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Why Norway's Cultural Training for Immigrants is a Poor Example

Why Norway's Cultural Training for Immigrants is a Poor Example

As part of an effort to help immigrants settle into life in Norway, cultural awareness courses have been made compulsory.

Watching some of the footage of the content in a short video piece on The Guardian website left me cringing - it really exposed a rather shallow approach to cultural understanding in many senses.

The piece entitled "Norway's Muslim immigrants attend classes on western attitudes to women" focuses on the town of Moi and the Muslim, mainly Syrian, refugees who have been settled there and are now attending weekly classes on Norwegian culture and values.

It seems that a series of sexual assualts in a nearby town prompted calls for the classes as a way of dealing with the crimes.


Before expanding on my thoughts as to the content, let's be clear that I believe some sort of cultural awareness classes are necessary for incoming migrants.

My issue is not with teaching of local culture and wanting newcomers to understand the rules and to integrate; my issue is with the approach, content and bias seen in this clip. It smells of Islamophobia.

Let's look at some specific examples:

01:40 - the trainer, who I assume should be some sort of qualified educator, asks the question, "Why do I stay with my husband? Because he is controlling me?". I found this shocking. As someone with over 10+ years experience in cultural awareness training I could not believe someone delivering such a course would say such a thing to such an audience. In one sentence she essentially told all those women in attendance that they were in relationships out of fear rather than love and that all the married men present were control freaks. Are you getting where the bias is coming in now?

02:40 - one of the attendees, a Syrian gentlemen makes the very good point that "we need time". People who have come from traumatic circumstances and plonked into a new culture, climate and cuisine need time to process what has happened to their lives let alone the local culture. Cultural awareness classes can only do so much. In fact, when it comes to stigmatising and marginalising immigrants such courses can do the exact opposite to producing integrated citizens.

03:20 - the interviewer asks the trainer if she thinks that men from conservative societies can get the wrong idea or wrong signals, and as a result commit indecent assaults against local women. The trainer responds in the positive giving examples of Muslim men not accepting a wife saying "no" or the case of a man who was hit for trying to force himself upon a lady. Could these examples not also very possibly be descriptions of some Norwegian local men too? Bias, again. Not every Muslim man forces himself on his wife, probably statistically the same as Norwegian men as this is not about culture or nationality but about men and marriage. Similarly, are we to assume that no Norwegian man has never misinterpreted signals and been slapped? His whole culture doesn't seem to become tarnished as a result. Bias.

04:40 - the bias I keep mentioning doesn't go unnoticed by the attendees. In this segment a female Syrian surgeon explains to the interviewer that they already know about equality and human rights through Islam for thousands of years {her exact words were not translated}. Her tone of voice suggests it is rather condescending that they feel they are being looked down upon. The couple make the case that the cultural awareness courses approach their cultures with total and utter ignorance, essentially projecting negative headline slogans on their morality.

08:30 - the right-wing politician talks about immigrant taxi drivers raping local women and stating that immigrants come from countries where rape is culturally accepted. I have been to almost every country in the Middle East and I can't recall ever having been to one where rape is considered a good deed. This to me displays the institutional bias immigrants have to deal with - they have been told from top to bottom that they come from cultures where women are subjugated and rape is a norm. It's nonsense, but unfortunately people believe nonsense. Bias.

10:10 - perhaps the end of the piece offers us a glimmer of hope where we see the local church inviting in immigrants and MINGLING! This is exactly what we are about as a company, it's what our name means and it's the only approach we feel can really offer cross-cultural understanding, The more we mingle, the more we talk; the more we talk, the more we share; the more we share, the more we learn; the more we learn, the more we love. As the commentator rightly says the immigrants will "learn more by mixing with Norwegians than in any classroom." This is the approach that is needed - two-way dialogue, not lecturing.

What do you think?

I will obviously have my own bias and standpoint but I truly feel that these kinds of cultural awareness courses are dangerous - they are riddled with racism, Islamophobia and bias and offer nothing fresh, positive or engaging. Immigration is going to continue to be a hot topic in future years and we have to start making sure we get it right for everyone.

We need well though through initiatives that integrate people not programmes that pander to politics and to be blunt, are poorly put together.


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