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Immigration and National Identity in Norway
March 2013

Immigration and National Identity in Norway

In this report, University of Olso Professor of Social Anthropology Thomas Hylland Eriksen examines the social and policy reaction to the rapid growth of Norway’s ethnic minority population. The report assesses the connection between the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment, most of which are directed against Muslim immigrants, and broader trends in Norwegian nationalism. It highlights the possibly deepening rift in Norwegian society that divides those who welcome diversity from those who fear cultural pluralism and continued immigration, and proposes a number of policy recommendations aimed at minimizing this discord. 

Norwegian nationalism is influenced by its national narrative of a country founded on the premise of ethnic and cultural homogeneity on one hand, and by values associated with inclusion and equality on the other. The latter has been seen as paramount particularly throughout the nation’s postwar history and the thrust of Norwegian policies toward immigrants has generally trended in the direction of equality. The author finds, however, that translating policy to practice seems to pose a significant challenge. Especially in recent years, backlash against antidiscrimination policies appears to be rising alongside Norway’s success in maintaining high levels of welfare, security, and employment in the midst of global economic turmoil, which has made the country an attractive destination for migrants. The author links resentment to the suspicion that immigrants arrive as “welfare tourists” and the perceived cultural “otherness” of newcomers, with such fears most often manifesting in varying degrees of Islamophobia spread fairly evenly across the political spectrum, ranging from the xenophobic far right extremist to the skeptical Social Democrat.

Looking ahead, the key challenge for Norway lies in instilling solidarity and cohesion among its increasingly diverse inhabitants. Recommendations outlined in the report prescribe steps to strengthen unity through equal citizenship; promote diversity within a framework of Norwegian values; ensure minority representation across key institutions of public life; prevent discrimination and ethnic segregation; and recognize diversity among all individuals, immigrant and native.

Table of Contents 

I. Introduction

II. The Norwegian Context

A. National Identity and Ethnic Minorities

B. Immigration to the Welfare States

III. Immigrant Integration: Government Policies and Social Reactions

A. Integration: Multiculturalism versus Assimilation

B. Areas of Tension

IV. Islamophobia in Norway

A. The Extremists

B. The Rest of the Spectrum

V. Looking Ahead: Conclusions and Recommendations