darker question — where were you when Anders Behring Breivik was killing Norway’s children?
July 22, the day Mr. Breivik killed at least 76 people, shook a peaceful nation to the core. But for many Norwegians it is also an indelible mark of a country that has evolved away from the monoethnic, egalitarian culture that knew tragedy as a setback in Nordic competition.
Today, more than 11 percent of the population of some 4.9 million were born someplace else — Pakistan, Sweden, Poland, Somalia, Eritrea, Iraq. And the cultural shock of diversity, especially incorporating the growing number of nonwhite Muslims, has already meant the rise of a moderate anti-immigrant party, the Progress Party, to become the second-largest in Norway.
The young people Mr. Breivik shot at a summer camp on the island of Utoya were all Norwegians, but some were the children of immigrants, who have now been memorialized in the country’s greatest modern disaster.
“When you are confronted with multicultural immigration, something happens,” said Grete Brochmann, a sociologist at the University of Oslo. “That’s the core of the matter right now, and it’s a great challenge to the Norwegian model.”
Norway’s leaders, from the royal family on down, have all praised the country’s solidarity, democracy, equality and tolerance, and all vow that these values will not change. Virtuous, peaceful, generous, consensual — this is the Norwegian self-image, aided by the oil wealth that props up one of the most comprehensive social welfare systems in the world.
Einar Forde, a former Labor Party politician, once said: “We are all social democrats.” And a former prime minister, Gro Harlem Brundtland, who was a target of Mr. Breivik’s terror, once remarked: “It is typically Norwegian to be good.”
For all its virtues, the emphasis on consensus here can also promote small-mindedness, smugness and political correctness. That is especially true when newcomers have different notions on certain values, including gender equality and secularism, even in an officially Christian country, that Norwegians hold dear.
“We’re a lucky society for many reasons, and not just oil,” said Ms. Brochmann, citing Norway’s distance from both the euro and the American financial crisis and its strong and transparent democracy.
“But many of these aspects of this consensus society have another side,” she said. “This is also a society of conformism,” she said, citing the “Janteloven,” or Jante law, based on small-town Scandinavian norms that govern group behavior, promoting collectivism and discouraging individual initiative and ambition in a world where no one is anonymous.
Norway is also a strongly patriotic country, independent from Sweden only since 1905, and occupied by the Nazis from 1940 to 1945. So the sense of pride and nationalism here is fierce, and the model built since World War II is strongly defended.
In an interview, Dr. Brundtland noted that Norway had a strongly consensual, cross-party program for almost a decade after World War II before returning to more normal politics. Even then, she said, Norway has “a tradition of trying to formulate and coordinate policies that are broader than what the political system itself would have. We try to have a base that’s broader than the majority.”
Still, she insisted, “it’s not true to say that we have a consensus democracy where we don’t have strong debates and political parties.”
Those debates have also become fiercer on the issue of immigration and integration, Dr. Brundtland conceded, especially with the growing popularity of the Progress Party, a now mainstream group that focuses on an anti-immigration stance. The Progress Party, she said with some distaste, has been pushing acceptable boundaries. “To ask the questions without having any productive answers is not always helpful,” Dr. Brundtland said.
The leader of the Progress Party, Siv Jensen, earned some notoriety in 2009 for using the phrase “stealth Islamization” in a speech, the same year the party became the second-largest in Parliament. Christian Tybring-Gjedde, the head of the party’s Oslo branch, prompted howls of criticism in May when he suggested Muslims were by nature more aggressive than Norwegians.
Even so, such statements are no more provocative than those by right-leaning politicians in other Western European countries, and the party’s stance has resonated with many. Morten Hoglund, a Progress legislator, said the party in recent years has been purging radicals and emphasizing better health care, though he conceded that Mr. Breivik might hurt the party in September’s local elections.
“We have tried as best we can to make sure that we behave in a proper way,” he said. “We are not in the same political family you see with some of the political parties in Europe today.”
But others believe that Progress has helped create the atmosphere in which Mr. Breivik flourished, even if he quit the party because of what he perceived as its moderation.
“There is one political party in this country that has worked with the line of reasoning that the terrorist used to legitimize his atrocities,” said Magnus Marsdal, an author and political analyst. “Of course the Progress Party is not accountable for this guy’s actions, but the sentiments that are spread through political propaganda are not innocent.”
The party plays on the immigrant challenge to religious and cultural uniformity. Some Muslim immigrants, not well-educated, restrict the activities of women, try to arrange marriages, may support genital mutilation and have a degree of homophobia, all of which are cited as adherence to religious or cultural values.
But these values present a direct challenge to the general consensus culture. It is in this area that Islamophobia has reached Norway, together with a more universal resentment of immigrant criminals and “welfare scroungers” of every religion and color.
Thomas Hylland Eriksen, a cultural anthropologist at the University of Oslo, has written extensively on the challenge of immigration to the overriding culture, which features a quiet nationalism. “But there are some unexamined ugly features of Norwegian nationalism that have to do with ethnic nationalism, a feeling of specialness, an element of racism,” Mr. Eriksen said. “Non-ethnic Norwegians are visible and still seen as out of place.”
Minorities think that “if they learn Norwegian, send their kids to school and stop at traffic lights they are 100 percent Norwegian,” he said. But it’s not really true, he said. He cited a prominent Norwegian, Dilek Ayhan, born here of Turkish parents, perfectly fluent, but who is often asked: “Where are you really from?”
There is “a prison of consensus,” Mr. Eriksen said, but it should not be exaggerated and is slowly cracking under the pressure of change. “There is a fairly open debate, but we should be more open and frank about our values,” he said.