“The social control affects the way we live our lives.”
Our Norwegian correspondent The Observer has translated an news article about the informal enforcement of sharia in some of Oslo’s culturally enriched neighborhoods. The translator includes this note:
This article from today’s Aftenposten concerns the sharia mentality that has managed to gain a foothold in certain immigrant-dense neighbourhoods of Oslo. Muslims demand that non-Muslims and less devout Muslims follow their rules, and they are not afraid to say so to your face.
Gates of Vienna has of course previously covered stories from Grønland* in Oslo where sharia patrols operate and where lightly-dressed women and gays have been harassed and physically attacked. And as you can see from this story, it’s not only ethnic Norwegians who are beginning to get worried: secular immigrants from the Muslim world are also expressing deep concern over the way things are progressing in naïve little Norway.
The translated article:
Harassed by the ‘morality police’
Bahar Shekari is shopping at the ‘Furuset senter’ [shopping centre in Groruddalen]. She has just paid and turns around to leave when a blob of spit lands on her chest.
“What kind of clothes are those? We are Muslims. You walk around dressed like that,” an elderly lady with a shawl tells her.
“I felt like I was in Pakistan and that somebody was about to get lynched,” says Shekari.
She and her husband Erfan Tarin are Kurds, originally from Iran, and they are not religious. The couple believes that they are being harassed by the Muslim majority in the neighborhood. The blob of spit is just one of several episodes, they say.
Rebuke over a summer dress
On a warm day in May, Shekari is sitting on a bench next to the playground. The sun is shining. In the background her daughters Alica (3) and Atos (2) are playing, wearing summer dresses.
“I’ll give you some advice on how to dress your daughters,” an elderly woman who has made her way over tells her. Shekari is spooked by the statement.
“What do you mean?”
“A girl should be properly covered. We Muslims are not meant to dress like that,” the woman tells her.
“How do you know that I am a Muslim? This is none of your business,” Shekari responds. The older lady shakes her head and wanders off.
Three years ago Aftenposten reported on the widespread use of moral control in the public sphere and within some communities and neighborhoods in Oslo, and in particularly in Grønland.
Tarin and Shekari moved from Tøyen to Furuset about a year ago. Tarin believes that the situation has deteriorated since then.
Tarin is a politically active Communist and believes that Norwegian politicians are too naive.
“One is quickly labeled a racist if one starts to highlight such issues — like, for instance, if one is opposed to women wearing the hijab. But at the same time Muslims are allowed to comment on how our girls dress because they assume that we are Muslims. That’s not the way it should be.”
The morality police
Tarin believes that non-religious individuals from the Middle East in particular are subjected to a strong pressure to conform.
“Many of those who had to leave Iran fled from the religious state police and the lack of political freedom; therefore it especially sad to experience similar trends on the street here in Norway,” says Tarin.
“We are even afraid of sunbathing in the park behind our building. The social control affects the way we live our lives.”
Michael Cruz works as an integration advisor in the Grorud, Stovner and Bjerke districts, and is himself a local resident of Groruddalen. He agrees with Tarin and Shekari.
“In phys ed classes at one of the schools where I work, you can observe girls in first, second and third grade yell at each other because it is deemed immoral to be dressed so lightly. One can of course speculate where they get those views from,” says Cruz.
He believes that Oslo in many ways is a segregated city.
“Some districts and neighborhoods have many Pakistanis residents; other places are dominated by Somalis. The less diverse an area is, the stronger the social control is,” he says.
“Social control in itself is actually a positive thing — the fact that one keeps an eye out for each other’s kids. It takes a village to raise a child. But sometimes you get the feeling that the social control interferes with integration. Then social control becomes a burden.”
Are considering moving
Shekari is the one who has the strongest awareness of what the couple perceives as harassment.
“People look at you with disdain and shake their heads. It’s uncomfortable. The contrast between Furuset and Majorstua [affluent area in the western part of the city] is enormous. There, no one gives me bad looks or questions how I choose to dress,” says Shekari.
She believes that women are more aggressive in their approach to moral control.
The couple is considering moving, and has already started looking for places to move to outside of Oslo. Shekari believes that social control has changed her behavior.
“I lower my gaze every time I am at the shopping center and I always walk very fast. I do not feel safe there.”
“Are you considering dressing differently in order to avoid unpleasant comments?”
Principal: “Not a big deal”
Anne Myhrvold, the principal at Gran Elementary School, doesn’t believe harassment and religious pressure are a big problem in the school yard.
“We have students from all over the world. We’ve had some minor episodes. Episodes relating to hijab or clothing, but we look at it as smart comments made there and then. Students are of course also likely to make comments about body weight and similar things. We address such incidents when they occur, but it is not an on-going issue that we have pursued for an extended period of time,” says Myhrvold.
Lena Larsen: “Harassment is a two way street”
“Secular people are not any more tolerant than believers,” says Lena Larsen.
Larsen is an ethnic Norwegian Muslim. She was the leader of the Islamic Council of Norway from 2000 to 2003.
She stresses that it is of course unacceptable to spit on others simply because one disapproves of the way they dress. But according to Larsen, Muslims aren’t more intolerant than any others.
“It is often considered to be particularly bad when Muslims make derogatory statements towards people who are less devout. The media often judge too quickly and tend to show sympathy with the person being harassed. But we should keep in mind that there is a blessed lack of tolerance on both sides of the spectrum.
“Shortly after I was elected as leader of the Islamic Council of Norway, I was confronted in Holmlia [immigrant-dense neighborhood in the eastern part of Oslo] by some very critical Iranians who wondered how I could possibly convert to Islam when Islam was such a horrible religion. I have also been stopped on the street by devout practicing Muslims who have asked me whether I was aware that the ice cream I was eating could contain traces of pig,” says Larsen.
Mosque in the sandbox
She says that she has not experienced any harassment since she started wearing a head scarf.
“Society can of course be skeptical of individuals like me who wear the head scarf such. There is a general skepticism towards religion out there. Some people feel provoked. It depends on the circles you move in,” says Larsen.
“When I was elected as the chairman of the local council where I live, some feared that I would ‘build a mosque in the playground.’ Later on I noticed that this skepticism disappeared. When you get past the stereotypes and establish relationships, the skepticism disappears.”
* Previous posts about Grønland:
- Separating the Sexes in Oslo
- Culturally Enriched Homophobia in Oslo
- A Dead Rat in the Kitchen
- “We Have Lost the City”
- The Culturally Enriched Dope-Dealers of Oslo
- Fisticuffs in Lillestrøm
- Calling for a Sharia State in Grønland
- Norway’s Most Wanted
- The Hunter and the Hunted
- “Norwegians Need to Wake Up”
- “The Jews Ruin Things”
- “Go Home and Put on a Veil”
For a complete listing of previous enrichment news, see The Cultural Enrichment Archives