In my previous post, I wrote about the Norway and Slavery research group that I started with a couple of colleagues at the University of Bergen. Today, I want to dig a little more into what I plan to do with my work on Norwegian hip hop, specifically Karpe’s work. Over the past few months, I have written multiple posts on artists such as Hkeem, Pumba, and Karpe, and each artist addresses issues of racism, xenophobia, islamaphobia, and discrimination behind the egalitarian facade that Norway projects to the rest of the world.
Traveling around the Schengen Area is pretty easy. Once your are inside, you do not have to show your passport when you travel between countries in the area. The only time I had to show my passport when moving within the area was last December after I traveled to Warsaw, Poland. On the way back to Bergen, I had a layover in Copenhagen. Upon arriving in Bergen, there were police, at the gate, checking everyone’s passports and ids. This is the only time this happened to me when travelling back to Bergen. It appears that they did this because there passengers from India and other countries on board the flight.
The above assumption about why police at the gate checked our passports did not come out of thin air. Earlier that month, I attended the 2018 Holberg Debate, a discussion that included Achille Mbembe, Kathleen Cleaver, and George Galloway. Mbembe, a world-renowned scholar, began his remarks by pointing out that security racial profiled him at the airport.
I was at the center of a rather unfortunate incident at the airport in Bergen when I landed here two days ago, the details of which I will spare you from. Suffice it to mention that in spite of the perfectly legal nature of my brief presence in your country, I was subjected to a thorough racial profiling by three police officers.
I mention this incident (and please do not take it personally) – not only because you have the right to know how certain classes of people are daily treated at the borders of your country, or the price they may be requested to pay for your generosity and kind hospitality, but also because this incident is significant of the general temperament of our times. As such, I judge it to be highly relevant to the kind of issues we are called upon to reflect upon here, this afternoon.
Mbembe’s comments throughout his speech, specifically about the “society of security,” cause me to think about Toni Morrison’s “The Foreigner’s Home” where she speaks about migration and national borders:
The spectacle of mass movement draws attention inevitably to the borders, the porous places, the vulnerable points where one’s concept of home is seen as being menaced by foreigners. Much of the alarm hovering at the borders, the gates, is stoked, it seems to me, by (1) both the threat and the promise of globalism and (2) an uneasy relationship with our own foreignness, our own rapidly disintegrating sense of belonging.
A society of security, founded on myths, transposes its fears about itself and its own identity onto others. As Mbembe puts it, “It is a society that is fundamentally fearful of the truth; fearful of the unknown and ultimately fearful of itself. It is this deep-seated fear of itself that is then projected outside to whoever stands as its opposite.” For Morrison, this fear leads to a fear that one’s society will vanish. This fear leads the “society of security” to deal with its own foreignness.
Like the United States, Norway has, in recent years, increased its detention of immigrants and asylum seekers. I wrote about this some in my previous post when discussing the recent attempted deportation of the Abbasi family. As well, the Global Detention Project (GDP) chronicles the increased use of detaining immigrants and asylum seekers, detailing the facilities and maltreatment of individuals in the facility in Oslo. The GDP points out that Norway received 31,110 asylum applications in 2015 and decreased to 3,485 in 2016. Even with this decrease, the number of detentions and deportations continue to rise: “However, even as asylum requests have dropped precipitously, the number of people removed from the country has continued to climb. In 2016, Norway expelled 5,940 non-citizens, a number comparable to those deported from Italy that same year. In 2015, Norway returned 5,450; in 2014, 5,365; in 2013, 4,450; and in 2012, 4,045.”
Karpe approaches these issues throughout Heissan Montebello and elsewhere. Throughout their oeuvre, the look at the immigrant experience, even for second generation children of immigrants, in Norway. They do this in songs such as “Vestkartsvartinga” where they rap about the ways that those in the neighborhood and school viewed them. They address islamaphobia directly in songs such as “Den islamske elefanten” (“The islamic elephant”). Here, Magdi begins with the following two lines,
Jeg er den islamske elefanten inni rommet ditt
Jeg er en mistanke, jeg er en maskot, jeg er politikk
I’m the Islamic elephant in your room
I’m a suspect, I’m a mascot, I’m politics
With these lines, Magdi highlights the ways that islamaphobia works to maintain power by stoking fear. Through the linking of suspect, mascot, and politics, Magdi pinpoints the interlinking ways that these labels work to construct perceptions of Muslims in Norway and the ways that those in power use these constructions to their own advantage.
Chirag has a similar line in “Lett å være rebell i kjellerleiligheten din” when he raps, “Til noen sier hver regjering trenger sin ape” (“Some say every government needs its monkey”). Over the course of Heissan Montebello, Chirag and Magdi present themselves, at certain points, as the dancing monkey in the room and also as the intrusive monkey. A society of security wants it both ways. It wants its “mascot” while also wanting its “suspect.” It wants to stoke fear with the “suspect” and present an image of inclusiveness with the “mascot.” In both cases, the individual being presented is not the true individual. He or she is a construct, a visage created by the society of security.
I am interested in continuing to look at the ways that Karpe address these topics in relation to Norway and its image throughout the world. I’m interested in looking at the ways that Karpe complicate and challenge the ways we view ourselves and others. I’m interested in the tensions at work in Karpe’s songs that push and pull in opposing directions. I’m interested in these aspects and more.
What are your thoughts? As usual, let me know in the comments below, and make sure to follow me on Twitter at @silaslapham. Stay tuned for updates on these projects.
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