July 28, 2006

Integration potential is the new fad in Danish integration politics. Whenever a new asylum seeker turns up at our door we estimate whether he or she is most likely to join our ranks, or to remain in his or her own. The estimation is based on a display of knowledge and initiative which adds up to the simple dictum that the more you appear to need our help the less likely we are to offer it.

Fair, this is the 21st century – the century I used to think of as sci-fi – and the world has become too small for us not to know our neighbours. But getting to know your neighbour is a two-way process. Fugitives and immigrant workers aren’t the only ones that need to be integrated. Local people do too.

Islam is often described as a religion of conquest. Well, if that is the case you’d have to describe Danish integration politics as a politics of conquest as well. Only it’s practiced in a more subtle and seemingly neutral way. The Danish way. Pretend to have no strong feelings about anything, and then unleash them all when nobody is watching. I guess Freud would have called it ”a neurosis”.

So, what’s with the extegration?

Well, today I downloaded a guide to the Arabic script in six short lessons. I’m sure it’s not the best site for it, but this is what I came up with after a quick search during lunch hours.

The idea is not to become a fluent Arabic speaker, but merely to learn to distinguish the letters from each other and pronounce them somewhat correctly. I want to be able to look at books, posters and internet sites in Arabic, and see something else than the curve of an irregular heart beat. I want to be reminded that Arabic is a language, an actual language like any other language, and not just some stylized graphical representation of the word of the Prophet.

This is part of my extegration, my attempt at assimilating the rudimentaries of another culture into my own. As such, it’s really not much different from learning English. Being a Danish kid interested in computers and American gaming culture I knew I had to look beyond the confines of my own language if I wanted to pursue those interests.

Growing up in a middle-classed suburb of Copenhagen in the mid-80s, Arabian culture was exotic at most. I remember watching news features about the Iran-Iraq war, but that was as close as it got. There weren’t any Turkish kiosks or Iranian pizzerias or Pakistani grocery stores in my neighbourhood. The only foreigner I remember from back then was an adopted African girl in public school. Not so anymore.

Today Arabian culture is present just about everywhere, and we place ever higher demands on its integration, or rather – with a word we’ve come to fear as the core evil of Islam – its submission to Danish values. But how about the other way around? What are we willing to give up to be integrated into another culture? Because unless we want a full-scale confrontation, this is what we’re gonna have to do.

Extegration is the word of the day. Try it out. It might even be fun.


Politics and I

July 25, 2006

Once again I find myself overtaken by time. But I’ve already discussed that in my last entry, seemingly without result. Now is the time for something truly taboo. Now is the time for politics.

While bombs fell from the sky and smoke billowed from the ground in Israel and Lebanon, I found myself on stage at a festival promoting sun, beer, love, and upcoming Danish bands. I told stories about the rise and fall of an Australian punk saxophon player, and read poems written by enthusiatic festival-goers. Everybody was so happy and carefree it would have made me sick hadn’t they somehow succeeded in raising my own spirits too.

I’m often accused of looking like a left-over hippie from the 70s, but the merest superficial study of my values would prove any such attempt at nailing my personality wrong. I’m highly idiosyncratic, and don’t believe that the communal can ever replace the individual, not even enhance it. When people tell me ”Jesus” on the street, I tell them ”Judas”.

Anyway, returning from the festival I have found it increasingly difficult not to think, read, and speak about politics. A sometimes propagator of the view that life cannot be reduced to the ideas from which it derives, I have dedicated this blog to the untold everyday stories of people living in the shadows of opinions, beliefs, and causes. I’m not interested in war, I’m interested in victims. I’m not interested in life, I’m interested in people. But sometimes we can’t deal with the one without dealing with the other.

We live in political times. Even here in Denmark we live in political times. Up through the 90s nobody in our latitudes gave a damn about politics. I was in school back then, and used to leave the classroom every time political topics came up. They were an abstract and somewhat scary lot, and ten wild horses couldn’t drag me into developing an interest in them, or form an opinion about them for that matter. War was bad, and peace was good. End of history.

Today I find myself living in a country desperately trying to continue the trend of disinterested neutrality so popular in the 90s. A country that is actively closing its eyes and ears upon the world, hoping for it to go away, to disappear, to step aside, and leave us be. I won’t revert to political agitation, but I will tell you how it feels when your government refuses to call for a ceasefire between Israel and Lebanon, or even condemn their acts of war.

“Despite a will, there is no way Denmark can significantly contribute to peacekeeping efforts in Lebanon,” our Minister of Defence Søren Gade said today. A safe claim now that most Danish citizens trapped in Lebanon have returned home. And the ones still left are probably too closely affiliated with that country for our government to want them back anyway. This was indirectly stated when a spokesman from the nationalist Danish People’s Party suggested that all social security recipients returning from the bombardments should be checked to see if they were at all allowed to be away from Denmark, or if they should have been available for the job market.

“My knowledge is limited to the few things I know / but all foreign cultures are nothing but jokes,” the Danish singer/songwriter C. V. Jørgensen sarcastically wails as I’m writing this. Though you probably won’t find anybody but him saying it out loud – probably not even a whole lot others thinking it out loud – I fear that such statements are becoming part of the collective subconscious around here.

A colleague at work interrupted me yesterday while I was catching up on the latest news from Lebanese and Israeli blogs. She showed me a local Danish newspaper carrying a front page story about a fire truck that had its undercarriage slightly scorched when extinguishing a fire in a harvest field outside of town. I guess life has to go on, but does it really have to be that blind?

It’s times like these I sit down and play September 12 for a while. Sometimes it even occurs to me that things really are as simple as that game. Substitute Iraqis for Danes, and you’d get the same result. But I’m a Westerner, and an intellectual too, and therefore I cannot allow myself to indulge in such straightforward simplicity. It would ruin my image, and my country’s politics as well.

Speaking of which, I will hold back my horses here, and hand over the reins to the political bloggers. Next time around, hopefully I will see you in less idealistic circumstances.

Lebanese blogger forum

July 18, 2006

I was trying to find some everyday life blogs from Lebanon, but it seems that everyday life is pretty much death and destruction right now. Anyway, if you wanna take a browse for yourself I found Lebanon Heart Blogs a good place to start.

If you come by any interesting real-life reports with more personal observations than political opinions, be sure to post a link here.

Desperate times, desperate money

July 18, 2006

It’s been a week. It’s been a whole bloody week, and it just swept by without me ever noticing. German director Wim Wenders once had one of his characters say that time isn’t money, that time is the lack of money. I am all the evidence I need, and if this week was money, by [], I prefer time.

Apparently I’m not the only forgetting about life these days. As I trawl through the blogosphere this evening I find nothing but postings about the Lebanese-Israeli conflict. Everybody’s entitled to their own view, but bloggers shouldn’t let themselves be reduced to amateur journalists and political commentators.

I wanna hear the true behind-the-scenes stories, not the what-I-think-is-going-on-behind-the-scenes stories. What’s it like going to the marketplace in Beirut these days? How does it feel to be a travelling Jewish businessman in Syria? What do people talk about when they’re not talking about bombs and politics?

As usual, I haven’t got a whole lot to offer from up here in the Scandinavian Heights. That is my privilege and my curse. Let’s see …

Tomorrow I’m heading out of town again. This time I’m going to a kind of resort area by the sea. Well, it isn’t really, it’s just that nine out of ten houses up there are holiday homes. I guess winters can be quite grim and desolate if you live in the area all year round. Or perhaps you just enjoy the lack of tourists. Time isn’t tourism, time is the lack of tourism …

Anyway, I’m not in it for the souvenirs. A small underground music festival booked me to come and tell a few stories – between bands, so to speak. Storytelling is a pastime that’s been with me for quite a few years now. I don’t really know where it’s taking me, but I guess there’s always one more story to tell out there.

This time I’m gonna tell about an old aquaintance of mine. Tom was a nymphomaniacal sadomasoschistic self-made landlord and punk saxofonist that I once shared a room with in a run-down pizza place on the outskirts of Melbourne. His band stayed there too, but for now I’ll only relate how he got there in the first place.

Tom grew up in Christchurch, New Zealand. He was never up to any good, and when his best friend celebrated his twenty-first by sticking a grenade between his teeth and pulling out the split pin – he decided to leave. A local talent show offered $1000 to the one who could pull off the weirdest trick in ten minutes on a makeshift stage. Tom, of course, volunteered. The money was gonna be his ticket out of yet another lethargic Western society.

Once up there on the stage, he went crazy. He pulled off his pants, and stapled his dick to a wooden cross with eigtheen clips. The crowd went wild, but he was only three minutes into the show when he was done. He had to think of something more, something that would take the audience even further.

In the end he had a stagehand bring him a bottle of lighter fuel. Tom emptied it all over the cross, and let a glowing cigarette butt drop from his lip. He admitted that he hadn’t really been thinking, he just wanted the money no matter the price. And so he got them, and so he got away. But I saw the charred remains, and I tell you it was not a pretty sight.

Now, you might think this a cracked up story to tell at a festival where people are supposed to be happily drugged and listen to music. And you might be right. I’ll be sure to tell you about it if I get chased off the stage or something. But I don’t think I will. I think everybody around here can relate to Tom’s desperation in one way or another.

And like Jesus, Tom showed a way out. By crucifying his own dick he took our fears and impotencies in his crotch, and guaranteed us that there’s always one more option left, even for a wretched Dane like me.

Thoughts lost and found

July 11, 2006

Last night turned out somewhat nightmarish as I happily unpacked my bag only to discover that my notebook from the monastery was gone. As far as losses go these days mine usually seem small and insignificant, but this one sure felt bad. A whole reservoir of concentrated thoughts and ideas wasted on the shores of bitter irony.

I have never lost a loved one. And I’m not really sure why. Has [insert preferred deity or other guiding principle] spared me the experience through these 28 whole years? Or have I just not loved hard enough? Anyway, I can’t compare the loss of my notebook to the loss of a loved one without compromising both my integrity and my conscience. But you get the picture.

And so, I sent my mind back a-reelin’ on the wheel of time in search of a clue.

Jazz festival, Copenhagen, summer, girlfriend, beer … Beer? Might that be it? Might I have gotten drunk in some jazzy bar, and carelessly dropped the book out of my pocket? La Fontaine had been quite crowded on Saturday, and I don’t remember getting out of there before dawn. Besides, the place was so hot the pages might actually have loosened from the spine, and left my pocket one by one.

But then I remembered writing in the book Sunday evening: ”I’m cruel towards my own nature since my own nature is cruel towards me.” Quite a statement for a last entry in a book that might be found hundreds of years from now when man has finally succeeded in subduing and destroying nature, only to find that he has acted under the influence of an even higher nature – his own.

I propelled my thoughts forward to Monday morning. But it was too early. Dawn was upon my girlfriend’s apartment, and I was still wide awake, listening to Tom Waits and having him tell the sun to sink back down. Two weeks of monastic solitude can sure make returning to work seem like the least important thing you’re ever gonna do.

A couple of hours later, and I was on the morning train out of town. Home and work is in Aarhus, Copenhagen’s beautiful baby sister across the isles. I was in the foetal position, crammed down in a two-seat womb. And there it was! My notebook. Neatly tugged in between the back of my head and the arm rest. I wanted to grab it, to stuff it down my bag. But I didn’t, I couldn’t. I hadn’t even gotten round to writing anything in it on the trip. I had just passed out cold, oblivious to anything but sleep.

I believe I let my notebook down. I carelessly took out this wonderfully personal collection of thoughts, and I just left it there, on the seat, like an abandoned child. If I don’t treasure and protect my own innermost thoughts I don’t have the right to think them, I reasoned. Then I might just as well subject myself to somebody else’s.

What a relief when I called the railways’ Lost & Found Office this morning, and was told that they had indeed come across a small black and silver notebook in one of their carriages. I rushed down to the station on my way to work, picked up the book, and put it where it ought to be – close to the heart and mind that feed its pages.

The renowned Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard once said something to the effect that people shouldn’t worry so much about freedom of speech. They already have freedom of thought and they don’t even seem capable of using that, he argued. If ever I might meet his thought-weary soul in the reality to come, I’ll tell him thanks for reminding me not to go around losing the only true freedom I have.

A dose of my own medicine

July 5, 2006

My days here at the monastery are coming to an end. It’s been a rewarding couple of weeks, and now’s the time to contemplate them.

I set out to do some serious thinking, and found my thoughts a rambling mess. The first night (and day) I slept for almost 18 consecutive hours. A mad fire ravaged my brain, and when I finally awoke my body was covered in ashes, my sight hampered by smoke.

One of the things I wanted to think about was whether I should write a book or not. I didn’t have any clear outline for it – in fact, not even a sufficiently consistent idea – and the more I pondered it, the less I felt I needed to write anything at all. In the end, however, I decided, mostly out of stubbornness, that this lack of need was exactly what I was gonna write about.

About half a week down the road I even managed to form some kind of plan for my writing. Within the next six months I’m gonna write one hundred one-session pieces about my chosen subject: necessity. Each piece is to touch upon the theme from a different angle, and I am to approach it in any style of writing I find appropriate when doing the pieces. The only rule being that each piece must be consistent with its own style.

At present I have managed some ten pieces ranging from one sentence …

#12 bourgeois asceticism: The only positive thing I have to say about decency is that it strives to suppress the natural

… to three pages …

#28 an der schönen blauen Donau (a piece about a young man who has unsafe sex with prostitutes in an attempt to fill his live with the meaning of AIDS, and succeeds)

And that’s all you’re gonna get for now. Anyway, they’re written in Danish, and are mostly meant to be browsed through and commented on by myself and my closest critics. I hope to keep up a reasonable output rate when I get back to busyland.

A thing that I didn’t intend to think about (since I hadn’t even considered it) is this blog. It started as a much-needed distraction from my soul-searching, but soon grew into something equally deep-felt. Firstly, it has gotten me into the habit of reading obscure personal blogs written by people living in troubled and insecure parts of the world. Secondly, it has made me try to reach out from the oftentimes unbearably lethargic unreality of Denmark towards a world that actually seems to be happening.

What the future might hold for this blog I can’t say for certain, but I feel convinced that I’m not gonna give up on it. It is both stimulating and reassuring to exchange insights across national and cultural borders, and giving it up would feel somewhat like giving up on reality. And I won’t let that happen again. Escapism is suicide. An option, definitely an option, but one you might like to consider before choosing.

A last big thing that’s happened to me up is this whole obsession with modern day asceticism. I’m not really sure where it will take me just yet, but I’ve started doing some research, and I’ve got an odd feeling this might turn out to be the book that I’ve been wanting to write all along. And, if anything, asceticism touches upon the subject of necessity.

I almost forgot, I have a confession to make too: I have been reading Robert Kernen’s book on ”Building Better Plots”. I’ve always despised these kind of teach-yourself-creativity books, but he actually has some rather good points on prewriting and outlining. Who knows, it might be an inspiration for the more structured approach I need to give the good old novel another go.

In the-not-so-heavy department I’ve also been practising on rolling my own cigarettes, even smoked a couple in the evenings. I’ve considered taking it up as a hobby, but since I can’t stand being hooked on anything but myself that probably won’t happen 🙂

All in all, my mind has been stilled, and new seeds of thought planted. Looks like it’s gonna be a good summer after all. I hope to have you all around to enjoy it with me.

Now, that was personal.

Get personal, please!

July 4, 2006

Ayatollah Khomeini once said something to the effect that he didn’t disagree with Western people, he only disagreed with their governments. Considering what he did to his own people I have to question the sincerity of his statement, but that doesn’t detract from the statement itself.

In effect, what he said was that he disagreed with the political ideologies of the West, but not necessarily with the people subscribing to them. I believe that to be a truly grand and wise thing to say. It is an acceptance of the fact that ideas drive human beings, yet a refusal to reduce human beings to ideas.

Time and time again I have found myself reacting strongly to certain predominant views – political, social, religious, or otherwise. Fact is, however, that I have rarely found any reason for reacting strongly when confronted with individuals who pledged allegiance to those views. The complexity of the human condition has almost always baffled my resistance, and left me wondering why I couldn’t just keep my moral high ground, and leave it at that.

At first I thought I must be a coward shy of conflict, but then it dawned on me: what if there aren’t any true one-on-one representatives of ideologies? After all, ideologies are such stuff as dreams are made of. It’s even in the word itself – idea, ideal. And how could any human being possibly liken itself to that?

As it turned out, the people I was crusading against didn’t exist. Never had, never would. They were mirages caused by my need to justify and realize my beliefs, views, opinions. But why did I at all need to justify them like that? Why couldn’t I just hold them without trying to manifest them or their antitheses in the world around me? Then we might actually get down to do some talking, face to face and no propaganda.

I’m not proposing we give up on ideals. I’m only saying that we cannot allow ourselves to believe in their objective existence – not in this world, anyway. My conclusion relates heavily to the way we argue, the way we critisize others and defend ourselves, in the on-going debate about human values and human lives. Nobody can be likened to an idea. Aspire, yes, but never likened.

Attempts at objectivism that forget that all objectivity contains an element of subjectivity (there’s always somebody behind the camera), aren’t the stuff that dreams are made of, but rather the stuff that prejudices are made of. Without getting biblical, Jesus said that he who is without sin should throw the first stone. Perhaps we should think about that – or something similar – the next time we try to set ourselves or others on the same footing as an ideology.

I’m fully aware that big operations like politics and war can’t afford to take into account every single human being when making decisions, but I do believe that we, the individuals, can. We don’t have to form opinions about people we’ve never met. We don’t have to praise or condemn actions for which we don’t even know the motive. We don’t need to align ourselves with abstract ideologies to have an identity. We are human beings in and of ourselves, and we shouldn’t violate that by subscribing to prejudiced and dehumanized views of the world.

I’m not trying to save anybody in the name of anything but themselves. That’s why I’m reading blogs, that’s why I’m craving for the latest story of this morning’s trip to the bakery. So that I can begin to see people as something else than victims or warriors or blown to bits bodies. So that I can begin to know them.

You acknowledge and welcome this process every time you make a personal entry in your blog. Whether you like or not, this is the way things are going. And I, for one, am in for the ride.