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...
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