I am a social anthropologist. I started work with the immigration department in Norway and then I developed interest in the Pakistanis because they were the first immigrants coming to Norway. So, I did research on Pakistani nationals in the labour market. Then I went to Pakistan to do my PhD thesis on Pakistanis in Pakistan and I was particularly interested in morality and emotions in Pakistan, Punjab. They have a caste system there and a very strong segregation of men and women. There is a kind of Apartheid between men and women in Pakistan. I discovered that and wanted to find out how a man is expected to behave and how a woman is expected to behave. Then I wrote about the caste system and how they could have a caste system when actually they are Muslims. In Islam everybody is equal to Allah. It was very surprising for me to find out that they thought of some people as pure and others as impure.
They inherited these from Indians who are Hindus.
You presumably keep a tab on developments in Pakistan. What is your assessment on efforts to create a more equal society for all there?
I think change is happening but it is still very strong. It is difficult to change traditions. It takes time. It is changing, but not as quick as one would want. When people come to a very Egalitarian society like Norway they do not think in terms of purity and impurity. Pakistanis do not intermarry. I can see in spite of the fact that you have different tribes you intermarry.
Could you tell how your relationship with The Gambia started?
It was purely by accident. I got the assignment of leading the work against FGM in Norway. By coincidence I heard about some women who were planning to have a conference on FGM and I contacted them and so we started to work together in Norway. I have a very strong link with the Gambian community in Norway. I really like them and I think they like me so we are always together. Some of my best friends are Gambian women.
What endears Gambians to you so much?
I like their outspokenness. I like their talk about the Smiling Coast. They are very proud to be positive. People work to be positive even though life is hard. People have a strong will inside to be as positive as possible. That is the kind of norms that are strong here, to try to take things the best way. Whenever you come around, people are smiling, they are open, they are generous, they are very warm and they are easy to be with.
Tell me about your work with Gamcotrap?
Gamcotrap executive director Dr Isatou Touray was invited to Norway through the women’s group through which I met her. I know there are other organisations working here, but she was the first I knew. Then she got some money from some Norwegian NGOs. I think they are doing a very good job here and I think that together with the other organisations like Unicef and others. I think if they are together they contribute to changing attitudes on this issue.
You sound particularly preoccupied with the goal of ending FGM? What motivated you to put money into that endeavour ?
I do that because it is actually a violation of human rights. You do it to change them. It takes a part of their body without their consent and this is not the same as male circumcision. The effect of the removal of the clitoris is very strong on women.
Some people argue that this is the culture of Gambian people. They claim it is something they have been practising for centuries and should not change them. What is your riposte to that?
Well, I would say it is possible to get elements in your culture which are not very good. There was slavery in America and they would say ‘this is our culture’ but it is a very bad part of their culture. It is possible to have certain things that you think are good but when you see the consequences you find out it is not good and you try to change it. In China, they had the practice of foot binding. They used to tie the foot of little girls. When they grow up they couldn’t work. That was their tradition. It really injured the women. The women couldn’t work. There were a lot of things women couldn’t do because of this which they thought this was very beautiful, very good. And then they tried to change it but it took years because it was so entrenched in the system.
What is your assessment of the success of the fight against FGM?
It seems there has been some success but it has gone very slowly. The UN report says it is going slowly but it is accelerating. It is going slowly in The Gambia as well but there have been changes in some places. Many Imams are trying to make a fatwah against it. For instance, the Islamic Bank in Ethiopia have given support and money to end FGM. They involved themselves saying that ‘this is not an Islamic tradition’. FGM is un-Islamic.
Do you think like giving that the rate of progress has not been as fast as it should have been, do you think The Gambia government should do more to outlaw the practice?
I think the government of The Gambia should do more to outlaw the practice. There are many health consequences of FGM but people don’t see the connection with FGM if they have urinary problems when they are older, for instance. They don’t see the connection between problems they have in their 20s and what happened to them when they are three months old.
But on the flipside, the proponents of FGM state that it stops young girls from becoming promiscuous. Don’t you agree?
I have also heard the opposite argument that when girls are circumcised they feel uneasy and depressed and would always look for satisfaction. They would go out looking for satisfaction that they can never have. That can make them promiscuous. That is an argument I heard. FGM increases promiscuity instead of decreasing it. I don’t know if that is true. I think that if you don’t cut women and women have a good relationship with their husbands, they will stay with them because the love between them is fair.
But the former Imam of the State House said that when a woman doesn’t undergo circumcision she is going to have a greater sexual appetite and her husband cannot possibly satisfy her.
I don’t agree with that argument. There are many Muslim countries that don’t do it and their women are faithful. It is important for a woman to be satisfied and happy and if she has that she wouldn’t go out looking for other men.
You have visited The Gambia for many years, what are your impressions?
I think The Gambia is a fantastic country. It is a beautiful country with beautiful, nice and generous and tolerant people. You also have a tourist industry here which you can develop much more. I think there is alot to be done here when it comes to tourism. For instance, my country hasn’t really discovered The Gambia and the potential here so you could attract more tourists from there.
Norway has seen a spike in racial tensions with the lethal attack by Anders Behring Breivik on young people. What is your take on this?
Well, I think he was a solo terrorist. He didn’t have any support and he didn’t attack the Muslims. He attacked the Norwegian kids and politicians. It was kind of a political assassination actually on small children on an Island. So in that sense, it was because of immigration, and immigration policies. He used the argument of immigration to do this. After the attack, all immigrants, most of them Norwegians took to the streets of Oslo with roses in. It demonstrated a togetherness of Norwegians and immigrants that we had never had before. It integrated our country contrary to what he expected… Muslims went to the churches to place some flowers for those who died.
Quite apart from your work with the Gamcotrap, what else are you doing in The Gambia?
Well, at the moment I am having a vacation. I am not doing anything else actually but I am interested and also doing research on gangs and crime in Norway. I have been writing books about it. In Oslo, the gangs fight each other. We have two Pakistani gangs in Oslo fighting each other. And we have gangs in Stockholm who are always fighting.
Recently there was a riot and they were fighting against the police and we have the same in Copenhagen.
I hope to come back and work on FGM in The Gambia. I am also interested in the good relationship you have between the ethnic groups and I am also interested in the problem of those unemployed youths. I have seen there is crisis because of the Ebola. People cannot actually save money. There are hotels and hardly any tourists in there. There are people who were very fat but have become very tiny. People who work at the hotels are now hungry.
What are your parting words?
This is a very good country. I wish that The Gambia could benefit more from tourism, that they could prosper and that the people here could be well-fed and happy because that’s what the Gambian people deserve.]]>