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Meeting People at Obama's Summit: Mahmona Khan

GOOD is at President Obama's Summit on Entrepreneurship, an event designed to spur business collaboration between Muslim-majority countries and the United States, and we're meeting new people.

WHO SHE IS: Mahmona Khan
WHAT SHE DOES: Launches and publishes magazines and books on Norwegian-Pakistani identity
WHAT SHE WANTS: For Norwegian-Pakistanis to embrace hyphenation

As a young journalist, Mahmona Khan wrote an article about Pakistanis who emigrated to Norway some 40 years back. Her dad was one of them, she says, but he never talked up his own experience. She hadn't given it much thought until she came across a picture during her research of the sort of metal field beds her father slept on as an immigrant.

“Here I was sitting and feeling bad for myself. 'Oh, who am I?' and this and that,” she says. “And then I discover the struggle he had to come to Norway, coming from a very difficult situation.”

Khan has since worked to open opportunities for Norwegian-Pakistanis to embrace their identity as Norwegians. She is the founder of X-Plosive, a Web magazine devoted to minority issues and culture in Norway, and the author of a book about the Pakistani immigrant experience in Norway. As a writer who focuses on youth culture, she says that Norwegian-Pakistani women are attaining high levels of education, but—since 9/11—young men are tuning out.

Is discrimination a reason why young Pakistani men drop out of school in Norway?

“Some of them say, 'Why should I take a degree? I won't get a job.' I feel that's the wrong attitude. You have to fight for getting your rights.”

The attacks on September 11 had a galvanizing effect for the minority Muslim population in Norway—one with negative repercussions for the country, Khan believes. “Muslims have been in Norway for 45 years. Before 11 September, it was not visible that there were practicing Muslims there. But now? After 11 September, you see among young people—they are practicing more religion,” she explains. “Some of them are feeling alienated and they feel that their only identity is in their religion. In U.S., you have ethnicities and all religions, but you still have that American identity. I'm working toward that in Norway. That you can say, 'I'm a Norwegian.' I do.”

In Sweden and France, identity is a charged topic. According to Khan, things are different in Norway, but she's still concerned about the future. “Compared to other European countries, Norway is the best country to live in” she says. “But what I'm seeing is that some of the groups are feeling more and more like outsiders. I'm afraid if that continues, we will have trouble. We can do a lot to prevent this.”

Pakistani-Norwegian women are attaining higher levels of education in Norway. So do they face fewer hurdles in business and entrepreneurship?

“In a way they do, but there is a glass ceiling. You're treated differently if you have a minority background. You're a black woman, or an Asian woman,” says Khan. “When you come to a level where it's leadership positions, there you run into a problem.”

See all of GOOD's coverage of the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship here.

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