chapter  4
14 Pages

Attitudes toward Muslims in Norway

ByZAN STRABAC, MARKO VALENTA

Until a few decades ago, Norway used to be an ethnically homogenous country with fairly low levels of immigration (see, for example, Nielsson 1985). This is clearly not the case any longer. With the proportion of foreign-born resembling the level in the USA, and a diverse and fast-growing immigrant population, the country is rapidly being transformed into a genuine multi-ethnic society. The reasons for this relatively swift increase in immigration are complex and are shared by many other industrialized countries, particularly those in Western Europe. On one hand, the dual processes of European integration and the enlargement of the European Union have resulted in increased numbers of European immigrants. On the other, fairly large numbers of immigrants from developing countries are entering Norway as asylum seekers or through various family reunion schemes. While there has been some debate about immigration from European coun-

tries, particularly since the recent eastward enlargement of the European Union,1 there is little doubt that it is immigration from non-industrialized countries outside Europe that has sparked most controversy. This immigration has been a prominent – although not dominant – topic in political debates, and a number of political parties and organizations have opposition to immigration as a major issue on their political agendas. Some of these are fringe, far-right parties and organizations, but what is currently the second-largest party in the country, the Progress Party, has strongly focused on immigration issues for several decades. This party has been demanding more restrictive immigration policies, and has increasingly focused on cultural issues and ethnic conflicts (Hagelund 2003). In addition to political debates, there have also been debates about xenophobic attitudes and discrimination, and problems with the somewhat vaguely formulated ‘integration’ of immigrants into Norwegian society. A significant proportion of immigrants in Norway come from countries with a

majority Muslim population. In this way Norway has acquired a still rather small, but non-negligible and rapidly growing population that is of Muslim origin. As a part of the immigrant population, Muslim immigrants have been facing the same difficulties and prejudices as the rest of immigrants. However, in Norway, as in many other countries, there has been much negative focus on Muslims and Islam. It is therefore of interest to explore whether Muslim immigrants are particularly exposed to hostility and prejudice. In this chapter, we shall focus on negative attitudes toward Muslims that are sometimes referred to as Islamophobia. Since

practically all Muslims in Norway are either immigrants or are of immigrant origin, our analyses of anti-Muslim attitudes are closely related to a broader and more established field of analyses of anti-immigrant attitudes. We organize our presentation as following: first, we present and discuss relevant

theories and empirical results that deal with negative attitudes toward immigrants and ethnic minorities in general. Thereafter, we present some relevant research results concerning Muslim immigrants in particular, followed by presentation of relevant aspects of the public debate about Muslims in Norway. We focus primarily on domestic Norwegian themes and actors, although we also present factors that can be used in an international comparison of anti-Muslim debates. Since literature concerning negative attitudes toward Muslim immigrants is still relatively scarce and not particularly well organized, we attempt to identify central themes and actors in the debate and to develop typologies that might help in conducting more systematic analyses of anti-Muslim attitudes. After these theoretical presentations, we present empirical survey data from 2009 and some simple empirical analyses of how widespread anti-Muslim attitudes in Norway are, as compared with negative attitudes toward immigrants in general.