The translation below was undertaken entirely at the initiative of the owners of Gates of Vienna, as suggested by the translator himself.
Neither the author (Tore Kvæven) nor the publication (Utdanning) requested this translation or its publication at Gates of Vienna. The fact that it has been published here in no way implies that the author approves of this blog or any of the other material it has published.
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Our Norwegian correspondent The Observer sends us a translation of an op-ed about the pervasiveness of propaganda in the Norwegian educational system. He includes this note:
Utdanning (Norwegian word for “education”) is a magazine that focuses on issues related to education. published by the Norwegian Department of Education. Its front page says that its readers consists of teachers, lecturers, students, and anyone who is interested in educational issues. It also says that it has a circulation of 130,000 readers.
To my mind this op-ed brilliantly exemplifies the bias that exists in Norwegian schools.
His translation from Utdanning:
Censorship and propaganda in Norwegian schools
Approximately one million Europeans succumbed to or were killed as slaves under Muslim rule in northern Africa, among them 3,000 to 4,000 Norwegians. Is it a mere coincidence that this historical fact is a non-issue in Norwegian schools?
by Tore Kvæven
About a year ago, after having sustained a minor eye injury and spending a night in hospital, I was driven home from Stavanger by a Palestinian taxi driver originally from Gaza. During the one-and-a-half-hour drive home I had several discussions with him, covering a range of subjects, among them Hitler and Germany’s extermination of the Jews. The driver insisted that the concentration camps never existed and that it was simply a conspiracy theory concocted by the Jews themselves and their European allies, and that there were no evidence of any pogroms perpetrated against the Jews during WW2. My arguments to the contrary failed to make an impression, and I thought to myself that the driver had to be a victim of political propaganda, and that he was most likely exposed to this propaganda at an early age. I assumed that the Palestinian educational system and textbooks were biased when it came to the subject of Jewish history. Of course I could have been mistaken. I know very little about the curriculum and textbooks used in the schools in the Gaza strip. But my impression was that the driver believed in what he was saying.
I had a similar debate along the same lines on a different occasion, but the subject this time was slavery, and my debate opponents were ethnic Norwegians. My assertion was that the Muslims were heavily involved in white slave trade during the Middle Ages, and that they brought more white slaves from Europe (slightly more than one million) than the total number of black African slaves (slightly less than one million)that were shipped over to America. These assertions were met with incredulity. Nor was my assertion that the Islamic slave trade from Africa to Asia exceeded the European slave trade to America accepted. This knowledge was so fundamentally at odds with the knowledge of my Norwegian friends that they were unwilling to accept it, just like the case of the Palestinian taxi driver. And just as his views were a result of sustained propaganda in school and in society, I suspect that many Norwegians’ views are a result of politicised opinions found in Norwegian schools and in Norwegian society.
The following quote is from the textbook Midgard 6: social studies for children:“When media are used to influence people’s opinions in a certain way, it’s called propaganda. … the purpose of propaganda is to shape the people’s views. Censorship and propaganda are often found in countries ruled by dictators.”
This is obviously a correct assertion. But after having worked as a teacher for ten years, I have to ask the following question; “But isn’t the Norwegian school system also influenced by propaganda, something that this textbook clearly shows?”
As a political science teacher for students in years six and seven I taught about the Middle Ages in Europe. One of the chapters in the aforementioned textbook deals with the Muslim colonisation of Spain and Portugal, from 711 to 1492. This is portrayed as an era of great human achievement, and the colonisation itself is portrayed as a positive thing. Everything that deals with this colonisation has positive undertones. Here are some short excerpts from the textbook:
“effective irrigation systems”, “new fruits and vegetables”, “knowledge about how the beautiful silk fabrics could be manufactured”, “the beautiful Arabian horse”, “both Christians and Jews were allowed to worship their religions in peace”, “good relations between Christians, Jews and Muslims”, “many converted to Islam”, “in the city of Cordoba there was a brilliant palace with gardens, water fountains, mosques and public baths”, “during the night the city was illuminated by lamps”, “scholars from Europe and the Arabian empire”, “in Andalucía the majority of the population were literate, while the majority in the rest of Europe at the time were illiterate”, “the farmers produced crops two to three times a year”, “big gardens containing fruits and vegetables surrounded the cities”.
It goes on to claim that the Muslims decorated “buildings and rooms with the most amazing patterns, poems and passages from the Koran.” And last, but not least, that the Christians in the 13th century “conquered” (notice the choice of words) Granada and that “everything the Arabs brought with them to Europe continued to live on in European culture.”
The list of positively charged words from this specific chapter is long, and there’s no mention of any negative factors. There is no mention of the culture that existed prior to the Arab colonisation, no reference to those who died as a result of this conquest, and no mention of the living conditions for the indigenous population under the Cordoba Caliphate.
The Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula was probably not any worse than any other colonisation up through history. But then again it was probably not more benign either. Here are some of the atrocities that the Muslims carried out:
- In his chronicles Sultan abd Allah of Granada describes how Muslims in the year 1066 killed every single Jew in the city of Granada (three to four thousand Jews were massacred).
- From 1010 to 1013 huge numbers of Jews were killed in Cordoba under the rule of the Muslim leader Suleiman. The remaining survivors were chased out of the city. The death toll may have been as high as several thousands.
- In the period 1130-1232 the Muslim Almohadane tribe carried out genocidal atrocities against the Jewish and Christian civilian population in Spain and North Africa. In the city of Tlemcen Jews who refused to convert to Islam were killed. It is possible that as many as 220,000 Jews and Christians were killed in the cities of Fez and Marrakesh during this period. Every single Jewish community in the Spanish cities of Seville, Cordoba, Jaen and Almeria were affected by genocide. Families who chose to convert to Islam to avoid being killed had their children taken away from them.
- Jews and Christians had to pay higher taxes and had fewer rights within the judicial system. It is true that the majority of Christians and Jews converted to Islam during the occupation, but their motivations for doing so were of a much less noble character than what is insinuated in the textbook.
- It’s also reported that Jews who converted to Islam were the victims of abuse and racism even three generations after the conversion took place.
But despite all this, the Islamic conquest of the Iberian Peninsula is still being portrayed as something wholeheartedly positive. The victims seem to be “censored away”.
Could the European colonisation of South-Africa, the USA, or New Zealand be portrayed in a similar manner? Long lists of positively-charged words and vivid narratives of all the positive things that the Europeans brought with them? About progress and civilisation, about medicine and railroads, about hospitals, books, schools, etc.? While at the same time not mentioning anything about the suffering of the indigenous populations? That’s hardly likely. That type of description would be considered to be propaganda and an insult to all the Indians, Maoris and black Africans that were killed as a result of this colonisation. Norwegian textbooks are in this case very specific: Europeans atrocities and the indigenous suffering is something the students are taught about, anything else would be disrespectful and repression of historical facts.
But not when Muslims were the colonisers and Europeans were colonised?
This is not the only example of the filtration of facts and undue bias based on ethnicity in Norwegian schools. On the contrary, it’s symptomatic of what appears to be a politicised spin in several areas in the subjects of history and social studies. One has to look very hard to find any mention of Muslim atrocities in Norwegian textbooks. And this is not only limited to Muslims. This is also the norm for most non-Western cultures and religions. Atrocities perpetrated by these groups seems to be deliberately ignored or downplayed.
Isn’t that also propaganda? (A question, by the way, which I intend to ask the Norwegian minister of Education.)
A student who graduates from a Norwegian school has a good knowledge of the Ku Klux Klan and the numerous murders carried out by the organisation against blacks in the USA (perpetrators were white), but the same student has no knowledge of the equally horrific and even more numerous killings of white South African Boer farmers, including women and children, that has occurred since the introduction of democracy in that country. White Boer farmers have the highest risk of being murdered in the world, and they are living under conditions that resemble genocide with murder rates that are four times higher than that of average South-Africans (perpetrators are black).
The same student will have learnt about the Norwegian role in the transatlantic slave trade (through Danish rule). But he will be unaware that somewhere between three and four thousand Norwegians were captured as slaves by Muslims in North Africa between the years 1600 and 1800, and that the majority of these Norwegians died or were killed as slaves, according to Torbjørn Ødegaard’s book Nordiske slaver — afrikanske herrer (“Nordic slaves —African masters”).
The student will also have knowledge about apartheid and white South-African racism, but be unaware of the plight of the Christian Copts in today’s Egypt.
The student will have knowledge of the Spanish massacres of Indians in South and North America, but be unaware of the genocide perpetrated by Turks against the Armenians in the early 1900s.
In the textbook Kosmos 9, social studies for high school, racism is listed as one of the motivations for European colonisation:“Many Europeans believed that they were superior to other races.”
This is probably a true assertion, but I have yet to see non-Westerners described as racists in our textbooks. If there’s a perception in our society that only white people can be racists, are Norwegian schools then guilty of giving rise to this idea? And if that is the case, isn’t that also racism?
Propaganda in Norwegian schools is characterised by the downplaying of simple facts, and an over-emphasis on others, in order to achieve the desired effect. This type of propaganda is more difficult to expose and to counter than the lies found in totalitarian states, but is it more acceptable?
Of course I could be wrong, but I would assume that many of those who read this article, and who share the values embraced by Norwegian schools, and have the same political view that has shaped the Norwegian school, have an implicit understanding that the propaganda and censorship that I have referred to in this article hovers like an invisible veil over certain portions of information presented in the subjects that have been mentioned here. Even so, there are few critical voices. On the contrary many believe that this of censorship and propaganda is in the service “of a good and noble cause”, and consequently should continue. But hasn’t this type of justification always been endorsed by the machineries of propaganda throughout history?