Issues of racism and discrimination continue to be hotly debated in Norway in the aftermath to the Oslo bombings and Utøya shootings that the confessed perpetrator, Anders Behring Breivik, claims were an attack on the country’s multiculturalism.
The leader of the Conservative Party, Erna Solberg, has commented on the need to tackle racism, particularly Islamophobia. But despite many public figures commenting that the country is more united than ever after the terrorist attacks, the distribution of a racist flyer decorated with swastikas in one town has nevertheless been a reminder of lingering issues of racism, while a young Muslim girl’s expression that she felt the attacks were “her fault” has caused a strong reaction and pointing to issues about how Islam is debated in the country.
In the town of Lillestrøm, just north-east of Oslo, a number of flyers containing racist slogans and a Norwegian flag modified to look like a swastika were hung up in several public places, while a man in his 50’s handed out the flyers outside a local hotel in act that police confirmed to newspaper VG was “not well received” by members of the public. The leaflets were signed “ABB-C2,” a reference to the initials of the Oslo and Utøya attacker Breivik and to further “cells” the terrorist suspect has claimed exist in Norway and other parts of the world. The flyers were titled “the situation in the country” and consisted of four verses that attacked those who did not have “Aryan characteristics” and were “gradually destroying our kingdom.” Police are now questioning the man in his 50’s in liaison with police investigating Breivik’s attacks.
The events in Lillestrom come after the leader of the Conservative Party, Erna Solberg, told VG last week that “the way extreme, anti-Islamic groups refer to Muslims today resembles the way extreme anti-Semitic groups referred to Jews in the decades that led up to the Second World War,” although she stressed that the brutal treatment of the Jews in the interwar period was not comparable to the actual treatment of Muslims now. “You cannot write this off as something that comes from outside our society,” Solberg continued, challenging Norwegians to make an extra effort to confront racism they witness in their everyday lives. “If Norwegians that have a slightly different background, that have parents from another place, all the time encounter a political debate that questions whether they are as Norwegian as others, that contributes towards them feeling a bigger distance,” she added.
Calls to fight racism
The Jewish community reacted angrily to Solberg’s comparison even as they supported her calls to tackle discrimination. Ervin Kohn of the Mosaic Religious Community, which represents Jewish organizations in Norway, described the comments as “populist” and “without a sense of history” to newspaper Dagsavisen, stating that “Erna did this in order to get attention” and was “not far away” from trying to “make political capital” out of the terrorist attacks. He said that he did not want to see a competition over suffering between Jews and Muslims, although he agreed with Solberg that racism must be countered.
The leader of think thank Minotenk, Linda Alzaghari – herself a Muslim – also commented that Solberg had been “stupid” but said it was “good” that she was speaking up against racism. Alzaghari had already publicly stated in Dagsavisen that she was worried that Islamophobia was becoming “more legitimate” in Norway and that many Muslims were expected to answer for the crimes of extremists in a way that people of other faiths were not. She noted that the comments facility on the VG article in which Solberg had made her remarks about anti-Islamic feeling in the country had to be closed because of a flood of Islamophobic posts from readers. She also described her fear for reprisals against Muslims in the immediate aftermath of the Oslo bombings when a number of experts guessed that the attacks came from Islamic extremists. Many incidents of Muslims being harassed in the street were recorded during that period.
Girl’s question sparks reaction
One young Muslim with Iranian heritage, 13 year-old Sophia Adampour, received widespread attention at the end of last week when she asked whether she should “move out of the country to protect Norwegian children in the future” during an online question and answer session with crisis psychologists run by Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). Adampour said she “felt it was her fault” that Breivik “killed all of those people because I am here.” A number of Norwegians reacted to this, including many setting a Facebook group asking Adampour to stay. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg also mentioned her story in a speech given at a mosque in the capital, while the Minister for Children, Equality and Integration Audun Lysbakken wrote an article in Dagsavisen addressed to Sophia.
Sophia and her sister Mina were invited onto one of NRK’s TV programmes, where Mina explained that “Sophia is probably not alone in having these thoughts” and commented that “the fact that she is 13 years old and has these thoughts says something about how the climate has been.” The sisters revealed that their mother had had eggs thrown at her and that a car had “driven dangerously close to her.” Mina also stated that she supports Solberg’s call for people to confront racism, but concluded that “it should not be so that this attack had to happen for Muslims to avoid being discriminated against,” adding that “we would rather have been discriminated against for 100 more years than that lives were lost.”
‘New form of debate’
Norway’s politicians have reacted to the terrorist attacks by promising a more sobre campaign in local elections next month. Controversial politicians like Progress Party leader Siv Jensen have also called for a “new form of debate,” with Jensen admitting that she might regret certain things she said in the past about Islam.
Answering questions about comparisons between Breivik’s statements and the rhetoric of the Progress Party – with whom she plans to form a government after the election – the Conservative Party’s Solberg commented that “the Progress Party has neither policies nor arguments that come from the same mindset as the accused.” Nonetheless, other politicians have criticized the party’s anti-Islamic statements, with Abid Raja of the Liberal Party describing them as “damaging to society.” News agency NTB reported of an incident in April where a representative of the Socialist Left Party criticized a Progress Party parliamentarian, Per-Willy Amundsen, for declaring on Facebook that he “fears a new crusade will be necessary.” The Progress Party suffered further embarrassment over the weekend as videos and photographs were revealed of Breivik at parties with a number of now-senior politicians from the party. The videos are believed to come from around 2002, when Breivik was allegedly beginning to plan his attacks.
A number of other politicians have come forward to say publicly that they regret previous statements, including Ola Borten Moe, the deputy leader of the Centre Party that forms the governing coalition with Labour and the Socialist Left Party. Borten Moe told Dagsavisen that his description of marriage between cousins in the immigrant community as “inbreeding” was “objectionable.”
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