Rooshanie Ejaz, Oslo/Lahore
I feel that a short introduction of my background is necessary in order to present a stage for my opinions in the field of Norway’s current integration-immigration policy debate. For as long as I can remember, I have appreciated the values, systems and social structure of the Scandinavian societies. I had the unique experience of growing up just as any Norwegian child would, for the very short period of time that I spent living in Norway, yet it has colored the way I think and function to a substantial degree. Not to shun my Pakistani identity aside in any way, as I am also made of my land and I find it a wonderful place full of beautiful minds, which have shaped my own intellect and empathic abilities. Pakistan is also where I live currently and have done so for the best part of my 24 years.
I have personally had the pleasure of leading a secure, happy and fulfilling life in Pakistan, not because I belong to the wealthy elite of the country, in fact I consider my family a typical working middle class family. I have been educated in co-education schools my entire life, been working part time and full time in many different fields and even starred in a movie. So my want to pack up bag and move elsewhere is not ‘escaping’ from anything, it is in fact to discover new places and people so that I may assimilate as much as possible the wisdom and experience this planet has to offer me, and in the process contribute my own stock of knowledge to the places I will live in.
That said, sometimes the hardships of my fellow country men and women, most of whom are good hard working people, really do send me reeling into painful realizations, and as a sensitive person one feels that these hardships seem infinite. Even so, through years of corruption and incapability to break out of the feudal system, Pakistan has somehow managed to continue to develop. One of the best things that ex-president Pervaiz Musharraf did for Pakistan, was to give media the freedom it has in Pakistan today. Without this milestone my country’s inevitable development would have been painstakingly slower. I say inevitable, because in the last year or so, anyone I have been discussing Pakistan with outside of Pakistan, seems to think that the country is hurtling towards total obliteration at the speed of light, yet I believe that enough good people exist in Pakistan for that to be an overestimation.
One way of keeping a positive outlook for me has been the constant knowledge of the existence of a country like Norway, where the security and well being of the country’s citizens is of prime concern to politicians, while the systems in place fortify these values, just knowing that human beings can achieve a fair society if they work hard enough for it, which is exactly what Norway has done, is a superb feeling. Therefore, this summer when I was visiting Norway for the first time in 9 years I was shocked to learn that Oslo currently boasts the crime rate higher than that of New York. For I have always thought that Oslo would forever remain a place where people could walk around freely without fearing the safety of their lives and possessions, women need not be escorted or worried about time and place for the fear of being raped. I will even say that this truth seems like a tragedy to me bigger than what is happening in Pakistan because that society is still developing; here I am looking at the degradation of a developed society.
My mind immediately jumped to questioning why, as unlearning social values and morals is almost impossible. There must be an overwhelming influence causing such incidences to occur. That’s when I became aware of the behemoth fact of Norway’s immigrant and integration problems. Norway seems to offer asylum to anyone who can cross the border and claim it, it also allows thousands of immigrants into the country through UN treaties signed to support refugees from war-torn countries. On top of that family reunification allows new spouses (and children) to immigrate and become citizens of Norway.
Yet over the past decade or so, a successful integration of most immigrants seems difficult. Not only do they form their own close knit communities, they also tend to continue living life in the same social structures that they came from. And as grim as the reality is, it seems that crime rate in Oslo is directly linked to young immigrant groups, mostly Muslim. To top it off, the figures of immigrants who live on the welfare system is also quite appalling. And at the danger of sounding prejudiced, it took me just a few visits to the Norwegian embassy in Islamabad to form an opinion as to why. Sadly the majority of people I saw obtaining a visa there, seemed to be from an unexposed and fundamentally leaning background. I am not trying to provoke or offend anyone when I say this, but the truth is that such people are bound not to integrate. They have no social radar for befriending Norwegians as they seem to be immigrating for purely financial reasons. And since there is such a thriving Pakistani community in place in Norway, they’ll never feel the need to make the social effort to understand and absorb Norwegian culture. And this is not the story with just the Pakistani’s, Somalia’s, Afghani’s and many others boast similar situations, yet the overwhelming majority seems to lie in the Muslim communities.
Now I would like to present the flip side of the coin. I am married to a half Danish, half Pakistani Muslim and I must say that after meeting his entire family and spending time with them in Denmark this summer, I have seen a wonderful example of successful integration. My husband and his siblings are as Danish as they are Pakistani. So this to me is the story of the successful integration of my father in law who moved to Denmark in the 70’s and proceeded to wed and have children with a Danish woman. As a family they have good Pakistani values and good Danish values instilled in them, a winning combination I must say. Therefore successful integration is not a myth, it is a truth.
Digging further into the matter one realizes that it is not that there is no successful integration of immigrants in Norway, rather there seems to be a market for media attractive stories where immigrants bent on imposing their religious ideals seem to be profiting along with Norwegians who also only seems to be in the debate for the matter of publicity. I say that because the immigrants who are living peaceful lives and respecting their Norwegian counterparts, even forming long lasting ties with, do not feel the need to impose themselves or battle desperately for the limelight. After reading translated texts by my husband from the national newspapers such as Dagbladet, I feel that anyone who has something scandalous to say can be published in a second, without regard to journalistic values, these funnily enough, are also the characteristics of a tabloid. A blatant proof of this is the fact that I have heard so much scandal being hurled at one Hege Storhaug and the organization she works for, scandals revolving around being racist. I myself am a testament to the fact that she is not a racist and Muslim hater as I consider her my second mother. She has been a friend to our family for over 15 years and is obviously not anywhere close to a racist. So, such media profitability is only going to complicate Norway’s integration problems.
Another opinion I have developed is that asylum granting on Norwegian soil should be terminated to people who cannot prove their identity. I have read the cases of far too many asylum seekers with previous criminal records to understand that this clause in Norwegian policies is only going to be problematic in most cases. My husband and I work in the advertising sector in Pakistan and even for us it is difficult to put the money together from one single job to pay for an air ticket to Norway, in fact I know that for most people amongst Pakistan’s poverty stricken, who are also the abused and mistreated, the cost of an air ticket amounts to an entire life’s savings. Yet somehow Norwegian authorities don’t consider the fact that if an asylum seeker had the money for an air ticket, they probably weren’t that bad off in the origin countries and hence don’t really require asylum. Because from what I understand about the principal of granting asylum, it has to do with being under life threatening circumstances etc. Also asylum seekers constantly take round about routes to their home countries once they’ve been provided citizenship. The principal of asylum provision is noble, yet its application needs to be tweaked in order for it to provide a true service.
When this debate is bought to young Muslims that are willing to take part in it, and obviously influenced by local clerics, they constantly pull the debate towards the criticism of hijab by the same people who criticize Norway’s immigration policy. To me this is just a tactic to pull it away from grim realities like forced marriages, domestic violence, marital rape, rape, gang violence and crime which riddle these communities. In debates young Muslims constantly point towards the fact that the hijab is their Muslim identity and that they deem all the aforementioned realities unislamic, yet in order to rid their communities of them, more and more funding must be provided by the sate. Well, I consider myself a Muslim, and from what I’ve learnt, human rights (huquq-ul-ibaad) surpass the obligations to Allah (huquq-Allah). So why, I wonder, don’t the Muslim communities require funding for promoting religious rites and the donning of hijab/purdah, yet they require funding in order to promote the protection of human rights among their communities. I also wonder how they can claim that Islamic communities are vice free when crime rate statistics are speaking for themselves. Muslim communities claim to be scions of control and saying no to temptations, so why do young Muslim boys seem to be linked positively to so many rape cases? And most of all I wonder why 50 % of Oslo’s welfare budget is dedicated to 20 % of its population, the predominantly Muslim immigrant population.
I’m afraid the answer is bitter yet staring me straight in the face. Crime and the inability of the majority of Norway’s immigrant population to successfully integrate are driven by the availability of a far too lax welfare system. They don’t need to integrate because the community is growing at such an alarming rate and the state refuses to put forward any questions when people apply for welfare benefits, immigration and asylum as the Norwegian society is predominantly based on trust. They seem to be doing and saying everything in order to achieve maximum profitability through the welfare sate for the most part. And to put it even more blatantly; it’s all about the money.
Norwegians are a trusting, loving and polite people, for the most part. They have spent decades earlier this century relieving themselves of the impositions of Christian orthodox values with underhanded financial targets and patriarchal community structures. This is why I fail to understand why they go on denying the damage which is being caused when such values are making a come back through immigrant populations. I am not criticizing immigrants, as well integrated immigrants will inevitably contribute to Norwegian society. I am pointing my finger at those immigrants who abuse the system for financial gain and at the Norwegians letting this happen to their system for fear of being labeled conservatives or racists if they don’t just ignore it for now. Norwegians should stop feeling hesitant and make laws which protect their systems and in turn help those immigrants rise who have given their life blood and sweat in order to have a better life than they had in the places from which they came. They pay their taxes just like most ethnic Norwegians do, and along with them they deserve a safer country. The debate should be over and policy making/amendment should begin.
Rooshani Ejaz kan treffes på Facebook.