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Sunday, 22 February 2015

Norway Muslims Encircle Synagogue to Support Jews

OSLO—A group of young Muslims embraced the Jewish synagogue in Oslo in a “ring of peace” Saturday, protesting anti-Semitism and denouncing violence after terrorist attacks targeting Jews in neighboring Denmark and in France, in what Jewish leaders described as a unique and heartwarming event.

“I feel gratitude and hope,” said Ervin Kohn, head of the Jewish congregation in Oslo. “This sends a strong signal to our little congregation, that we’re not alone.”
About a thousand people showed up at the event, which was heavily protected by police. The symbolic human chain around the synagogue was formed by mostly younger Muslims, holding hands and expressing their support of Jews in speeches, and the crowd applauded and cheered the initiative.
“We must kill the prejudices we have and move on from hate,” Hassan Raja, 30, one of the organizers, told The Wall Street Journal. “We hope to get people to respect and understand other religions.”
The event comes after the Paris terrorist attacks against the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and a kosher shop where four Jews were killed, and the attacks against a free-speech debate and a Jewish synagogue in Copenhagen that killed two people, including 37-year-old Jew Dan Uzan.
Jews are a small minority in Norway, counting only 1,300 people out of a population of 5.17 million.
The initiative to form a human protective ring around the synagogue was taken by a small group of young Muslims last week, and quickly gained support, including a supporting event in Norway’s second city, Bergen.
“We Muslims face the same fear as you [Jews], and we will face it together with you,” Hajrah Ashrad, 17, another of the organizers, told the crowd outside the synagogue. “We hope we can contribute to reduce radicalization in our own group by showing that the majority of young Muslims support Jewish rights.”
The unusual event also comes as traditionally unarmed Norwegian police are carrying guns on a temporary basis, amid warnings from Norway’s Police Security Service that a terrorist attack is likely within the coming year. In July, the security service warned that Syrian foreign fighters were planning an imminent attack against unknown targets in Norway, scrambling armed police officers to guard potential targets such as airports and major transport hubs. Police said potential attacks may include solo terrorists or small groups attacking symbolic targets, a pattern similar to the attacks in Paris and Copenhagen.
“Allahu akbar, Allah is great! Our common God is everywhere in the world, but most of all God is where rings are formed and bridges are built between people,” Jewish Rabbi Michael Melchior told the crowd. “That’s where God wants to be. That’s where the future of humanity is secured. Thank you all for coming here tonight.”
Norway was widely praised for its unity and peaceful response to a right-wing terrorist attack on July 22, 2011, targeting the country’s multicultural society, with the country’s leaders vowing more openness and democracy. Both the organizers and the Jewish leaders said Saturday’s event was held in the same spirit and an attempt to meet hate with love.
The event follows a protest in August where thousands of Norwegians, including major Muslim organizations, showed their contempt of the Islamic State terrorist group, and denounced the use of violence in the name of Islam.
However, the recent attacks in Copenhagen and Paris also have sharpened the debate in Norway about immigration policies, with parts of the ruling Progress Party blaming other parties for failed policies and young Muslims’ recruitment by foreign terrorist groups.
The Oslo synagogue was hit by 11 bullets in September 2006, and a well-known Islamist was later convicted of vandalism, but cleared of terrorism charges. After the recent Copenhagen attack, the city of Oslo decided to close Bergstien Street, housing one of Norway’s two synagogues, to all car traffic for at least two years.

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