NPR logo

Bombs In Norway Breaking Down Multiculturalism?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Bombs In Norway Breaking Down Multiculturalism?


Bombs In Norway Breaking Down Multiculturalism?

Bombs In Norway Breaking Down Multiculturalism?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Related NPR Stories

Two people walk by a flower memorial in front of the Norway House in Brussels on Thursday, July 28, 2011. The EU convened a special meeting on counterterrorism in Brussels on Thursday, following the Norway massacre, in which at least 76 people were killed. Virginia Mayo/AP hide caption

toggle caption
Virginia Mayo/AP

Two people walk by a flower memorial in front of the Norway House in Brussels on Thursday, July 28, 2011. The EU convened a special meeting on counterterrorism in Brussels on Thursday, following the Norway massacre, in which at least 76 people were killed.

Virginia Mayo/AP

The confessed Norway attacker Anders Behring Breivik says he intended to send a "wake up call" to Europe, which he sees as being taken over by Muslims. The attacks are raising tensions about immigration and multiculturalism in Europe. Host Michel Martin explores this issue with an NPR correspondent based in Paris and the author of several books about Islam in Paris.

MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Coming up, the 911 attacks inspired many people to reconsider their priorities. It lead teacher Michael Levy to a rural village in China. We'll talk to him in a few minutes about what he learned about the people he calls China's other billion, and about himself. That conversation's coming up. But first, we have another conversation about the challenge of living with differences, and that is putting it very mildly.

We're going back to that terrible tragedy in Norway last week, where the death toll has climbed above 90 people. The man who confessed to carrying out two attacks, Anders Behring Breivik, says that he was firing the opening salvo in what he hoped would become a war against what he saw as a growing Muslim takeover of Europe. In the first minutes of the attacks however, many people assumed that this was another attack by Muslim extremists, perhaps linked to al-Qaida.

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


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: Tjensvoll says she was even more shocked to learn that the confessed attacker was Norwegian, in part because Norway is the richest country in Europe, with virtually zero unemployment. But still, the attacks have surfaced simmering tensions over immigration and multiculturalism, and Europe's attempts at integrating Muslims are what many say is the lack there of. In October, for example, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the approach to build a multicultural society that lives side by side to enjoy each other has failed, and failed utterly.

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: It has been a concern for some time, and there's definitely a sense that it's growing. I mean, just in the past few years, I've covered topics like, oh, in Switzerland, they voted in a referendum to ban minarets. There's definitely a feeling in Muslim communities in Europe that there's, you know, people are sort of turning against them or not really accepting them.

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: You know, it's funny, I don't get that sense, because it seems a lot of the jobs that - yeah, obviously, I've heard people making those statements, but a lot of the job the immigrants do here are, for example, jobs that maybe French people wouldn't want to do. So, you also hear the other side, is that we, you know, in Europe, they need these immigrants because birth rates are falling. You need immigrants to come do the labor that the indigenous populations don't want to do anymore.

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: Yeah, I absolutely agree with Eleanor on that point. I think there's - I think we can think usefully of two different Europes here, on two different time scales. England and France - and to a lesser extent, Germany - have been bringing in Muslims to do labor since the, well, since before World War II, but especially right after World War II. And the people who arrived, most of them spoke French or English because they came from colonies that had been ruled by those countries. And so their civil rights struggles, really, their struggles for equality were fought by their children, young men and women who grew up in France or in England, and those struggles happened in the 1980s, largely. And they're not over by any means, but they're an old story.

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: Well, France - oh, it's - I have to say that France is a country that is against the communities - like, you go into London, you see all the Pakistanis living together. They don't want that in France. They integrate, it's - their system integrates people, you know, it absorbs people and spits them out French. And it's been fairly successful, because France is a country of waves of immigration across Europe, you know, throughout the 20th century.

The first wave was assimilated: the European's, the Portuguese, the Spanish, the Italians - whatever - who came in. But the second wave, which is all these, you know, people from the Maghreb, the Arabs, the Algerians, Tunisians whatever, who came to rebuild the country, they still haven't really been accepted. Yes, they speak French. They should be perfectly French. They shouldn't be discriminated against, but the reality is a lot of these people live in the suburbs outside of cities that aren't as nice as in the cities they live in, housing projects. They're lumped together, and they can't escape.

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: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

We're talking about the tensions around immigration and multiculturalism in the wake of those terror attacks in Norway. We're speaking with NPR Paris correspondent Eleanor Beardsley. Also with us, John Bowen. He's an author and anthropologist. He's been thinking about this and writing about this for many years. His most recent article is "Europeans Against Multiculturalism" in this month's issue of the Boston Review.

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: Well, I think, undeniably, what's happening in Norway, but also across Europe is there has been a sharp rise in right wing extremism, which has been heightened by the dangerous mix of economic recession, and indeed, unemployment, but also increasing racism and there's a stronger anti-Muslim sentiment. And that's the reality and the political views of the man arrested in relation to those attacks in Norway reflect just that.

And it's no coincidence that he made it very clear that the ideology underpinning his actions was an anti-Labor Party view, precisely because it is perceived as being lax towards Islam. It was also - his actions were also motivated by his hatred for multiculturalism. So what I was mostly staggered about, is that most commentators dismissed the perpetrators of these horrific actions as a madman.

And I think it's very dangerous to reduce him to someone who is somehow just mentally deranged. Because obviously, his action were very much underpinned by very strong political motivations. And I don't think we should dismiss that because, you know, right wing ideology has been behind many atrocities across the world and indeed, through the centuries, has been behind the Holocaust, behind the slave trade and the scramble for Africa. But also behind atrocities in the Middle East, the Far East, and indeed, far right Zionism is behind, I think the cleansing of Palestine over the 20th century.

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

MARTIN: We need to take a short break, but when we come back we are going to continue this conversation about the tensions around multiculturalism in immigration in Europe. Obviously we're talking about this in the wake of that terrible tragedy in Norway last week.

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.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.