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As muslim tensions rise, researchers probe ‘morality police’

A professor at the University of Oslo has suggested that more information is needed as to who, exactly, makes up the so-called Muslim ‘morality police’ that harasses fellow Muslims and others on the streets of Oslo’s Grønland district, and may be behind a rise in radical Islamic views in Norway. She won immediate support from the cabinet minister in charge of integration, and a study is in the works.

Another top Oslo politician, meanwhile, has called for anyone harassed by the ‘morality police’ or others to report the incident to Norway’s official police force.
“When you threaten another person, or spit on them, you are in fact breaking Norwegian law,” Jan Bøhler of the Labour Party told newspaperAftenposten recently. “As a society, we must set limits.” He urged the victims of threats or harassment to file a real police report, advice followed this week by both a local gay rights group and newspaper Dagbladet.

Debate continued over the alleged “morality police,” weeks after Aftenposten first reported about complaints from Muslims and non-Muslims who are scolded or even hit with death threats for violating the standards of some strict Muslims. Women have been harassed for not wearing conservative dress, men chided for eating during Ramadan or acting “too western” and gays have been assaulted.

The intimidators have been likened to a “morality police” that tries to impose its code of conduct on others. That’s not popular in tolerant Norway, and even the head of the Islamic Council has spoken out against such forms of social control.

While debate has flourished in newspaper columns, on the radio and at a public forum last month, the identities of members of the “morality police” remain unclear. They’re believed to be:

** Young, conservative religious men who try to recruit youth to local mosques, to save them from a life of inebriation and immorality,

** Older, first-generation male immigrants who continue to use clothing and traditions from their native villages,

** Young “toughs” with backgrounds from several countries who seek security and identity in gangs,

** New spouses brought to Norway through arranged marriages,

** New immigrants and refugees from Somalia and other Arab countries, often men aged 25-40,

** Taxi drivers who have a unique opportunity to “patrol” the streets.

The latter group set off the demonstrations over newspaper Dagbladet’s publication of caricatures of the prophet Mohammed that were deemed offensive to Muslims. The demonstrations gave a forum to the radical voice of Mohyeldeen Mohammad, who in turn offended many others by warning that major terrorist attacks could occur in Norway. He’s now been reported to police for allegedly making death threats against gays and Dagbladet reporters.

Sociology Professor Grete Brochmann has said she’s glad the “morality police” issue has been raised and that now it’s important to identify those involved and find solutions to conflicts well beyond Grønland’s borders. The government ministry in charge of immigration agreed, and said that if existing research programs can’t identify the protagonists, then separate research will be done.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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