Siblings Deeyah and Adil Khan have both been hitting the headlines in Norway recently: Deeyah for winning an Emmy-award, Adil for teaching Norwegians to dance. They’ve also both been musing about the challenges faced by immigrants and imigrants’ offspring.
Deeyah Khan, known as an entertainer, film director and human rights activist, won an Emmy award earlier this year for best international documentary, for Banaz: A Love Story. It follows the life of a young girl in the Kurdish community in London, who was murdered by her own family in 2006.
Deeyah’s brother Adil, a well-known actor, singer and dancer in Norway, recently presented the popular series “Adil’s Secret Dancers” (Adils hjemmelige dansere) for state broadcaster NRK TV.
Both siblings grew up in Oslo, but Deeyah felt compelled to leave the country when she was 18. “My heart was broken by Norway,” she told newspaper Dagsavisen. “I didn’t belong anywhere. The Pakistani and muslim community rejected me because I wasn’t Pakistani enough. And I wasn’t white enough to be counted as Norwegian either.” She was a classical singer and a pop star, known as Deepika, but received threats to her and her family after appearing with a bare midriff in a music video.
Her brother was devastated when she left. Both had grown up with strict discipline, practicing seven days a week, never taking a holiday. Their father wanted them to become entertainers because he said it was the only area, as well as sport, where the colour of your skin and your education didn’t matter. When Adil took up breakdancing aged 15, though, he had to do it in secret, because his father trained them in classical Pakistani dance, music and poetry, and wouldn’t have approved.
Adil thinks that it’s not always easy for Norwegians to move freely and feel a sense of rhythm. “It’s interesting, in a country where everyone has it so good, and every reason to celebrate, that it’s hard to dance and enjoy life and think what the hell,” he told Dagsavisen. “Go to Cuba, to Brazil, to India, the people we feel sorry for. But they’re the ones who dare to smile.”
He traveled up and down the country teaching different groups, from cleaners to welfare workers to heavy metal students, to dance for the series, which became a feel-good TV hit. Many of them had little or no dance experience, but had just three weeks to become a dance troupe and give a performance.
He thinks people might have it too good in Norway. “It’s when you have to fight for something that exciting things happen.” He says he had to fight to realize his dreams, and was bullied at school because of his background.
Deeyah is glad to see that more people with similar backgrounds to hers, including her brother, are in the public arena in Norway now, and that the country has changed. But she also believes that Norway gave her so much. “To grow up in a society where human rights and freedom of expression are valued so highly, and not least … where women achieve and are ambitious … the standard that I set for myself on what I can do and attain, that was set in Norway. It’s been priceless for me,” she said.
Deeyah’s documentary follows the ruthless murder of Banaz Mahmoud, a young girl who became the victim of an honour killing, after she left her husband and fell in love. It also exposes how the police failed to protect her, and shows how much people want to look the other way.
“To get to know each other, we have to learn about both the good and the bad,” Deeyah told Dagsavisen. She also believes that minorities should also take a much greater responsibility than they are doing today.
“Norway will never be the same as it was before immigration, there is no point in wishing to go back to a white Norway or a white Europe,” she said. “It’s equally stupid for non-western immigrants to believe that they can make Norway like their own homeland. We can add to the conflict, or we can try and ask questions, like what does it mean to be Norwegian, how can we take away the divide between us and them.”