By Bushra Ishaq
20 Aug 2011
In the wake of the terrorism and mass murder in Norway on 22/7 many people have struggled to understand what the incident means. The terrorist justified his acts with a hatred of Islam and condemnation of the Norwegian government for accommodating Muslims. The attacks targeted the very idea which lies at the core of our country’s multicultural society. In his 1,500 page manifesto, Anders Breivik expresses his desire for “genuine Europeans” to defeat multicultural society and to “cleanse” the continent of Muslims. He emphasises the myth of Eurabia – the conspiracy theory of a Muslim takeover of Europe. Few in Norway support these thoughts and Breivik’s ideas are, to a large extent, cut-and-paste adaptations of ideas from right-wing extremists in other parts of Europe.
The conspiracy theory of Eurabia has existed in Europe for quite some time and has become more prominent during the last couple of years. Across Europe, there has been disturbing intolerance towards Muslims and immigrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Inflammatory political rhetoric has increasingly been tolerated by European political media and intellectual elite. And anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic parties are getting stronger – notably in northern European countries which have historically had relatively liberal immigration policies.
The terrorist quotes Dutch politician, Geert Wilders, the Finnish True Finn Party ideologues, and Eurabia authors Bat Ye’or, Mark Steyn and Bruce Bawer. He writes admiringly of the leaders of the English Defence League (EDL) and shares their conviction that Muslims and Islam are basically incompatible with the West, and that Muslims cannot be trusted as fellow citizens because many may be hell bent on imposing shariah and waging jihad.
These accusations are a part of everyday life for many Muslims living in the West. And many people regardless of ethnicity, nationality or political background believe that Muslims will impose their religion on western society. To my great shock, I recently came to know that my statements about educating imams in Norway during a talk about “Islam in Norway” last year were misconstrued and taken to mean that I was advancing the idea of an “Islamic Norway”. I was accused of being involved in a mission to convert Norway into an “Islamic emirate”.
It seems some people in Pakistan as well as in Norway either do not – or do not want to – understand the very conception of liberal-conservative values amongst Muslims. This is in fact the main approach of many young Muslims living in Western societies, including myself. As Western Muslims we seek to contribute to a democratic and secular-liberal mindset in our societies which emphasises the freedom to practice religions like Islam. We hold these to be values which contribute to equal rights and individual freedom. This approach allows every citizen freedom of speech and freedom of religion, both of which are fundamental to our right to practice our religion and to retain our Islamic identity. Therefore, I, among many other Norwegian Muslims, argue for a liberal-secular and pluralistic Norwegian society built on its historical social-democratic values of equality.
And these are the core values of Norway, which the terrorist wanted to attack because Norway has succeeded in the integration of Muslim immigrants and their offspring to a greater extent than many other European countries. Muslims in Norway are by virtue of secular and liberal law provided equal rights to those of any other citizen; right to free education, right to free health care system and the right to practice our religion and build mosques.
Young Norwegian Muslims are by all statistical accounts performing well. We have among the highest employment levels among Muslims in the entire Western world, we enrol in higher education to a larger extent than non-Muslim Norwegians, and there are no ghettos in our cities. Muslim females are growing up as part of a new generation of feminists in Norway, appreciative of living in a society in which higher education, labour market participation and childrearing are all possible for them.
Simultaneously, they regard themselves as practicing Muslims and many females amongst us wear the headscarf as well. Recently, statistics from Statistics Norway (SSB) demonstrated that there are more Muslim females going to the universities in Norway than non-Muslim Norwegian females. As a former president of the Muslim Student Association of Norway, “Muslimsk studenstammfunn,” I was faced with a paradoxical situation in which our board had such total domination of female members that we had to create a special quota for Muslim men in the board elections last year.
As Norwegian Muslims, it is our firm belief that one can and should combine our Islamic identity with much of what is good about the Western mindset and values. For my generation of Muslims – born and raised in Norway, there is no contradiction between being Norwegian and praying five times a day, and in fasting and fulfilling our religious duties alongside being active participants in society at various levels.
Our respected Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre has coined the term “the new Norwegian “we””. He underlines that the Muslims of Norway are an equal part of Norwegian society, and that they are to be regarded as Norwegians. Mr Støre has cautioned against referring to Muslims as “them” and the “Non-Muslim majority” as “us”. He has advanced the view that there should be one common “Norwegian we” that includes all citizens of Norway under the umbrella of one single national identity as Norwegians united by their beliefs in peaceful harmony of different beliefs in our society. That is the Norway I am proud to be a part of. That is the country to which I am committed by virtue of my loyalty and love.
I might not be Norwegian by virtue of descent – but I am a Norwegian by virtue of my commitment to the values of humanity and dignity instilled in me by both, the Norwegian society in which I have been raised and my Islamic faith. And I do hold that the reputation of my country as a tolerant and inclusive society will become even stronger after these heinous terror attacks. For it was the tolerance in Norway which was targeted by the attacks, not the lack of it.
Bushra Ishaq is a socialworker engaged in intercultural and interfaith dialogue in Norway, and was for that honoured with the Freedom of speech Award of Norway ' Fritt Ords pris' in 2010. She is also a columnist in Norway’s biggest newspaper 'Aftenposten'.
Source: The News, Islamabad