Norwegian leaders from both ends of the political spectrum have been visiting local mosques and reaching out to the country’s Muslims in the wake of last week’s terror threat against the country. The politicians are urging mutual respect and tolerance, and think religious leaders also must work to head off extremism.
“I hope we one day live in a city and a country where a young man who goes to the mosque on Friday is no more suspect than a young woman who goes to church on Sunday,” Stian Berger Røsland, head of Oslo’s city government from the Conservative Party, said when he attended prayers himself on Friday and spoke inside the World Islamic Mission’s mosque in Oslo.
“I hope we live in a city and a country that remembers and knows that throughout human history, monstrous attacks have been carried out by fanatics in the name of all religions,” Røsland continued. “And that we all understand that Norwegians who are Muslims are just as upset by threats against Norway as Norwegians who aren’t Muslims. We share the same concerns for our children, for our neighbourhoods, for our city and for our country.”
Røsland’s visit to the mosque came just a day after Norwegian authorities announced a vague but credible threat of a terrorist attack on Norway, and that it likely stemmed from Islamic extremists. Concerns over the number of young Norwegians who have become radicalized in recent years have skyrocketed, and the estimated 40-50 Norwegian citizens now believed to be fighting with Islamic extremists in Syria and Iraq are viewed as posing a threat when and if they return to Norway.
The mayor of Stavanger and politicians in several other Norwegian cities have also been reaching out to the Muslim community after last week’s terror threat, and in an effort to work together against preventing extremism. Raymond Johansen, secretary of the Norwegian Labour Party, visited the Central Jamaat-e-Ahl-e Sunnat mosque on Monday, itself the target of an attack on its imam this summer, to join in celebrations at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. Johansen said Labour also wanted to work with Muslim leaders to hinder recruitment to extremist groups in Syria.
“It has taken a long time to build up mutual confidence in one another, and it can be torn down so quickly,” Johansen said. Newspaper Dagsavisen reported that Johansen spoke in the mosque about the importance of such confidence, mutual respect and solidarity in the fight against extremism. Johansen, who was among the first and few western politicians to visit Hamas leaders in Gaza after their election victory when he was a state secretary in the Foreign Ministry, also spoke about the current battles between the Palestinians and the Israelis, unrest in Pakistan and the terror threat itself, which has since been downgraded.
Mosque leaders welcomed the visits and support from Norwegian politicians, and Dagsavisen reported that the mood was warm, friendly and festive. New Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre told Dagsavisen that an important part of the responsibility to fend off extremism lies with Muslim leaders. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported over the weekend how some youth tied to the Rabita mosque in Oslo sympathize with the extreme Islamic group ISIL, which is believed to have recruited several young men from Norway to join their violent crusade through eastern Syria and into Iraq.
“We have a large society in Norway now and shared responsibility to prevent such extremism,” Støre told Dagsavisen. He thinks efforts to fend off recruitment to extremist groups can be most effective within the closest circles of friends, family, community associations and religious organizations.
Abid Raja of the Liberal Party (Venstre) with roots in Pakistan supports proposals for laws forbidding private persons from taking part in foreign wars not sanctioned by the government, with prison terms for those who break the law. Johansen thinks it’s more important to start at the other end.
“We have to ward off the recruitment, and the best we can do is to play on a team with those in circles most vulnerable to recruitment,” Johansen said.