Usually, we say: Do you understand what I mean, or maybe: Do you see what I see? But I thought I should turn it, and ask if I can be able to see what you see, what you mean. The demand should not only be on you, it should also be on me. We can all learn new things; we can try to see things from another’s perspective, from another person’s viewpoint, his or her background, tradition, social context and more – if we really want to do so and if we are allowed to do it by those we live with, those who set rules and whom we want to please.

Yet, as human beings we all have our own opinions and views; indeed in politics and overall worldviews, including religion and more. To be different and disagree is not a problem; it is how we chose to exchange views and opinions that can be a problem; it can lead to wars or words, and more, namely violence, conflict, and war.

In our time, the new social media make it easy to press a few buttons and send out devastating messages of hatred; we sit comfortably ourselves, but we may disturb others in ways that we should not do.

Last week and the week before, I discussed the recent anti-Islamic event and attempted burning of the Quran in Kristansand, Norway, instigated by a group named SIAN (‘Stopp Islamiseringen av Norge’). According to the law of the land, the police had to give permission to the demonstration, but it also had the right to prescribe conditions. In the case in question, the demonstrators had been ordered not to use fire, which they did not follow. A few days in advance of the demonstration, the Norwegian Commissioner of Police had issued a letter to all police chiefs in the country instructing them to take action in such possible cases, inter alia, because provocative incidents could lead to counter-actions and unrest in the country.

Often, right-wing groups target vulnerable, minorities and, in recent years, immigrants who constitute a sizeable number in European countries; in Norway, close to twenty percent. One can understand that people think this is a high number, especially if many have come in a short time and from far away countries with different cultures and traditions, having difficulties learning the new language and finding work. However, it is also a fact that European countries, with aging populations, need immigrants in their work force; many sectors would not work as well as they do unless immigrants filled the ordinary jobs. In Norway, many immigrants, indeed the Pakistani-Norwegians – celebrating their 50th immigration anniversary this year – have entered the professions, including in medicine, law, engineering, and so on, even at the top in politics.

SIAN and its sympathisers oppose the high immigration, and they make an issue of integration difficulties and crime involving immigrants. It goes without saying that to be an immigrant or refugee is often difficult and it takes time to settle-in. Yet, mostly the immigrants are not to be blamed, but policies and ways in the host country. In Norway, I am often impressed by how well immigrants do and how successful many are.

Recently, I met a Swedish-Norwegian couple of Pakistan descent in Islamabad, with a son of 14 and a daughter of 9; the parents were indeed great and the children even greater. It was moving talk with the smiling family about all they were concerned about and interested in; being positive to Norway, yet, also having concern about Pakistan – with optimism and dreams for tomorrow about everyday issues and the world. Obviously, they had kept the faith of their ancestors. I hope their new homeland appreciates that.

When extremist groups like SIAN hold demonstrations, they focus on religion, but I don’t think that is what they are after; I believe they are against immigration generally; they are probably racist and xenophobic. Sadly, they instigate hatred when they desecrate holy books and religious symbols. They know that if they attempt to burn the Holy Quran, and actually do it, they get everybody’s eyes and ears, indeed the more orthodox Muslims in countries’ with majority or large Muslim populations. I am sure that Christians, too, feel saddened when this happens.

In Norway, since there is no blasphemy paragraph, legal action has to be taken through other paragraphs in the Penal Code. In earlier articles I have mentioned the laws that can be used. Otherwise decent people, but often not particularly religious, find the desecration of religious symbols and the burning of the Holy Quran to be bad and vulgar, but they also quickly refer to the right to freedom of speech. In Norway, that is Paragraph 100 in the Constitution. If experts on these issues, law professors, senior journalists, NGO leaders and others refer to the right to freedom of speech before or without considering other issues, the debate stops and it becomes impossible to find any common ground – and the very paragraph that is meant to encourage freedom of speech becomes a hindrance.

Last week, the Norwegian Minister of Culture announced that she in January 2020 will appoint a Commission to look into the freedom of speech, 16 years after last updating of the current laws and practices. Much has happened in the media and communication sector since that time, especially related to social media. Also, immigration has led to homogenous populations in many countries becoming multi-cultural and multi-religious. Many immigrants, who are strong, traditional believers, find it wrong to allow religions to be criticised in extreme ways and holy books and symbols to be desecrated or ridiculed.

I began my article today by discussing some aspects about how we can learn to listen better to each other and exchange views. We must attempt to learn from others; we must try to see what others see. The Holy Quran, the Bible and other religious books containing the Word of God, tell us to love and respect others. We must realize that what is holy to others must never be questioned.

Even if we don’t use religion as the basis for laws in secular states, we should be able to find rules for talking and behaving that are acceptable and respectful to all, indeed when we speak about issues that are sacred, or just very important to majorities or minorities. I expect that the new Commission in Norway will look at the issues in broad and open-minded ways. There are certainly lessons to learn from the age-old religions that we in the modern world must not ignore, whether we are followers of the religious or philosophical thoughts or not. Besides, most or all cultures have religions, and it is a fact the majority of people has faith, or believe in something that is higher than themselves. I believe that we all become smaller as human beings if we don’t hold anything sacred and important – and if we place ourselves above others, not seeing what they see. We must help others to be as good human beings as they can be; and we need the help of others to be as good as we can be.