The neighborhood of Grønland in Oslo, Norway, is not terribly large. It’s on the east side of town, adjacent to central Oslo, and has traditionally been a place of working-class flats and unpretentious pubs. Ever since Norway began to be the destination of immigrants from the Muslim world, however, Grønland has been home to an increasing number of Muslim families and businesses. In recent years, furthermore, it has become an attractive residential area for young Norwegian singles and families, for many of whom part of the lure of living in this part of town was that they wanted to be part of a “multicultural” community. As a result of the influx of these these young people – including no small number of gays – a number of hip restaurants and cafes have sprung up in the area.
Of late, however, as the city’s Muslim population has boomed, Grønland has been undergoing a transition from a mixed neighborhood to an essentially Muslim one.
In an Aftenposten article in January 2010, Olga Stokke and Hilde Lundegaard cited one Grønland resident’s observation – which is consistent with my own and that of many of my friends and colleagues – that since 9/11 the neighborhood has taken a sharply negative turn. More women are wearing hijab, if not burkas; and there has been a rise in what the Aftenposten article’s headline called “[m]oral control in Oslo’s immigrant streets.” For example, a young social worker who was chowing down on a somosa one day on his way home from work through a Grønland street was confronted by two aggressive young men who demanded of him in a bullying tone: “Don’t you know it’s Ramadan? You should know better!”
Once upon a time, gays in Oslo thought of “multicultural” Grønland as gay-friendly. No more. In the fall of 2009, a gay couple walking in Grønland were kicked and yelled at by a man who told them that they were in a Muslim neighborhood where their kind was unwelcome.
This was not an isolated incident: as Stokke and Lundegaard wrote, “many others…experience an at least equally strong sense of control” in Grønland by self-appointed moral police. Muslim girls who would prefer not to wear hijab, for example, do so in Grønland simply to avoid being rebuked. The Aftenposten article quoted Fatima Tetouani, who when she moved in 2000 from Morocco to Oslo to live with her Norwegian husband, “expected a Western, open society.” “But Grønland is more Muslim than Morocco,” she told Aftenposten. “I had never seen a burka before I came here. And I had never experienced nasty looks if I ate or drank a cup of coffee during Ramadan.”
Tetouani’s son had been scheduled to attend a school where over 95 percent of the students were non-Norwegian speakers. She said no. “All the girls were covered. I felt like I was in a mosque. My son will not be bullied because he has a father who eats pork and is not circumcised.” Tetouani had worked at a local day-care center, where she heard an Algerian mother chastize her son for playing with Norwegian children: “You know they eat pork and are going to hell!” Tetouani’s verdict was blunt: “they are trying to take over this neighborhood.”
While Tetousani from Morocco was clear-eyed about what was going on in Grønland, Michael Hartmann from Bergen, after five years in the neighborhood, was still in something of a fog. The self-described anti-racist, who “moved to Grønland precisely in order to experience the cultural diversity,” was now being regularly tormented by his neighbors for being gay. This left him disillusioned; he feared being beat up. “I was very naïve when I came here,” he admitted. But somehow, it appeared, he still didn’t get it: “We can’t give up the diversity. As minorities we really should be standing together and helping one another.”
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