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Op-Ed: On the Myrkur / Muslim Issue

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Update, 2:21 p.m.: It has been brought to our attention that Metal Hammer, who conducted their interview with Myrkur via e-mail, changed the phrasing of some of their questions once the interview went to print. Specifically, as it pertains to this editorial, Metal Hammer did not ask Myrkur if she understood why some fans perceived the comment as racist; rather, they asked her if she understood “why metal fans of different colors or religion might be upset by comments like that, especially if you’re generalizing them all?” We do not believe the original wording changes the situation — if anything, it highlights our original point, which is that Myrkur dodged the aspect of the question regarding religion. Still, we have updated the below article to reflect the question as it was originally posed to Myrkur.

In May of 2016, an interview surfaced in which Danish black metal / folk artist Myrkur (born Amalie Bruun) — of whom we at MetalSucks are big fans — made some off-hand comments that could possibly be construed as Islamophobic. There wasn’t a lot to go on, but it certainly raised a collective eyebrow within the metal community.

In light of the increased press surrounding Myrkur’s new album Mareridt, which came out on September 15th, MetalSucks recently started receiving messages from readers asking why we never covered the issue or investigated further. We wish we had a better answer than “This website is run by two people and sometimes stories fall through the cracks,” but we don’t. In any case, this new round of reader e-mails inspired us to look into Myrkur’s comments some more.

First, some background: the topic of Islam was touched on twice in the Zombitrol interview, both within the final five minutes. In the first segment, which we feel has been blown out of proportion, Myrkur responds to the interviewer’s question about the challenges faced by women in the metal scene by countering that, to her, the oppression women face at the hands of organized religion is way worse and far more widespread. She mentions both Christianity and Islam as religions that systematically keep women down, but doesn’t say anything out of line, elaborating that in Denmark (as in much of the world), Christians live their lives in a mostly secular fashion, gathering for holidays and with subtle influences present throughout the culture, but without the bulk of the religious elements in every day life. Nothing wrong here.

The second mention was the more troubling part. Here’s a transcript of that segment:

Interviewer: You don’t think there’s anyone who practices Islam in the way you were just speaking about, how Christianity is in Denmark, [for whom it simply means] holidays and family, and the other aspects you were speaking about [oppression of women by religious scripture] don’t play in? Do you think there’s people like that?

Myrkur: I don’t know them. But I’m sure they exist, because how many billions of Muslims are there? But that’s not unfortunately what’s invading Europe right now. We don’t see that. We don’t see the beautiful, traditional, cultural side. That’s not what we get. And at some point you have to stop defending the religion I think, because you could say “That’s not Christianity,” but you read the bible, it IS Christianity.

“Invading Europe right now” being the operative phrase here that caught peoples’ attention.

On September 11th, MetalSucks reached out to Myrkur, through her record label (Relapse Records), seeking to clarify her statement. While Myrkur did not respond to us, she did speak with Metal Hammer in a brief interview on the subject that was published yesterday.

Here’s an excerpt from the Metal Hammer interview which addresses the first part of the Zombitrol piece:

Some time ago you made some controversial comments about Islam that came across as borderline xenophobic. Can you clarify exactly what you were trying to say?

A year and a half ago I did an interview, which is what you are referring to now. We talked about what I consider to be a real and important issue for women today: religion and how certain organised religions treat and view women. I used Christianity and Islam as the two examples of current religions that I would consider more problematic in terms of female empowerment, something that is very important to me and that I fight for every day of my life.

Fair enough. No problems there! Question answered and her stated intentions are as we suspected.

But then comes the next question about her “invading Europe” comment, and… well, its hard to tell where Myrkur’s intentions lie because she doesn’t really answer the question:

When you said you felt that Islam was ‘invading’ Europe, what were you trying to say? Many Muslims have grown up in and contributed positively to societies across Europe.

Many Muslims have grown up in and contributed positively to societies across Europe; I agree. In Europe we have freedom to choose religion and you do not get persecuted for having the wrong religion, so of course it’s open to all and should remain that way.

Do you see why metal fans of different colors or religion might be upset by comments like that especially if you’re generalizing them all?

I don’t understand why you are bringing up skin colour here? I think it is misleading at best, and dangerous at worst when journalists are not able to separate religion and race, in a discussion about religious views on women. No-one chooses their skin colour and we are all human and we all bleed the same colour. No one is born a Christian; not even Jesus Christ.

In a weird way, this is the most disturbing part of the interview, because Myrkur is utilizing a tactic we’ve seen the Right use quite a bit lately: she side-steps the question by saying she endorses religious freedom, and then she deflects by suggesting that for the interviewer to even bring up race is immoral, going to far as to call the interviewer “dangerous.” (More dangerous than calling Muslims”European invaders”?)

While she says that “Many Muslims” have contributed positively to society and that she supports freedom of religion, she stops short of saying what she thinks of those who practice the religion as a whole. She could have said something along the lines of “The vast majority of Muslims have contributed positively to society,” or that those who don’t are extreme outliers (which is true)… if she actually believed those things. Even if she also criticizes Christianity, it seems she has particularly negative views about the religion of Islam and, by her own admission in the Zombitrol interview, she hasn’t encountered many secular Muslims in her life — just the ones who are “invading Europe right now.”

(It’s worth noting that prior to launching Myrkur, Bruun lived for a short period of time in New York City… which is to say, the chances are that she encountered secular Muslims on a daily basis. We’ll give her the benefit of the doubt, though, and pretend that it’s possible to walk more than a few blocks in NYC without passing a Muslim who shares our “Western values,” deplores extremists and terrorists, and bears no ill-will towards non-Muslims.)

It’s one thing if Myrkur wishes to single out Islam for its treatment of women. Indeed, she clarifies that stance next in the Metal Hammer piece:

Does your attitude towards Islam differ to how you feel about any other religions in particular? Why if so?

No, but the more laws, the more restrictions for women/LGBTQ+ people, the less I probably have in common with a religion. That being said, I am always interested in learning and expanding my horizon, so anyone who can teach me more about different religions and why I am possibly wrong about them, I welcome!

Fair enough! But we do not believe anyone was taking issue with that stance in particular; it was her broad stroke of Muslims immigrating to Europe as “invaders,” with their evil ways. People that are leaving their home countries, mind you, because they themselves are being persecuted, or worse, because their homes and entire cities have quite literally been destroyed by war.

It is the opinion of the MetalSucks editors that Myrkur is not a racist, or at least not an intentional one… although she may very well be xenophobic, and at best, she is certainly ignorant. Ignorant in that her own personal life experiences with Muslims are the only ones which she’s allowed to influence her opinion of an entire religion, and xenophobic in the obvious way: these people and their harmful ways are invading my land. At least she has the mindfulness to say she’s interested in being corrected if she’s wrong. Let’s start that process right now.

Until Myrkur directly addresses her comment about “Muslims invading Europe” we won’t know for sure what she thinks. But we believe there is enough out there now to draw your own conclusions… so have at it.

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