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Author(s): Özyürek, Esra
Date: 2016
Date: 2016
Abstract: This article explores contemporary images of Jews and Muslims in Norway by using qualitative empirical data, namely the answers to an open-ended question that was included in a quantitative survey on attitudes towards Jews and other minorities in Norway, conducted in 2012. The target group for the survey consisted of Norwegian residents aged 18 and above. A total of 1522 people answered the questionnaire. The results of the survey can be considered as representative of the Norwegian population with respect to age, gender, education and geographical distribution.

Respondents were asked what they regarded to be the reasons for existing negative attitudes towards Jews and Muslims respectively. This article analyzes whether the perceptions reflected in the respondents’ answers represent stereotypical views and partly include traces of conspiracy beliefs. The article also discusses these perceptions within the broader perspective of Norwegian society, asking in which ways the data reflects ideas of inclusion and exclusion.

The analysis exposes differences regarding traditional stereotypes and prejudices against the two minorities and the ways in which these prejudices are linked to (perceived) contemporary conflicts and tensions – both within Norwegian society and internationally. Negative attitudes towards Jews are often explained with reference to the role played by Israel in the Middle East conflict, and almost never with specific reference to Norwegian society. The material contains few examples describing Jews as scapegoats for current social problems in Norway. On the contrary, respondents’ answers indicate social distance. Approximately half of the answers claim that negative attitudes towards Jews are due to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The images of Jews presented in connection with this conflict are predominantly negative and characterized by topics such as oppression, ruthlessness and power. The analysis shows how these statements serve to reduce complexity by effectively equating “Jews” with “Israelis”. As a consequence Jews seem to be excluded from the notion of the Norwegian national collective.

The statements about Muslims show that they are regarded to be citizens and as such part of Norwegian society, but with characteristics perceived as problematic and threatening. Respondents often connected negative attitudes towards Muslims with a “foreign culture”. Many statements describe Muslims as oppressive to women, as harboring undemocratic attitudes or as criminals.

The data shows how people develop generalizations, describing something as “typically Muslim” or “typically Jewish”, reflecting current debates and media coverage. Such generalizations derive their strength from placing the speaker in a morally superior position. In the present material these attitudes represent the antithesis of an implicit notion of the Norwegian community as a liberal, egalitarian and peace-loving society. Despite the differences, a clear picture emerges that the characterizations of both Jews and Muslims seem to serve a common function: to provide a contrast to this national self-image. Such polarized notions of “us” and “them”, however, undermine the values generally constructed as “Norwegian”: when “the other” bears problematic features that we do not want to acknowledge in ourselves or our communities, we lose the ability to critically reflect on who we are. While maintaining an idealized notion of “us”, we become increasingly dependent on a rejection and denial of the “other”.
Translated Title: Jews, Muslims and the Republic
Date: 2017