Walid al-Kubaisi was an author and Government scholar who carved out a reputation in Norway as a powerful and original writer. His invaluable contributions to the social debate often bore elements of cultural criticism from a perspective based on criticism of religion, reflecting his considerable insight and knowledge.
Interview with al-Kubaisi excerpted from the Fritt Ord Foundation's Annual Report for 2016.
"THE FRONTS ARE MORE ENTRENCHED, BUT THERE ARE STILL OPPORTUNITIES"
Walid al-Kubaisi regrets that the fronts in the debate about diversity and immigration have become more firmly entrenched in recent years, at the same time as the debate has become less interesting because it largely revolves around use of the hijab. "However, there is hope, not least because secular Muslims are in the process of creating alternatives and new opportunities", he remarks.
In 2016, Loveleen Rihel Brenna and Walid al-Kubaisi were awarded the Freedom of Expression Foundation Tribute for their insightful contributions to public debates in Norway over the course of more than two decades, not least in relation to discussions about immigration and assimilation. In her speech at the awards ceremony in June, Sigrun Slapgard, member of the Fritt Ord Foundation's Board, stated that both prize laureates had come to terms with their own cultural backgrounds, each in their own way, while also challenging the majority population.
"I can readily identify with that description after having been involved in the diversity debate for 30 years. This debate used to be interesting too, but, regrettably, these days, concepts like "diversity", "the multi-cultural society" and "a colourful community" are often largely devoid of meaning", comments al-Kubaisi.
"The 'colourful community' is a fantastic concept in which all cultural expressions and variations enrich the community, but in actual practice, it has become something else entirely. 'Diversity' has instead morphed into radicalisation, and 'multi-cultural' means that the general public must accept the hijab – a headdress that reduces Islamic diversity to one self-discriminating garment", he adds.
Al-Kubaisi places the blame on he calls 'Islamo-leftism', an expression he introduced into the Norwegian social debate, for a great deal of the adverse trend.
"Debaters on the left have allied themselves with extreme Islamic conservative forces, rather than with secular, modern Muslims. They have even supported these conservative forces' attempts to represent themselves as moderate. Islamo-leftists have done this because they want to be perceived as tolerant, but they have no idea what they have precipitated: They have paved the road to hell with good intentions", maintains al-Kubaisi.
Author and Government scholar Walid Al-Kubaisi was educated as an engineer. He fled from Iraq in 1981, during the war with Iran. He then worked as a journalist in Syria and Lebanon for several years before arriving in Norway in 1987. In Norway, he wrote a number of books, including children's books, as well as a screenplay. He was a regular contributor to the weekly newspaper Dag og Tid.
"For me, this has been a constant battle between two fronts. The one front is against Norwegian Islamo-leftism, in addition to the racism that exists in Norway, while the other front is critical of the Muslims who, figuratively speaking, still live like medieval cave dwellers. Yet Islam is a religion that can find a place in a modern, democratic society, if only we can manage to interpret and harmonise the religion within the framework of Norwegian law and modern, universal parameters", he said.
Heart-shaped waffles and nan
Walid al-Kubaisi followed the debate about values in the run-up to the elections in Norway in autumn 2016 with a certain measure of wonder.
"Norwegian values are not heart-shaped waffles, just as nan bread is not a Muslim value! Norwegian values were shaped by the figures who have stood out in Norwegian culture, from Wergeland to King Olav, and the same values are also found in my own culture. Talking as though Norwegian values exist only in Norway tends to exclude the minorities", al-Kubaisi points out.
"At the same time, Muslims in Norway should be careful not to talk about Muslim values as opposed to Norwegian values, because that road is fraught with pitfalls! Taking a position as someone who opposes Norwegian values means defining one's self as a foreign hostile in Norway. Good Norwegian values were also what welcomed us as immigrants and refugees. Muslims in Norway should understand that they are also Norwegian, and that the values identified as Norwegian values are also the values of their children. Today, we have an older generation that includes many conservative Muslims, but their children will be Norwegian, speaking the Norwegian language and waving the Norwegian flag, whether the older generation likes it or not. This is the logic of history", he maintains.
The forces of good seek a path
Even though the sides in the debate about immigration, assimilation and diversity have become more firmly entrenched, al-Kubaisi is optimistic.
"Many good forces are now seeking a recourse from radicalisation and women in hijabs. We see the emergence of organisations such as the Centre for Secular Integration headed by Dr. Shahram Shaygani, LIM (Equality, Integration, Diversity), Ex-Muslims of Norway headed by Cemal Knudsen Yucel, the Secular Forum headed by Anita Frans, and the Secular Feminist Front (SEFF), headed by Shabana Rehman. This can give rise to hope", says al-Kubaisi, who was very touched when awarded this tribute from the Fritt Ord Foundation.
"The Freedom of Expression Foundation Tribute is of great value as moral support for individuals who fight for freedom of expression. It also provides encouragement to people who are accused, or perhaps even demonised, because of their convictions. It proves that it is worthwhile to stand up and fight.”