“How do Norwegian Muslims envision the future of Norway? In what (political, cultural and social) direction they want to lead and see Norway heading? What is the perception of Muslims regarding the problems they face and obstruct the direction they want to see Norway taking?”
Many relevant political and non-political circles in Europe and more recently in Norway are concerned about an increase in the number of Muslims on their soil. Muslims are viewed suspiciously and enframed as culturally homogeneous group. This concern and homogenizing view in some extreme-right-wing parties leads to the formation of a politics (and politicization) of fear about Muslim invasion or contamination of Europe: Europe will be Islamized, Sharia will be put into circulation thus causing the disintegration of the ‘European identity’ or ‘Norwegian identity’ as it exists today. Whether real or imaginary, theoretically founded or flawed and whether empirically supported or not, these concerns and conceptions need to be addressed by Muslims. This is one aspect of the problem. The other aspect has to do with an active involvement of Muslims with issues relevant to Norway both nationally and globally. Muslims face challenges like all other minorities. Unlike other minorities, Muslims have been singled out, especially after September 11, for being a destabilizing factor in the midst of an imagined homogenous culture.
The number of Norwegian Muslims is increasing. Muslims have become an indispensable part of the Norwegian national identity (or identification) and body politics, and their voices are becoming a more common occurrence in the public spaces and debates. The presence of Muslims in Norway is a relatively new phenomenon. The newness of a phenomenon, however, often tends to give rise to a variety of misconceptions, prejudices, stereotypes, fears and one-sided pictures on both sides of the cultural divide. The lack of communication between the predominant cultures and the minority groups creates tensions which may lead to their manipulation and adoption of policies which indeed deepen even more the prejudices and misconception of the majority of the population (often leading to dire practical consequences such as, for example, discrimination in employment, the rise of xenophobia, islamophobia, racism, etc) and the seclusion of the minorities from wider public debates as well as isolation within their own communities thereby creating the space for the rise of radical elements within both respective culture. Although there are Muslims who may not want to be identified primarily as Muslims, Islam is viewed by many outside Muslim communities (but also by many inside Muslim communities) as the primary marker of their identity. Thus it’s relevance.
Muslims and their presence can no longer be considered merely an external geopolitical and security issue. Muslims have become an internal reality of Norway and other European countries. Their presence, like that of other minorities, elicits a profound cultural changes and boundary shifts; changes which affect the worldview and reality of the already established although by no means homogeneous traditions. These changes left to themselves are likely to run amok. A set of strategies and a series of political interventions to ensure national unity and peaceful coexistence of all Norwegian citizens are deemed important by all relevant sides that are affected by such changes so that a certain political order with common values can emerge. The challenge lies in finding a common public political language which is understood and to certain extent shared by all; fostering a greater understanding among different political and religious groups to facilitate greater mutual tolerance and cooperation.
Sead Zimeri, Prosjektleder, Islam og det liberale samfunn, LibLab