Sylvi Listhaug, Norway’s government minister in charge of immigration and asylum issues, is off on maternity leave but that hasn’t exempted her from more controversy. Now she’s been subjected to what she calls a “degrading attack” over the cross she’s often been wearing around her neck during the past year, claiming it’s “incredible” that it should be viewed as a political symbol of her Christian views as she deals with people from other cultures.
Listhaug, from the conservative Progress Party, has often referred to herself as a devout Christian. Her political agenda, meanwhile, has involved restrictions on immigration and limiting the numbers of mostly Muslim asylum seekers arriving in Norway.
That’s clearly stirred concerns since she took on her post in December 2015. Now Sven Egil Omdal, a veteran journalist and editor who currently works as a commentator for newspaper Stavanger Aftenblad, has raised some questions as well, which have infuriated Listhaug.
Omdal, a Christian himself who once led the conservative newspaper Vårt Land and worked for the state church’s information service, noted over the weekend that after going through an open public archive of photos of Listhaug taken between 2001 and 2015, he couldn’t find any of Listhaug wearing a cross around her neck. Since December 2015, when she was appointed to the new ministerial post of Immigration and Integration Minister for Norway’s conservative government coalition, she has been wearing the cross much more often.
“Am I claiming that she uses the cross as a political statement to appeal to that strange group who thinks that fear of foreigners is a Christian virtue?” Omdal queried on social media. “Yes, that’s basically what I’m doing.”
He pointed in particular to a speech Listhaug gave at the recent Oslo Sympoisum, where her cross was especially visible on the outside of the turtleneck sweater she was wearing. Omdal suggested that made her “look like a bishop” as she stated that it “has never been usual for us to live side by side with people from another culture.”
Listhaug bristled at Omdal’s observation, quickly branded it as “false news” and told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that it was important for her to correct it. “This (the cross) is a piece of jewelry that means a lot to me, which I have had for many years and which I feel secure using when I need to perform and a lot is happening,” Listhaug told NRK. She claimed she had “of course” used the cross much more often after she became immigration minister because it’s a very demanding job.
“I clearly have had more need for it (the cross) during the past year,” she said. “I think there are few politicians who have been subjected to as many claims and attacks from all sides as I have been, or who have had such a difficult assignment as I have had. So you clearly have to use what you have to get the strength you need to deal with it.”
She also claimed that “no one has anything to do with what jewelry I use,” said Listhaug, who has stressed the need for immigrants to learn Norwegian, integrate and assimilate to Norwegian culture and has publicly opposed the use of other religions’ symbols such as the nikab and burka.
Listhaug, writing on her own Facebook page Sunday night, called Omdal’s comment “the most degrading attack I’ve ever seen! And that says a lot. The highly experienced press man, now commentator in Stavanger Aftenblad, Sven Egil Omdal is now spreading false news, portaying me as terrible and cynical.” Listhaug, who served for several years as a member of Oslo’s city government, also pointed to three public photos of herself taken in 2006 and 2007 where she’s wearing her cross.
Borrowing the sorts of allegations leveled by the controversial US President Donald J Trump, Listhaug went on to write that “more people are seeing through the many left-wing (writers) in the media and now rely less on journalists. They have an agenda, and it’s to take down the right side. They have no standards, they don’t care about facts, everything is allowed as long as I or the Progress Party is their target. It’s incredible, and apparent that Omdal and those like him can’t sink too deep.”
Listhaug also claimed that Omdal’s commentary on Facebook had received more than 1,000 “likes” based on what she called “a pure lie.” Omdal later claimed that on a subsequent check of Scanpix’ publicly available archive, he did find one photo, among 631 taken during the 14-year span he checked, of Listhaug wearing a cross. “I should have seen that,” he wrote in an “erattum” published on Facebook Monday morning. “I stand corrected.”