Islamic demonstration faced boycott

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UPDATED: Muslims themselves were urged to boycott a planned demonstration in front of the Norwegian Parliament on Friday by an Islamic group considered to be extremist. With only around 15 participants assembled and no action a half-hour after the demonstration was due to begin, it appeared the boycott call had an effect, or simply that the demonstrators had very little support.

One local Muslim leader in Oslo claimed the organizers’ attitudes, actions and slogans actually violate Islamic principles. Dr Usman Rana, the former leader of Muslimsk Studentsamfunn (the Muslim students’ society) and now a practicing physician, urged fellow Muslims to stay away from the demonstration that was organized to protest Norway’s presence in Afghanistan.

Police were out in force, cordoning off areas and ready for crowd control exercises because organizers had led them to believe hundreds would turn out. By 2:30pm, however, media personnel seemed to far outnumber actual demonstrators.

The demonstration finally got underway quietly with prayers at around 2:45pm, when the number of participants had risen to around 40. It was led off by a small, hooded child who kept his back to the crowd. The prayers were followed by individual appeals, including one from Arfan Bhatti, who has a long criminal record and was charged but later acquitted for planning terrorist attacks against the US and Israeli embassies in Oslo. Bhatti, now sporting a long beard, claimed Norway was in a war against Muslims and Islam though the country’s “participation in the occupation of Afghanistan.”

Organizers tied to threats
Earlier this week, the demonstration was promoted in an inflammatory video , which included threats against Norway’s Crown Prince Haakon, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre. Norway’s police intelligence unit PST launched an investigation into the threats and who was behind them, and police later arrested a 21-year-old man in Skien on charges of inciting terror. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that he has admitted making the video but denies it contained threats. NRK reported the man is a Norwegian citizen whose family is from South America, and that he claims he was merely exercising his freedom of expression.

Rana stressed that the Islamic group and the extremist messages and threats included in the video do not speak for Norwegian Muslims. He urged his fellow Muslims, the vast majority of whom are moderate, to distance themselves from the group and the demonstration simply by staying away.

“It’s important to emphasize that Muslims in general oppose terrorism, and to disspell the notion that Muslims are passive about the extremists amongst us,” Rana told newspaper Dagsavisen on Friday. He said he wants to send a message, “not least within the Muslim community, that we don’t accept this.”

New embassy warning
Police granted permission for the demonstration to be held, from 2pm to 4pm, not least because of Norway’s strong policies promoting freedom of expression. The police were expected to be out in force, though, to prevent violence.

The planned demonstration prompted the second warning in a week from the US Embassy in Oslo, which sought to “remind American citizens that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence.” The embassy wrote that it had been informed of the demonstration by Oslo Police.

The so-called “Message for US Citizens” sent via e-mail to those registered with the embassy in Oslo urged recipients to “please exercise caution if you are within the vicinity of any demonstrations.” It noted that “Although the size of the demonstration is unknown, there will be a large police presence and a possibility for counter-demonstrations.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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