Sad smugness after Oslo

By Saleem H Ali

As the news of the horrific terrorist attacks in Oslo unfolded, I must admit that my first inclination was to suspect jihadist forces at work. A few years ago, I had attended a Friday khutba at a mosque in Oslo and had been shocked by the level of political vitriol which the Urdu-speaking cleric at the mosque was hurling at the West. Several threats had been made against Norway by Muslim fanatics, as well as by Libyan leader Qaddafi, regarding Norway’s military involvement with Nato. Thus to assume a possible connection of such an attack to Muslim extremism was understandable.

The Pakistani community in Norway is the largest ethnic minority in the country, and while many of them have assimilated quite well and are serving in numerous professional positions, there are also others who remain on the margins. The same is true of other Muslim immigrants in Scandinavia. An unfortunate clash of cultures has indeed led to a rise in right-wing extremism across this otherwise peaceful and egalitarian region.

Pakistani-born Danish activist Bashy Quraishy has documented cases of racism against Muslims in the region. What is remarkable about Mr Quraishy’s work is that he is not religious personally, but has championed the cause of Muslims in Scandinavia and Europe in the face of rising extremism. No doubt, we have a clash of extremism that has turned malignant and must be addressed. The Oslo attacks will perhaps catalyse greater action in this regard and more soul-searching among conservative political parties in Europe. In this regard, it is important to keep the pressure on western media venues to be fair in their reporting and analysis and to give Muslims due respect and the benefit of any doubt.

Yet there was an unfortunate reaction from the Muslim world that is also palpable after this attack. As soon as it was revealed that the attacker was a non-Muslim, emails and tweets started coming through of Muslims feeling vindicated that this time it was not one of them. Implicit in this reaction was a disturbing smugness that we Muslims are now beyond reproach and are victims of a western media ‘smear campaign’. No doubt the media should have waited before jumping the gun and suggesting Muslim connections to the attack. In particular, The New York Times article right after the attacks was particularly irresponsible by quoting some rumours about an Islamist connection.

However, Muslims must not become complacent and need to be shocked out of denial and realise that the most pernicious terrorist attacks within Muslim countries, including Pakistan, are indeed caused by Islamic fundamentalists. We constantly have to deal with fundamentalism on a daily basis in Pakistan because of a paranoid view of the world where fanatics want everyone else to respect them and their interpretation of faith, and who consider anyone who disagrees with them as ‘infidels’. Note how many moderate Muslim scholars such as Javed Ghamdi have fled the country for this reason. So let’s not sink into a ‘victim complex’ and let’s not ignore these serious challenges.

Because one Christian fundamentalist terrorist committed a vile and despicable act in Norway does not exonerate or diminish the seriousness of the problem of Islamic fundamentalism. While I hope this tragedy will make western organisations reconsider their assumptions about the source of terrorism, it is essential that this is not used as an excuse by Muslims to become sanguine about the problem in their own house. All forms of absolutist ideologies have to be resisted whether right wing, left wing or flightless follies that might later take wing!


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