Now it is offical. The Norwegian Ministry of Culture cuts off the funding to the Islamic Council in Norway. It gives as grounds that the Council does not any longer perform as a «bridge-builder and dialogue maker». This is a major rupture in a more than twenty year old practice and is somewhat suprising. Having critisesed the Council several times earlier this year, Minster for Culture Linda Helleland seems firm in her decision.
The Islamic Council has previously been seen as a legitimate spokesman for muslims here. For years they were always giving comments to the media on whatever political issues that seem to involve Islam. They were routinely present in debates on integration, racism and religious co-habitation. Recently though, this Norway-Islamic bastion of is showing some signs of disintegration. Over the last few years the mainstream media has been increasingly reporting inner strifes and outright arguments among the toppermost of the council. The hiring of a secretary who wears the controversial fully covering Niqab. Quarrels among board members and the sacking of the former General Secretary. Former SV-politician and MP Akthar Chadhary recently went as far as to predict the Council´s imminent demise.
Chaudhry threw out this torch after it recently became known that five organizations and their Mosques cancelled their membership. These organizations have over 19 000 members or a fifth of the council´s total membership. Two of them have as leading members previous Islamic Council leaders, Senaid Kobilicia (Bosnian Muslims) and Lena Larsen (Islamic Association). An withdrawal from such essential participants must be viewed as serious. Kobilicia saide to the NRK that the work on dialogue has been downgraded and the Council does not listen to its members anymore.
In torrentful his blog post Chaudhry accuses the current leader of the Council as he writes: «The Council is dead soon. One man is responsible. His name is Mehtab Afsar and is General Sectretary of the Council». He states that the council over the past 25 years have played a unifying role that is now compromomised. Highlights were the calming adress sought by the Council during the so called «Muhammed Caricacture-controversy» in the mid 2000s, as well as acceptance of homosexuals as equals. He goes on to write that Mr. Afsar has changed all this in a myopic approach: «Under the leadership of Afsar, the same organization has chosen polarization based on very marginal cases. One of them was hiring a nikab wearing employee whose salary would come from the Minister of Culture. How stupid can one be? Afsar has given the organization a victim role. That is a role Norwegian Muslims hate and reject. Afsar has been running I on a collision course with us a long time.»
Chaudhry encourages the organizations that pulled out to have patience and regroup in a common Islamic community. He hopes that: «I urge them not to be pasified. They must keep the dialogue alive with other Muslim communities that disagree with Council´s present course. This may help Afsar step down. If he does, the Council can get back on track. But neither it nor Afsar have a lot of time.»
It is disconcerting to see so much power struggle in an organization that is supposed to have a unifying and compromising outlook. It is also unclear if all the responsibility should be put on Mr. Afsar´s shoulders. Afsar said to the NRK that «It's a bit too stupid to move out of the organization and say that the organization is in the wrong course when they have participated and chosen the course that they are now criticizing.» Nevertheless, as the Nikab story showed, it is undoubtable that his style of leadership at least seems questionable. In June the Ministry of Culture decided to withold financial support for the second half of 2017. Now it is cut off. For how long is uncleat at the moment. The Islamic Council is in trouble. Should they currently be as democratic as they claim, communication work is in order.
- Laila Farah