Norwegian Muslim ‘Ring of Peace’ Gains Steam

February 21, 2015  

Hundreds of people were expected at a peace vigil in Oslo Saturday, hosted by young Norwegian Muslims expressing solidarity with Jews a week after fatal shootings in Denmark targeted a synagogue and free speech seminar.

The initiative by Norway’s Muslim youth to link arms with Norwegian Jews in a circle around Oslo’s synagogue was an effort to denounce recent violence by Muslim jihadists striking Jewish communities in France and Denmark.

“We want to show that we stand with the Jewish people and protect them. We don’t want extremists in Norway who think they can do as they wish to ordinary people,” 26-year-old Atif Jamil, one of the organizers of the human chain told AFP on Saturday.

By Saturday afternoon, nearly to 2,500 people had signed up for the “ring of peace” event on a Facebook page, though organizers expect about half that number to attend.

While that turnout would easily allow the ring to be formed around the synagogue as initially planned, police concerns over safety and control of such a large crowd meant complete encirclement of the building would not be allowed.

Still, organizers said the overwhelming response to the effort had made it a success already.

“This has completely snowballed. I’m getting so much positive feedback from people around the globe. I believe that we can live together and make the world a better place – even if that sounds like some kind of fairy tale,” said Jamil.

Impetus for the link-up came from the desire by young members of Norway’s Muslim community – who represent roughly 3% of the nation’s total 5.3 million population – to demonstrate support and solidarity with the country’s estimated 1,300 Jews, following the second Copenhagen attack that killed a 37-year-old Jewish volunteer security guard outside the city’s synagogue.

The gunman, named by police as 22-year-old Omar El-Hussein – a Dane of Palestinian Arab origin – was reportedly radicalized by Islamists during a two-year jail term.

Hope for the future?

The Oslo vigil was to take place after Shabbat early on Saturday evening. Even before the event began, leaders of Norway’s Jewish and Muslim communities said it had given them hope for the future.

“The beautiful thing is that Muslim youth want to stand up against anti-Semitism, and that gives me hope,” Norway’s Jewish community leader Ervin Kohn told news agency NTB.

“I hope this can be the start of a completely different kind of Muslim-Jewish dialogue both in Norway and internationally,” he added.

Leaders of Norway’s Muslim community have condemned the Copenhagen killings.

Youssef Bartho Assidiq, a Muslim youth leader, claimed to AFP that the event proved that Muslims “stand up for freedom of speech, stand up for freedom of religion and stand up for each other”.

“This is the best possible response we can give to the polarization we’ve seen in debates after the attacks in France and Denmark,” he said.

Despite the positive views being voiced around the event, Norway reportedly has the highest level of anti-Semitic beliefs of any Nordic country. The large Muslim community in Norway seems to have a relation to the rise of anti-Semitism. 

In one example from January 2013, Nehmat Ali Shah, the imam at Norway’s largest mosque – the Jamaat-e Ahl-e Sunnat mosque – claimed in an interview with Dagsavisen  that the existing hostility between Muslims and Christians is caused by Jewish influence.

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