World
4:29 am
Fri July 29, 2011

Immigration, Integration Draw Attention In Norway

Originally published on Fri July 29, 2011 1:50 pm

The brutal twin attacks in Norway last week by self-proclaimed Christian crusader Anders Behring Breivik have reignited an immigration debate in what had appeared to be the most serene multicultural society in Europe.‪ Norway's long-standing reputation as a welcoming haven for immigrants is being tested as its Muslim population grows.

Many immigrants live in the Oslo neighborhood of Greenland. There are a few indigenous Norwegians, but they rush by.‪ Many women shopping at grocery stores wear the hijab.‪

At a cafe run by a Lebanese, the only customers are men — several Arabs and many Somalis.‪ They don't like to talk into a tape-recorder, but they will say they were shocked by the July 22 attacks. They're also relieved that the confessed perpetrator was a Norwegian, not a Muslim. They say their main concern is to keep a low profile.‪

The atmosphere changes sharply in a nearby square lined with trendy shops, sushi bars and outdoor restaurants.‪ Among those in the square is Eric Lundesgard, a member of the Conservative Party, which is currently in opposition.‪ He says integration is the key to immigration.

"Integration to some extent means being more Norwegian. Norway is quite a homogeneous country," Lundesgard says.

But that thought would seem to echo the ideas propagated by Breivik in his 1,500-page screed against Muslims and multiculturalism.‪

"I believe that many of his thoughts ... about the multicultural society and political correctness [are] quite common," Lundesgard says.

Tunisian Yassim Mansour says it's hard for an immigrant to live in this society.‪

"When they show their apartments, you go there with 16 other Norwegians, they take the Norwegian one, and this is a fact," he says.‪ "Here, when I am at work, if I have to pray — I am Muslim — I have to hide myself and don't tell anyone. If they ask me, I say I have been in toilet."

Mansour says integration should not mean that he has to lose everything about his cultural identity.‪

Large-scale immigration began in Norway in the '70s. At first, many Norwegians worried foreigners could take away their jobs. But because Norway became very rich — thanks to oil — and there are virtually no jobless, the debate shifted to the more insidious terrain of cultural differences.‪

The number of immigrants has more than doubled since 1995, and growing tensions have led to more division.‪ Indigenous Norwegians have increasingly fled neighborhoods inhabited by immigrants, citing worsening educational standards in public schools.‪ Also, says Iranian-born human rights activist Ali Esbati, the notion began to circulate that Muslims in particular — because of their religion — could not become good Norwegians.‪

"This new kind of right-wing milieu, the Eurabia literature, this idea that the West is being taken over, these ideas were quite marginal until recently," Esbati says, "but they have moved more and more toward the center of things, main public discourse, that is the real problem for long-term social development."

Sociologist Thomas Eriksen hopes something positive will emerge from last week's tragedy: that people here will treat each other with more respect and more recognition.‪

"So that it becomes more difficult for people on the right wing to generalize in pejorative terms about Muslims, and be concerned that we do have an emerging multicultural society here," he says, "and that everybody needs to have a place in it, that we have to create that sense of solidarity among the whole population and loyalty among the immigrants."

‪As the country emerges from shock and an intense period of mourning, Norwegians — indigenous and not — will have to engage together in dialogue, not in confrontation.‪

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Transcript

MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

Police in Norway are questioning Anders Brievik for the second time today. He's the man who's confessed to killing at least 76 people in a bombing and shooting last week.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Investigators are still trying to determine if there were others involved in this plot. Brievik will also be examined by psychiatrists. His lawyer has claimed that Brievik is insane.

KELLY: Meanwhile the violence has touched off a new debate about immigration in Norway. About 11 percent of Norway's population is made up of people born outside the country. As NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports, the fast growing Muslim population is testing Norway's reputation as a haven for those seeking a better life.

(Soundbite of people chatting in caf�)

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Greenland is the name of an Oslo neighborhood inhabited by many immigrants. There are a few indigenous Norwegians, but they rush by. Many women shopping at grocery stores wear the hijab. At this cafe, run by a Lebanese, the customers are only men several Arabs, and many Somalis.

They dont like to talk into a tape recorder, but they will say they were shocked by the July 22nd attacks. And theyre also relieved that the confessed perpetrator was a Norwegian, not a Muslim. Their main concern is to keep a low profile.

The atmosphere changes sharply in a nearby square. Its lined with trendy shops, sushi bars and outdoor restaurants. Here we meet Eric Lundesgard, a member of the Conservative party, currently in opposition. He says integration is the key to immigration.

Mr. ERIC LUNDESGARD (Member of Conservative Party): Integration, to some extent, means being more Norwegian, but, you know, Norway is quite a homogenous country.

POGGIOLI: But that thought would seem to echo the ideas propagated by Anders Brievik in his 1500-page screed against Muslims and multiculturalism.

Mr. LUNDESGARD: I believe that many of his, you now, his thoughts are quite about the multi-cultural society and political correctness is quite common.

POGGIOLI: Quite common?

Mr. LUNDESGARD: Yeah.

POGGIOLI: When Lundesgard leaves, Yassim Mansour, a Tunisian, rushes up and tells us how hard it is for an immigrant to live in this society.

Mr. YASSIM MANSOUR: When they show their passports if you go there with 16 other Norwegians, they take the Norwegian one. And this is a fact. Here, when I am at work if I'm going to pray, I am Muslim, I have to hide myself, and dont tell nobody. If they ask me, where have you been, I say I have been in the toilet.

POGGIOLI: Mansour says, integration should not mean that he has to lose everything about his cultural identity. Large-scale immigration began in Norway in the seventies. At first, many Norwegians worried foreigners could take away their jobs. But since Norway became very rich thanks to oil, and there are virtually no jobless, the debate shifted to the more insidious terrain of cultural differences.

The number of immigrants has more than doubled since 1995. And growing tensions have led to more division. Indigenous Norwegians have increasingly fled neighborhoods inhabited by immigrants, citing worsening educational standards in public schools. And, says Iranian-born human rights activist Ali Esbati, the notion began to circulate that Muslims in particular, because of their religion, cannot become good Norwegians.

Mr. ALI ESBATI (Human Rights Activist): This new kind of rightwing milieu, the Eurabia literature, the idea that the west is being taken over, these kind of ideas have been very marginal until quite recently. But they have moved more and more towards the center of things, towards the main public discourse. And that's the real problem, I think, for long-term social development.

POGGIOLI: But Sociologist Thomas Eriksen hopes something positive will emerge from last weeks tragedy that people here will treat each other with more respect and more recognition.

Mr. THOMAS ERIKSEN (Sociologist): So that it actually becomes more difficult for people on the rightwing to generalize in pejorative terms about Muslims, and be concerned about the fact that we do have an emerging multi-cultural society here and that everybody needs to have a place in it. That we have to create that sense of solidarity among the whole population and loyalty among the immigrants.

POGGIOLI: As the country emerges from shock and an intense period of mourning, Norwegians indigenous and not - will have to engage together in dialogue, not in confrontation.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Oslo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.