Many Norwegian Muslims were harassed in the hours following the Oslo attacks before the arrested suspect was confirmed to be ethnically Norwegian. Nonetheless, many observers, backed by polling data and a surge of interest in integration initiatives, suggest that Norway has reacted with greater faith in multiculturalism, as the burials of the first two victims of the Utøya attacks – both Muslims – were undertaken with Christian and Muslim rituals.
Bano Abobakar Rashid, an 18-year -ld of Kurdish descent from Nesodden (just outside of Oslo), was buried in a new Muslim burial plot at Nesodden Church, where Christian and Islamic rituals were observed. 19-year-old Ismail Haji Ahmed, a former contestant in the Norwegian version of the singing competition X Factor, was also buried under Christian and Muslim rituals in Hedmark. Such arrangements have become seen as symbolic for the way Norway has reacted to the terrorist attacks – despite the fact that many individual Muslims were chased, insulted and intimidated in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.
‘Chased down the street’
Reports that some Muslims were harassed in the hours after the attack have been revealed in the Norwegian press. The general secretary of the Norwegian Islamic Council, Mehtab Afsar, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that a number of journalists rang asking if he “could sympathize with the attacks,” something he described as “disgusting.” “Do they believe that to be Muslim is the same as having sympathy for terrorism?,” he added. Afsar also received a number of messages by email and mobile telephone that said “‘now you have to find another place to live,’ ‘you are not welcome here’ and ‘revenge is sweet.'”
Kadra Yusuf, who became known in the country when she went public about imams encouraging women to take part in “female circumcision,” told newspaper VG that “a series of Oslo residents with foreign appearances” were attacked in the hours after the bombing and shootings. “Expressions like “terrorist devil,” “Bin Laden’s sons,” and “Muslim bombers” are some of those that were used,” Yusuf said, recalling an incident where an Indian man who had lived in Oslo for 22 years had been “chased down the street by people that asked him to ‘go to hell back where you can from.'” The man was reportedly able to talk sense into those chasing him by saying “I might look like a Muslim terrorist, but I am not. I recognize that you are scared, but so am I.” Yusuf hopes that people “remember that it is us against the extremists – regardless of what disguise that extremists come in.”
Hijab wearers warned not to go out
Another Muslim speaking to newspaper Dagsavisen, Khizra Chaudhry, was at work at a shop in Grønland, central Oslo, as the attacks took place, and was asked by a customer “is it you that has bombed the city?”. “I was hurt and angry, and did not know what I should say,” Chaudhry commented, adding that “I was not happy that it was Norwegian that was behind the attacks, but I am relieved that it was not Muslims.”
Immediately after the attacks, Norway’s second-largest mosque advised women wearing the hijab not to go onto the streets for fear harassment. A crisis meeting with around 50 participants was held by Munhaj ul Quaran at a mosque in Galgeberg, east Oslo, just after the bombings, with a representative, Isaz Ahmad, telling VG that they “discussed the worst scenario” that Muslims would become “targets” because they “feared it was a crazy person that had done this in Islam’s name.” Their recommendations to the community included not letting children out unless necessary, especially girls wearing the hijab. Ahmad too suggested that they “felt a relief over the fact that it was not someone that had done this in Islam’s name” when the details of the attacker were revealed, although he would rather not call it a relief “because it is a tragedy.”
Memorials and solidarity
Muslim organizations have organized a number of events to remember the victims of the terrorist attacks. A memorial service was held at Friday prayers in central Oslo last Friday, with Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg in attendance. Stoltenberg spoke of “the new Norwegian we.” The Prime Minister and Labour Party leader later told VG that he believes “many of us would have done everything in their power to show the same warmth and love” if a Muslim had been responsible for the terrorist attacks, adding that “we are showing that we will be a more inclusive society” after the events of the past weeks as “people are now more convinced and see the value of tolerance and diversity.” An opinion poll conducted by InFact for VG after the attacks shows that 26 percent have come to see “multicultural Norway” as “more positive” after the attacks, with 49 percent stating that their view was unchanged and 9 percent responding that they had become “more negative.” In total, 68 percent are “positive” towards “multicultural Norway,” with 13 percent responding that they saw it as “negative.”
A reflection of the responses given in the polls is also seen in the increasing interest in the Norwegian Center against Racism’s “Tea Time” project, which encourages non-Muslim Norwegians to visit Muslim families at home for tea. The project will continue beyond its planned closure after interest increased, with leader Kari Helene Partapuoli telling NRK that it could continue for a further year.
The Norwegian Islamic Council also arranged a solidarity parade to Oslo Cathedral on Friday afternoon, which was joined by a number of ministers and politicians including Minister of Culture Anniken Huitfeldt of the Labour Party, and Minister of Integration Audun Lysbakken of the Socialist Left Party. The council’s general secretary, Mehtab Afsar, told NRK that “this was an attack against Norway as a nation, and it is therefore important that we stand together… regardless of belief, cultural background or skin colour.”
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