Book Review: Breeding Betrayal (2)

This is a continuation of the book review I started earlier this week (part 1), this time focusing on Generous Betrayal: Politics of Culture in the New Europe by Unni Wikan.

I highly recommend this book, and think it is a must read for anyone who deals with immigrants (social workers, teachers, etc). I had read this book a few months ago, and I found it hard to put down. It is written in a flowing and engaging manner, but it is also evident that Wikan is very careful with the words she uses. I have not reviewed this book till now out of fear, which still exists, that I'll forget important points.

In Zozo, a Swedish film, a young Lebanese boy escapes the horrors of the civil war to Sweden, where his grandparents live. Zozo's grandfather likes to eat apple with salt and Zozo picks up the habit. His new classmates, however, think it's Lebanese thing. At some point in the film a Swedish friend asks Zozo why Lebanese eat apples with salt, and Zozo finally lets him in on the big secret: Lebanese don't eat apples with salt either, only his grandfather is crazy in that way.

This story is an example of the major question discussed in Generous Betrayal: What is culture, anyway?

A girl is born in Norway, goes to a Norwegian school, speaks Norwegian, has Norwegian friends. One day her parents, who had immigrated to Norway, decide to abduct her back to their homeland. The girl tries to get help from the authorities, but they turn her away, betraying her trust. The authorities are doing what they think is best, letting the girl grow up in her 'own' culture, but what is her own culture?

Wikan, a Norwegian anthropologist, comes out against the attitude that says that culture is fixed and predetermined, and points out that this attitude, which is always used towards the 'other', is actually a new form of racism.

Immigrants who have grown up in Norway, or elsewhere in Europe, are expected to uphold their 'culture', without even asking them what *is* their culture. Why should a Norwegian kid whose parents came from Pakistan uphold his parent's culture? Doesn't he have a right to choose his own destiny just like every other Norwegian kid? After all, would anybody force a Norwegian born to Norwegian parents to follow his parent's path?

Though it has not yet entered public discourse, anthropologists are debating the meaning of culture. Especially in today's world, where immigration and globalization bring different people with different attitudes together, who decides what is culture?

Though she had been accused of being an Islamophobe, Wikan is not a 'right winger', quite the opposite. She does not expect immigrants to 'go back home' and she does not talk about the importance of preserving Norwegian culture. Having suffered from discrimination herself, she does not see Norway as a country with a uniform culture to begin with. She had also been accused of being a 'left-winger' and expecting Norwegians to adapt to immigrant culture.

The way I see her, she is a liberal humanist in the full meaning of the word. Both in this book and elsewhere, she has written that she had sat in on trials and felt empathy with the defendants. I don't always agree with her, and I think it can be extremely dangerous sometimes to emphasize with criminals, but I can understand her.

Wikan implements her humanistic attitude towards everybody, demanding that everybody deserves the same basic human rights. She comes out against the attitude that accepts 'culture' as an excuse for injustice. In her book she brings examples of such injustices from the Scandinavian countries, and it doesn't take much searching to find more such cases from across Europe. Recent cases from Germany and Italy show that even the courts sometimes forget where their loyalty should lie, and who it is they should be protecting. Horrible deeds are excused on cultural grounds, leaving those who really need judicial protection virtually defenseless.

Who decides what is culture? It is usually not the victims, the women and children. Most people are quite content to accept the definition as it comes from those in power, usually the men. However, Wikan points out that is isn't only the women and children who suffer. Even those 'in power' can get stuck with the expectations of culture. Wikan brings examples of imams who expressed conservative and Islamist views in public, but had asked for her help to change things around in private, afraid of appearing too liberal to their own people and losing whatever influence they have for change.

Wikan stresses that she is not talking about Islam, but rather about culture. To emphasize her point she brings the example of a forced marriage case in the Assyrian community.

The days of immigration are over, says Wikan. Today most people who move from one country to another are sojourners, who keep close ties with their homelands. As I mentioned in the first part of this review, Wikan stresses how important it is to keep in mind the general picture when discussing the social and economic status of immigrants.

In her book she discusses immigration to Norway, going over the fact and figures. She comes out against the fear of checking statistics and of stigmatizing immigrants. Only recently did governments wake up to the fact that it is impossible to approach a problem without knowing exactly what it is. Immigrants have learned to abuse the Scandinavian welfare policies with their cradle-to-grave support benefits. Wikan argues that by putting so many people on welfare, authorities are being 'generous', but they are also betraying those immigrants who have come to Europe in search of a better life. It is easy to give to others, and it puts the giver in a superior moral position. It is much harder to demand from the 'other' to integrate, and to enable them to do so, as well as to deal with the cultural problems this involves.

European citizenship is seen today as a ticket to a better life. However, for someone living in Europe, citizenship does not really enhance their chances in life. It might help in traveling "back home", but not everybody shares in that right equally. Some countries force women to have male companions, and children can be easily moved by parents against their wishes. Citizenship also gives a right to vote. Though in his book shore stresses the importance of political participation, many immigrants don't use this right, and more than that - voting rates in western countries in general are quite low.

Wikan points out that in liberal democracies it is really the right of residence that enhances one's opportunities and gives a person the right to work, study and take part in society. However, she does not underestimate the importance of citizenship. Wikan calls for citizenship to be viewed as a social contract with social, moral and legal commitments. The state should be committed to the welfare of all citizens and residents, and not only of communities and 'cultural' groups.

Wikan also discusses the problematics of double-citizenship, saying that not everybody enjoys the advantages. Double citizenship gives the 'home country' a right to enforce its laws over people who might have never been there, and who might not see any other country but Norway as their home.

She comes out against the fact that many immigrant kids grow up in Europe functionally illiterate, due to well-meaning programs which do everything but teach them the national language. She compares English speaking countries, where many kids grow up with English as their only language, to Dutch or Scandinavian speaking countries, showing that since the national language is not seen as 'global' enough, parents don't put an emphasis on learning it.

In Norway there's an option for immigrant children to learn in their native tongue, but even that is complicated, since many parents prefer their children to learn in Arabic and Urdu instead of Berber or other 'lower' language they really speak at home. In this sense, the kids have to learn three different languages, at the least (before they start learning English and other foreign languages in school), and come out not knowing any.

Language should not be an option. It is a basis for living in society and authorities should make sure that kids growing up in a country will know to read, write and speak the national language.

Wikan spends time talking about points which to me seem self-evident and I think it is sad that she even has to trouble. For example, the fact that immigration today, despite being clothed in asylum/family reunification, is still an economic immigration. The channeling of immigration into other avenues has actually contorted the meaning of asylum and of marriage. To this end she calls to stop family reunification, saying that it puts immigrant youth in unbearable situations.

In his book Shore talks about "Californication", a phrase which is usually used to mean something else, saying that the solution might lie in ethnic mixing as is common in California. Wikan also related to the issue and says that inter-ethnic marriage a reflection and predictor of cross-cultural integration. In fact, it's the highest level of integration possible. Both Shore and Wikan agree that inter-ethnic marriage is not occurring in Europe, however they explain it differently. Shore says Europe is "resistant to such a solution". Wikan sees the problem with family-reunification. I think she is right, but only partially, as many immigrants are held by back religious and cultural norms as well. After all, Wikan does talk in her book about the lack of 'intermarriage' even between different Somali clans or Pakistani tribes.

To end the review, I would like to again thank those of my readers who have helped me buy books through the Amazon Gift Certificate service. I truly appreciate your gift and support.

See also: Book Review: Breeding Betrayal (1), Norway: Professor Unni Wikan on rape

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