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By Jeanette, Human Rights Service. Translated by Knut Anfindsen.

Foto: Tomm W. Christiansen”Three Brothers who are not Brothers” presents a funny skit conveying the point that in a country with low gross national product (GNP), that country’s capital asset is “respect”. I myself come from a country with a low GNP, Pakistan, but at this time I have the good luck to live in a country having one of the world’s highest GNPs. Seen from that point of view the “respect-capital” should be a historic novelty only. However, when our comedian Harald Eia dressed up as a Pakistani cries out his demand for RESPECT, I get stomach pains. Just simply because Eia is correct and to the point: Respect in the West and “respect” in a country like Pakistan is not the same thing.

Respect is complicated
We all want to be respected. Most of us work hard and determined to achieve and be respected. We also know that respect goes both ways: we will not be respected if we don’t respect others. Therefore, we try to make ourselves worthy of respect. Then, in turn, when we sense that we are being respected, that produces a very good feeling. Maybe it is fair to say that we are dependent of both receiving and offering respect in order to be in harmony with ourself as well as with others.

But respect is not all that simple.

Different attitudes towards respect
I have often wondered what Norwegians mean with the word “respect”. And it has gradually dawned on me that “respect” is by no means synonymous for Norwegians and us Pakistanis.

For Pakistanis, also those living in Norway, respect is considered among the most important things in life. Even so, it is in the Pakistani culture here that I have experienced the most severe lack of respect. Already as a child one will hear that “you will not get anywhere without respect”, and upbringing is based on “respect”: Respect for parents, the elderly, authorities, males…. But that respect is classified, organized and layered; the higher status or rank, the more respect you may demand. Respect is something you can demand if the right conditions are there. If these in turn are lacking, you can wave good-bye to all hope of being respected.

Given my own experience with lack of respect in the Pakistani environment, I approached different people, immigrants as well as ethnic Norwegians: “How do you define the word “respect”, and what does it mean to you?”, I asked. The answers given surprised me. I had certainly expected to find Pakistanis and ethnic Norwegians to have different perceptions of the word, but I had not expected to find such profound differences.

Immigrants versus ethnic Norwegians
Immigrants that I talked to, each and every one, underlined that showing respect is very important. They explained the meaning as “being obedient, considerate and humble”. They all said that respect is something to be shown all older and more experienced than oneself. Further, women shall respect men: One’s father, one’s brothers, and one’s husband (and in case of a husband’s death, the widow must show the same respect towards her older son). This kind of “respect” implies that orders from one older than oneself, one’s parents or one’s husband shall never be questioned. If one does not display obedience, consideration and humbleness, one does not show respect. A child that does not show respect towards parents represents a threat towards the family and the family’s honour. If the family honour suffers, then the parents cannot cater to the interests of their offspring. If, on the other hand, parents are shown respect, then the parents will make decisions that are in the best interest of their offspring. If there is any imbalance in the family, as with a child being disobedient or obstinate, then the parents and the rest of the family can use threats and force in order to get the child on the right track. That’s the way to “learn” respect.

Ethnic Norwegians had an entirely different perception and attitude. They all used the individual as a reference point; that respect is about having own opinions, free thought, the right to form own opinions independent of others. Tolerance and equality were the words most commonly used; respect understood as appreciating others without sacrificing own self-esteem. One should respect without condemnation, demand, or abuse. To refute the rights of others or imply that “I/we know best” is lack of respect. Further, ethnic Norwegians made the point that respect cannot be a one-way thing. In order to be respected, you have to respect others. In other words, you don’t receive more respect than you communicate to others. If we have respect for each other, than we have a good basis for harmony, calm, and peace of mind. In addition to respect for parents, family, and friends, one should have respect for law, common standards, and nature. In case of a lack of respect, i.e. that one does not respect someone like one aught to, the “punishment” is on the individual level: one looses one’s own honour and cannot be expect to be respected.

Explanation of failed integration
I believe that the significant differences between immigrants’ and ethnic Norwegians’ understanding of the concept of ”respect” are part of the explanation of why integration has been such a failure. Just look at what is happening in France these days: riots and devastation, mostly by immigrant youth. Is it just rebellious youth? May be! The explanation is not primarily the fact that these are mostly Muslim youths; i.e. that the riots have it’s origin in religion. But in my opinion these riots demonstrate a complete lack of respect – both for the society in which they live, for the existing rule of law, and for people in general. This in relation to “respect” as understood in the West.

In 1999 our TV 2 ran a program showing a policeman in the major city of Lahore, Pakistan. Being interviewed, he was questioned about how to deal with a daughter refusing to marry according to the wish of her parents. He answered something like: “If a daughter refuses to marry the one her parents have chosen, then the parents must first try to convince her in a mild and loving tone. If she continues to refuse, the parents must threaten and scare her. If this fails, they must force her. If this, too, fails, then………” He illustrated the rest of the sentence by simulating his cutting off her throat. This is the opinion of the “upholder of the law” in Pakistan, publicly expressed.

Many immigrants have their origin in a country where respect is something being demanded, claimed on basis of gender, status, role, or level in a hierarchy. It all boils down to power and control. It revolves around “me” (as a man) and “mine”, not about “us” or “our”. Burned out cars in France; burned women in Pakistan; we are shaken when we hear about it. But we shut up in frustration when we are presented with the explanation that the things happening here in the West are caused by “racism”. We must respect other cultures! Respect???? What is the meaning?

“Honour Robbery”
Do we in the West want to include in our society cultures constructed so as to enable some to maintain tight control of others’ lives; parents to have control over who will marry their offspring; parents to control education and choice of profession for their children; because the young have to obey their parents? The man is entitled to make all decisions for his wife. She has to “respect”. The violation of human rights is grotesque. The female sexuality is incorporated in this culture in a horrible way. The word for “rape” translates to “honour robbery” in Urdu. In the Norwegian society I lose my honour if I lie, steel, or cheat etc. But in Pakistan both my family and myself will lose honour if I am raped. There are, however, some exceptions: If my husband who has been chosen by my parents is raping me, it is no longer “honour robbery”. Because both my honour and my sexuality is his property, and he is only availing himself of what is rightly his. And since this is valid for all homes, not only one or a few, but the complete society, it is impossible to break out of this cultural construction and lifestyle. This power position automatically bestowed upon the male is an “honour position”, and it is being lost if the male loose control. If the male fails in his position as ruler, his honour is lost and it has to be resurrected at any cost. The alternative is being seen as the loser.

What is happening in France might one day happen in Norway. May be not at this time, but possibly in another few years. We are getting ever more numerous, we form larger groups, and internal control within the various groups is on the increase. Our politicians can keep on talking sweetly about integration, jobs, and education. I believe we need to take a strong look at the fact that there is a world of difference between our basic values. Learning to truly respect each other should be compulsory education, not Islam or religion-studies. We need to have common understanding of respect, and arriving at a common understanding should be a joint effort.

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