‘Happy’ Norway: Where Right-Wing Rises & Youth No Longer Pray

AboutIslam Correspondent Lauren Booth visits Oslo’s ICC and finds a Norway experiencing a paradigm shift.

On March 20, The World Happiness Report 2018 ranked Norway as the second most contented nation on earth in which to live. This conclusion was reached after citizens from more 156 countries ranked their happiness levels and 117 countries were ranked by the happiness of their immigrants. The report, named Norway as the world’s happiest country after neighboring Finland.

Today Norway outranks Switzerland, Iceland, and Denmark as the country with most citizens apparently content with the status quo.

The report focused five of its seven chapters primarily on migration. Here the ratings began to differ. The ten happiest countries in the overall rankings also held ten of the top eleven spots for immigrant happiness.

The land famous for its fjords and ‘Midnight Sun’ has a stable economy, high-level health and social care to be envied.

So far, so Scandinavian.

But beneath the easeful, pine veneer of Oslo’s airport and shopping malls, there is for some, a narrative not immediately apparent in either the Happiness Report or the more general ‘good vibe’ media coverage Norway receives.

Rising Hate

At the Islamic Cultural Centre, Oslo, I meet Jorunn Jasmin Oksvold, a teacher of Norwegian heritage attending the two-day sisters event ‘Queens of Islam.’

After accepting Islam as a teenager in 1990, Jasmin found her family relations became difficult. Two decades later things have improved, she says. However, she finds the opposite to be the case in the political realm. She has seen a drop in social cohesion and tolerance which has impacted her career.

“Twice I was squeezed out of schools despite doing a really good job. Because of the scarf, they thought I had an agenda. The staff was really attacking me a lot at one high school. Students are not allowed to pray at the schools, even the workers can’t pray. People generally have a lot of anxiety that I am a traitor somehow because although Norwegian I somehow left what they stand for. The minister, who has just left, was clearly racist. She has been replaced by someone worse!”

Jasmin is talking about the resignation of Sylvi Listhaug, who until last month was Norway’s Minister of Immigration and Integration.

Listhaug, of the anti-immigration Progress party, faced a no-confidence vote after making a social media post in which she accused the opposition Labour party of putting terrorists’ rights above those of national security. Listhaug had previously been the country’s agriculture minister when she spoke out against public institutions that no longer serve pork to avoid offending Muslims. She also posted:

“I think those who come to Norway need to adapt to our society. Here we eat pork, drink alcohol and show our face. You must abide by the values, laws and regulations that are in Norway when you come here,” which went viral gaining 19,000 likes.

‘Happy’ Norway: Where Right-Wing Rises & Youth No Longer Pray - About Islam

Us Vs Them

Batoul A. volunteers as Assistant Project Coordinator at the ICC. Also a Norwegian convert to Islam, she has a daughter at university and a son in high school. Her children, she says experienced bias from the faculty at Majorstua elementary school.

“As a young girl, my daughter felt targeted, not by students but by the hostile attitude of teachers. They reacted to the fact she listened to the Qur’an at break time. And when she refused to dance with boys in gymnastics they called home and told me; ‘Teach your child Islam as it says nothing bad about dancing with men!”

Batool found staff created a ‘them’ and ‘us’ duality in them which left unchecked could have made her children an easy target for radical propaganda. After a spate of similar incidents, Batool’s daughter won a place at one of the best High school’s in Oslo, Stolgenberg.

“It was great to tell her old teachers this as they had this idea that after junior high she would just stay home cleaning!” she laughs.

‘Happy’ Norway: Where Right-Wing Rises & Youth No Longer Pray - About Islam

No Prayers

In decades past, 86 percent of Norwegians identified as Lutheran Christians. In a new study, ‘Europe’s Young Adults and Religion’ the social survey included a question about the frequency young people attend religious services or pray.

Around 70 percent of Norwegian young people in the survey reported they never pray. According to Stephen Bullivant, professor of theology and the sociology of religion at St Mary’s University in London who oversaw the report “The new default setting is ‘no religion’ amongst young people in Europe.

Amina Riaz, is Director of youth activities at the ICC. Her family moved to Norway from Pakistan when she was a child.

Her feeling about the direction of Norway and current attitudes to Muslims is largely positive.

“I think that it’s one of the best counties to live in the world. We don’t have any major crises like other places. Norwegian people are very nice. I think most of the people here are not against Muslims. Norwegians see themselves as peaceful and stand for those values. People feel good here,” she said.

Jasmin, now in the process of changing her career as a result of the prejudice she feels she suffered in the education system, disagrees.

“The schisms are much clearer than before. I am not a pessimist but in Norway, for Muslims, it is going to get much tougher,” she said.

And what about the future for Norway’s ‘Happy’ ranking?

“We have some great things here, honesty, believing that you must be decent to others, good manners and hard work ethic and volunteering, these will always be a big part of being Norwegian,” Jasmin added.

About Lauren Booth
Lauren Booth is a TV and radio presenter dedicated to creating narrative spaces for Muslims in the arts and online.
She presents talks and lectures on the media, faith and politics at institutions around the world.
Buy tickets HERE to watch Lauren perform her solo play ‘Accidentally Muslim’ at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe every day August 2019