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Do the Muslims of Norway Pose Cultural Threat to Norwegian Identity?

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Norway is a country which claims to protect and promote human rights at home and abroad. However, within the deeper layers of Norwegian society, to some extent, hidden racism seem to be ingrained. It’s targeted towards refugees and migrants, particularly against the Muslims creating hindrance in their cultural integration into the mainstream of the Norwegian society. This article highlight dilemma of Norwegian society to accommodate the reality of ‘cultural otherness.’ Here is an in-depth analysis by our Norway-based Editor-at-Large, Amit, exclusively for Different Truths.   

There is a prevailing notion in Norway that immigrants in large numbers would destroy the “homogeneity” of the nation. The idea that a multiracial society would inevitably endanger the “values” and “culture” of the white majority and unleash social conflict seems to be gaining ground in Norway. ‘Culture’ has drawn the attention of Norwegian public, politician and media alike in the matter of cultural accommodation of its Muslim minorities. It is argued that culture has emerged as an increasingly problematic dimension in integration/immigration policy debate, while cultural diversity must accommodate and celebrated, certain cultural practices, especially in relation to women, have appeared as increasingly threatening to what is considered as fundamental values in Norwegian society.

In the nineties, Norwegian scholar Wican made a strong statement against Norwegian Muslims. She has expressed, “In Norway, Muslims must realise that women must be in a position where they can perform their duties towards their children.” Wikan’s (1995) publication has highlighted issues of illiberal practices such as forced marriages, genital mutilation, which is prevalent among the Muslim immigrants. Since then, the debate in media – newspaper, TV documentaries – and political circles have been centered on the suffering of the women and children. An incidence of honour killing in Norway (Jan. 2002), where a Swedish-Kurdish woman was murdered, drew heavy critical attention from the media and the public. This incident has generated a political will to prohibit marriage between cousins, which is a widespread practice among the Pakistani community.

However, addressing such problems involves the risk of stigmatising the already marginalised groups, as well as undermining their rights to maintain their own culture and religious practices. Nonetheless, for some these debates is not about the protecting multiculturalism but to take side with women, children, and human dignity.

Culture is Superior (Us) vs. Inferior (Them)

In Norwegian situation, the idea of “cultural otherness” has been stressed upon to divide between real Norwegians and Muslim foreigners on the lines of culture. Political parties have used it effectively against multiculturalism. Norwegian scholar Gullestad has stressed, “Our cultural expressions are valued not because they offer something of universal importance because they are ‘ours.’ Implicitly, this suggests that the possibility that other people’s tradition might have something of universal value to offer ‘us’ is not recognised. The quotation may be read as an innocent statement by the government of small country seeking to protect and develop its heritage.

As a matter of fact, Norwegian historians rely on the concept of culture when analysing the nation building process in the nineteenth century. Later on, as political events shows, stress on culture has proved a stumbling block in the promotion of multicultural policies in Norway and has polarised the Norwegian society.

Within the polarisation framework, between majority and ethnic minorities, between ‘us’ and ‘them’ – a double standard is applied, both in the mass media and at the kitchen table. Meaning, immigrants often have to demonstrate their loyalty more explicitly by praising everything Norwegian. Moreover, majority people are less likely to accept criticism by minority people. Majority anxieties about saying or doing ‘something wrong’ are often regarded as more important than minority feelings of being discriminated against. The minorities are expected to learn and appreciate the majority’s tradition and basic values, but majority people do not feel a similar obligation be interested in what the immigrants bring with them.

Repercussion of ‘Cultural Debate’

There is growing Islam-phobia and moral panic regarding ‘forced marriage’ and the ‘veil’ reveals rising concerns about immigrants’ (read Muslims’) integration and the immigrants inability to adjust to the values of the West. So far, the Norwegian debate has been preoccupied with the idea of the preservation of national identity, sovereignty and folk behaviour.

With the demographic and diversity shift in Norway, the Norwegian society increasingly expresses ambivalence about societal changes, the welfare state, and foreigners; many share the suspicion that immigrants stubbornly choose to resist integration in Norwegian ways of being. Debates about nationalism and identity intensify with a strong sense of vulnerability to outside influences. National belongings, citizenship and the criteria for successful integration are framed in moral terms that gestures towards the inherent goodness, equality and democracy of the basic Norwegian values, and yet leave these values largely undefined. In this context, perceptions of race, phenotypic difference, gender, religious normatively and class aspirations are repackaged as a cultural difference. These differences are deployed to distinguish nationals from non-nationals and ‘host’ from ‘visitors’.

When it comes to social integration, the term multiculturalism is increasingly shunned for connoting segregation and misguided tolerance. Few politicians today would describe themselves as multi-culturists. In addition, outside the mainstream public sphere, in blogs, on Facebook, and even in the commentators’ sections of mainstream newspaper on the Internet, extreme voices have flourished in Norway.

The cumulative effect of all cultural biases has resulted in higher unemployment rates, increased residential segregation of Muslim immigrants, within Norway.  Anti-immigrant sentiments, particularly towards Muslims, has permeated into every sphere of Norwegian society and poses the dilemma to the government to find multicultural model suites to Norwegian societal needs. So far, the solution seems illusive.  As long as immigrants’ culture is not accommodated within the mainstream Norwegian population, they will be seen as a threat to Norwegian identity – and this might bring the unpleasant situation to Norway, including a possibility of a terrorist attack by a disgruntled immigrant.


Gillestad, M. (2004), “Blind Slaves of our Prejudices Debating ‘Culture’ and ‘Race’ in Norway” Ethnos, Vol.69:2, (pp.177-203)

©Amit Singh

Photos from the internet.

#Multiculturalism #Norway #EthnicIssues #NorwegianIdentity #ConflicResolution #Immigrants #CultureOfNorway #Government #CuluturalConflicts


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