Last Friday’s terrorist attacks by Anders Behring Breivik against Norway’s central government district and a political youth camp of the Labor Party targeted not only the Norwegian political system but the very idea behind Norway’s multicultural society and, in particular, the place of Muslims within it.
Muslim immigrants, mainly from Morocco, Pakistan, and Turkey, first began arriving in Norway in the late 1960s and early 1970s in search of employment. Norway did not actively recruit Muslims, as Germany and other European countries did, but the arrival of these so-called guest workers coincided with a growing need for labor. Although the Norwegian government halted work-related immigration in 1975, immigrants continued to arrive throughout the next decade by seeking family reunification and political asylum from oppressive Muslim-majority countries. During the 1990s, Norway welcomed a large influx of Muslim refugees from various conflicts, including the Gulf War and the struggle in the Balkans that followed.
The Muslims in Norway are highly diverse, hailing from a wide range of geographical and religious backgrounds. Norwegian Muslims seem to have integrated more effectively and in less time than Muslims in other Western European countries. They have close relations with other minority groups and are engaged in the society at large. They are active in the country’s political parties and cover the entire political spectrum, but tilt toward the ruling Labor Party because its socio-economic positions benefit them more than other parties’ policies do. As in most other Western European countries, Muslims in Norway are typically middle-class or lower, but an increasing number of them are entering higher education. There are now more than 100,000 Muslims in Norway and over 100 mosques, making the Norwegian Muslim community small but vibrant by European standards.
The growth of Norway’s Muslim community has created tensions with the country’s
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