Attitudes Towards Muslims & Islamophobia in Norway

Published in Life in Norway, Nov. 04, 2022

Around ⅓ of Norwegians show considerable prejudice towards Muslims, and many seem to have a great fear of Islam. How did this come to be?

Islamofobia or Muslim-hate are terms used to describe prejudice, fear and hostility against Islam and Muslims.

July 22nd and Islamophobia

Many people may not know the terror attack July 22nd 2011, where 77 people were killed, was partially driven by Islamophobia. The terrorist, Breivik, supports a conspiracy theory, where the belief is the political and academic elite in Europe is cooperating with Arab countries in order to increase Muslim immigration. The conspiracy theory, Eurabia, is supported by white supremacists all over the continent. They also think the plan is to destroy European civilization, and make Europe an Islamic colony

It seems the terrorist viewed the Norwegian Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet) as representing the elite in Norway, and that he was convinced they were helping Muslims to take over Norway. By shooting at people aimlessly at the Labour Party’s annual summer camp for youth, it looks like he tried to prevent this by destroying their political future. Many of the victims were teenagers, and the devastation was unfathomable.    

Norwegian’s attitudes towards Muslims

Although few Norwegians support conspiracy theories openly, there seems to be a deep fear of Muslims in the general population. A survey from 2017 found that 30% of people in Norway agree with the statement: “Muslims want to take over Europe”. This indicates that more than a few actually share some of Breiviks beliefs. 

The survey conducted attitudes towards Jews and Muslims, and the conclusion is that around 1/3 of the population show marked prejudices against Muslims. For example, 39% agree with the statement “Muslims are a threat to Norwegian culture” and  almost 50% support the statement “Muslims largely have themselves to blame for the increasing anti-Muslim harassment.” 

And although the majority (80%), think such attitudes are common in Norway, few consider it necessary to do something to combat Islamophobia.

Why are so many afraid of Islam? 

Current events involving terrism or violent actions, seem to intensify Norwegian’s prejudices and fear. An example is this June, when two people got killed during Pride. The terrorist was driven by radical Islam, and probably homophobia. 

Another example is when a young woman recently got killed by the moral police in Iran, because her hijab didn’t meet the strict requirements. 

These tragic stories are, naturally, all over the news. And are examples of occurrences that are extremely incompatible with Norwegian values.

However, many Muslims in Norway, feel they are blamed for actions driven by solitary terrorists, and for unhumane practices in regimes with a strict Sharia Law. 

When prime minister Jonas Gahre Støre this summer during the memorial of July 22nd, reached out to Muslims communities to speak up against radical Islam, it led to an upheated debate in Norwegian media. Representatives for the Islamic community felt this was an attack on all Norwegian Muslims.  Furthermore, they argued Støre contributed to generalized and stereotypical views and Islamophobic attitudes. Strøre, on the other hand, insisted he had good intentions, and that it is important to speak up against all kinds of radicalism. 

Stealth islamization

In Norwegian politics, attitudes with islamophobic components, first occured around 2009 when 

Siv Jensen, leader of  The Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet), introduced the term “stealth islamization” or “sneak islamization”. This was very controversial, because the rhetoric is in fact, used by the conspiracy theorists that inspired Breivik. 

Frp still defends the use of the term. However, today’s leader, Sylvi Listhaug emphasizes the party distances themselves from all conspiracies. What they want to describe is when Norwegian society in general has to accommodate special requirements from Muslims. 

Examples used by Frp are when Norwegian children have to eat halal at birthday parties, the police allow Muslim women to wear hijabs on passport photos, and that Muslims girls have to have separated swim education from boys.

It set the stage for using the term islamization in Norwegian public debate. Examples described as islamization by others, was when Crown Prince Haakon visited an Islamic Center in 2019, and a Muslim woman refused his handshake. Another similar example was when Iran’s minister of foreign affairs refused to shake hands with Norwegian minister Anniken Huitfeldt, and she didn’t seem to oppose this.

Anti-Islam organizations in Norway

Stop The Islamization of Norway (SIAN), is an organization which fights against what they perceive as increased islamization of Norway. They have around 12 000 followers on Facebook. SIAN is protesting around Norway and holding appeals in the major cities, and has burned the Quran in public several times.

According to SIAN’s website, Islam is a totalitarian ideology and movement contrary to the Constitution of Norway, legislations and Norwegian society. Additionally, they argue Islam is incopatible with democratic and humane values worldwide through the legislative system sharia. They claim to be not racist or dislike Muslims in general. However, the leader, Lars Thorsen, has previously been convicted for expressing hateful utterances against muslims. 

There have also been attempts to cause harm to him personally. In July, when Thorsen burned the Quran outside a mosque in Oslo, his car was chased, hit, and rammed onto its roof. Nobody was seriously injured, although the two women have been charged with causing or being complicit in bodily harm. 

Is it legal to burn the Quran in Norway?

Yes it is legal, because it is considered a statement towards an ideology, and protected by freedom of speech. Neither is it illegal to burn the Norwegian flag. 

Freedom of speech is a human right in Norway and an essential part of our democracy. Prejudice and expression of hate towards systems and ideologies, including Islam or and religious symbols, is considered within the boundaries of the Constitution. However, according to the Norwegian criminal code, it’s illegal to express hate against a person because of ethnicity, color of skin, or religious beliefs.

As such, there are many gray areas. Burning the Quran in  combination with racist comments in public, might not be within the boundaries of Norwegian Law. 

Nonethewith, it seems like quite a few challenge the freedom of speech through social media.  More often than not, Norwegian newspapers had to close their commentary fields this summer when reporting news stories regarding Muslims or Pride. It looks like social media amplifies prejudices towards Muslims, but also negative stereotypes against other minorities.

Political action to prevent Islamophobia

The previous Norwegian Government initiated an action plan to combat discrimination and hatred towards Muslims.

The intention is to decrease islamophobic tendencies, through cooperation with Muslim organizations, dialogue with the police, schools, kindergartens and civil society. In addition, the goal is to increase knowledge in general and especially about the labour market.

The question is if this will result in less prejudice towards Muslims and less fear of Islam in Norway in the future. Watch this space.

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