As a Norwegian, I’d like to share some thoughts I’ve had since the terrorist attacks in Oslo and on Utøya last Friday. First of all I would like to extend my condolences and sympathy to all those affected directly by the attacks. These have been horrible, tragic events that are difficult to comprehend, and which have shocked us all.
What has happened is terrible, and it is bound to affect us for a long time to come. The way the Norwegian leaders and people have met this however, makes me proud. Our values will remain unchanged or strengthened. To say that we will not be pushed or manipulated into fear or violence by one deluded man with a perverted ideology is to state the obvious. The last few days have been filled with hundreds of thousands of candles and flowers, moving words and songs, interspersed with quiet moments for reflection. A record number of people have been out in the streets day after day to pay their respects and share the pain, and a solemn calm has rested over the entire country in a way we have ever experienced before.
Shame, but also relief
It may sound like a strange sentiment, but I’ve heard it from many different people, and I feel it myself too: We are ashamed that the terrorist was “one of our own”, seemingly a typical, normal young Norwegian man. It disgusts us and his actions go against everything we stand for. At the same time, many of us are relieved that this was not a plot by fundamentalist Muslim terrorists, for who knows what reactions we would have seen here and in the rest of the world then? The attacks were horrible, no matter who carried them out, but as a group, the Muslims are exceptionally easy to heap together and blame these days. Thankfully the fear and anger that might then have been directed towards innocent people never materialized, since the terrorist did not live up to the stereotype so many had expected.
I think this is a subtle point that needs to be made abundantly clear: We were attacked, not in protest or retaliation by fundamental Muslims, but by a paranoid and deluded Norwegian who fears the open, friendly, multicultural society we are striving to create. In my view, the attacks themselves and the reactions following them can only confirm and strengthen our commitment to that society.
Reactions towards Muslims and our responsibilities
If some ethnic Norwegians were relieved, many Muslims were all the more so. For many, the night following the attacks had been sleepless and filled with fear of blame and repercussions. Instead Muslims are now showing their support along with everyone else. Summer Ejaz is the spokesperson for the Islamic Council in Norway, an organization that tries to help form a Norwegian-Muslim identity that can integrate well into Norwegian society, and to create dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims. In an interview with the newspaper Aftenbladet he says (my own translation):
I think it [the attack] will strengthen the ties between Norwegians and immigrants. The attack has shown that the enemy can be found among all groups, and that evil can only be met with fellowship.
(Original article in Norwegian)
Given the new situation in the wake of these attacks, is there anything we can do to improve the ties between Muslims and non-Muslims? There will always to be challenges as we try to build a better society, but I believe this is an opportunity that we ought to make use of. These last few days have brought all who live in Norway closer together. Continuing this, especially with regard to that one group of people which is often eyed with such suspicion, would be the perfect protest against the man and the ideas behind the attacks on Oslo and Utøya.
Parts of the Muslim population itself has been trying to reach out to the rest of us for some time now. Take the “Tea Time”-initiative for instance, wherein Muslims are encouraged to invite their neighbors or others over for tea. Commercials aired on TV and radio encourage us to get together, for as one girl in the ad (posted below) states, those who know any Muslims do not seem to be afraid of them.
I think this is a admirable initiative, and one that deserves more attention. You can find more information (unfortunately only in Norwegian) at facebook.com/teatime, or see the commercial below.
If you are a Muslim living in Norway, what would it take for you to invite someone you don’t know over for tea? If you are a non-Muslim, would you accept? I’d like to think that I would; Who knows where such a small first step may lead in time?