Norway: What does it mean to be Norwegian?

"Nobody can demand that I put away my religious belief!"

The statement comes from a leader of the Pakistani Women's organization and AP-politician Aisha Ahmed (17). She is quite tired of Norwegian culture and Norwegians who demand integration at any prize. Therefore she had written down her frustration in a reader's letter to Drammens Tidende. She doesn't want to be integrated, if her personal belief is considered a hindrance to becoming "Norwegian".

"I will not be punished because several Norwegians are yet critical and afraid of everything regarding religion and religious people," says Aisha Ahmed. "Because they themselves oppose religious issues, doesn't mean they can demand that I also quit my Muslim identity."

According to Ahmed, Islam is drawn in and portrayed as an effective block in every integration debate. Imams are portrayed as power-hungry and dangerous.

She thinks that it is quickly becoming an "us" vs. "them" debate, that is, Norwegians against Muslim multi-culturalists.

"Norwegians and we multi-culturalists obviously have different values", she says and wishes that religious outlook shall be a non-theme in integration debates. It makes the debates even more heated.

Aisha Ahmed thinks she is well integrated and that still keeping with her religious conviction. She describes herself today as a Muslim Norwegian-Pakistani. And for her it means she is a little Norwegian and a little Pakistani, dependent on which situation she finds herself in.

It was when she finished elementary school that Aisha Ahmed noticed the gap between her goals and values and those of her ethnic Norwegian friends. Then she took a stand; she didn't want to be part of the Norwegian youth culture that often included partying, drinking and boys. The socially active young woman preferred to commit herself to "sensible" past times, such as education and political engagement.

Today she is candidate for city council for the labor party in Drammen, as number 9 on the list for next fall.

"I am not less Norwegian even if I don't take part in camping, partying or drinking," smiles Aisha Ahmed. "Speaking good Norwegian, respecting Norwegian law and order, and a job are enough for immigrants to integrate."

The engaging and proud young female student and politician has strong opinions, which she doesn't want to put a lid on. "If integration demands disclaiming religious belief and convictions, I choose not to be integrated," emphasizes Aisha Ahmed.

Muhyadin Osman (17), Samim Ansari (17) and Kim Temte Hansen (16) don't fully understand Ahmed's problem.

"It is certainly up to her herself if she wants to drink during parties or not. People don't become Norwegian by drinking," says Muhyadin.

The three youths think that Norwegian youth culture isn't different from other youth cultures, and that it is up to every person how much they want to take part in parties and drinking.

"It depends more on what kind of person you are. Not everybody likes to party and that's quite nice," thinks Samim.

Muhaydin and Samim don't feel harassed to renounce their own culture or belief.

"No, not really. We must know Norwegian culture, and we are affected by it all the time," says Muhyadin, who explains that he chooses the identity dependent on who he's with.

"When people come to Norway, they must to a certain degree by law keep their own values and their belief. They can certainly not choose either/or," thinks Kim.

The three boys thinks the language is the most important to be accepted as integrated.

"But people shouldn't oppose whatever's Norwegian either." Samim points out that people should be social. He has a relaxed attitude towards the integration issue and thinks that it is being held alive by individuals.

Muyadin don't fully agree. "Norwegians never want to accept me as Norwegian because of my skin-color. And the Islamophobia that takes place on the net and the media makes me sad."

"I believe that in any case this will end when Norwegians will understand that it isn't true." says Samim.

Sources: Drammens Tidende 1, 2 (Norwegian)

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