I am Neuroscience PhD, a humanist, skeptic, feminist, avid reader, science enthusiast, woolly-liberal über-nerd, and, as of October 2015, father to the Lykketroll.
I moved from England to Norway in January 2012 and live in Lørenskog with my wife, the Lykketroll, and our two aging rescue cats, Socrates and Schrödinger.
I am on paternity leave from the 4th of July to the 18th of November.
The job I am on leave from is as an Associate Professor and Head of Studies at the Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences. My background is in child neurodevelopment (my PhD looked into the relationship between fatty acids like omega-3 and cognitive development in young children) but I now work on a hodge-podge of things roughly within the field of Universal Design of ICT 50% of the time, the other 50% of my time I am Head of the 'General' Studies (Allmenn in Norwegian) Unit, which is comprised of around 24 academics within a range of fields, including mathematics, physics, Norwegian, and technology and leadership.
In between working and doing the usual dad things, I like hiking and running in the beautiful Norwegian outdoors, cooking and playing video games.
If I believed in souls I would say that mine was born in Norway.
I've mentioned to
my wife that far too many articles in the Norwegian tabloids start with ‘the
Daily Mail reports that…’. A quick search of the Dagbladet website shows that around
three stories a day reference the Daily Mail (37 in total since
the start of October; for the sake of comparison, there are only nine articles referencing
the Guardian in the same period), which is surprising as, according to Wikipedia at least, the paper is ostensibly politically neutral, with perhaps
slightly liberal leanings.
Most of the
articles referencing the Mail are celebrity guff or sports, but there was one article in Dagbladet this
week that really caught my eye and got me thinking about just what it means to
be referencing articles from a conservative paper like the Daily Mail, which
has earned the monikers Daily Fail and Daily Heil.
The story was about
Newcastle United Football club’s controversial £24m, four-year sponsorship
deal with Wonga, a pay-day loan company that charges an
interest rate the equivalent of 4,214% APR. Annual rates of interest are
a little misleading because Wonga is a short-term money lender (they ‘only’
charge 1% a day, 30 days at a time), but here’s a fun bit of maths: an unpaid £100 Wonga loan leaves you owing
£4,200 at the end of a the year and £23.5 trillion after 7 years.
I followed the
story on Football365 and the Guardian, who ranlotsofarticles on Tuesday, reporting the criticism the club received by local MPs and debt
experts for associating themselves with
a company dubbed ‘legal loan sharks’, in an area with one of the highest
personal insolvency rates in Britain.
Wednesday’s Dagbladet article, however, made no mention of the financial
and ethical concerns raised about Newcastle’s association with Wonga, but
instead went with ‘Newcastle’s Muslim stars could end up in trouble over new shirts’,
reporting that several of the clubs biggest stars (Demba Ba, Papiss Cisse,
Cheick Tiote and Hatem Ben Arfa) could refuse to wear the shirt because
promoting money lending with interest contravenes sharia law. When my wife
mentioned the story to me, I was a little puzzled, because this was the first I’d
heard that Muslims had anything to do with it, but once I read the article and
saw the reference to the Daily Mail, a few things clicked into place.
I went back to the
original Daily Mail article and marvelled at how, away from my typically
liberal news cocoon, the story had morphed into something about a Muslim
The religious angle
stems from Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, assistant secretary general of the Muslim
Council of Britain (MCB), who is quoted in the Independent as saying:
"There are two
aspects to this. We have the rulings of the religious law and we have the
individual’s choice and decision on how they want to follow or not follow that
rule. The idea is to protect the vulnerable and the needy from exploitation by
the rich and powerful. When they are lending and are charging large amounts of
interest, it means the poor will have short-term benefit from the loan, but
long-term difficulty in paying it back, because the rate of interest is not
something they can keep up with. The Islamic system is based on a non-interest-based
system of transaction.”
who played for La Liga team Seville] was allowed to wear a top without 888.com
and that is a reasonable request to be made by the player," added Mogra.
"Assuming all four are on the pitch at the same time, if you have seven
out of 11 [who have the advertising on their shirts] you have sufficient
coverage. It is not asking too much, I believe."
Here is Mogra is
talking to the BCC, actually quite sensibly about the matter, making the very
good point that this is not actually a religious issue but of the wider ethical
implications of promoting a company that takes advantage of the vulnerable, and
explaining that he and the MCB have “no jurisdication over the lives of Muslims”
and “cannot dictate or impose on people the rules of Islam”.
From the headline onwards, the Daily
Mail article is full of hedge words (‘Cisse and Ba could lead a boycott’, ‘Newcastle's
Muslim stars could refuse’, ‘They may follow the stance of former
Tottenham and West Ham striker Freddie Kanoute’, which imply that Newcastle’s Muslim players are going to
kick up a fuss and disrupt the team, without having any actual evidence – say a
quote from an actual player – that they’ve even given the matter a second thought.
The Daily Mail article
led with the religious angle, but at least had something on Wonga's predatory
scheme; the Dagbladet article made no mention of this and instead led with ‘Muslims
might boycott the shirt’.
As an aside, it’s
also odd that when I first read the article in the Independent the headline read ‘Muslim players told:
Don’t play in Wonga tops’ (my italics; here’s a screenshot from the Evernote I saved
below), which is an odd thing to say given that the quote the headline is based
on says “…we have the individual’s choice and decision on how they want to
follow or not follow that rule”. When I go back to the article now, the headline has been changed to ‘Newcastle's
Muslims faced with shirt dilemma over Wonga’.
Why is this
important? Well, because, as trivial as it might seem, articles like this –based
on complete conjecture– gives people, who probably don’t even need them, more
reasons to think that Muslims are acting up again. It puts the Muslim players
in a no-win situation: either they ignore the sharia law on money-lending and
interest (which they are perfectly entitled to do according to Shaykh Ibrahim
Mogra) and become practicing Muslims who ignore bits of their religion as it
suits them (not ‘proper’ Muslims), or they act like proper Muslims, boycott the
shirt and kick up a fuss over their beliefs.
It’s bad enough
that they kill people over badly made films and shoot girls in the head for
wanting an education, but they can’t even get on with playing football, for god’s
sake. Just read the comments below the articles to get an idea of what this kind of conjecture-ridden non-story can lead to.