22/7 The terrorist chose to kill politically engaged young people because of people like me

Ten years after the terrorist attacks, it is perceived as difficult to just be allowed to be a completely ordinary Norwegian Muslim, writes Farukh Qureshi. Foto: Javad Parsa / VG

Farukh Qureshi, City council representative, Oslo Labor Party
from original published in Aftenposten in Norwegian

It sometimes feels like I have to explain and defend my existence.

When the bomb went off, I was not in the Government Quarter. When the terrorist shot at Utøya, I was not there either. Nor was I a member of the Labor Party.

The fear caught me. Fear that it was a Muslim who was behind it, and whether we as a society at all would be able to stand together after the bomb. I followed the news, and the experts had no doubt that it was Muslims who were behind it.

Basically not me either. In between the pictures from the Government Quarter, I could not put my fear away.

At the same time, I hoped that both the experts and I were wrong about the terrorist.

Feeling of relief
Eventually, reports of shootings on Utøya began to arrive. I sat with my heart in my throat for the next few hours. Shortly before I came across information about the terrorist on Twitter, I watched Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s press conference, where he said that “Norway stands together in times of crisis”.

I was amazed that it was not a Muslim. On the one hand, I felt a sense of relief, but I could not enjoy it. For that, the atrocities were too great. For the next few hours, I tried to find information about the terrorist. I read just about everything I came across.

Guilt feeling sneaked upon me.

It was because of me – a Norwegian Muslim – that the terrorist chose to blow up the Government Quarter and shoot politically engaged children and young people on Utøya.

The fight against hatred
I was convinced that the unity experienced in the days after the terrorist attack would exist for a long time. That key politicians from the Progress Party would be more aware of how they express themselves.

I had hoped that the rise of right-wing extremism would be taken seriously.

But most of all, I had perhaps hoped that more people would get involved in the fight against hatred and everyday racism. Especially across political divides.

Hundreds of thousands gathered in central Oslo to march in commemoration of those who died in the terrorist attack in the Government Quarter and on Utøya. Photo: Morten Holm / NTB

Creates differences in society
My conviction was clearly wrong. What are we going to do with an action plan against discrimination and hatred of Muslims from the government when the same government has given state support to a blog that polarizes, splits, and feeds on hatred by supporting the conspiracy theory of Eurabia.

When we have a former Minister of Justice who has advocated crusades against Muslims and further flirts with the far right?

At the same time, we have experienced that right-wing extremists have once again marched in our streets in recent years. We have experienced a new terrorist attack committed by a right-wing extremist just eight years after July 22, 2011.

Where there used to be cyber-trolls behind the hatred, it can be anyone today

Other groups are also doing their utmost to create artificial divisions in our society under the guise of concerns over freedom of expression.

Trolls do not crack in the sun
We were to face hatred with love. What has happened in the period after 22 July worry more than I like to express. We did not have a good enough debate about the mindset, and the hatred behind the terror in 2011 for me this seems to be an obvious reason.

We need to talk about the hatred that is spreading in our society. We must acknowledge that it is real, counteract and stand together against hatred.

Over time, we have seen a normalization of hatred. What was not OK to express yesterday, you can just as well say today, without anyone raising an eyebrow.

Where there used to be cyber-trolls behind the hatred, it can be anyone today. Maybe even the ones you least expect it from. The claim that trolls crack in the sun is simply not true.

It has not come by itself, nor has it arisen in a vacuum. There is a reason why the forces on the far right have got water on their mill.

Most recently today, someone tagged “Breivik was right” on Benjamin Hermansen’s memorial at Holmlia.

Must defend my existence
Words that are said are important, and so are those that are not said. Ten years after the terrorist attacks, it is perceived as difficult to just be allowed to be a completely ordinary Norwegian Muslim.

It sometimes feels like I have to explain and defend my existence. I have felt the hatred in the comment fields where I have been compared to cockroaches, but also in the form of direct messages and in real life.

Although I was wrong about unity and how we as a society would handle the time after the terrorist attacks, I have not given up. I can not be a spectator to the development of society.

That is why I have chosen to get involved.

We owe far too many never to forget, never to keep quiet. Both those who were killed, injured, their relatives, and everyone else who has felt the hatred on the body.

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