After the Copenhagen Synagogue Shooting, Norway's Muslims Are Taking a Powerful Stand
Almost every time a Muslim radical commits an act of violence in the name of their religion, critics of Islam ask why moderate Muslims aren't lining up to denounce extremism.
But in Oslo, a few hundred miles from where 37-year-old Jewish security guard Dan Uzan was murdered in Copenhagen, Denmark, last week by a 22-year-old Palestinian suspect, moderate Muslims actually are. The Times of Israel reports that more than 600 people have signed up on Facebook to attend a rally and "peace ring" surrounding a synagogue on Bergstien Street in Norway's capital planned for Saturday.
What they're doing: In two related attacks at a cafe and synagogue, the suspect in the Copenhagen incidents killed Uzan and another man, in addition to wounding five police officers. Danish authorities have charged two other men with aiding the suspect.
The protesters hope to form a symbolic wall against anti-Semites who might wish to do the synagogue and its congregation harm, as well as denounce any violence or intimidation threatened by Islamic radicals or others in the wake of a series of high-profile shootings that have hit Europe since the beginning of the year.
Organizer Hajrad Arshad told the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation NRK that the goal of the gathering is to "extinguish the prejudices people have against Jews and against Muslims." She added, "We think that after the terrorist attacks in Copenhagen, it is the perfect time for us Muslims to distance ourselves from the harassment of Jews that is happening."
Local Jewish leader Ervin Kohn added, according to NRK: "What they are communicating is that if anyone wants to do anything against Jews in Norway, they have to go through us first, and I think that is very positive."
The Times of Israel notes that one English-language comment on the page warned extremists of a similar sentiment: "if anyone wants to commit violence in the name of Islam you will have to go through us Muslims first."
It's a brilliant response to people who paint all Muslims with the same brush. When Muslim radicals attempt to spread hate and terror through acts of violence, commentators like the New York Observer's Nina Burleigh are quick to to denounce the "barbarism" of Islam and tar the faith's 1.6 billion followers as either extremists or appeasers "as much a part of the problem as the men in the minarets, medieval termagants obsessed with maintaining power over sheeple's minds and souls."
But not only does the argument that Muslim moderates remain silent because there are so few of them fall flat on its own premises — did anyone ask all Christians to apologize when right-wing Norwegian man Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 and injured hundreds of others in a 2011 rampage targeted at liberals? — it ignores the fact that moderate Muslims denounce violence after practically every incident.
As the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding President Marc Schneier, himself a rabbi, wrote in the Washington Post in January, numerous Muslim scholars, community leaders and organizations release statements rejecting violence and calling for mutual understanding each time a gun is fired or a bomb goes off. In some cases, like this week in Norway, they have responded by forming physical barriers around targeted communities.
Blaming all Muslims isn't just wrong, it's dangerous: To "dismiss as meaningless the courageous stand of the moderate majority against extremism," Schneier writes, plays into the hands of extremists by perpetuating a "false narrative of perpetual conflict" between the Islamic world and the West.
The result of such a false narrative would be increased power for extremists on both sides of the equation. Already, Reuters reports that a spokesman for the right-wing Danish People's Party has announced that "for a while, Denmark tried the soft approach but after this weekend we believe it's time for the tough approach." The party supports harsher police tactics toward Muslim communities as well as arming Danish police with heavier weaponry at the exact time that experts are stressing the importance of integration.
"They are being much too soft [in Aarhus], and they fail to see the problem," party member and member of Parliament Marie Krarup told the Washington Post last year. "The problem is Islam. Islam itself is radical. You cannot integrate a great number of Muslims into a Christian country."
According to the Guardian, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also begun calling for mass Jewish migration from Europe to Israel. European Jewish Association head Rabbi Menachem Margolin told the Guardian: "This is an unacceptable call. I criticized the Israeli government for this call after the Paris attack. I think that by saying 'come to Israel' you basically say: 'There is no way to protect you where you are, so please come to Israel.' People who live in Europe have the full right to live with full security."
With Oslo's Muslim community standing guard at the city's places of worship, that security may be closer at hand than Netanyahu realizes.