Several persons with immigrant background in Norway were subjected to hate crimes and harassment right after the terrorist attacks on July 22 last year, before it became known that the attacker was a white ethnic Norwegian and not a Muslim terrorist. A new report ordered by the state commission investigating the terrorist attacks notes that crimes against persons suspected of being Muslim went unreported to police.
In one case, a young woman whose family is originally from Somalia was a passenger on a bus shortly after Norway’s government headquarters was bombed by an attacker who turned out to be a 32-year-old Norwegian man who grew up on Oslo’s west side. Many initially suspected Muslim terrorists were behind the bombing, though, and among them was a group on the bus who lashed out at the young Somalian.
She has told investigators that she first was the subject of stares, that one Norwegian boy on the bus then spit on her and that he and his friends unleashed a stream of verbal abuse. Among other things, they told her “look what you’ve done now, you’re going to suffer for this, get out of our country!” When she asked them to leave her alone, three others told her “it’s you who should leave.” They ended up following her off the bus, knocked her to the ground and tore out part of her hair.
In another case, a 30-year-old woman from Congo was working downtown when the bomb went off. She and her colleague from Iraq escaped through broken glass and tried to help other stunned passers-by, only to be yelled at and told to “go back home where you came from.” An Algerian was threatened by three Norwegian men with a knife as he walked home on the afternoon of July 22, while many others have told of vulgar, verbal harassment.
Didn’t want to bother police
None of them reported the hate crimes to police, for fear they wouldn’t be taken seriously and because they didn’t want to bother police at a time of such tragedy in Oslo. “Hate crimes are in general underreported,” Kari Helene Partapuoli, leader of the Norwegian Centre against Racism (Antirasistisk Senter) in Oslo, told newspaper Dagsavisen on Wednesday.
She and her colleagues, though, have had lengthy interviews with around 15 persons who were the targets of hate crimes and harassment on July 22, in the hours before confessed terrorist Anders Behring Breivik was arrested after murdering 77 persons in Oslo and on the island of Utøya. They’ve collected the information on behalf of the July 22 Commission that’s examining the response to Breivik’s attacks.
“I also think it’s important to document the stories that can be documented,” Partapuoli told Dagsavisen. She suspects many other stories of harassment remain untold.
Didn’t want to spoil solidarity
Partapuoli was also interviewed on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) as well Wednesday morning, and said many of the victims of the racist attacks by Norwegians had another reason for not reporting them to police: They didn’t want to spoil the feelings of solidarity that quickly emerged after the attacks, and after the identity of the attacker became known.
Mehtab Afsar, secretary general of the Islamic Council of Norway, also knows of several cases of harassment against Muslims after the attacks that went unreported. “When a nation is traumatized, you don’t run to the police to report harassment,” he told Dagsavisen.
Partapuoli pointed out that no one knows how often immigrants or non-white persons in Norway are harassed on a daily basis, noting that the initial, ugly reactions of some Norwegians suggest a disturbing level of not-always-latent racism in the country.
Zakaria Saaliti, leader of the organization Young Muslim, says he had nothing but positive experiences after the terrorist attacks, as did his sister who wears a hijab. “But it’s important that this harassment is now being reported,” Saaliti said, “especially since some media have doubted whether it actually occurred because it wasn’t reported to police.”
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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