Rosengård: A Norwegian visit
The Malmö suburb of Rosengård in Sweden has drawn a lot of attention in recent months. In January, researchers from the Swedish National Defence College published a report saying that a majority of residents feel the suburb is radicalizing.
In February Siv Jensen, head of the Norwegian Progress Party (Frp), compared Oslo to Malmö in a speech against 'sneak Islamization' in Norway.
Last month a delegation from the Frp came to Rosengård for a visit. I bring here a transcript of a Swedish Radio show about it (MP3, starting at 05:40), as well as a Norwegian press report. I will try to link the radio show, but it might take me a few tries.
The report in question was sharply criticized, but I think that it's an issue of degree. Those who say that Rosengård is not run by Sharia law and that not all women are oppressed are right. And yet, both the Swedish and Norwegian report don't deny that fundamentalist are active in the district, that some women are oppressed and that regardless of everything else, crime and unemployment are high.
Speaking to Swedish Radio news in Rosengård, the second man of the Progress Party, Per Sandberg, avoided mentioning anything about Sharia laws, and insisted that his party never said that the whole suburb was problematic.
He adds that the visits to the suburb's school, to the local police station, and the fire-fighting unit and the mosque were constructive, and that the Norwegians were now evaluating the visit. But he insists that Norway should not follow Sweden's example by waiting for generations to integrate its immigrant community.
The Social-Democratic leader of Rosengård's community council, Andreas Konstandinidis, sharply condemns the Norwegian comments about ruling Sharia laws, and suggestions that women there are oppressed.
Insisting the problems are not religious, but social, with unemployment and overcrowding. He admits too that he has himself talked openly about problems in the suburb with its heavy Muslim population, but states that only a few of the residents are fundamentalists.
Young Rosengårders reject the suggestion that they're dominated by any Sharia system, claiming they don't even know what this is.
One suggests that Swedish Radio news reporters try to find some Sharia laws in Rosengård, since he doesn't know where they are, and that he's not religious at all.
Another adds that there are some individuals and families following Sharia laws, but far from everyone.
Working with women's groups in Rosengård, Jila Moradi admits that some men have reacted strongly against women's meetings and services, sometimes even trying to hinder their wives and female relatives from coming to her women's center. But this is a question of some hardline individuals only.
Speaking with Radio Sweden in Rosengård, Per-Willy Amundsen explains why his Norwegian Progress Party mentioned the suburb at all.
Per-Willy Amundsen: Well, Rosengård, the community that has most immigrants, very large population of immigrants, and you have a very low employment rates and social problems. And of course, we see Swedish politics are a few years ahead of Norwegian, and often we can see problems in Sweden before we have them in Norway.
So in a sense when we look at Sweden, we see where we will be a few years from now. And when you have a society with very low employment rates, with very segregated communities, where Swedish people and immigrants don't mix that much together, you have the recipt for very bad integration.
And we're not the only ones that have used Rosengård and Malmö as an example of bad integration. But there is definitely a big challenge here, and we can learn from it. And that is why we had to learn from the Swedish experience.
I spoke a bit with the local politicians here. And I think that Sweden has gone wrong, much in the same way that Norway has. When we have been very keen on talking about rights, social benefits in the society, but not about big on demanding that you as a person, as an immigrnt, in Sewden or in or in Norway, you have to work yourself to be integrated in the community.
Q: Was this just an opposition party public relations trick, trying to slap at rival Nordic brother Sweden and Norway's Labor party run coalition government?
Per-Willy Amundsen: No, no actually, we planned the visit Malmö a few weeks before this media circus started running, when our leader had this speech in a meeting in Norway. But we have actually planned it a few weeks before.
Q: What does Per-Willy Amundsen feel about his visit to the Malmö subrub?
Per-Willy Amundsen: We have read a lot about Rosengård from the media of course, but it's always interesting to visit and see for yourself, and talk to the local community, talk to people. But we we have been confirming a lot of the same challenges that we thought was a problem. So it's a bit more diffrentiated, if I can say it.
"To that part of town I don't drive at night," says taxi driver in a Scanian dialect about the mosque where several of his colleagues go for Friday prayers.
Together with Db.no he's on his way to the Islamic Center, Malmö's big mosque, which can pull in a few thousand people on the week's last business day. After sunset, the neighborhood can be tough, but this morning it's spring in the air and the sun is shining.
"A colleague was robbed and cut with a knife during a trip in the neighborhood. He's a Muslim, but I don't think the boys who did it cared where he was from," says the man behind the wheel.
During the day, the mosque on the outskirts of the Rosengård district is both a school and playground for children. When we arrive, impatient parents are bringing or taking their children at the gate. The school bus waits for a fifth grade class who are going home.
Today Frp's delegations will come to discuss integration with the mosque's director, Bejzat Becirov. He closely followed the Norwegian debate about Rosengård and is looking forward to the visit.
In the mosque's yard, boys and girls run in a circle. Behind them is the office where the delegation from Norway will be received.
Becirov told Dagbladet.no that it will be exciting with a little debate. "When I heard the initiative that Sharia law substituted Swedish law, I was surprised. It sounds like thoughts from a different era than that which Europe is now in."
Now he's anxious about what Frp's delegation will tell of their own policies.
"Is it in society's interest and has an international approach to integration, or is it policies for isolation where one sits in a corner and shrinks intellectually? I want to hear more about that," gestures Becirov, who was born in Macedonia of an Albanian family.
In Malmö Becirov is considered a moderate Muslim, some critics think too moderate.
When the mosque was presumably set on fire and then burned down to the ground in 2003, he urged the community to take care of each other instead of letting their anger go against others.
When the debate and riots after the Muhammad caricatures raged several years later, he called for patience.
"It is one of Islam's most important virtues. And when we know how sad it was that our mosque burns down, why should we then burn flags or pictures," he asks rhetorically.
One of the challenges for many families who come to Scandinavia is to learn the language. In an interview with Sydsvenskan in 2006 he sharply criticized those who isolate themselves from Swedish society. Becirov thinks the problem is persistent.
"One can't live here in Sweden, but follow the reality of another country via satellite dish," he says and points towards Rosengård's covered balconies and building facades.
With 75 channels in their living room, most get a good overview of local politics and the latest news from their homeland, but he sees that many lack knowledge of their new homeland. He fears that some parents' single direction hurts their children.
"They don't see the land they grow up in. People must engage in local politics, build a business, and create employment places for themselves and others," thinks Becirov.
The mosque leader doesn't fear that Sharia law will come down on the heads of the local community, but that some can be blinded by ideologies.
"The social problems are many. People live with cockroaches, high rents, and unemployment. Many youth certainly go wrong."
"There are sadly some who want to exploit it to preach radical and political Islam to young people. Some individuals can feel included and appreciate that someone is pleasant and caring."
In Norway the Police security service investigated young men who contacted Islamist movements and groups.
District head Andreas Konstandinidis also noticed that there are spokespeople for radical political Islam in the community.
"There is a handful of idiots. Some get radical while all others turn their backs to it," says the local politician.
He thinks the spotlight should be focused on other challenges.
"The most important question is: does society want to help people to learn a new profession? And do we have resources for it," he says.
The Islamic Center is located in a large and flat area. The spires of the two minarets are quite visible from the highways and Rosengård.
Becirov is careful to emphasize the center's connection to the city.
"Eight of ten employees are non-Muslims. They are in every way an important contribution. In addition all Friday prayers are conducted mostly in Swedish.
"Those who come here are Swedish Muslims, even if they are born in another place. Alternatively, we would need Iraqi, Persian, Kurdish, Pakistani and Saudi gatherings. Or they must all go to different mosques."
Judging by Ögårdsskolan, the private school located in the mosque premises, the idea has borne fruit. The children seem to have parents from most corners of the world. Malmö has Muslims from about 100 countries.
In recent years the debate about freedom of speech resonated in Europe after several Islam-critical publications.
- Many Muslims demanded legislation which protects religious feelings and in other ways stops caricatures of the Muhammad cartoons type?
"There needs to be more information about what is the most inner core of a religion and which shouldn't be made fun of. But freedom of speech must exist, it's a natural part of a democracy," says Becirov.
On the way out the door, is a stack of course catalogs from the college in Malmö.
"As a youth of Muslim background you don't need to become a Zlatan [football player] to be Swedish. Engineer, doctor or dentist is also good," says the mosque director optimistically on behalf of his students.
Sources: SR (English), Dagbladet (Norewgian)
* Rosengård: Integration in the eye of the storm
* Rosengård: Mosque organizes evening walks to stop arson
* Norway: FRP against 'sneak Islamization'
* Malmö: Advice for Oslo
* Malmö: Rosengård 'growing more radical'
* Malmö: Rosengård report under attack