Mani Hussaini, the leader of the Labour Party’s youth organization AUF, landed in a heap of trouble this week after referring to Immigration Minister Sylvi Listhaug as the equivalent of a cranky old hag. Now Listhaug, in an ironic twist, has come to his defense.
It all started during the May Day labour celebrations on Sunday, when newspaper Trønderbladet reported that Hussaini had urged his audience at a speech in Trøndelag to “kast kjerringa på hue ut av regjeringa.” Roughly translated, he was describing Listhaug from the conservative Progress Party as an old hag who should be thrown out of the government head-first. Hussaini arrived in Norway as a young refugee himself, and he’s been highly critical of the hard line Listhaug has taken on refugee issues, and her proposals for tougher asylum and immigration regulations.
It was Hussaini’s use of the word “kjerring,” though, that was interpreted as particularly insulting towards a female politician in Norway, and even the deputy leader of Hussaini’s own Labour Party, Hadia Tajik, was upset by it. She put aside party solidarity and publicly scolded Hussaini, telling news bureau NTB that Hussaini’s remarks were “not an acceptable way to characterize a political opponent.”
Tajik, in a highly unusual gesture of support for Listhaug, went on to tell NTB that “Listhaug must expect opposition to the politics she stands for, and response that’s just as sharp as how she has responded to others’ politics. But she should be able to avoid being called a kjerring, who should be thrown out on her head.” Tajik has earlier been the subject of hateful commentary herself, and also has criticized the sorts of sexist remarks made against Labour Party matriarch Gro Harlem Brundtland in the 1980s.
The leader of the Progress Party’s youth organization, FpU, more predictably objected to Hussaini’s remarks. “What kind of way is that to describe a political opponent?” queried FpU leader Bjørn-Kristian Svendsrud. Such remarks, Svendsrud claimed, don’t belong in Norwegian politics.
Hussaini quickly apologized, writing on his own Facebook page later that same day that “we are all best-served by sticking to the issues, not to people with whom we disagree.” He wrote that he could “now see that using the word kjerring against a political opponent was unfortunate, and I apologize.”
Hussaini also wrote that his “unfortunate” remarks “took the focus away from what I was trying to say, that the (conservative) government should be thrown out because they’re doing a bad job of handling rising unemployment, the increasing differences (among people in Norway) and other challenges our country faces.” Various Labour Party leader, and the leaders of the Labour Day parade in Oslo made similar claims, even carrying banners that the conservative coalition government should be “thrown out” of office. Hussaini concluded by wishing everyone a “continued happy 1st of May.”
It didn’t end there, however. Newspaper Dagbladet reported Tuesday on how unforgiving reaction soon cluttered Hussaini’s Facebook page with hateful comments and even death threats. By Wednesday, that had mobilized counter-reaction from the Progress Party youth leader, who came to Hussaini’s defense along with Listhaug herself.
“I reacted to Hussaini’s use of the word kjerring … it damaged the debate and I was glad he apologized,” Svendsrud stated. “Now the frenzy that has followed his apology is hair-raising, it’s pure hatred.”
Listhaug, who had seemed to initially ignore Hussaini’s remarks, also ended up rising to his defense, and noted how Tajik also had been a victim of “unacceptable slander.”
“I disagree with Hussaini, Tajik and the Labour Party on many issues,” Listhaug wrote in her own Facebook comment, “but I believe that we should carry on this discussion in a professional manner.”
A member of the Conservative Party’s youth group, Unge Høyre, also called for more issues-oriented debate and not “bullying in the style of Donald Trump.” Writing in newspaper Aftenposten, Daniel Sommer of the group’s chapter in Oppegård, south of Oslo, claimed that Listhaug was the victim of a “witchhunt” and that it was “childish” to call her a kjerring or claim that she “should have stayed on her farm” (a former agriculture minister, Listhaug grew up on a farm in central Norway).
“It just pulls the focus away from the issues of the day, like workers’ rights, and Labour’s own merits through Norwegian political history,” Sommer wrote. “The temptation to be intolerant can quickly prove to be great.”