Hege Storhaug, HRS
Jyllands-Posten’s reporters were clearly surprised when they met foreigners in Pakistan – that is to say, Pakistanis who have earned their money in countries like Norway and who are wallowing in luury in Pakistan (article dated 18 October, not available online).
It is like driving into a strange dream. There are elegant areas that are soaked by the automated watering devices that keep the strips of grass between the lanes of the avenues green. The rows of summery apartments bring to mind a photograph of California. One instinctively looks for the beach and the ocean. But the beach life is far away from Bahria Town, which has popped up since the 1990s a short distance outside of the capital in northern Pakistan.
It is owned by one man, one of Pakistan’s richest, Malik Riaz, who has specialized in attracting foreign Pakistanis who are returning to their homeland but who prefer to live in surroundings that remind them of the West. No garbage in the streets, no ramshackle house façades; instead, a golf course, a wellness center, and green parks for recreation.
The main person who figures in Jyllands-Posten’s report has roots and family in Norway. Ferdous, the fiftyish mother of five children by a Norwegian Pakistani man whom she married at 18, says she feels half Norwegian, but feels more closely connected to Pakistan. This is owing to Norwegians’ “hostility.”
The Norwegian-Pakistani Ferdous is one of the many Pakistanis from abroad who, along with their families, have invested in houses in Bahria Town. For the family, it is more important than ever to forge ties to Pakistan.This, even though Ferdous arrived at Fornebu [then Oslo’s main airport] in Norway over 32 years ago, has had five children, and feels half-Norwegian.
“My entire family is spread out in Norway, England, and Spain. My brother lives in Denmark. But still I feel more closely tied to Pakistan – there’s nobody here who says “go home.” Norwegians have changed.
“We’re no longer viewed as Norwegians, because we come from Pakistan. People don’t like us,” says Ferdous.
Ferdous has taken her daughter Kanwal, 15, with her to the luxurious neighborhood of Bahira Town in Rawalpindi, where the family has established a residence. Kanwal misses Norway.
Ferdous’s daughter Kanwal is in 7th grade. She likes her new friends, but misses Norway.
“I want to go home. It’s hard to be here. Everything is so different. My parents feel I should find my way back to my roots, and I want that too, but I’ve been here a year, so now it’s enough,” Kanwal.
Today she is lying sick in bed at her mother’s home, where there is roast chicken and Pepsi. Ferdous’s health is better in the warm weather. Her migraines have disappeared. Norway is too cold, both climatically and culturally.
Therefore she has taken Kanwal with her Pakistan for a couple of years.
“As a mother I think about what’s best for my daughter. A few years in Pakistan will do her good. When she returns to Norway, she will have learned how to be a good person, how to be a woman. In Pakistan she’s learning what respect is. Many children in Norway don’t listen to their parents. But by being here Kanwal is becoming a well brought up girl,” says Ferdous.
Kanwal is being taught the Koran by a local mullah. She will not marry a Norwegian, but nor is it preferable for her to marry a Pakistani who has never been in Norway, says the mother.
Back home in Norway, the family tried to teach their children about the Koran. But the Koran teacher kept cancelling. It was a mess.
“For a year, Kanwal has been going through the Koran with a tutor. It’s the local mullah from this area. I don’t care about her going to Koran school. I don’t know who goes there, and what they’ll inculcate my daughter in, so I’m comfortable with having the mullah come here to the house,” says Ferdous.She herself came to Norway when she was married to a Norwegian-Pakistani man at age 18. It took Ferdous several years to get accustomed to the new culture, which she did not understand at all. Men and women working together. Women who screamed loudly in the streets.
Thus she has made sure not to give her marriage-ready children the same unfortunate beginning to their marriages.
“My children shouldn’t be married to Norwegians, or for that matter with Pakistanis who have never been in Norway. Fortunately we have so many relatives in Norway that we have found spouses among them. They think the same way as our children. A Pakistani from Pakistan won’t understand the culture. I’ve experienced that on my own body,” says Ferdous.
Pakistanis from Scandinavia are known to be well-off in their homeland. Their properties in Pakistan er ”ostentatious,” as is well known to readers of rights.no, especially readers of our 2004 report Ute av syne, ute av sinn. Norske barn i utlandet (Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Norwegian Children Abroad).
She is originally from the city of Gujrat in the Pakistani province of Punjab. Over 60 percent of the families in this area, which also includes the city of Kharian, have connections to Norway, Denmark, and England. Therefore the region is called «Little Scandinavia,” and it is clear to see that the economy is expanding because the families work abroad. Ostentatious houses rise up alongside smaller hovels, and in recent years better new schools for the children have been established. It is lucrative to live in rich countries, where the wages are higher, and more than 130,000 Palistanis emigrate every year. It is for this reason that they can also afford to invest in houses in, for example, Bahria Town.
Malik Riaz is building at present yet another neighborhood that he calls an ”overseas enclave.” He advertises it as “Western surroundings on Eastern ground,” offering families a chance to “Return to [their] roots” in a protected neighborhood with 24-hour guards, where you can live in classical style and “luxury.” It’s a good idea, Ferdous believes. In the beginning, the family wanted to invest in a home in Kharian in Little Scandinavia, but the children protested. “They want to live more like they did at home. They feel that Norway is their homeland, so they didn’t want to be out in the countryside. This is better. There’s a Pizza Hut, a McDonald’s, and a movie theater,” says Ferdous.
Ferdous doesn’t manage to combine Scandinavian openness with Pakistani traditions. The result is a psychologically split existence, especially when it comes to women’s freedom and sexual equality.
As the Pakistani mother of five children living in Norway, she feels as if she is in a constant interval between two cultures. She feels that it is almost impossible to combine Scandinavian broadmindedness with Pakistani traditions. She is always trying to find a middle way. “Men stare at women from head to toe. So I tell my girls that they can wear tight clothing at home, but not outside, where men will devour them with their eyes. The children are in a constant dilemma, because we as parents maintain some of the important traditions we were brought up on, and that we want to pass on, because we are, after all, Pakistanis.
Even third-generation immigrants struggle to combine the two cultures.
“Friends, drinking habits, bars, contact between the sexes. It’s not easy and never will be, no matter how many generations the family has lived abroad,” says Ferdous.
In Bahria Town she feels that the whole thing is easier. When you leave the town, a big sign advertises: «Bahria Town – your life style destination».
A fact sheet describes Bahria Town as having its “own golf course, zoo, race course, movie theater, and riding club. Houses, apartments, and lots fall into many price classes: a residence costs from about 40,000 [Danish] kroner [about USD 8000) all the way up to 15 million kroner
[about USD 3 million]. On average, a lot goes for 500,000 kroner [USD 100,000].”
So while Norwegians invest in country cottages within driving distance of their own residences, Norwegian Pakistanis invest in luxury residences in Pakistan, which is not reflected in Statistics Norway’s study of living standards, which is something that HRS has called for for several years.
The latest issue of Samfunnsspeilet.no, Statistics Norway’s own publication, reports that one of three Norwegian Pakistanis aged 16 – 25 has gone to school in Pakistan at least once for at least a year.
Even if all of the young people who take part in the study were either born in Norway or immigrated to Norway before they turned six – that is, before starting school – not all of their primary school education has necessarily taken place in Norway. One out of four says that they have gone to school outside of Norway for one or more periods.
This experience is most widespread among young people with Pakistani backgrounds, among whom one in three has gone to school abroad at least once, and most of them have stayed in Pakistan for at least a year. Such an interruption of schooling in Norway will be likely to have negative consequences for the development of these young people’s language skill and for their participation in mainstream society.
It remains to be seen what the new Minister of Education, who according to rumors will be Kristin Halvorsen of the Socialist Left Party, plans to do about this anti-integration situation to which many children are subjected. The Minister of Education should have a joint project with the Minister of Children and Equality, who may also turn out to be a member of the Socialist Left, if there is anything to the rumors in the media that a current candidate is Audun Lysbakken. The media rumors also say that integration policy will be transferred to the Ministry of Children and Equality. For after all, aren’t sexual equality, children’s human rights, and the future of the welfare state in the form of the greatest possible number of able-bodied workers core issues for both the government and the Socialist Left Party?
Translated from the Norwegian and Danish by Bruce Bawer