The secretary general of the umbrella group for 41 organizations with around 80,000 Muslim members in Norway (Islamsk Råd Norge) has joined the condemnations of Wednesday’s terrorist attack on a satire magazine in Paris. Mehtab Afsar is also stepping up efforts to hinder Islamic extremism.
Afsar used words like “gruesome” and “revolting” to describe the attack, in which two men crying that “Allah is great” and claiming to be from the terrorist group Al Qaida gunned down staff members of the satire magazine Charlie Hebdo. At least 12 people were killed and many others badly wounded.
“This wasn’t just a sad day in Paris, but for all of us,” Afsar told Oslo newspaper Dagsavisen. “We condemn this attack in the strongest of terms. We hope those who were behind it are caught and held responsible for their crimes.”
The magazine targeted by the gunmen on Wednesday has ridiculed nearly all religions and politics but is perhaps best known for printing caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed that have unleashed strong protests. Even though Afsar thinks the magazine has printed cartoons that are hurtful and insulting, he believes that’s no justification for the attack.
‘Can’t be defended’
“This was a criminal act by violent extremists,” he told Dagsavisen. “It can’t be explained or defended in any way. If Muslims were indeed behind it, and say they did it to seek revenge for the Prophet, that’s just ridiculous.”
Afsar said there must be room in society for criticism of religions. He doesn’t think that portraying people in an insulting manner qualifies as valid criticism but an extreme reaction like Wednesday’s attack is unacceptable.
“Now we must stand together against this type of violent extremism,” Afsar said, claiming it has no place “in our open, democratic society.” He was joined by Shoaib Sultan of Norway’s center against racism (Antirasistisk Senter), who called the attack “a terrible criminal act.” Sultan said the fight against extremism must involve confronting the extremists’ view of the world.
“Extremists on both sides will use this to confirm their view of the world,” Sultan said. “A lot of the work against extremism involves confronting that and presenting a view “that is correct.” Sultan, a former leader of Islamic Råd Norge himself, said quick condemnations of terrorist attacks are an important part of the fight against extremism.
Revolt against reactionaries
Linda Alzaghari, leader of the think tank Minotenk that represents minority interests, called on the mosques in Norway to lead a revolt against “reactionary Islam” that doesn’t allow freedom of expression. She also challenged Muslims who follow traditional thinking that she thinks puts too much emphasis on blasphemy and stifles freedom of expression.
Norway experienced an attack on freedom of expression two decades ago, when publisher William Nygaard was shot outside his home in Oslo, allegedly because his publishing company had released Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses in Norway. Nygaard, who survived the attack, said that Europe’s increasingly diverse population must stand together and not allow a “split that the attackers probably want.” He said the media can play an important role in such efforts.
Meanwhile, an anti-Islamic movement that’s been sweeping across Europe has signaled efforts to mount a demonstration in Oslo on Monday. News bureau NTB reported that the movement’s Facebook page, established in late December, had attracted support from around 800 people and announced plans to march “against Muslim immigration and Islamic influence.” Its demonstrations in Germany have sparked concern and counter-demonstrations. Police in Oslo said they hadn’t received a formal application to mount a demonstration next week but were “in dialogue” with those initiating one.