A Scandinavian Shocker

Scripps-Howard News Service 1.08.02
Balint Vazsonyi

Confirmation of America's greatness can come from the most unexpected sources. Please bear with me as I wind my way through the events leading to this statement.

Some time ago, I testified before the Constitution Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives against a proposed constitutional amendment to remove the requirement that the president and vice president of the United States be native-born. Among the reasons for my opposition, I pointed to a very special, American brand of tolerance which could not be expected of new arrivals.

Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts and sponsor of the bill, took strong exception to my point. After badmouthing America to his heart's content, he extolled the virtues of Denmark and Norway - countries that, in his view, demonstrate what genuine tolerance is.

A few months later, I had an explorative conversation with Representative Tom Lantos, Democrat of California, about his early years in Hungary. Inevitably, our divergent views of America surfaced. As we were about to part, Mr. Lantos suddenly recalled multiple visits to his son-in-law, appointed Ambassador to Denmark by President Clinton. Thus becoming acquainted with Denmark and its Scandinavian neighbors persuaded him that they represented the ideal society, examples for Americans to follow.

And, during a concert tour of Sweden in the late 1960s, I received a scathing lecture from a girl of blinding blondness, all of 17, about the way Americans treated people of black skin. At the time, there was one black person in Sweden, a doorman at Gothenburg's Park Avenue Hotel.

I came away from the encounters with representatives Barney Frank and Tom Lantos with a disturbing thought. Given that these are highly intelligent and informed men, any comparison of the vast - and vastly diversified - United States with miniscule and homogenous Denmark or Norway is so preposterous, invoking it must stand for something else. Could it be that these champions of diversity secretly dream of living in a lily-white, blond and blue-eyed society?

Now comes news about a foul murder in Norway - a land whose former prime minister said, "It is typically Norwegian to be good." The fifteen-year old son of a Ghanaian father and Norwegian mother was stabbed to death on a sidewalk of the capital, Oslo. The New York Times (January 3) describes the three assailants as "Nazis" and "neo-Nazis" seven different times in the report. "Racism" receives the same number of mentions.

"Nazi" is short for National Socialist, emphasis on socialist. If properly understood, socialists would be running away from it instead of hurling the label at everyone they don't like. As for "racism," I bet most of those who parrot the word with gusto would get discombobulated while trying to define it. The extensive use of "Nazi" and "racism" is just so much mindless demagoguery. Here is why.

In the real world, people feel most comfortable with their own, and generally uncomfortable with those who are different. Contrary to popular belief, that makes no one a racist or a bigot, much less a National Socialist ("Nazi") - only human. Croats and Serbs have been living side-by-side for a millennium and cannot get past being Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox respectively, even though the two started out as one church. You can get killed at a ball game in the Republic of Ireland for wearing orange-colored attire, or in Northern Ireland for wearing green.

It is as yet far from clear what actually happened in Oslo, but murder is murder, and we in the West do not tolerate murder. That is one of the main differences between us and many other societies where the killing of thousands, at times millions, is routine. That was what made Germany a pariah among Western nations.

But unease about the sudden influx of very different people into a small community where there had been none since the beginning of time is far from murder. "In eastern Oslo," The New York Times reports, "dingy streets fill with 130,000 immigrants." In 1972, when I was last there, there were no dingy streets.

One murder is one too many. But let us imagine 130,000 Norwegians moving into the capitals of, say, Somalia, Rwanda or Papua New Guinea. Would there be no sense of discomfort by the indigenous people? And no violence? Does anyone wish to guess the fate of a Western minority if September 11 had been inflicted upon an Arab-Muslim country by 19 Western men?

Mr. Barney Frank exalted the tolerance of Norwegians when there was nothing about which to be tolerant. Now we know that they, too, are subject to trials and tribulations. According to The New York Times, Denmark is having an even more difficult time, Mr. Lantos.

Communities everywhere find it difficult to deal with people of different religions, language, attire, practices, let alone skin color. That is the human response on record. The extent of successful integration of the most divergent components in the United States is a miracle. We need to do better still, but perfect it can never be. If Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton or Kweisi Mfume combined some knowledge of the real world with a modicum of honesty, they wouldn't stop praising this country.

In 2001, the United Nations ranked Norway "the best place in the world to live." Sorry, Secretary General Kofi Annan, we realize Norway gave you the Nobel Peace Prize. But the United States of America has a lock on that title.