For the first time since 9/11, about 4,800,000 Norwegians were threatened by a possible Al Qaeda terror plot . In a country generally associated with the Nobel Prize ceremony, the 160,000 Muslim population – which includes 30,000 Pakistanis – are now questioning their identity.

The three alleged Al Qaeda militants arrested in Norway are part of a larger plot linked to the bomb plot last summer where attacks on the New York Subway were planned and, a similar plot in Manchester, UK where plans were underway to bomb a shopping mall. E-mails from the plotters originating in US, UK and Norway were traced back to a Yahoo e-mail account in Pakistan. The three arrested in Norway are suspected to be members of the Turkistan Islamic party, which US officials say had its base in Pakistan.

Laila Bokhari, political secretary of the Norwegian Embassy in Islamabad, said on the DawnNews programme ‘Reporter,’ that the Norwegian government was surprised at the arrest of three people who were allegedly involved in terrorist activities. Bokhari stated that the Al Qaeda threat in Norway could be due to the presence of Norwegian troops in Afghanistan and people migrating to Norway from different conflict areas.

The presence of Al Qaeda in Norway and questions of identity among its Muslim population has many reasons, one of which could perhaps be due to 9/11. Al Qaeda has been issuing statements threatening terror strikes against Norway for sending troops to Afghanistan.

In response to a question by Arshad Sharif – the Islamabad bureau chief– whether 9/11 had exacerbated the issues of identity among the diasporic community in the country, the Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said: “Yes, and that’s a very regretful sign. Let me be very clear, anyone who commits terrorism, threatens civilians and uses violence, should be chased, hunted down, prosecuted, put in front of the court. It’s the prime responsibility of any government to deal with that and we understand that the government of Pakistan has challenges far beyond what we have in Norway but we have them too, we have to be vigilant, and there must be no doubt about it. But after 9/11, I think there has also been a tendency of simplicity, of intellectual simplicity, which has bred the tendency of talking about we and they, black or white, either you are with us or against us. The world doesn’t work like that and I think that hopefully, as we move into the second decade after 9/11, we’ll be able to have a more nuanced, though not easier, but a more informed discussion about this issue.”

Deputy speaker of the Norwegian Parliament, Akhtar Chauhdry, is a Pakistani immigrant who has made a name for himself in Norway. He is of the view that the Muslims in Norway, particularly more and more Pakistanis, are leaning towards religion which could be why their views have changed.

Even though there has been some talk of making an Islamic Emirate of Norway among some of the more radical fringe of Muslims in the country, the representatives from the Muslim community want more rights for Muslims in Norway.

One such individual is a second-generation Pakistani medical student, Bushra Ishaque who told DawnNews that efforts were being made to fight for the rights of Muslims. Ishaque said, “We want to be identified as Muslim, without explaining our identity, without the label of ‘terrorist.’”

In response to a question as to who has imposed the identity of terrorist on Muslims, Ishaque said, “This is due to circumstances such as the war on terrorism, 9/11, the ongoing war in Afghanistan, Palestine conflict, Iraq, how ethnic Norwegian see Muslims. They don’t care about your skin color. But if you’re a Muslim, that’s your identity. [To be honest] that scares people. A survey taken of the Norwegian attitude towards Islam showed that Norwegians are more afraid of a Muslim majority in Norway than they are about the current climate crisis.”

However, not everyone thinks like that. Maimoona Khan is a journalist and author who told DawnNews that immigrant Muslim communities were relying on more organisations which have religion as their common ground.”

Khan stated that although she was a religious person, religion is a personal affair. “I don’t have to defend my religion because I feel that is something between me and my God. I feel that identity is linked with a lot of things [and not just religion]. I have an ethnic background of which I’m very proud, I’m also proud of being Muslim [and at the same time], I’m living in Norway and this is the society I’m part of,” said Khan.

Khan also said all Norwegians are not Islamophobic. “I feel that it’s very important that we understand the fear on both sides, it’s not just us who are afraid of being stigmatised. It’s also the Norwegians who are afraid of losing their values. It might be irrational, but there is a fear. I mean we have to try to put ourselves in their shoes and try to understand why they are afraid.”

A member of the Norwegian parliament and a Pakistani, Hadia Tajik, stated that unfortunately there were some elements in society who wanted more space for themselves.

“They call themselves as Muslims but they have a very fundamentalist view of Islam and of our traditions. I think that generally, Norwegian Pakistanis do not share this view,” Tajik told DawnNews.

But the question remains: Is there a divide between the immigrants and the local Norweigians? “In a way a clash is taking place in the sense that there have been many debates in the last few years on fundamentalist Islamic values and traditional Norwegian values. There was a rally in Norway earlier this year on these issues where there were Muslims who felt that their religion was not being respected while the Norwegians felt as if the Muslims were threatening them. A Muslim boy stood outside the parliament building and said that maybe a 9/11 will happen in Norway. Neither a Norwegian nor a Norwegian Pakistani (like me) wants to hear something like this,” said Tajik. Norway's case is not different.

Like other European countries, the war on terror is also taking a toll on the once-peaceful land of the midnight sun. Efforts have to be made for the assimilation of people from all backgrounds, irrespective of their beliefs.

Arshad Sharif is the Islamabad Bureau Chief of DawnNews. He tweets at http://twitter.com/dawntvreporter and can be found on Facebook.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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