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Out on wild roads

The new Foreign Ministry (Foreign Ministry) under Jonas Gahr Støre and Erik Solheim's leadership receives a lot of praise in the Norwegian press. That is the limited reason.


It shows, among other things, the Foreign Service's top management conference 2006, which in Oslo Concert Hall on Tuesday organized "Meeting on how to counter conflict when cultures meet".

Most of Norway's ambassadors, research organizations and the media were invited to the lectures and debate. But both the issue, the participant selection and the debate premise testify that the Foreign Ministry is now characterized by a populist and conflict-creating worldview.

And this is serious, given the active role the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs acquires in the world's conflicts: Norway was supposed to create peace in Sri Lanka, but the result of the prestige project – after strongly criticized support for the terrorist organization Tamil Tigers (LTTE) – was that the island is now in civil war with hundreds dead and tens of thousands fleeing. Norway, for decades "Israel's best friend", was to create peace in the Middle East. But the result of the Israel-favored Oslo Accords, called "apartheid" by Professor Edward Said, was a stone-dead peace process.

Nevertheless, the mission of "the Norwegian values" continues as the answer to the world's problems. On Tuesday, Solheim returned from one week in the new focus area South America. Again, the "Norwegian model" will save the successful countries, instead of their own models, as discussed in the UD's 16 pages long background report.

Typically, there is not a single word about what Norway can learn from the large multicultural Samba country Brazil. In the best paternalistic spirit, only Norway can contribute something to "them" in this one-way exchange, while the Foreign Ministry will not find out anything about South Americans' views on Norwegian agricultural subsidies, closed borders or cultural exchanges. This is not within the mandate Solheim gave to his working group.

This is how it can go when the Norwegian model takes it for granted that Norwegians are the chosen people of reason. Tuesday's Foreign Ministry debate witnessed the same. Instead of getting input on how Lebanese have lived peacefully with their dozens of religions for centuries, or how cosmopolitan Brazilians are proud of their background, the Foreign Ministry is organizing a conference led by traditional state secretaries and censors – chemically purified of immigrant women and foreign input.

The unscientific question "how to counter conflict when cultures meet", again linked to Islam, is the most problematic: Which "cultures", what counter-conflict? Neither the Holocaust, the Srebrenica massacre, the Sri Lankan war, the Al Qaeda terror, the Muhammad caricatures or the Gaarder Chronicle can be meaningfully linked to "cultures". The fact that a foreign ministry is spreading such thoughts, characterized by German national romance and pre-fascist thinking, is frightening.

Before the Foreign Ministry continues to clean up the world, the leadership should start by cleaning up their own representations of the world.

Dag Herbjørnsrud
Dag Herbjørnsrud
Former editor of MODERN TIMES. Now head of the Center for Global and Comparative History of Ideas.

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