norway seems to have its own version of the Michigan Militia or white supremacists. I mourn for those who have died—many of them young people. I mourn for the nation and King Harald who openly wept for his people at memorial for the 92 who died. It is a horrible thing for a country that for the most part is not often in the world news.


It is not hard for us to think of 9/11 or the Oklahoma City bombings. It is easy to act in vengeance and to blame it on insanity, ideology or some disorder in society. And when the world looks upon such killings it tries to place the culpability for such acts on some great social phenomenon. The killer seems to blame left-wing politics and immigration for his actions. Others would blame right-wing rhetoric and exclusionism for the actions of the killer. But whatever the source, it is the lack of the ability to protect the commonweal that affects us all.

It is interesting that the 1920’s had much of the same issues. WWI was the direct result of a similar call to anarchy by Serbian nationalists. And certainly WWII was the whole world’s answer to the kind of fascism that proposed a protectionist stance against the movement of various peoples in Europe and Asia, a reaction to the economic down turns.

Whether it is America for ‘Amerikuns’ or Norway for Norwegians, the rhetoric is the same: Change of culture cannot be supported without armed rebellion. Nations must stay the same as “they have always been.” And usually the people who espouse this kind of thinking are those who do not know their history.

Norway has only been a separate country since 1905 when it finally gained its freedom from Sweden. So the Norwegian patriotism while quite important to Norwegians is not a deeply engrained type of nationalism. And while there have been humans living in Norway for 11,000 years, it has been a land held by many different peoples.

All lands have peoples who have migrated and settled for a time on that land. Europe tends to think of itself as pretty static with settled lands reaching back for generations. But there have been migrations and changing national boundaries even in recent history. We need but remember the way that Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia have been parsed in recent memory. So no one group of people can really claim a particular culture or right to the use of the land as sacred to their own.

In the U.S. there is a temptation by some who don’t know their history to claim the 50 states as ‘sacred’ to Americans. Yes, there should be patriotism. Yes, we do have a responsibility to the commonweal of those nations that have come together on these shores to make this place strong and the 18th century experience of democracy an effective way of governing. But can patriotism be the sole motivator of how we govern ourselves and how we interact with other nations?

As a Christian, I believe that God has the primary call upon my ‘patriotism’. My first allegiance is to God’s realm, not the U.S.A. And so if someone needs to share my land in order to survive, in order to gain employment, so be it. Certainly my forbearers immigrated to this land in order to find a better life. But I do not have the right to say that others may not do the same. Might I not have to immigrate to another land if I cannot find employment in my own nation? I certainly would have no problem in doing that even though it would uproot me from my family and friends. But that is part of the pioneer spirit that is a part of my nation and my faith. I need but look to Abraham left his home at God’s command.

As an act of faith, I do not believe that I have the right to claim that MY culture is greater than anyone else’s. Creation is God’s gift. We are gifted places for only a little while. Some nations have vast empires of various ethnic groups living together in a negotiated harmony. Some nations are unique to a specific people and they wax and wane as the populace grows or declines. No single culture has ever maintained their exact same presence in this world for more than a couple of centuries without considerable immigration from other cultures. It is precisely this cultural mix that keeps a single culture from becoming stagnant or ingrown.

I noticed in a post on HOB/D today that 52% of immigrants all over the world go to nations closest to their homes and that the majority of immigrants go to nations that are not the wealthiest. They often have to go to nations that are as poor as their own just for safety.

It is the fear that people have when they must share their lives with those with different customs, faiths, languages and foods that brings about the kind of terrorism that we saw this week. There are those who have so little understanding of their own motivations that they cannot understand or be compassionate about those who immigrate to their nation. Personally, I am proud that people want to immigrate to the USA. It says that I and my people have contributed to making a place where others want to be. I obviously live in a ‘land of milk and honey’. But with the coming of those people my land is going to be different. My forbearers made this nation different by their presence.

One of the interesting things about living in Washington, DC was how many different languages I could hear on the streets. Because of Washington’s diplomatic community it was not uncommon to hear the languages of the world in our midst. The same is true of NYC. The economic center of the world brings people from all over. But in the smaller towns, ethnic diversity is not always appreciated and it is a shame. We have so much to learn from one another that can enrich us and make our nations stronger and more able to adapt to the changing times.

My hope is that the horrible events in Norway will help the people of the world to look more carefully at how immigrants are introduced to their new countries and how the local peoples learn of these new citizens. It has to do with hospitality and it has to do with the fact that we are always ‘wandering Arameans’ in this world.

1 comment:

Terri said...

Yes. Thank you.