Begging: It’s 2012 & Norway

Politicians from the local
and national level are all wading into the argument, with local level
politicians developing policy for their local communities that they think will
help alleviate the problem while some national politicians have been getting
media attention through making reactionary comments.

From an outsiders perspective
these reactions seem to lack the degree of thoughtfulness associated with how Norway usually
considers issues.

There are some who do not
support begging and do not give money to beggars. This is not because they are
from a certain ethnicity but rather because they are begging and it is 21st
century Norway.

Due to exclusion, poverty, intransience, patriarchy
and contempt rather than as a cultural practice

This is 2012 and society
still accepts begging as an acceptable form of expression. WHY? It seems like
‘societal racism’ that certain people are accepted as beggars. It is as if they
are not good enough to have any other expectation placed upon them. Because of
expectations people have of the beggar and who they are, society accepts this
behavior giving the impression of compliance. This is part of ‘Labelling’ as
discussed by sociologists Rob White & Fiona Haines in ‘Crime &
Criminology’ (2005), which in simplistic terms says that once society
stigmatizes certain people they start to then believe it, act it out, justify
it and make it their own. Maybe, instead of accepting this in Norway, begging
could be challenged as behavior brought about due to exclusion, poverty,
intransience, patriarchy and contempt rather than as a cultural practice.
Through programmes aimed at aiding people out of poverty Norway could become a leader in
changing attitudes and life situations.

Those that beg have
obviously been able to travel and move into this country because of policies
that Norway
has had to agreecomply with under EU rules. This means then, that once in this
country these people, like all other people living here, are under the same
protection of this government as well as its laws. This means that they should
not be falling into the necessity of having to beg for their survival – doesn’t
it?

New language and learning new skills necessary

According to reports from
within Norway
where the people begging are asked about their experiences and why they beg,
their responses indicate that they come here in order to try and do better for
themselves but that they are noticing more hostility both from the public and
from the police. Most in fact express that they are coming here on their own
initiative desperately hoping to be able to take better care of themselves and
their families through modest gains. This translates into a mindset that
believes that richer people will give more money. Let us not forget that these
are some of Europe’s poorest people. The
reports done through the Church City Mission and Salvation Army, indicate that
contrary to popular belief and some media articles, the majority are family
groups and not part of the human slave trade. This is not to say that some
people are not involved with that but society should not just assume that most
are. Their education levels may be lacking basic fundamentals so what if,
actually, the only way they know how to make money is to beg for it, but the
plan is that at least here in Norway
they can get their children into a decent education system. This works if,
there are children going to schools and staying there, learning another
language and being introduced to the tenet of educational excellence. What does
not work is, if this is the case, why are Norwegian authorities allowing these
parents to fend for themselves in this way. Shouldn’t the parents be at school
learning a new language, learning new skills and then being put onto a more
even footing with other immigrants coming into this country?

Begging is not busking

There have been some reports
that new rules may just make musicians out of beggars. Well, busking never was
and never will be begging. One is a summer expression that can bring joy and
fun to a day’s outing and indicates, in many cases, developing abilities in
various types of street art. In fact, many buskers are professional performers
who are taking their summer break by entertaining the masses. The public know when
someone is just hitting any key on an accordion or shaking a tambourine
incessantly. Begging is an activity based upon submission and subservience and
makes the submissive party reliant upon the public to take pity or feel guilt
for their apparent good fortune so that there is a donation of money.

Norway is in an enviable position of being a country lauded
throughout the world for its fantastic social policies and outputs as a nation.
The reason it has these is due to decisions made back in the 50’s by the
forefathers of this land. Prior to that time Norway was steeped in poverty but
miraculously, after the discovery of oil, absolute poverty has virtually
disappeared and its current social indicators are seen and applauded as some of
the best in the developed world. This country has ranked highly in the OECD for
child mortality, morbidity, domestic and social violence, gender equality,
crime and health outputs for decades. It is only just recently that one hears
people talking about having to be more careful on the streets at night, lock up
their homes, properties and cars when they go out.

Why is this?

It is not just because of
the arrival of certain groups of immigrants. It can also be because people are
starting to see discrepancies between what they are used to and what is
‘natural’ here. Then, if they are not able to work or move into society they
become even poorer, in relative terms, than they were previously and
unfortunately this may lead to criminal acts being committed. According to
White and Habibis, ‘Crime & Society’ (2005), ‘the lack of economic
resources in itself is not the cause of crime. It is the sense of relative
deprivation that is linked to crime..’ therefore a country where there is
increasing economic disparity between the top and lowest earners may
experience, within that society, an increase in crime. Crime rates have
traditionally been low in Norway
because relative social inequality between its people has not been seen or
felt.

The reason Norway has not experienced the
effects of social deprivation to the same degree as other countries, for
decades, is attributable to the provisions made after the discovery of oil.
That was to bring in a universal social policy to ensure that no one in this
country would suffer in poverty ever again. If you earn much you are taxed
much, if you need help you receive help, genders are treated more equally here
than in most countries in the world and policy is directed at ensuring that
both men and women are educated to the highest level possible and also given
opportunities at similar rates. It is not perfect but it was one of the most
successful strategies for a society to bring about cohesiveness, unity, wealth
and opportunity. More importantly, it has worked!

Crime will come to be seen as perpetrated by ‘others’

The country has become
richer and richer and is seen as the mecca for Europeans with its strong
currency, high standard of living and fantastic life style founded on a
bed-rock of trust, security and nationalism.

Norway is acclaimed internationally as the country that has
a heart and a carefully controlled chest full of money. One of the problems
with this outcome though, is that after a few generations people who are doing
well, succeeding and have the trappings of wealth may start to think that they
deserve this; they have earned it themselves and that those who do not seem to
be the ‘same’ deserve their poverty, have not worked hard enough, or paid the
price as it were. Jeffrey Sachs (previous Special Advisor to United Nations
Secretary General, Kofi Annan) said, ‘Every society that was once poor has been
castigated for being lazy and unworthy until its citizens became rich at which
point their new wealth was ‘explained’ by their industriousness’.

Norway is impressive with the dedication it has to keeping
this country wealthy and successful and with how the politicians work at the
National level, overall. There is much to teach the World.

But, maybe the people of
Norway have some serious discussions to have. If it goes the neo-liberal
individualistic route then this country will end up like the rest of the
Western World where laws and society become punitive, exclusionary and start to
see ‘them’, ‘us’ and ‘outsiders’. Crime will come to be seen as perpetrated by
‘others’ rather than it being seen as a social ill caused by increasing social
deprivation and it will increase and keep increasing. This will add stress to
the country, promote anger and hatred so Norway’s other amazing statistics will
start to fall as well.

What about the ‘Beggars’

 If Norway wants to continue leading the world,
then as a community, society needs to figure out how to make people feel
included, and ensure that everyone coming into this country is working a
meaningful day’s work so no one coming here should want or need to beg on the
streets.

People must feel
appreciated, valued and each of us living here should be grateful for the
largess that this country has to offer. There should be laws for everyone that
governs entry into Norway, so that each must prove they are capable of earning,
at the least, the minimum wage. This minimum wage should continue to reflect
what it costs to survive in a country meaning that all immigrants are able to
participate in life activities here. There should not be any acceptance of
poverty in this country. The forefathers found it reprehensible and
unacceptable because it does not add anything to a nation or to a person’s
development in life to suffer in poverty. That must continue to be the reason
for no poverty. If someone is a beggar then hazard a guess that they are living
in poverty.

Poverty, hardship and deprivation are some of the
pre-cursors to crime

Any person found begging
could be sensitively questioned and offered assistance by the social service
providers of the area. There need not be any acceptance of ghetto style living
quarters in this country. Nor should there be any acceptance of bullying,
aggression or arrogance from Norway’s law enforcers or politicians. Their
reactions can lead people to legitimize the treatment of ‘others’ differently
to the treatment of ‘their’ people (Max Weber on ‘Power’). This is the start of
a dangerous downward spiral into public hooliganism and exclusion which can
have serious consequences for the whole of society.

If it is good enough to
adopt Foreign Policy Agreements that allow free movement of people then the
responsibility of that should be the care and provision for them when required.

Poverty, hardship and
deprivation are some of the pre-cursors to crime not just a person’s ethnicity.
As a nation Norway can discuss ways to include, accept and honour difference.
People have rights and they also have responsibilities. It was Dominique Moisi
in ‘The Geopolitics of Emotion’ who succinctly said –

‘Fear, Hope and Humiliation
are closely linked with the notion of confidence; which is the defining factor
in how nations and people address the challenges they face as well as how they
relate to one another’.

The laws must be obvious

 Go to a new country by all means but do so in
order to up-skill, improve and enjoy life. Accept people of new cultures into
your country, open your arms to them and honour international agreements but be
prepared to ensure their care until such a time as they are able to stand on
their own in their new country.

 Those who are here illegally or here to do
mischief will quickly become apparent and they can be dealt with through the
normal democratic legal justice system. They must be dealt with in this way and
it must be seen as a consequence for breaking the law. The laws must be
obvious, the practice must be transparent and it must always follow democratic
common law procedures (Lord Chief Justice Tom Bingham – The Rule of Law, 2010).

And again from Moisi –
‘Quests for identity by peoples uncertain of who they are, their place in the
world, and their prospects for a meaningful future have replaced ideology as
the motor of history, with the consequence that emotions matter more than ever
in a world where media are playing the role of a sounding board and a
magnifying glass’.

Politicians in Norway need
to lead this discourse responsibly and not jump on electioneering bandwagons in
the hope of securing extra votes from the threatened and fearful. Rather, ask
questions until as a nation there is an arrival at answers that keeps Norway an
International Leader. This is what politicians do in the Parliament and this is
what they can choose to do with their public.

R.H Tawney said,

‘To criticize inequality and to desire equality is
not, as it is sometimes suggested, to cherish the romantic illusion that men
are equal in character and intelligence. It is to hold that, while their
natural endowments differ profoundly, it is the mark of a civilized society to
aim at eliminating such inequalities as have their source, not in individual
difference, but in social organization.’

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