Sunday, February 19, 2012

How Much Social Criticism is Too Much?

Last week we posted a translated review of the new book by the Norwegian author Hanne Nabintu Herland. Ms. Herland is a strident critic of Modern Multicultural Norway, and her views do not sit very well with the elite guardians of Norwegian culture.

It’s not so much that she has no right to her opinions — the gatekeepers grudgingly acknowledge that contrary points of view deserve to play at least a nominal role in public discourse — but her forthright emotionalism about the imminent self-destruction of Norwegian culture is somehow distasteful. Not as distasteful as Fjordman, mind you — who is absolutely beyond the pale — but still not quite fit for polite society.

Our Norwegian correspondent The Observer has translated an op-ed from today’s Aftenposten that discusses what the criteria should be for allowing contrary opinions into newspaper columns. The translator includes this note:

This op-ed shows how low some “social commentators” and newspapers are willing to go in Norway. This is what Fjordman had to endure for months on end after the 22/7 attacks in Oslo.

The translated opinion piece:

The battle for the newspaper columns

How much time and effort do we have to spend on Hanne Nabintu Herland?

Religious historian Hanne Nabintu Herland has yet again recited her doomsday prophecies, this time in her new book Respect. Aftenposten’s decision to use two full pages to cover her book launch, including a review in which the newspaper’s culture editor Knut Olav Åmås describes the book as “shockingly bad”, has prompted a lot of activity in the social media. Tom Egil Hverven of Klassekampen [“The Class Struggle” — communist newspaper] asked Åmås if he considered this to be a good use of column space. Åmås responded that the questions Herland asks are important and worth spending time on, even though in his opinion Herland doesn’t come up with any good answers.

This latest mini-debate is part of a larger ongoing internal media debate about which individuals we elevate to social commentators. The usual left-wing argument is that we allow too many individuals to comment, and that Aftenposten printing of Christian Tybring-Gjedde’s op-ed “Dream of Disneyland” [I don’t know if there is an English translation of it, but the original Norwegian version was very good — translator] was to legitimize light brown and dangerous political views. On the opposite side of the political spectrum the perception is completely different: Too few are allowed to comment and opinions that violate the politically correct dogma are suppressed.

Roughly speaking, there are two criteria that determine whether someone is allowed to print his opinions in the paper, and there are two credentials that govern the selection. Those who are allowed to express themselves publicly are either those who wield power, and therefore must defend and explain their positions and respond to criticism, or those who have expertise, knowledge and ideas and are considered important contributors to the public discourse. Regarding the criteria, the polemical gatekeepers look for op-eds that represent a wide range of ideological values, and that are thoughtful, well-presented texts of a high quality. Unfortunately it is not always easy to achieve both aims at the same time.

Knut Olav Åmås places great emphasis on the first criterion, and he has been successful in widening the combat zone. He has given important and provocative voices newspaper space. However, Aftenposten should be criticized on the other credential: Does the material that make it into the paper have enough substance? Is being critical and provocative a virtue in itself?

In her many op-eds in Aftenposten over the last seven years, Nabintu Herland has argued that the welfare state deprives immigrants, that the sexualization of society is oppressive to women, that public discourse is stifling, and that Norway is about to perish as a result of moral decay and narcissism. These are of course legitimate perceptions. Giving newspaper space to such opinions reminds us that there are individuals with opposing views, and thus forcing those who are attacked to define and defend their arguments.

But does it have to be Nabintu Herland who gives voice to these opinions? The points in her op-eds are weak, and characterized by a striking absence of documentation, and when controversial arguments and random observations are combined with the writer’s intense and melodramatic behavior, the impression of a paranoid pessimist starts to take shape. It has never been difficult to argue against Hanne Nabintu Herland, and the debates that arise in the wake of her op-eds are rarely of a high quality.

There are voices that criticize the status quo in a much more nuanced way than Herland. Hilde Sandvik from Bergens Tidende [newspaper from Bergen —second largest city in Norway] is a forceful advocate for a diverse public discourse. Usman Rana [well-known Muslim] is a reflective religious and conservative commentator. We need more voices like that. However, what we don’t need is Hanne Nabintu Herland.


babs said...

Well, well, well... Let's not put too fine a point on it, Ms. Herland is persona non grata at Aftenposten.

Chiu ChunLing said...

The essential problem is leaving it to the social institutions to have any role in selecting their own critics.

In a media that is really free and open, where anyone can publish without the government's permission or largess, this problem solves itself. True, there will be a few more popular and profitable publishers and many less popular or profitable outfits. But no viewpoint held by any large number of intelligent people will go unrepresented, and the most articulate voices for each view will tend to naturally find publication.

That the problem exists at all is a commentary on the lack of real freedom of speech.

Chiu Chun-Ling.

Anonymous said...

Hanne Nabintu Herland grew up in Africa, and is in many ways quite un-Norwegian. Maybe that's why the leftists don't know how to deal with her, other than trying to silence her this ugly way by deciding they don't need her in the newspapers with her own opinions?

Here's today's Aftenposten-photo of this strong lady.

Anonymous said...

"The Nabintu Witch rides again"

Title in today's comment on the establishment's efforts to silence the islamically uncorrect people, at