Is Norwegian society really egalitarian?

Class differences in a changing world

Ljan River

Photo: Kjetil Ree/Creative Commons
The Ljan River separates the Oslo city districts of Munkerud and Bjørnerud. It also serves as a social demarcation line, with the average household income significantly higher in Munkerud than Bjørnerud.de

M. MICHAEL BRADY
Asker, Norway

A traditional view of Norwegian society holds that it is egalitarian. That is not so, according to a story now unfolding and published as a front-page feature in June 27 Sunday edition of Aftenposten (Further reading). 

The story is sensitively narrated by Adel Khan Farooq (b. 1991), a second-generation Pakistani Norwegian, born and bred in Oslo and well educated in journalism at Oslo University College. He is an astute observer of class differences, and he has directed a film and published a novel dealing with them (Further reading). He is based in Oslo and in Islamabad, Pakistan.

The Aftenposten story follows Farooq as he visits his childhood haunts along the Ljan River that runs westward in the hills east of Bunnefjorden, the eastern branch of the inner Oslo Fjord that separates the city districts of Munkerud (north of the river) and Bjørnerud (south of it). It has become a social demarcation line, as the average household income of Munkerud is significantly higher than that of Bjørnerud. 

Farooq grew up in Bjørnerud. He recalls that “we partied with people from Nordsteand (north of the Ljan River), even though they were wealthier than we were. As a result, the young people came to know each other, regardless of neighborhood, ethnicity, and social class.” 

But that doesn’t happen anymore. Ethnic Norwegians are moving out of Bjørnerud. Families with children are leaving. Friends will not return. On the other side of the river, wealth is increasing. 

“The result is two frames of value that coexist without contact. Each believes that it is distinctive, which leads to views such as ‘you are Norwegian, while I’m a foreigner.’ In that there’s danger,” said Farooq.

Further reading and viewing:

Denne elven er Oslos klareste klasseskille (This river is Oslo’s clearest class divide) by Odd Inge Aas et.al., Aftenposten, June, 27, 2021 (www.aftenposten.no/oslo/i/Lnjqg9/denne-elven-viser-klasseskillet-i-oslo).

Recruiting for Jihad, a documentary film by directors/journalists Adel Khan Farooq and Ulrik Imtaz  Rolfsen that offers an investigative close-up of Ubaydullah Hussain, formerly a spokesperson in Norway for Profetens Ummah, a Salafi-jihadist group (www.idfa.nl/en/film/c44a4cc0-d25d-4f75-8180-6ff07d98ec3a/recruiting-for-jihad).

Mine Brødre (My Brothers) by Adel Khan Farooq, a young adult novel, Oslo, Aschehoug 2016, Norwegian Bokmål, 360 pages hardcover, ISBN 9788203262074.

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 3, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

M. Michael Brady

M. Michael Brady was born, raised, and educated as a scientist in the United States. After relocating to the Oslo area, he turned to writing and translating. In Norway, he is now classified as a bilingual dual national.

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