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Past diversity

- I was tired of the media's stereotypical Muslim, says college lecturer Nazneen Khan-Östrem. This week she brought the book that tells a different story.


Journalist teacher Nazneen Khan-Östrem has been exploring Muslim environments in New York, Paris, London, Berlin and Oslo. There she met a multitude of Muslim voices that rarely resonate in our domestic press. In the book My holy war, which came out this week, she lets them speak.

- I wanted to inform about the width of the Muslims, she says in the tow southwest southwest with the cut r intact.

- I also wanted to find a confirmation of my own identity as a Muslim woman in the West. And I met like-minded people with a strong relationship with Islam. They had dropped the hijab, put on make-up and in everyday life boycotted the patriarchal structures. So I'm probably no one deviates anyway, she laughs.

Disturbing prejudice

Khan-Östrem was born in Kenya, raised in England and Flekkefjord, and her family has roots in the border region between Afghanistan and what is now Pakistan. My holy war is also a highly personal book. The author allows the reader to take part in how the voices she encounters echo against her own Muslim identity, in search of the intersection of it and the other aspects of its background.

- What does it mean for you to be a Muslim?

- It is a difficult question, she answers thoughtfully.

- Basically, it has mostly been a cultural identity. You notice it when you live in the West. We do not touch alcohol, we do not celebrate Christmas, for example. But what is cultural, what is religiously conditioned? I wanted to get to the bottom of this. The writing process has made me prouder and more aware of my Muslim identity, and now my spiritual interest in Islam is growing. But I can still refrain from revealing my Muslim background to new people. I'm afraid of prejudices like I must have been oppressed at home and so on. The truth is that I have a close relationship with my parents, closer than I have the impression that many Norwegians have.

Suppressed liberal forces

- If you live in the country of origin, you probably take your faith and culture more for granted. The surroundings do not expect an explanation for everything.

- Like what?

- In the West you get questions like what is sharia, what does the Qur'an say about this and that, why do you not drink? Such questions increase awareness and probably make one more Muslim here than in the country of origin. The absence of geographical affiliation can create nostalgia for the homeland and strengthen belonging to the religion. Then religion can be conservative.

- Those who have fled from totalitarian regimes in Muslim countries perhaps have a more open mind to the West's advantages such as democracy and equality?

- Often the strictest non-Western critics of Islam have refugee backgrounds, such as Dutch-Somali Ayan Hirsi Ali and Norwegian-Iraqi Walid al-Kubaisi. In both Somalia and Iraq, there has been a more conservative and totalitarian understanding of Islam than, for example, in Pakistan and Morocco. An Iraqi refugee I spoke to in Berlin was also concerned that the Turks needed to be better integrated and take responsibility for learning the language themselves. Muslims born and raised in European countries are more aware of their rights and demand more from the host country.

- Recently, there has been a conference in Barcelona for Muslim feminists on new interpretations of Islam, and in the book you mention leading Muslims such as Tariq Ramadan and Bassam Tibi who advocate reforms of Islam. Are there better conditions for that in the West?

- Freedom of expression is one of the virtues of the West, and does not have the same conditions in many Muslim countries. The paradox is that freedom of speech and critical thinking are an integral part of Islam. Unfortunately, in several Muslim countries it has not manifested itself as it should. This is partly due to an intellectual war within Islam where innovation has been crippled by prevailing conservative trends. The repressed liberal forces have nevertheless been there all along. The repression is linked to the socio-economic conditions in Muslim countries and the colonial masters who opposed intellectual development within Islam. Everyone calls for reform of Islam, but does not see that many totalitarian regimes in Muslim countries have been supported by the West and that democratic movements and leaders have been similarly fought, she says indignantly.

Good ambassadors

Islam came on everyone's lips after the twin towers of New York collapsed. Most Muslims have spoken of increased suspicion, but Khan-Østrem says the incident has also created a positive awakening.

- Osama bin Laden made many Muslims reflect on what Islam really is. After 11/XNUMX and the London bombings this summer, Muslims wanted to cleanse their religion and become good ambassadors of Islam, as some of my English interviewees put it. The demonization of Muslims was not new either, she continues.

Judging by the support of the French right-wing extremist Jean Marie Le Pen, the stigmatization of the North African Muslims in France has been successful. In Germany, it was already announced after the fall of the wall in 1989 that Muslims would become the new enemy image.

Assimilation and crucible

The five cities Khan-Ösrem has visited, each has its own characteristics. Paris is highly secularized, London has long colonial experience, where it is easier for today's immigrants to get relevant jobs than in Scandinavia, while New York is the multinational melting pot where the majority of Muslims are African American. Like Norway, Germany and Berlin have limited colonial experience, and Berlin still has to adapt to the reunification. But the Nazneen gets the spikes out when I mention the Norwegians' limited multicultural experience.

- It is almost 40 years since the first Muslim immigrants arrived. It is time to wake up from the idea of ​​homogeneity and take more responsibility. But roughly speaking, I would say that London is the most tolerant city. Muslims have the greatest leeway there, although of course there is also a glass roof. Paris is characterized by a strong idea of ​​assimilation. The fully integrated Muslims were French in public. One I spoke to immediately got a foothold in the labor market when he took a French name after a long search in vain under his Muslim.

- New York is characterized by the fact that the Muslim African-Americans to a much lesser extent carry with them the Arab interpretation of Islam, but rather a version adapted to their own civil rights struggle.

- Has the hip-hopper in you found a common denominator with the Muslim?

- The hip-hop environment has been important for minority youth. Music has been the rebellious voice of the underprivileged, and it has created a meeting between Islam and music. Rock's slogan "sex, drugs, rock and roll" is something Muslims have not identified with. But hip-hop has gradually become characterized by the light-heartedness of rock. This is true against the traditional values ​​of Islam, but as one of my African-American interviewees replied: "They are just people, they try as best they can." I like that attitude, laughs Nazneen Østrem-Khan.

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