Tuesday, 20 December 2005
The Ossietzky Prize; Norwegian PEN´s award for outstanding contributions to freedom of expression, will be awared Monday 19 December to Fakhra Salimi. This years laureate has been living in Norway since she was 20 - more than half her life - and has always represented a different voice in Norway´s otherwise rather homogenous and unisone public debate.
This article is based on a press release from Noerwegian PEN.
Ever since her coming to Norway from Lahore, Pakistan, in 1979, Salimi has fought hard not to be identified as yet another representative of the stereotype often labelling immigrant women; as a voiceless victim, doubly disadvantaged, both by the protective and patrilineal home culture and by the liberal laissez-faire, as many immigrants experience north-western Europe, of her secondary homeland, prone to leave immigrant women behind.
Generated mutual interest
Avoiding these traps, Salimi has brought to the ethnically Norwegian majority a wide array of experiences from her own multi-facetted female perspective, thus helping to dismantle stereotypes and faciliate mutual understanding. With Salimi´s help, the images the ethnically Norwegian majority has of immigrant communities in general, immigrant women in particular - and vice versa - have become less superficial, more multi-dimensional. Salimi has contributed greatly to generate mutual interest among different communities in Norway and made it easier to talk about and understand those differences. Widening the public space, her immeasurable contribution to freedom of expression is, thus, undisputable.
Challenged both the political establishment and the women´s lib. movement
Even if this still happens, it was particularly during her first years in Norway that Salimi had to answer endless questions about her background, particularly circling around the encounter between her presumed morally strict Pakistani womanhood and the laid-back attitudes, especially towards sex, in Norway. The ignorance she sensed was wide-spread, also in academia. Instead of distancing herself from it all, though, Salimi has challenged both the political establishment and the women´s liberation movement in Norway on a number of issues.
Created a channel
In 1989, the MiRA centre was opened, and Salimi was employed as its leader. Ever since, this centre has combined serving individuals with challenging structures, and has gradually reached ever wider audiences. Through the MiRA centre, her own book ´Odin´s women colour the Nordic countries´ and tireless criticism of the media, Salimi has created a channel not only for herself, but also for numerous others, in the Norwegian public debate.
If I go first, you follow
In today´s multi-cultural society, there are several different polarities. Standing between those extremes is both risky and difficult. In an environment dominated by the media´s preference for the extreme, for conflicts and juxtapsitions, there is a high risk of being ignored if one chooses not to go with one or another of the already established positions. Against these odds, this year´s Osietzky laureate has insisted on taking her own stands, expressing only her own opinions, on both majority and minority mechanisms of suppression. In doing so, she has lifted herself as an individual out of the stereotyped mass, and helped others to follow suit.