The usual suspects

The Friday demo protesting Dagbladet‘s printing of the most controversial Mohammed caricature proved to be remarkably predictable, taking Norway’s calm and rational setting and the only slightly hysteric state of its national press.

The protest, which attracted somewhere between 2500-3000 demonstrators, managed to be both completely peaceful yet illegal, measured yet threatening. And when it was all over, of course the Progress Party (FrP) said that the event proved that Norway was not in the throes of ‘stealth Islamization’, but openly roaring down the road to Islamization.

The demonstration was reported live as having turned ‘illegal’, when it began to move out of the agreed area. While this made it sound like a marching threat, next day’s papers agreed that the protest had been tranquil. Nothing transpired from the bands of ‘ex-criminals and radicals’ reported to be working the crowd, threatening Muslim taxi drivers to turn up, and planning trouble.

Worrying counteraction being mobilized via Facebook did not materialize, and the biggest focus of attention, former terrorism-charged Arfan Bhatti, who was a visible organizer of the demo, behaved himself. The peak of excitement was a minor explosion outside a restaurant near the protest, but this was only powerful enough to cause one table to collapse.

The voice of ordinary Muslims had been raised and heard, and there was a general consensus that the speeches had been sensible – the pitfalls of violence and incitement had been avoided. Except for one thing. One speaker appeared to threaten a major act of terrorism if this caricature business did not stop.

Mohyeldeen Mohammad, a spokesman for a group calling themselves ‘The volunteers’, stated: “When will Norwegian authorities and their media understand the seriousness of this? Perhaps not before it is too late. Perhaps not before we have a September 11th on Norwegian soil. This is not a threat, it is a warning.”

Mohammad’s remarks were criticized by moderate Muslim speakers, but of course they provided the perfect invitation for doomsayers, and the FrP used this to hammer home the point of Norwegian ‘Islamization’. In fact it was a calm and rational gathering, with one extremist voice. Mohammad was absolutely unrepentant and uncomprehending about the fuss he caused, simply repeating that he was trying to warn Norway, not threaten it.

On a personal note, the thing that irritated me the most about the protest, were the signs reading ‘Your freedom of speech ends where mine begins‘. I don’t hold out much hope of true integration and sensible dialogue until the concept of free speech is better understood. If that slogan were true, then the most reactionary hypersensitive simply gets everything his way. That’s not how it works. It is equal opportunity of expression that risks insulting anyone, and the boundaries of what is allowed is a tough call that requires mature – and constant – discussion.

It has been a serious few days. Luckily the national media has dubbed Sunday triple-cake day, with Mothers Day, Valentines Day and Shrovetide Bun Day all coinciding.

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