OSLO: Members of civil society and the Norwegian public gathered in the town of Kristiansand to express their solidarity with the Muslim community after a far-right group attempted to desecrate Muslim religious scriptures.
Holding up placards that said Norwegians must stand together, “even if we are different”, some Norwegians also played recitations of the Quran in the same place that Lars Thorsen, leader of the far-right rally that organised the “Quran-burning”, was present. In pictures from the original rally, it is apparent many Norwegians came out to express their disapproval of the rally, with posters such as “Racism is unacceptable in Norway’s streets” and “No Qurans will be burned in Kristiansand” indicating that Thorsen was being called out by Norwegians even while the rally was taking place.
It was interrupted when a Palestinian man from Lebanon, a Norwegian citizen named Omar Dhaaba, disrupted Thorsen’s attempt at burning the Quran. He has been fined for physically assaulting a police officer.
The mayor of Kristiansand has said that his office “condemns” the incident, and perceives the act by Thorsen as an act of racism. In 2018, Thorsen was convicted of “discrimination” and “hateful speech” for spreading pamphlets that painted ordinary Norwegian Muslims as sexual predators.
The Anglican Church of Norway has also condemned the incident, calling the attempt to desecrate the Quran an “unholy act”.
Muslims make up almost 6% of Norway’s population, a number that may increase in later census figures. This makes Muslims the fourth biggest community in Norway, with Protestants, Catholics, and the “unaffiliated” (referring to atheists or agnostics) being the big three respectively. Sweden, a Scandinavian country that neighbors Norway, has taken in Europe’s largest population of Syrian refugees, and easy border flow between the two countries mean that the demographic effects of taking in such a large population of Muslims from the Middle East will also be felt in Norway.
Although not considered as “immigrant-friendly” as neighboring Sweden or North America’s Canada, Norway has been host to one of the world’s largest Pakistani diaspora communities, most of which lives in or around the capital county, Oslo.