The other day, without giving much thought to it, I shared on a friend’s Facebook page an article from a Norwegian alternative-news website, Resett, about a day-care center in Oslo that recently held an “activity day” at which the children (most of whom are not Muslims) were given hijab to wear and taught to pray while kneeling on carpets. In order to establish the proper mood, the lights were dimmed. During the exercise, the children were treated to the sound of the Islamic call to prayer and to a recitation of verses of the Koran. The whole event was explained to the children as a “magical circle time.”
Resett did not mention the name of the day-care center. (It did report, a couple of days later, that a city official gave the “activity” a thumbs-up.)
I soon realized I had made a mistake by posting the news story on the wall of my friend, who used to work in an Oslo day-care center. Not long after I posted it, a former day-care colleague of his weighed in, complaining that Resett had taken the event “out of context.” My friend made a reply to the effect that, given the direction in which the social and cultural winds are blowing in Norway nowadays, the “context” of this “magical circle time” is all too clear.
His ex-colleague wasn’t done. Responding to his comment, she insisted that the day-care center’s hijab party was benign and admirable because, as she put it, “kids need to be taught about diversity and respect.” To back up her assertion, she attached a photocopy of a passage from the official Norwegian day-care guidelines.
“The day-care center should promote respect for human value by highlighting, appreciating, and promoting diversity and mutual respect,” it began. “The children should have the opportunity to experience the fact that there are many ways to think, act, and live. At the same time, the day-care center should provide shared experiences and highlight the value of community. The day-care center should show how everyone can learn from one another and promote children’s curiosity and wonder about similarities and differences.”
And so on in that vein. Sounds reasonable enough, perhaps, so far and at first blush. But it goes on. A few sentences later, we get this:
“The day-care center should highlight variations in values, religion, and outlook on life. There should be room for a spiritual dimension in the day-care center that must be used as a starting point for dialogue and respect for diversity.”
The awkwardness of the writing — and, yes, it sounds that clunky in Norwegian, too — seems to me to reflect a certain dodginess on the part of the authors. A hesitancy, that is, to say straight out what they mean. But the more you look at that last sentence, there’s only one way to interpret the meaning. In Norway in 2019, to speak of giving a “spiritual dimension” to the day-care experience in order to discuss “diversity” is to refer to one topic and one topic only: Islam.
I’m already aware that primary- and secondary-school students in Britain and elsewhere are routinely taken on field trips to mosques, purportedly for the purposes of diversity education. Sometimes the same kids are dragged to mosques by their teachers more than once a year. It’s all supposed to be about “understanding.” The same goes for this Norwegian day-care policy. On my friend’s Facebook page, his ex-colleague insisted that activities like this hijab-happy “circle time” are important for encouraging “understanding.”
“Understanding”! That’s the key word.
I replied by asking exactly what kind of “understanding” of Islam a child of three or four could develop as a result of such an activity. But no sooner had I asked it than I realized it was a foolish question — for in recent decades, the word “understanding,” especially when used by people like that day-care worker and in such expressions as “cultural understanding,” has taken on a whole new meaning.
This transformation in meaning goes back at least as far as the Cold War-era propaganda efforts by the Kremlin, which involved, among much else, the formation of Communist Party front groups, usually called “committees,” whose names included words like “friendship” and “understanding.” Also part of the history of this misuse of the word “understanding,” and perhaps even more to the point in this instance, are the many ecumenical and interfaith initiatives that were established during the years after World War II and, especially, Vatican II.
In such contexts, “understanding” doesn’t have anything to do with comprehending; it means being empathic, sympathetic, compassionate. Indeed, this kind of “understanding” actually involves avoiding the other kind of “understanding” — which is to say that if you or I want to have an “understanding” attitude toward Islam, in this sense of the word “understanding,” we have to go out of our way not to “understand” Islam in the other sense.
We need, for example, to avoid reading the Koran, because doing so would bring us face-to-face with the hatred at the heart of the faith and make it harder for us to feel empathy or compassion for people who believe this stuff. We need, for the same reason, to turn away from the barbaric reality of Sharia law. And we need to avert our gaze from the systematically oppressive, brutal, and violent reality of life inside of devout Muslim communities. Only by actively turning away from the knowledge of Islamic reality, in short, can we develop and maintain the kind of “understanding” of Islam that people like that day-care worker value so highly.
When it comes to the encounter between Westerners and Islam, there’s another important aspect to this particular type of “understanding”: namely, that it’s entirely unidirectional. Are Muslim children in Norwegian day-care centers taken on field trips to churches and cathedrals? Are they exposed to the Bible? Are they taught to pray to Jesus while listening to hymns? Of course not. That would be indoctrination. It might very well cause riots.
Alas, these points were lost on my friend’s ex-colleague. Eventually she posted a snooty comment lamenting the fact that some adults nowadays fail to display the kind of “understanding” that so many children have successfully developed. My friend, who was quite reasonably offended, instantly unfriended her.
Such is life in the West nowadays. Some of us “get” Islam. We see it for the hateful monstrosity that it is. Others, for whatever reason, either don’t “get” it or refuse to admit they do. They’d rather be “understanding” and see us as the hateful ones. And those in this second group who’ve been entrusted with the vitally important responsibility of taking care of children go out of their way to spread that “understanding” to their charges, all the while pretending that they’re engaged in something other than out-and-out indoctrination.
And so we and they go our separate ways, unfriending each other in the online public spaces of the 21st Century, or else staying in touch while avoiding any mention of these all-important matters. And meanwhile Islam in the West, abetted by its benevolent “understanders,” advances apace.