Skip to main content


Lead Summary

by Hege Herfindahl
Growing up in the homogenous society of post war Norway, I had never seen a person with skin color different from mine. Neither had I encountered people who did not belong to the Norwegian state church.
This did not change much when I moved with my husband and young son to rural Minnesota. All our neighbors and friends had ancestors from Europe and belonged to a church not very different from the one I was used to.
But change happens. It is inevitable and should be embraced. I was maybe a little uncomfortable around the many Pakistanis who entered Norway in the 1960s, taking the jobs no one else wanted. They spoke only broken Norwegian and did not worship or even eat like the rest of us did. Pretty soon, there were Kebab restaurants all over Oslo and the Pakistani kids who came to school with us were born in Norway and spoke fluent Norwegian.
Our family’s attention to racial prejudice changed radically when our son, Erland, married Esther, a sweet and charming girl from Kenya. Then, Nils was born; our grandson and he did not have blue eyes and pale skin. We love him with the passion of grandparents everywhere and we do look out for him. We naturally do not want him to experience violence based on people’s misguided views on race.
Last week, there were two violent attacks in Denmark, the first one on a free speech seminar and the second one on a synagogue. The attacks were carried out by a man with a history of violence. He had been jailed for stabbing a man while under the influence of drugs. He claimed to have become a jihadist and carried out the attacks in the name of a violent strain of Islam, the so-called ISIS.
Another such attack was intercepted in Belgium before it could come to fruition. And then, of course, we had the two attacks in January in France; one against the office of the satirical magazine “Charlie Hobdo” and the other against a kosher grocery store frequented by Jews.
In the wake of all these terrible happenings, there is a debate going on:
should we simply condemn and outlaw Islam, since its extreme strain produces violence? Or do misfits who want to commit violence simply embrace this violent strain to find solutions and outlets for their own narrow and prejudice-filled outlook on the world? Does the solution to the atrocities lie in finding the reasons for the lure of violence among disenfranchised youth?
On Saturday, February 21, a group of young Norwegian Muslims plan on creating a circle of peace around the synagogue in Oslo. They will prove that they oppose any form of terrorism. They renounce anti-Semitism and attacks on freedom of speech. They protest the right of terrorists to define Islam to the world. They proclaim that any person, who wants to threaten the Jews of Norway, will have to go through them first.
Freedom of religion should be freedom for everyone to worship as they please. This freedom can only exist if we not only accept that people have the right to worship as they please, but also respect this right. If we condemn all Muslims because of the actions of a few terrorist elements, these elements have won. They want a world where intolerance reigns, where people are afraid, where we hate our neighbors because of their race or religion and where democracy and freedom of speech and religion are no more.

Sign up for News Alerts

Subscribe to news updates