Peace Scholar Post: “Is the Norwegian Identity Being Threatened?” by Rachel Novacek

Is the Norwegian Identity Being Threatened?

Two years ago, the unimaginable happened; the deadliest attack on Norway since World War II. But perhaps for many, what was even more unimaginable was the man behind the attacks. Many were shocked to learn that the perpetrator was not a dark-skinned immigrant but a Norwegian. That is in the ethnic or “traditional” sense of the term “Norwegian.”

 Anders Behring Breivik carried out these horrendous attacks in hopes of hindering the changing demographics of Norway, particularly the spread of Islam. It is just about unanimous that this man was a radical and in no way a representation of the peace-loving Norwegian people. At the same time, Breivik held many of the same fears that the dominant groups of any country with a significant immigrant population often have.

Part of the concern in Norway arises from the fear that refugees and other immigrants are feeding off the welfare system and therefore threatening the quality of life of native Norwegians. But another point in the debate, and a real fear for many Norwegians, is the potential threat immigrants pose to Norwegian identity. One rather reasonable argument is that the values of Islam infringe on certain Norwegian values, for example the importance of women’s rights and the movement for LGBT rights.

The events of July 22nd 2011 revealed the desperate need for the two-way cultural street of integration as opposed to the one-sided process of assimilation. It showed that not only do immigrants coming to Norway need help adjusting to the Norwegian system, but Norwegians also need, perhaps even more so than the immigrants, to be willing to genuinely understand and respect the different cultures and beliefs that are becoming part of Norway.

The changing Norwegian identity is understandably a frightening thing for many and the prospect of working towards better integration policy in Norway and other countries is no easy undertaking. But it is perfectly possible. Not all too long ago, my home state of Minnesota became home to numerous Norwegians searching for a better life. As the new wave of immigrants they faced considerable discrimination from those considered truly American at the time. Today, Minnesotan culture is generally associated with Scandinavian culture. Even now, the more recent immigrant populations in the Twin Cities, especially the Mexicans, Somalis and Hmong, are becoming more and more part of the established identity of the area. There are undoubtedly still many challenges concerning the cultural give and take in such areas, but understanding and respect are definitely on the rise.

Here is a link to a video about an exhibition by Somali-American, Mohamud Mumin. While the perception of Somalis is often quite negative in the U.S., Mumin shows the many ways Somalis are actively contributing to the community and becoming more and more a part of it. His work also deals with issues of Somali-American identity. The exhibition, The Youth/Dhallinyarada, is on display at the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis until February 9th, 2014


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