HRS International

Dagbladet’s three M’s

In this piece, which appeared in the Norwegian daily Dagbladet on 4 October 2009, Hege Storhaug takes on three of that newspaper’s female journalists, Marie Simonsen, Marte Michelet, and Martine Aurdal, who in Storhaug’s view have betrayed Dagbladet’s proud historic role in the Norwegian women’s movement by turning their back on the plight of their Muslim sisters in Norway. In this regard, of course, the “three M’s” (as Storhaug calls them) are hardly unique to Norway: Storhaug’s critique is equally applicable to great swaths of the supposedly liberal media throughout the Western world.

Hege Storhaug, HRS

No struggle for feminists in Norway can match the struggle against the oppression of Muslim girls and women. It should be the most natural thing in the world for Dagbladet, which over the course of its history has played a crucial role in the fight for women’s rights in Norway, to lead the way in this effort. What’s more, several of the newspaper’s major players, Marie, Marte, and Martine, are themselves women. Yet they have chosen to turn their backs on Dagbladet’s proud history.

Not only have the three M’s turned a cold shoulder to Muslim girls and women; they have also bought into acts of deceit perpetrated by researchers and politicians – and by doing so only serve to intensify these women’s isolation behind the curtains of their homes. How long do they plan to continue making fools of themselves – and thereby of the public? How long will they keep closing their eyes to the fact that some girls and women in “The New Norway” are more oppressed than anyone in the country’s recorded history?

The general lack of women in powerful positions in our society, low salaries in fields dominated by women, pressure to have sex behind the office doors – all these things should, of course, be taken seriously. But can such problems be equated with issues like genital mutilation, forced marriage, and forced veiling? I am convinced that if the three M’s were to dive into these issues, we would see a new Dagbladet, an indignant and passionate Dagbladet involved in the struggle against injustice, assault, inferior research and political cowardice. It would be the same Dagbladet that so many readers rejoiced in for so long.

Let me offer a specific example of how the three M’s fail in their obligation as critical journalists, and thereby betray Dagbladet’s proud pro-woman tradition. In my new book Rundlurt: Om innvandring og islam, I thoroughly document how the Institute for Social Research (ISF), together with Sylvia Brustad, did its utmost to get us to believe that the “extent” of genital mutilation “has gone down.” Any intelligent citizen would ask: Down from what? After all, we’ve never known anything about how widespread genital mutilation is. The ISF further concluded – without documentation – that anti-mutilation initiatives have worked: “The legislation is working.” “The educational effort and community mobilization are working.” “Theological competence is working.” The conclusion – which was exactly what Brustad wanted it to be – was that we don’t need to introduce medical exams to combat genital mutilation. In addition, ISF made arguments against medical exams that were professionally dubious and that were at odds with expert opinion – that is to say, with pediatricians’ recommendations. This approach was swallowed raw. (That the ISF is now doing some serious backpedaling in the newspaper columns, for example in the October 1 issue of Dagbladet, doesn’t change the fact: the ISF’s report was and is demonstrably a document of brutal craftiness.)

How did the M’s deal with what was probably last year’s biggest research fraud? Both Marte and Marie took up the issue, but with no indignation, no passion. They didn’t breathe a word of criticism, writing that “everything indicates that it’s going in the right direction” (1 November 2008) and defining medical check-ups as “collective punishment” (30 May 2009). Imagine if they had undertaken independent investigations! If they had, they’d have learned that girls’ private parts were included in medical exams (just as boys’ still are) until 1993, when such examinations were stopped in the wake of the Bjugn case [a spectacular 1992 case in which some 30 individuals were accused of sexually assaulting children in a small-town day-care center]. The exams were defined as “sex checks,” and one of Norway’s leading feminists, Trond Viggo Torgersen, a pediatrician and then Ombudsman for Children in Norway, wrote to the health authorities in sharply admonitory language: “Why give girls poorer health care than boys?” Exactly – shouldn’t it be a no-brainer for feminists to reject differential treatment on the basis of gender? In our era, moreover, it has been repeatedly documented that girls in Norway are at risk of ritual mutilation, which should be yet another solid argument for re-introducing medical check-ups.

It is my suspicion that the three M’s belong to the political left, which led the struggle for the sexual liberation of women. Isn’t it a little embarrassing, then, that our foremost pro-“chastity” party, the Christian Democratic Party, wants girls’ private parts to be included once again in medical exams, while the “liberate” M’s give this a thumbs-down?

I will now move on to the most explosive issue: Islam’s systematic oppression of women, which is most clearly symbolized by the use of a veil to indicate her low status. Isn’t it the obligatory – if uncomfortable – responsibility of feminists to rattle the sabers against the dark forces of religion? To protest against the use of hijabs to sexualize little girls and the marrying off of young girls to Muslim men – including girls who are lesbians, bisexual, or secret apostates? To rail against the fact that they are held in marriages by force and never have the opportunity to test their wings? No, all of this is shrouded in silence – and worse: the hijab is defended tooth and nail, as when Martine, in a debate on Tabloid [a TV discussion program], vehemently rejected the idea that the wearing of hijab involved force and instead described the garment as a voluntary “mark of identity” (3 November 2007). This betrayal was so brutal that Sara Azmeh Rasmussen justifiably called Martine’s position “a sophisticated form of racism.” Muslim women, argued Rasmussen, don’t have the same “needs and rights” in Martine’s eyes. Marte, however, went a step further than Martine. In the columns of Dagbladet, she defined those of us who think that the burka obliterates a woman’s personality – that it, indeed, quite simply liquidates her humanity – as sick; we are suffering from “burkaphobia” and have “paranoid delusions” (5 October 2007). Can one imagine a better example of brutal racism?

The obvious question is: Why are the M’s silent about Islam’s systematically oppressive view of women, which now affects tens of thousands of girls and women – the M’s fellow citizens?

Once upon a time, after all, Dagbladet’s feminists had no trouble verbally slaughtering the clammy-handed oppressors in clerical garb. But they ignore today’s full-bearded “clergy.” Why this differential treatment? Shouldn’t they recognize the girls and women who are caged in by real gender fascism as their most important “sisters” today? Shouldn’t those girls and women be the ones who inspire the M’s to sharpen their pens until they slice open our hearts, to toss aside their political superficiality and mercilessly tear into the indifference of academia to these women’s plight?

The time is past due: the M’s must now explain why there should be another standard for the criticism of religion when the God is called Allah.

What can account for this true tragedy of left-wing feminism? I think Professor Trond Berg Eriksen put his hand right into the wasp’s nest when he wrote in Morgenbladet (4 September) that this is all about the fear of being “condemned by all right-thinking Norwegians and all true-believing Muslims. The consensus bubble in this country is like a stoppered bottle full of correct opinions. The Norwegian regime of goodness is so convinced of its own irreproachability that every deviation from correctness is quickly construed as a sign of moral failure.”

In such a way do the M’s fail the most vulnerable ones among us – as well as the soul of Dagbladet. It is terribly sad.

Translated from the Norwegian by Bruce Bawer