Norway: Police-hijab debate

Norway: Police-hijab debate

Last week the Norwegian police directorate announced that they will allow wearing a hijab as part of the police uniform.  This decision, which still needs to be approved by the Justice Minister, Knut Storberget, caused a political storm.  Storberget intended to approve the decision, but has pulled back due to the fierce opposition.

I bring below a summary of several news reports on the subject:


Within 24 hours, 165,000 Dagbladet readers answered the paper's poll regarding hijab in the police.  89% are against it.  By now, the poll has 188,000 respondents.  In comparison, 71,000 answered the paper's poll on the new blasphemy law.

Rune Karlsen of the Institute for Social Research (Institutt for samfunnsforskning) says that it shows people are concerned with the issue.  However, he points out that this isn't a representative poll and that such polls can be skewed.  In 1999 TV2 asked people whether teh borders should be closed to refugees.  89.4% answered 'yes' and 10.6% answered 'no'.  The Opinion institute made a representative poll and got 17% who answered 'yes' and 83% who answered 'no'.

Eirin Sund of the Labor Party says that many girls are struggling not to covered with the hijab and she fears legitimizes wearing a hijab by making it part of the police uniform.

"As a humanist I'm for completely neutrality, but at the same time for religious freedom.  I think people should be allowed to express their religion, but it's something else to use the symbols in public context like in the police," says Sund.

Other labor politicians are also against it.  Tore Hagebakken, head of the parliament's committee for public administration doesn't hide that he's critical of the proposal.  Deputy head of the parliament's family and culture committee, Gunn Karin Gjul, says he will wati for the opinions of the justice fraction before taking a position.

Several sources in the labor party said they were very irritated when Storberget confirmed that the justice ministry's website had reported it was decided to change the police uniform regulations.

Yesterday evening Storberget changed his tune, saying he wanted the police to make a concrete proposal so that everybody will know what is being discussed and so that the important elements of the police uniform will remain neutral and authoritative.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg intervened yesterday and stopped Justice Minister Knut Storberget from allowing hijab in the police.  At the same time, Stoltenberg  is open and positive towards the proposal.

Two others in Stoltenberg's nearest circle are against the proposal: former minister Minister of Social Inclusion Bjarne Håkon Hanssen and current State Secretary in the same ministry Libe Rieber-Mohn.  Both dealt in their job with employment and integration issues.

Meanwhile, the two heads of the Socialist Party, the labor party's partner in the government, Olav Gunnar Ballo and Karin Andersen say they don't support the proposal.  Ballo thinks an hijab is oppressive towards women.

Norwegian newspaper VG says that opposition has been ongoing for some time, and that at least two of the labor party's justice fraction met with Storberget before Christmas to express their opposition to a police-hijab.

On Jan. 21st Storberget was greenlighted by the government to go forward with the issue.  But apparently he was only supposed to examine the issue more carefully.


Shoaib Sultan, General Secretary of the Islamic Council of Norway says the headscarf is a religious obligation, and not a symbol.

He thinks its' important the Muslims be allowed to wear the hijab at work, otherwise religious freedom will be weakened in Norway.  He says it will encourage integration for Muslim women who wish to participate in the workforce with a hijab.

"We see tendencies to an aggressive tone in the social debate and we get reports from Muslim children and adults which show this," says Sultan.

Asked about the consequences of the army changing its position on hijab, sultan answered that "those who felt they were finally in the process of being accepted will in such a case feel that their efforts for a better society aren't appreciated.  They will feel excluded and that their dreams of a career in the army or military are being crushed.  They will feel that they must choose between assimilating and segregating."

"We fear the debate is taking a direction where the religious freedom of religion for Muslims is portrayed as a conflict of loyalty," says Sultan.

He fears the Muslims will feel more and more as second-rate citizens.  "We dearly hope that it won't happen, but fear that that's teh way it's going."

- Is there any reason to believe that the Muslim minority wants to limit the freedom of expression of the majority?

"of course not."

Sources: Dagbladet 1, 2; VG 1, 2 (Norwegian)

See also:
* Norway: Hijab allowed with police uniform
* Scandinavia: Headscarf for police agents

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