Wednesday, 27 July 2011
This is one of the most placid and pleasant capitals of Europe, but Oslo is a divided city. The west of the city is rich, safe and predominantly white; the east, poorer, less safe and populated by immigrants, many of them Muslim.

...But the Muslim population is growing, and Islam is now the country’s second-largest religion. The impact of an increasing, and increasingly visible, Muslim population in a relatively monoethnic, liberal and egalitarian Norway has led to a surge in popularity for the anti-immigration Progress Party, now the second-largest party in Parliament. And it appears to have been one of the triggers to the massacre carried out here on Norway’s white elite. The suspect, Anders Behring Breivik, claims he was compelled to act by the failure of mainstream politicians — including those in the Progress Party — to stem the Islamic tide.

...Norway’s immigrant numbers nearly tripled between 1995 and 2010, and Muslims here, as elsewhere in Europe, tend to have larger families than the indigenous population.

And whether through simple economics, or the desire to live with other Muslims, or because of flawed social welfare policies, some cities have heavily migrant, informal ghettos that block easy assimilation into Norwegian language, culture and society.

In Furuset, a district nearly at the eastern end of Oslo’s subway lines, immigrants outnumber native Norwegians, who are fleeing the area. A large new mosque is next to a community center up a small hill above the subway station, which is surrounded by a little park and benches.

...“When I moved here in 1976, it was a new area and there were only Norwegian people,” said Lisbeth Norloff, a teacher of Norwegian. “And now, there are very few, and some of them are leaving.” She’s glad her own children are grown now and live elsewhere, she said, “so I don’t have to worry about what to do myself.”

In her classes in Furuset, she said, she has only two indigenous Norwegians out of 40 students, and she has had to lower the teaching standards, since many of her students do not speak Norwegian at home. “I think both sides are losing,” she said.

“Here in Oslo there are a lot of schools now where the majority of students are not coming from Norwegian-speaking families,” said Harald Stanghelle, the political editor of the newspaper Aftenposten. “It’s a new phenomenon in Norway, and it has raised a new kind of debate.”

A member of the Progress Party who did not want politics to intrude on national mourning and solidarity asked for anonymity. But he said there is more consensus now in Norway on a tougher, more restrictive policy. “Our immigration policies have been extremely naïve and our integration policies ditto, but that is something all our political parties now recognize,” he said.

In the past, any criticism of immigration or asylum was considered racist, “but that has largely been repaired by now,” he said. “We’re having a real debate on immigration and integration and an election every four years. We are a country of consensus, this is Norway, and we’re together in this,” he said.

Arne Strand, the former political editor of the paper Dagsavisen, sees Mr. Breivik as a “lone rider,” whose jumbled manifesto is unrepresentative of any real strain of thought in Norway, except a tiny fringe right. But as much as Norwegians hate the idea, he thinks the massacre will have some impact on politics. “This attack, this mass murder will bring this debate up again, and there are local elections next month,” he said.

The debate is also real among immigrants in Furuset, who fear that the flight of ethnic Norwegians will harm their children’s chances for a better life here.

Yemane Mesghina, 39, came here nine years ago as a refugee from Eritrea, and he’s enormously grateful to the Norwegians for a hospitable welcome. He is a cleaner, and lives in Furuset with a young baby and his girlfriend because, he says, “it is cheap” in a very expensive city. Does he feel at home in Norway? He laughed. “It’s different culturally and in language,” he said. The district is dominated by Pakistanis, he said, who came here as guest workers in the 1970s and ’80s, when Norway needed labor.

Some 90 percent of the people in his apartment building are Pakistani, Mr. Mesghina said. And the district is also a little infamous for a Pakistani criminal gang, known as the “B Gang.”

Mr. Mesghina says there is a good aspect to the Muslim majority — “there’s no alcohol here,” he said. But he worries about his child, and how he will be able to integrate into Norwegian life when there are so few Norwegians around.
Source: New York Times


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