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Friday, April 19, 2024

Women won for bravely speaking up

Two women have been honoured in Norway recently for their outspokenness across cultural lines. Both have immigrant backgrounds, from Algeria and Syria, and they’ve often angered some local Muslim men who in turn shocked Norwegians with their chauvinistic reaction.

Louiza Louhibi in a meeting with Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg earlier this year. Louhibi has been urging more support for rape victims, both from Norwegian politicians and local Muslim leaders. PHOTO: Statsministerenskontor

Louiza Louhibi, an atheist who grew up with Muslim parents, has attracted front-page attention in Norway, first for speaking out on behalf of rape victims and then for alerting police and anti-terror investigators to videos on Islamic websites that threatened Norway’s royal family and members of the government.

Louhibi, a 21-year-old rape victim herself, ended up being the target of harassment and threats for her efforts to counter the shame many rape victims feel, and especially for reporting the threats made against Norwegian officials. She received horrific messages and was the subject of online debate of the lowest sort on extremist websites, where some wrote that she’d deserved to be raped (allegedly for wearing western-style clothing and daring to walk alone at night), that she had no right to complain about being raped, and that she even deserved to be killed or raped again.

Several of those threatening Louhibi also hail Mullah Krekar, the Muslim cleric who remains jailed in Oslo pending appeal of a five-year prison term for threatening both terrorist acts and death against named individuals including Erna Solberg, the head of Norway’s Conservative Party.

Sara Azmeh Rasmussen won Fritt Ord's highest award earlier this month. PHOTO: Fritt Ord

Meanwhile, Sara Azmeh Rasmussen, who immigrated to Norway from Syria in 1995, has been carrying on her efforts to promote tolerance, improve the rights of persons regardless of sexual identity and criticize Islam over what she views as its lack of tolerance and repression of women and homosexuals. Rasmussen has been a frequent participant in demonstrations and commentator in the media, not least in newspaper Aftenposten.

Both women thus earned special recognition recently from the Norwegian foundation dedicated to preserving freedom of expression, Fritt Ord. Louhibi won Fritt Ord’s Honnør prize for 2012, for her bravery in the debate over sexual violence against women and for actively opposing extremist attitudes based on religion and politics. The Honnør prize recognizes valuable work within freedom of expression, often tied to a specific issue.

Rasmussen won Fritt Ord’s highest award, just three years after publicly criticizing the foundation for awarding its Fritt Ord Pris to Nina Karin Monsen, a Norwegian philosopher who has fought against Norway’s partnership law for homosexuals. “When a highly respected institution that’s a powerful player in cultural life rewards a representative for intolerance, there’s reason for concern,” Rasmussen wrote in Aftenposten in 2009, when Monsen won the prize.

The foundation recognizes freedom of expression in all its forms, however, and Rasmussen accepted her own prize earlier this month. She now lives in Stockholm but most of her family remains in Syria, a country now caught in bloody conflict between the government and opposition forces. Rasmussen continues to speak out against the regime she fled.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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