Former lawyer and current Liberal politician Abid Q. Raja provoked many in Sunday's Dagsavisen by claiming that Norwegian's lack of empathy for Muslims is the reason for the lower donations to the flood victims in Pakistan.
"It's because Pakistan is a Muslim country, and generally Norwegians have less empathy towards Muslims because Islam is considered controversial," Raja told Dagsavisen.
"In addition, many people see Pakistan as a thoroughly corrupt country, a hotbed for terrorists. It's that too. Therefore, I'm asking the Norwegian people to now look beyond all that, and to see all the innocent, poor people who have lost everything, see the women and children. Don't let Pakistan's reputation get in the way of the traditional generosity of Norwegians."
On Thursday he defended his statements on "God Morgen Norge". Raja said that there's been a lot of negative mentions of Pakistan, and that those are also honest descriptions. He pointed out the military dictatorship, the murder of female Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto and the fact that the country is a hotbed of terrorism.
"Furthermore, President Asif Ali Zardari travels around and meets leaders in France and England and smiles from ear to ear while the flood drowns people. At the same time, opposition leader Nawas Sharif says that Pakistan doesn't need help from the international community," says Raja.
He thinks these might be possible reasons for the antipathy towards the country, and that it's quite natural that Norwegians feel that way and that it can be an obstacle to generosity.
"It's important that we look past these antipathies," says Raja.
Raja says that he got many e-mails after his statements Sunday, from concerned potential donor who didn't want to give money to a corrupt regime.
"I replied that they shouldn't give to a corrupt regime, but give to the Red Cross, Norwegian Refugee Council, Norwegian Church Aid and all the good Norwegian aid organizations, which we have great trust and confidence in, and who do a great job down there," emphasizes Raja, and says that there's generally very little trust in the Pakistani authorities.
Sindre Tollefsen of Norwegian Church Aid told NoreaMagasinet in reply that he's certain that Chrsitians all over Norway stand side by side with whomever is affected by catastrophes. He also pointed out that they got millions in donations when an earthquake hit Kashmir in 2005, and that Raja's statmeents contribute to the distancing between Christians and Muslims, which takes the focus away from the acute problems.
Speaking about the fact that Muslim countries haven't given much aid to Pakistan, Abid Q. Raja told Nettavisen: "It's partially because many Muslim countries aren't democratic and some Muslim countries aren't so enlightened. But it's incredibly disappointing when the rich oil nations can't manage to give aid. It's should be an argument for Western countries not to give, but rather it should be an argument for Western countries to give more."
"You should remember that the difference between Saudi-Arabia and the US is that even if Saudi-Arabia is a rich country, it's not a democracy. It's a hierarchical kingdom, while the US is an enlightened democracy."
"Western countries have had a strong tradition of donating, and it's a good tradition which many Muslim countries should learn from. What's strange for us in Norway is when a leader acts like Zardari did. To illustrate the large gap from our Western understanding: Audun Lysbakken (Equality minister) interrupted his vacation because a child died in a child welfare institution, while Zadari (Pakistani president) goes on a state visit while several millions are affected by the flood catastrophe."
Sources: VG, TV2 , NoreaMagasinet, Nettavisen (Norwegian)