Hanne Nabintu Herland, historian of religions, author, commentator, born and raised outside of Norway. Lived in the Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Belgium, Brazil and a few other places. (Photo: NRK)
“What has happened in recent weeks that has placed you once again under the sharply critical scrutiny of the media?
I gave a 30 minute interview to RT about the West’s naive view of the Arab Spring – that in reality became a cruel winter, and about Norway’s dreadful participation in the Libyan war — the country is now reduced to a state of total ruin. I said that if we lived in a just world the responsible Western leaders would be sent to The Hague and convicted of crimes against humanity. But it is unlikely that we will ever experience such justice. Only Africans and Serbs get sent to The Hague, you never find a Western leader tried for anything at all. The same topics regarding my critique of Western involvement in the Middle East have been featured in articles in newspapers like Aftenposten, Dagbladet, Klassekampen and others, but when the exact same topics are discussed on RT, it apparently is dangerously forbidden. Strange indeed, since openness and dialogue among different parties when in conflict is normally hailed as a good idea, and particularly important when we stand on the verge of a new cold war.
Tell me about the interview you did with the TV channel RT, formerly known as “Russia Today.”
They contacted me and requested an interview about my views on America’s involvement in the Middle East conflict — views that for the most part agree with those expressed by Henry Kissinger, Noam Chomsky and others. And they wanted to discuss the atmosphere of political correctness that results in the failure to prosecute many cases for fear of harassment. But critical reflection and the consideration of all sides of an issue are the keys to understanding the whole. To present only one side is clearly propaganda.
Did you sponsor your own Facebook post for the purpose of distributing the interview you did with RT?
Of course. Is this also forbidden in Norway?? I have aprox 15 000 Facebook followers and active debate on the pages, why would it be a crime to place an ad on an important issue like this? Is VG or a leading newspaper the only place we’re allowed to advertise? I was not aware of that.
You were interviewed by a TV station that potentially reaches around 700 million people in half an hour, so it might be reasonable to expect some mention of the interview in Norwegian media. And there was some mention, yes, but do you think it should have generated a more objective debate?
Norway is a country that to a large degree is characterized by a consensus-oriented herd mentality and ruled by Axel Sandmose´s Law of Jante — essentially “don´t presume to think that you are better than anyone else.” Norwegians are both self-censoring and fearful, according to a study done by Fritt Ord. In such a limited climate of freedom, the expression of perspectives that are not necessarily “politically correct” will quickly get you into trouble. For this reason few dare to participate in a real debate of these issues.
You have been described as a marionette in one of Putin´s well-known shows – “The Story of the decadent and hypocritical West”.
We ARE hypocritical in the West. Nobody has started more wars than Obama, bombed more countries or killed more civilians with drones. It is horrible. He doesn´t even respect his own constitution, the Congress or the will of the people. But he can go on and on in his eloquent speeches about democracy and human dignity. The direction that the USA has taken in recent years is appalling. Everyone should react.
You think that VG´s editor Hans Petter Sjøli and Dagbladet´s Harald Klungtveit tried to ridicule your RT performance in social media. Don´t you understand that people describe RT as a Russian channel of propaganda? And that it is somewhat controversial to agree to an interview in such a channel?
RT, CNN, BBC and other channels — all have political profiles. This shouldn´t come as a shock. Sjøli is a typical example of a petty Norwegian conformist – of which there are far too many in the media structures. It is common knowledge that ridicule and harassment are techniques you use when you lack rational arguments. An editor’s role is to show respect for the range of national perceptions, without resorting to narrow-minded bigotry. The critical time for dialogue is in fact the time when the conflict is at its height. Perhaps these politically correct “someones” that govern Norway, these that Sjøli refers to, can provide us writers with a list over the “acceptable” international media? Since so many things seem to be forbidden, these days.
You have been heavily criticized, but also highly praised by your opponents and supporters. But many are afraid to publically join your team when you receive such harsh criticism. Are Norwegians cowards?
Yes, we are cowardly and afraid of all sorts of things.
But you, Hanne, I know that you struggle to set aside your intellectual and serious self. What topics concern you that will not put heaven and earth on edge when you discuss them?
Cooking, I guess. I love an exquisite gourmet evening with guests. I love to serve French cuisine and fine wines.
What can we expect from Nabintu Herland in the year to come? Give us a little teaser. What can we look forward to, what can we fear?
Well, I’ve been in the Middle East and made a stunning TV series that will be shown in Norway and internationally, discussed the Arab Spring with researchers, discussed why Westerners do not understand the East and why we Westerners naively seem to believe that everyone really only wants to be just like us. I am also writing a book about the Middle East.
If you could point to three individuals in the official arena of Norway that you would like to see permanently silenced … would you tell Dagbladet who they were?
None. It is important that no one keeps silent. We should have room for different voices and fierce, hard debate, but it should be based on objectivity, integrity and a high level of knowledge.
And who would you like to play poker with?