Racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia

Racism and anti-Semitism have deep historical roots in Europe. Knowledge of both history and the present is necessary in order to recognise and understand these phenomena today. This is also true for other forms of intolerance such as Islamophobia and homophobia. All forms of intolerance share certain functions in terms of providing us with a sense of belonging, security and meaning. At the same time each such notion has a history which must be taken seriously and which we must get to know if we are to understand the phenomenon. For learning resources addressing concrete prejudices, select the “Prejudice, hostility and hatred” tab.

  • Racism

    Quick menu

    Racism and mass murder

    Norwegians will never forget the murder of Benjamin Hermansen. There are many reasons for that, one of the most obvious being that he was killed purely because of the colour of his skin. His killers were self-confessed neo-Nazis. As well as being a story about the savage killing of an innocent boy, the murder recalls memories of some of the most oppressive regimes, terror incidents and mass murders in recent history. It evokes thoughts of Nazi Germany, apartheid and the Ku Klux Klan.

    Benjamin’s murder reminds us of the darkest history of racism, a history condemned by the vast, vast majority of Norwegians.

    Benjamin’s murder reminds us of the darkest history of racism, a history condemned by the vast, vast majority of Norwegians. The connection to this history can help explain the battle over the term racism that is currently taking place. When the word racism is uttered it is not merely a theoretical understanding of the term that is applied to interpret it – the frames of reference also include oppression and mass murder.

    For that reason many teachers feel hurt when students call them racist, which goes to show how the term has a power and impact that few other words do. There are numerous other terms that can sometimes be used as an alternative: discrimination, xenophobia, chauvinism, exclusion. None of these words has the same effect as the word racism has.

    What is racism?

    The world racism is derived from the word race and first came into widespread usage in the 1930s when adopted by opponents of the Nazis’ racist and anti-Semitic world view. Narrow definitions of the word associate it with the idea of race as a biological phenomenon. One example is the definition given in the Encyclopaedia Britannica (britannica.com):

    “… any action, practice, or belief that reflects the racial world view—the ideology that humans may be divided into separate and exclusive biological entities called “races”; that there is a causal link between inherited physical traits and traits of personality, intellect, morality, and other cultural and behavioral features; and that some races are innately superior to others.

    Broad definitions of racism include differential treatment of various kinds, not limited to racism. One example is the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination from 1965, which describes “racial discrimination” as:

    “… any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin …

    In their 2015 book “Hva er rasisme?” (What is racism?), Bangstad and Døving define racism thus (Chapter 1):

      1. Dividing a populace into different categories whereby some are ascribed negative essential (immutable) traits.
      2. Reducing the identity of an individual to the given negative traits of a category.
      3. Using the negative traits as an argument for subordination and discrimination.

    This definition describes racism as more than just prejudice on the one hand and more than just discrimination on the other. According to Bangstad and Døving, the term racism links prejudice and discrimination: racism is what we get when prejudice justifies discrimination.

    Racism as a polemical term

    Disagreement over what constitutes racism frequently crops up in debates. Racism is a sensitive topic, and the term can quickly become politicised. It can also be used as a polemic, bearing in mind the oppressive and bloody history of racism. Biological or modern racism can be said to be a Western concept. Yet it can be argued that when broadly interpreted as prejudice that legitimises differential treatment, racism can be traced much further back in time and to many different societies and corners of the world.

    It involves a notion of “us” and “the others” whereby individuals who belong to “the others” can never become like “us” or part of “us”.

    It involves a notion of “us” and “the others” whereby individuals who belong to “the others” can never become like “us” or part of “us”. Such ideas could often have religious explanations, such as “the others” being damned by a divine power. The distinction between biological and more broad-based racism is currently a focal point in the discussion surrounding the issue and can help explain why there is considerable disagreement over the meaning of the term. The use of the term does not negate the fact that it is now associated with slavery and mass murder, however. This explains why the use of the term “racism” is often controversial and emotionally charged. At the same time it is the historical connotations that give the term its potency. Expressions such as “everyday racism” can therefore seem self-contradictory since there is nothing everyday about persecution, slavery and mass murder. Yet there are other, related terms, such as “bigotry”, “prejudice”, “xenophobia”, “discrimination”, “structural discrimination” and “majority privilege”. Which term is used to describe a given situation must be seen in light of the person’s vocabulary, how the person interprets the situation, and what the person wants to achieve with their choice of words.

    The key indicator of modern-day racism is whether the belief about a certain group is rigid and whether a group is ascribed attributes that its members cannot escape.

    The key indicator of racism is whether the belief about a certain group is rigid and whether a group is ascribed attributes that its members cannot escape.

    Structural racism and everyday racism

    When racist views are allowed to build the very foundations of a society, such as during the apartheid regime in South Africa prior to 1944, it is very different from when an individual engages in racist thoughts or actions. Michel Wieviorka has identified four levels of racism in different societies (The Arena of Racism 1995, Chapter 5):

      1. The predecessor to racism, infra-racism, is characterised by various forms of xenophobia.
      2. Racism can be fragmented, yet still highly visible in society – including in attitude surveys.
      3. Political racism, i.e. racist ideas form the basis for a (political) movement.
      4. Racism becomes total, as a foundation for the state and the starting point for exclusion and persecution.

    The term everyday racism is often used to denote racism at Wieviorka’s first level. Everyday racism is when “the others” are exposed to more or less unwitting attitudes and incidents in society. They could be uneasy glances at dark-skinned people on the train or objecting to having a Somali family move in next door.

    The history of racism

    The term racism first appeared in the early 20th century as a critique of the claims of Germanic racial superiority. The term was made known to a wider audience in a book written by the Jewish German sexologist and physician Magnus Hirschfeld in 1938 (published in the US after his death). Hirschfeld is also considered the founder of the modern gay rights movement. As a sexologist, anti-racist, anti-Nazi and pro-gay Jew, Hirschfeld fitted right into the Nazi doomsday scenario in which the Jews and their collaborators were conspiring against the German people with the intention of splitting and weakening them by undermining societal norms and promoting race-mixing before themselves assuming power.

    The term race first appeared in the 16th century, mostly to describe kinship. Biological racism, which is often associated with colonialism, slavery and apartheid, stems from the Age of Enlightenment and the evolution of modernity and science from the 18th century onwards. We could therefore describe biological racism as modern racism. Race biology proposed classifying people according to observable physiological differences, and racists argued in favour of a social hierarchy based on such classifications. Modern “race science” created a discourse in which groups of people were often seen primarily as biological anthropological communities rather than, say, religious communities. It should be added that the Nazis found little support for their notion of a master race in science and anthropology. Nazism was based on myths that flew in the face of biological anthropology.

    Race segregation based on biology and culture

    [Image: rasekart]


    Source: Deutsches Konversationslexikon, 1890.

    This map is taken from an 1890 German encyclopaedia. It divides mankind into three main races: Caucasoid, Negroid and Mongoloid. During the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century it was a commonly held belief in Western Europe and the US that humanity could be divided into distinct races based on biological characteristics and that European culture was the most highly developed. The idea that cultures develop in step with the group’s biological potential was prevalent in Western thinking.

    The notion of other cultures being inferior and undeveloped preceded biological racism.

    The notion of other cultures being inferior and undeveloped preceded biological racism. White Europeans believed that what they deemed inferior cultures were the result of lower intelligence. Today there seems to exist a line of thought which asserts that biological racism has traditionally only been about biology. This would be a misunderstanding. The link between cultural and genetic characteristics was deemed to be strong.

    Widespread knowledge of the oppression of black Africans in the colonial era in the American South and South Africa has given rise to the misconception that racism only affects people with dark skin.

    The best known form of racism appears to be that which legitimised repression of black Africans in European colonies, the American South and South Africa before and after 1900. This has given rise to the misconception that racism only affects people with dark skin. According to the racist world view, peoples such as Russians, Sami and Inuit were inferior and of Mongoloid heritage. The Mongoloid race was described as a typical “short-skulled” race. They were as light-skinned as “long-skulled” peoples. Historical phenomena such as the assimilation policies the Sami people were subjected to by the Norwegian state and the Nazi regime’s mass murder of Poles and Russians cannot be understood without also knowing about the history of race biology and racism. For instance, Sami people were exhibited in zoos at the end of 19th century. The racial ideas that were widespread in the period before and during World War II, and which Nazism was founded upon, were more multifaceted than on the 1890 map, but the hallmarks remained the same.

    Racism without races

    Recent genetic research has all but rejected the notion that there are different human races. There is no correlation between the external visible features that historical race science was so concerned with and internal features that can only be observed using advanced laboratory equipment. In other words, it is not possible to predict a person’s blood type based on their skin colour. Yet some people believe that knowledge of genetic variations between different groups of people has medical value.

    Now that genetics has all but discredited race science, many people are instead talking about “racism without races”.

    Now that genetics has all but discredited race science, many people are instead talking about “racism without races”. This means that groups are now categorised using different parameters (e.g. culture, religion or ethnicity), while perceptions, prejudices and oppressive mechanisms remain the same as those embraced by biological (modern) racism. Such reasoning demands a broad definition of racism as something more than just discrimination on the basis of race.

    Addressing racism in the classroom

    Racism will remain associated with horrendous abuses for the foreseeable future. However, many children and young people see racism as a universal modern-day phenomenon, i.e. racism can be practised by and befall anyone, and they are less likely to give much thought to historical events. Teachers’ views of racism, on the other hand, are probably more coloured by history. Students and teachers can therefore end up talking over each other’s heads if the teacher is not conscious of how the term racism is being used and interpreted differently.

    Knowledge of historical racism is important, because it enables us to recognise classic racist ideas.

    When teaching about racism we would do well to see the past and the present in context. Knowledge of historical racism is important, because it gives us an understanding of the perils of racism and enables us to recognise classic racist ideas.

    Let us look at an example:

    A student asks the teacher whether she likes bananas. Some of the students giggle. One black student does not. To be able to analyse the situation and consider different courses of action, the teacher needs to be familiar with the old trope that black Africans are more closely related to apes than to other humans. Western scientists attempted to verify this surmise in the 19th century, and it helped legitimise suppression. Despite robust scientific rebuttal, the trope has proved very hard to kill off. It could be said that the historical backdrop makes the question far more serious than it would have been without this context. The teacher may still choose to respond to the question in a number of ways, but being familiar with the historical references behind the word “banana” puts the teacher in a much better position to deal with the situation.

    When addressing racism as a topic the teacher could start by asking the students whether they have experienced racism and, if so, what happened by posing the questions “What happened to you?” and “Why did you feel it was racism?”. The teacher could also discuss what racism is with the students: “What is racism to you?” “Who is affected by racism?” “Can anyone be subjected to racism?” The teacher could also address historical racism, e.g. by looking at “race science” with its measurements and race maps as well as historical events such as apartheid in South Africa, slavery in the US, Norway’s treatment of Sami and Travellers, or the European and Arab slave trade in parts of Africa.

    It may be sensible to link these events with the present day.

    It may be sensible to link these events with the present day: “How is the US dealing with its history of slavery?” “Which reparations has Norway made to the Norwegian Sami?” To sum up, the teacher could pick up the earlier thread and discuss the differences in the students’ interpretations of racism and of the historical examples. This topic divides opinion to some extent, so there should be some interesting discussions.


    Author: Harald Syse

  • Anti-Semitism

    Quick menu

    What is anti-Semitism?

    The history of anti-Semitism is often divided into different stages, with the first stage between the early Middle Ages and the end of the 19th century being rooted in religion (Christianity) and the second in nationalism and race biology, as evidenced in its most extreme form in Nazism. One hallmark of anti-Semitic beliefs is how easily they can be adjusted to the discourse and problems of the day, thus taking on ever new forms. The Holocaust and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have both been important frames of reference for these beliefs in the period after World War II. Some researchers consider this the third stage in the history of anti-Semitism, although there is an ongoing debate about whether it is a case of “new” anti-Semitism (e.g. Bachner 2004; Wieviorka 2005). It could be argued that this very combination of old and new elements is what defines anti-Semitism past and present. The term “anti-Semitism” was popularised in the 1870s by the German Wilhelm Marr. At the time the term was used to describe a political, ideological movement working to reverse what it saw as a negative tendency towards “Jewish dominance”. The movement was a response to Jewish emancipation and the social ascent of Jews in society at the time (e.g. Jacob Katz 1980). The term was principally associated with the race-driven anti-Jewish thinking of the day but is now more commonly used in a broader sense, also encompassing past religious hostility towards Jews and more recent forms of anti-Jewish attitudes.


    Anti-Semitism can be defined as negative attitudes or actions aimed at Jews or at what is deemed to be “Jewish” based on preconceived ideas about Jews.

    According to this broader interpretation, Anti-Semitism can be defined as negative attitudes or actions aimed at Jews or at what is deemed to be “Jewish” based on preconceived ideas about Jews. Anti-Semitism is a frequently disputed term, however. There are many reasons for this, and some are down to history. Following World War II, openly negative attitudes towards Jews were discredited in Europe. While during the interwar years there were Europeans who would describe themselves as “anti-Semites”, this would be virtually unthinkable today. One consequence of this is that debates on anti-Semitism often come to include a discussion on the very definition of the term. Anti-Semitism as it manifests itself in and outside school is also a typically relational phenomenon. This means that it is influenced by and interpreted in light of the situation in question and the relationships between those involved.

    The significance of history: the broader lines of prejudice

    Anti-Semitic attitudes are based on preconceived notions about Jews, the idea that Jews possess certain attributes or traits that are negative. These culturally inherited ideas are adapted to fit different historical and social situations. However, studies into the history of anti-Semitic thinking have found that certain fundamental motifs keep recurring. The notions that Jews are disloyal, alien and powerful are examples of such motifs.

    Fundamental motifs in anti-Semitic thinking include how Jews are disloyal, alien and powerful.

    All group constructs involve drawing a line between “us” and “them” in one way or another. By creating an image of “the others”, we simultaneously generate a picture of a “we” which signals which values and causes we espouse. With regard to anti-Semitism, we can therefore say that “the Jew” represents an antithesis to the “we” group. The specific elements that have worked to create anti-Jewish stereotypes stem from particular needs or problems or from the ideological trends of the day. In order to understand the history of anti-Semitism, we have to examine the role played by this image of “the Jew” at the time. Historians have discovered how the notion of “the Jew” in the Middle Ages was moulded by the opposition between Christianity and Judaism. During the Age of Enlightenment, when faith in rational thought gained currency, Judaism could be lumped in with religion generally and deemed irrational and out of step with the zeitgeist. After the Russian Revolution Jews came to be seen as potential revolutionaries and a serious threat, summed up by the notion of “Judaeo-Bolshevism” and a conspiratorial alliance between Jews and Communists. Thus, the portrayal of the Jews has changed over the course of history in step with changes in society.

    The theological clash between Judaism and Christianity can historically be described as the single most significant cultural source of anti-Jewish sentiment in Europe.

    The theological clash between Judaism and Christianity – centring around the question of whether Jesus was indeed the Messiah – can historically be described as the single most significant cultural source of anti-Jewish sentiment in Europe. Researchers are debating whether Jews were being persecuted as far back as antiquity as a result of anti-Jewish sentiment. A clear enemy image began to emerge of both Jews and Muslims during the Crusades, the first of which taking place in the early 12th century. The history of anti-Semitism in Europe can therefore be said to be around 1,000 years long. One characteristic of group-based prejudice such as racism and anti-Semitism is that it is historically tinged, and its past history continues to have an impact on how it is experienced and interpreted today. Yet there can be a big difference between how an anti-Semitic episode is perceived by the victim and those around them and the intentions of the transgressor.

    Awareness of the historical context can be an important stepping stone for dealing with anti-Semitism in practice.

    An interview survey carried out by the Norwegian Center for Studies of the Holocaust and Religious Minorities found that Norwegian Jews are experiencing anti-Semitism (Døving and Moe 2014). The survey shows how the long history of anti-Jewish prejudice is significant to the informants’ interpretation of negative experiences. The most common experience of traditional stereotyping amongst the informants was that involving “the Jew and his money”. One of the stories was related by a 14-year-old boy from Oslo. He had experienced several incidents at school where insults made by his peers played on that particular canard. His schoolmates would first throw coins after him and then ask why, as a Jew, he did not pick them up. He described the students behind the abuse as “the popular ones”, and these episodes only served to make them even more “cool”, according to the boy. The incidents would sometimes attract a sizeable audience (“a hundred”) but mostly five to ten spectators. It was always boys who harassed him but with “girls laughing along”, as he put it. It was very humiliating to the boy. In order to understand how instances of group-based prejudice affect the recipient, we may have to look at how the incidents occur in a broader context than can immediately be inferred from the situation. Being aware of the historical background to the prejudice can be an important starting point in dealing with anti-Semitism.

    Some of the most frequently propagated tropes about Jews take their material from the story of Judas. His betrayal of Jesus is a central motif in the notion of Jewish disloyalty, of the Jew as Antichrist and responsible for the death of Christ. The fact that Judas received money for his betrayal also provides a breeding ground for the notion of the Jews’ appetite for material wealth. The extension of the Christian image of Judas who sold himself for money also incorporates the idea of the Jews’ thirst for money in general.

    Judas’ betrayal of Jesus is a central motif in the notions of Jewish disloyalty and the Jews’ lust for money.

    This portrayal reinforced its potency thanks to the conflict between the power of the church and that of the monarchy in Europe. In the early Middle Ages Jews were represented in all professions, but they were especially prominent merchants. In many places Jews were not permitted to own land, so trade represented a possible source of income. Circumstances changed in the 11th century, when Jews met with competition from other groups also looking to go into trade. Moneylending was a sought after service, and Jews were not subject to church teachings that prevented Christians from lending money in return for interest. The truth is that Jews were not the only ones involved in moneylending in Europe (except in England for a period in the 12th century), and only a small minority of Jews engaged in such business. In the East Jews tended to be poor. However, the image of Jews as moneylenders stuck in the Europeans’ minds. One example of how long-lived this myth is in European culture is Shakespeare’s Shylock, the old Jewish moneylender in “The Merchant of Venice”. When Shakespeare wrote his piece, Jews had been banished from England for more than 300 years (they were expelled in 1290; the piece was written in 1596-97). Anti-Semitic stereotypes changed in step with the development of modern Europe. The notion of “Jews and money” subsequently also came to include international capital, capitalism and stock markets.

    When negative characteristics are linked to biology and perceptions about race, they also tend to stick to individuals irrespective of their actions.

    One key element of racist “modern” anti-Semitism was the very fact that these perceptions subsumed ideas espoused by race biology. Although the group construct of “the Jews” had contained essentialist elements in the past – the supposition that Jewishness comes with certain intrinsic characteristics – these elements were now becoming a dominant and devastating feature. When negative characteristics are linked to biology and perceptions about race, they also tend to stick to individuals irrespective of their actions. The notion of Jewishness in modern anti-Semitism therefore also meant that conversion was no longer a way to escape anti-Jewish harassment. In Nazism and modern anti-Semitism, the notion of Jewishness is also an abstract quantity that encompasses everything that Nazism was against, be it political opponents, aspects of social development, or indeed modernity itself.

    Group constructs as self-fulfilling prophecies

    Discussions may arise in the classroom about whether perceptions such as these are rooted in reality. In most cases it will of course be possible to find “corroboration” for these ideas in the form of real-life examples. The misapprehension (or group construct) occurs when people project what they know of individual cases onto all Jews. Stereotyping also has a tendency to become self-fulfilling because it represents some degree of understanding of reality and because examples that contradict the belief in question are given little emphasis (e.g. Robert S. Wistrich 1999).

    Stereotyping gives us “goggles” – we see what we want to see.

    Such stereotyping gives us “goggles” – we see what we want to see. Historically speaking, hostility towards certain groups has also had a direct impact on society in that minorities have had their liberties curtailed due to the prejudices of the majority. One example with regard to anti-Semitism is the historical restrictions that barred Jews from owning land. In certain periods throughout history this meant that Jews gravitated towards trade as a means of making a living. Thus it confirms the idea of Jews being concerned with money. The stereotype of the greedy Jew is also often “explained” by referring to famous, rich individuals. This way, stereotyped thinking surrounding certain aspects of reality is given precedence, while elements that contradict the stereotypes – such as the millions of poor Jews living in Eastern Europe – are omitted from the story altogether. One consequence of such stereotyping is that the victim is blamed for the negative attitudes. The Norwegian Holocaust centre’s population survey found that 12% of respondents believed that “Jews themselves must take much of the blame for their persecution” (Norwegian Center for Studies of the Holocaust and Religious Minorities).

    Anti-Semitism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

    Many of the negative experiences recounted by the informants in the interview survey stemmed from the debate surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Almost all of those interviewed said that the debate about the conflict could sometimes be disquieting.

    Studies have identified a correlation between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and acts of anti-Semitism.

    European studies have demonstrated a correlation between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and acts of anti-Semitism whereby escalations in the conflict are linked to increases in attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions (e.g. EUMC 2004 and FRA 2009). The conflict continues to add new content to the image of “the Jews”, but it is also having an effect on the fundamental motifs used in anti-Semitic prejudice such as the ideas about Jewish domination and conspiracy by relating them to the state of Israel and Israeli politics. Nazi symbols are often seen in conjunction with anti-Semitic speech. The interview study of Norwegian Jews heard about teachers being met with opposition from their students when teaching them about the Holocaust, teachers who had observed Nazi salutes in the classroom, and teachers who overheard remarks along the lines of “Hitler didn’t do a good enough job”. Anti-Israel sentiments have been increasingly accompanied by symbolism that turns on its head the concept of victim and perpetrator. The Jews (i.e. the Israelis) are portrayed as “Nazis” and the Palestinians as the victims of Nazism, just like the Jews were historical victims.

    The conflict is used to attack Jews, although the actual content of the criticism cannot be defined as anti-Semitic.

    The Norwegian Holocaust centre’s population survey found a clear yet quantitatively modest link between anti-Semitism and strongly anti-Israeli sentiment in the Norwegian population (Norwegian Center for Studies of the Holocaust and Religious Minorities 2012). In the case of most respondents who took a critical view of Israel, no such correlation was found, however. The link between criticism of the state of Israel and anti-Semitism is a recurring theme in the public discourse. Often debated is the accuracy of the media’s portrayal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Teachers may want to remember that irrespective of whether or not the media coverage is biased, whether it contains errors or paints a correct picture, it can feel difficult and provoke negative experiences when the harassment centres around the portrayal of Israel. This way, the conflict is used to attack Jews, although the actual content of the criticism cannot be defined as anti-Semitic.

    Various forms of generalisation by conflating “Israeli” with “Jew” were cited by many of those interviewed in the qualitative interview survey (Døving and Moe 2014). The informants’ stories involved both linguistic conflation and situations in which they found themselves having to answer for the actions of the state of Israel. Often it was a case of a more subtle form of conflation, such as the informants’ finding themselves under growing pressure to distance themselves from events in Israel or being expected to know more about the conflict than other people. These incidents were often not classed as anti-Semitism in the interviews, but they were described as uncomfortable nonetheless.

    Many Norwegian Jews find that they are being held accountable for the actions of the state of Israel.

    One informant described an experience she had as a Year 2 student in an Oslo school. On the first day back after the summer the children were asked to draw where they had been for the holidays. She drew a picture of Israel, where she had been with her family. When it was her turn to show her drawing to the class, the teacher stopped and asked what she had drawn. “It’s Israel,” said the girl. “I don’t think you should show it to the class, because someone might get offended,” said the teacher. The girl was instead asked to return to her desk. The incident may not necessarily have been the result of negative attitudes towards Jews; there may have been other reasons for the teacher’s response. Yet in this particular situation the girl felt excluded.

    The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is especially relevant to students with a Middle Eastern background. Some of the informants had experienced extremely serious, sometimes violent manifestations of anti-Semitism arising from the conflict where the perpetrators had links to the Middle East. Anti-Semitism amongst Muslims was one of the informants’ main fears, generally speaking. However, many of them were anxious to point out that Jews and Muslims share a number of experiences in terms of belonging to a minority group in Norway. Many of them also had personal friends who were Muslim.

    Criticism of Israel can be defined as anti-Semitic when negative actions carried out by the state of Israel are described as the result of inherent, negative traits in Jews or when classic anti-Semitic tropes are used to describe Israel’s actions.

    Criticism of Israel can be defined as anti-Semitic when negative actions carried out by the state of Israel are described as the result of inherent, negative traits in Jews or when classic anti-Semitic tropes are used to describe Israel’s actions. A strict definition is less important in a classroom situation, however. Just as often the challenge will be to address the issue in a balanced way and to develop methods for dealing with classroom discussions that stop students from feeling that they are being pigeonholed because of their identity. This will give every student a chance to be part of the class on their own terms. The teacher could make it clear that Jews are not Israel and that Israelis are not the Israeli government. In a teaching situation it is important to be nuanced when talking about the conflict. Reading up on the history of the region and the events leading up to the creation of the state of Israel can be helpful.

    Holocaust denial

    Although the Holocaust is arguably the best documented genocide in history, there are still people who deny that it ever happened or believe that the accounts of it are highly exaggerated. Their arguments vary but often gravitate around the existence of the gas chambers. It involves either a rejection of their existence or claims that they were used for something other than murder, e.g. delousing. Holocaust denial often also involves casting doubt on the ideological circumstances surrounding the genocide, thus questioning the intentions behind it. It is claimed that there was no extermination policy, only deportations to the east, and that the almost six million victims died of other causes, primarily disease. Holocaust denial often also espouses the idea that the genocide was invented by the Jews as part of a plot to gain power or money. In short, holocaust denial embraces conspiracy theories and is based on anti-Semitism.

    Holocaust denial espouses the idea that the genocide was invented by the Jews in order to gain power or money.

    Holocaust denial occurs in Norwegian classrooms, too. The claims can be difficult to respond to due to their pseudoscientific nature, which makes them difficult to rebut directly. The same goes for other conspiracy theories. As well as raising awareness of the actual, historical circumstances of the Holocaust, developing good methodologies for source criticism will strengthen the students’ resistance to such ideas.


    Author: Vibeke Moe

  • Islamophobia

    What is Islamophobia?

    The prevalence of negative attitudes towards Muslims has been well documented in a number of Western European countries, Norway included (e.g. Pew 2008, Field 2007, Strabac and Listhaug 2007, Bleich 2009, Norwegian Center for Studies of the Holocaust and Religious Minorities 2012), but we know little about the extent of Islamophobic attitudes amongst Norwegians.

    Islamophobia and prejudice against Muslims are not one and the same thing.

    Negative attitudes and prejudice are of course linked to the formation of and conditions for Islamophobia, but there is a material difference between prejudice against Muslims and the high degree of ideologically based generalisations that exist in Islamophobia. Islamophobia contains a level of generalisation and essentialisation of Muslims that is not necessarily present in every negative attitude towards Muslims. Essentialisation means ascribing natural, permanent and inherent characteristics to individuals who belong to a certain group.

    Islamophobia can be defined as:

    a systematised and ideological kind of prejudice formation and practices that sustain fears, hatred and discrimination of Muslims.[1]

    The hallmarks of Islamophobia

    Islamophobic speech includes:

      • statements stemming from an essentialist notion of what Islam “is” and that Muslims “think and act” in accordance with this notion,
      • statements of an erroneous or highly exaggerated and hateful nature, made in order to stigmatise,
      • statements stemming from the idea that Muslims by virtue of their religious affiliation are less worth and/or are not entitled to the same citizen rights as others in Norwegian or European society.

    Just like anti-Semitism is not necessarily aimed at Judaism but against Jews and beliefs about Jewishness, Islamophobia does not always target Islam alone but exists within a conglomerate of ideas about culture, ethnicity and group mentality. Religion is often a pronounced marker in this conglomerate, however. Islamophobia also portrays the religion Islam in a particular way, which is that it:

      • is monolithic and static
      • is materially different from all other religions and cultures
      • is inferior to the West: barbaric, irrational, primitive and sexist
      • is a political religion which poses a threat of violence
      • equals Islamism
      • is a manipulative ideology used by individuals to gain control
      • is a subject capable of taking action (Islam has something to hide, Islam wants subjugation etc.)

    Conspiratorial thinking

    Common Islamophobic ideas are often conspiratorial in nature. One example is the notion that Muslims are secretly working to conquer Europe, the so-called Eurabia theory. They “pretend to share our values”, but in reality they are two-faced liars. One typical facet of Islamophobia is the idea that Muslims are in themselves something negative no matter what they do, and they are prejudged thanks to the notion of hereditary traits that come with being pigeonholed in a certain group/category: they are fanatical, they dislike individual freedom, they do not want to integrate, and they are brutal.

    The stereotype of terrorism is also something inherent to “the Muslim”: he who wants everything that is “ours” to subjugate itself to Islam and who does not shy away from terror. Once such essentialisations are combined into a system of thought in which they become arguments for why Muslims are dangerous and should be excluded, that is when we can start to talk about Islamophobia.

    Islamophobia and racism

    If we understand racism to mean ascribing inherent characteristics to people because of their affiliations and defining these characteristics as being so negative that members of the group in question should be kept at arm’s length, then we could describe the way this is done towards Muslims as Islamophobia.

    A common objection to describing Islamophobia as racism concerns the freedom of the individual. A Muslim can choose not to be a Muslim, unlike the skin colour you are born with. To some extent a Muslim identity can be deemed to be one of the person’s choosing – at least amongst adults in a Western liberal and secular context – and most people who could be described as Islamophobic would accept that the subject can avoid being categorised as a Muslim if they convert or leave the religion.

    The vast majority of Islamophobes do not believe that Muslim identity is determined by blood/biology. Unlike biological “races”, being a practising Muslim is in principle something you can “opt out of”, and Islamophobia can therefore not be described as racism, is the assertion. The problem with this argument is that the individual does not choose to be born into a Muslim family any more than a Christian or Jew chooses to be born into a Christian or Jewish family. Nor do they choose – for all practical purposes and irrespective of their faith or lack thereof – to be treated and judged as a Muslim because of their appearance / skin colour or Muslim-sounding name (Meer and Modood 2009: 345, and Meer 2012).

    In other words, Muslims can be subjected to both racialising and racism due to their (presumed or actual) religious affiliation. Ascribing immutable and threatening traits to Muslims is the message and function of Islamophobia.

    [1] The definition and the text itself are based on the book “Hva er rasisme” (What is racism?) by Bangstad and Døving (2015), Universitetsforlaget.


    Author: Cora Alexa Døving

  • Fiendtlighet mot andre grupper

    Et perspektiv som er nært knyttet til tenkningen om fordommer, er teorien om gruppefokusert fiendtlighet. EU-undersøkelsen Intolerance, prejudice and discrimination. A European report fra 2011 viser sammenheng mellom seks ulike former for gruppefiendlighet: homofobi, islamofobi, rasisme (biologisk), antisemittisme, innvandrerfiendtlighet og kvinnehat.  Personer som skårer høyt på en form for gruppefiendtlighet, skårer i snitt høyt på de andre også. Selv om ulike fordommer har ulikt innhold, henger de altså sammen i et slags syndrom.

    Personer som skårer høyt på en form for gruppefiendtlighet, skårer i snitt høyt på de andre også.

    Undersøkelsene finner også at dette syndromet er koplet til en autoritær holdning, et hierarkisk samfunnssyn og motstand mot mangfold. Fordommene er altså nært knyttet til antidemokratiske, eller i det minste udemokratiske holdninger, samt skepsis til migrasjon og den typen synlig mangfold dette medfører.

    Gruppefokusert fiendtlighet rommer altså det antidemokratiske og det ekstreme, men omfatter også mindre ytterliggående ekskluderende holdninger. Dette er interessant når vi ser på de rådene for forebygging som kommer fram gjennom denne forskningen. Utgangspunktet for disse rådene er erkjennelsen av at den viktigste funksjonen til fordommer og gruppefokusert fiendtlighet er at de gir identitet og fellesskap, en klar forestilling om et vi-fellesskap som står sammen overfor et truende ”de andre”.

    Undersøkelsene peker på at opplevelsen av usikkerhet basert på reelle og konstruerte faktorer kan bidra til økt gruppefiendtlighet.

    Undersøkelsene peker på at opplevelsen av usikkerhet kan være basert på reelle faktorer, som arbeidsløshet og økonomisk nedgangstid. En grunnleggende utfordring for de europeiske samfunnene er dermed å tilby trygghet for befolkningen gjennom andre virkemidler enn den ekskluderingen av minoriteter som følger av den gruppefokuserte fiendtligheten.

    Undersøkelsen peker på fordommer og ekskluderende ideologier som en vesentlig utfordring til demokratiet:

    If acceptance of plurality and tolerance of difference and diversity are essential pillars of democracy, then agitation designed to undermine them is a serious threat to the very foundations of the structure. Widespread prejudices that classify particular groups as inferior and exclude them from equal participation make a mockery of democracy.

    Videre lesning

    Zick, Andreas/ Küpper, Beate/ Hövermann, Andreas. (2011). Intolerance, Prejudice and Discrimination. A European Report. Berlin: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.

  • Literature


    Bangstad, Sindre/ Døving, Cora Alexa (2015). Hva er rasisme?. Oslo: Univerisitetsforlaget.

    Goldberg, D. T. (2015). Are we postracial yet?. UK and Cambridge: Polity Press.

    Kyllingstad, Jon R. (2004). Kortskaller og langskaller: Fysisk antropologi i Norge og striden om det nordiske herremennesket. Oslo: Scandinavian Academic Press.

    Murji, K. and Solomos, J. (eds) (2015). Theories of Race and Ethnicity. Contemporary debates and perspectives, Cambridge: University Press.

    Rattansi, Ali (2007). Racism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford og New York: Oxford University Press.

    Skorgen, Torgeir (2002). Rasenes oppfinnelse: Rasetenkningens historie. Oslo: Spartacus

    Wieviorka, Michel (1995). The Arena of Racism. London og New York: Sage.


    Bachner, Henrik (2004). Återkomsten – Antisemitism i Sverige efter 1945, Stockholm , Natur och Kultur.

    Døving, Cora Alexa og Vibeke Moe (2014). Det som er jødisk. Identiteter, historiebevissthet og erfaringer med antisemittisme, rapport fra HL-senteret.

    Eriksen, Trond Berg/ Harket, Håkon/ Lorenz, Einhart (2009). Jødehat – Antisemittismens historie fra antikken til i dag. Oslo: Cappelen Damm.

    European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) (2004). Manifestations of antisemitism in the EU 2002 – 2003, Wien.

    Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) (2009). Anti-Semitism: Summary overview of the situation in the European Union 2001 – 2008, Wien.

    HL-senteret (2012). Antisemittisme I Norge? Den norske befolkningens holdninger til jøder og andre minoriteter, rapport fra HL-senteret.

    Katz, Jacob (1980). From Prejudice to Destruction. Antisemitism, 1700-1933, Harvard University Press.

    Wieviorka, Michel et al. (2005). La tentation antisémite: Haine des Juifs dans la France d’aujourd’hui, Paris: Robert Laffont.

    Wistrich, Robert (1999). Demonizing the Other. Antisemitism, Racism and Xenophobia,Routledge.


    Meer, Nasar (red.) (2014). Racialization and Religion. Race, Culture and Difference in the Study of Antisemitism and Islamophobia, London: Routledge.


    Zick, Andreas/ Küpper, Beate/ Hövermann, Andreas. (2011). Intolerance, Prejudice and Discrimination. A European Report. Berlin: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.