Some thoughts are easy to write down. While others are much more difficult.
Difficult because there are a lot of emotions. Difficult because there are many people involved, with their own thoughts, and their own feelings.
I feel a strong need to share my thoughts and experiences about what happened at Øvre Torv in Kristiansand on Saturday 16 November 2019. But I knew it was absolutely necessary to let some time pass before I did. I do not want to write anything in affect. Everything I say and everything I write I can stand for. That is important to me.
Most people probably heard abut the SIAN (Stop Islamization of Norway) demonstration at Øvre Torv on Saturday. And most people have probably also heard and read the media’s presentation of what happened. For me, and for many others, Muslims and non-Muslims, it is incredibly important to reveal the whole truth. And I will try to do that now.
First of all, thank you to everyone who showed up to show that we do not accept hatred and racism in our city! Thanks to all who chose to spend their time this Saturday to support us, the people SIAN’s words were aimed at. Thank you for all the love and support you showed us.
SIAN called this demonstration “SIAN Stand in Kristiansand – Burning the Qur’an”, and had made clear in advance that their plan was exactly that – to burn the Qur’an. Our local politicians responded by demanding a reassessment of the demonstration, and they withdrew the permit. The reactions were everything from extreme happiness, to people accusing the politicians and the police to ignore the freeedom of speech. It turned out to be a huge discussion, and it all ended up with SIAN getting their permission to demonstrate, but any use of open fire was prohibited for security reasons. The police also made a very clear statement that if they still tried to burn the Qur’an, they would stop the demonstration immediately. This made us confident that the police would intervene if they still tried to set fire to the Qur’an. It made us feel calm and safe.
When SIAN was setting up for their demonstration, they put the Qur’an on a disposable grill. This was removed by police before the demonstration started. Several flags and tabs that counter-protesters had included were removed as they could potentially pose a danger if riots were to occour. An understandable assessment. We feel confident that the police will take the demonstration seriously and that the police are in control. Even after SIAN-leader Arne Tumyr tells the media the same morning that despite the ban on open fire, they have a plan B, we feel calm.
The police had assured us that they would intervene.
The first 45 of the 60 minutes allocated to SIAN had gone like any other SIAN demonstration. Those who had been invited by SIAN to speak were allowed to do so with no resistance other than the cries and slogans of counter-protesters. SIAN was allowed to share their message, and counter-protestors were allowed to share our opposition.
We stood still and heard them cry out that Holy Prophet Muhammad was a pedophile
We stood still and heard them cry out that Holy Prophet Muhammad was a warlord
We stood still and heard them cry out that all Muslim women are oppressed
We stood still and heard them cry out that Islam is a violent religion that must be banned in its entirety
When SIAN-leader Arne Tumyr towards the end of the demonstration brought out the Qur’an and proclaimed that now was the time to burn it, we were still calm. Because we felt confident that the police would intervene if they actually tried to do so. After all, they had been so clear about it.
Tumyr goes on to say that the police have strictly prohibited them setting fire to the Qur’an, and he throws it in a trash can. Of course, it evokes hurt feelings. Some people scream. Someone shout. But there are still no signs of riots. No one has any thoughts in mind to attack anyone. We could have easily done that, because the opening in the fence between us and SIAN was 3-4 meters wide, and the two police officers standing there were facing SIAN, not us.
We are still calm. Thinking this was their «grande finale». Surely they are done now.
But they were not. They said before the demonstration that they had a plan B. They would burn the Qur’an, at whatever cost.
What happened next is so incomprehensible that it is difficult to put in to words. SIAN leader Lars Thorsen manages to take a few steps forward with the Qur’an in his hand. And with a total of 30-40 uniformed and civilian police officers as witnesses, the Qur’an burns for 7 seconds before the first counter-protester decides to take action. Thorsen throws the burning Qur’an on the ground a second before the first counter-protestor runs into him. A second later you can see me jumping in and kicking him.
9 seconds after setting firing to the Quran, the police intervene. That means the police accepted that SIAN set fire to the Quran. They accepted that it burnt for several seconds. But they did not accept that we were responding. There are countless videos of the event on Facebook, YouTube and other media that clearly show the course of events.
They show that we did not take action when Tumyr stood with the Qur’an in his hands
They show that we did not take action when he threw the Qur’an into the trash can
They show that Thorsen was allowed to set fire to the Qur’an.
They show that Thorsen was allowed to walk around and show off a burning Qur’an for a total of 7 seconds without any intervention by police
They show that police decide to intervene only after my friend and I attack the SIAN-leader. At that point the Qur’an had been burning for a total of 9 seconds.
9 seconds may not seem like a long time. But I want you to take your eyes away from the screen. Now close them, and count 9 seconds. It’s actually a really long time
This post I’m writing will not contain an excuse from myself, or an excuse on behalf of any of my friends. I stand by my actions 100%, because my heart tells me it was the right thing to do. I’m ready to face the consequencces. And I would do the same thing again.
The day after this incident, I have one thought in my mind:
If the police had done what they said they would do, that is to comply the ban on open fire, the situation would have never escalated the way it did.
If the police had intervened and stopped Thorsen the second they realized that he actually set the Qur’an on fire, we would never have felt the need to intervene ourselves.
The police had time. Plenty of time. But they chose not to intervene. They chose to let SIAN break the law. They chose to wait for our reaction before they reacted themselves.
The main reason I’m writiting this post is to try to get peope to focus on the consequences of what happened. One obvious consequence is that alot of people now think that we are violent people. All the videos clearly show us running straight at Thorsen. Yes, we kick him. And I have no plans what so ever to excuse or explain that any further. The video clearly show us reacting in a violent way. But that does not make us violent people. That makes us people who are willing to protect what is important to us, at whatever cost.
Some people might feel disappointment towards me when they see me do the things I do. Maybe even anger or disgust. But the people close to me know that those seconds does not define who I am. They tell a story about what I am willing to do to protect what is important to me and my fellow people. But they do not define me as a human being. And I feel no need to excuse my actions.
The fact that some people now believe I am a violent person is something I’m just going to have to accept. I know what my heart is made of, and the people close to me know that I am not a violent person. We were forced to flee a country drowned in violence. Because we want to live in a peaceful country.
The consequence that worries me the most is the effect this incident can have on others. I ask myself; What thoughts did newly arrived refugees and immigrants have about the norwegian police on Friday. And what thoughts do they have today? They have witnessed an extreme right-wing group publicly burning the Qur’an with protection by police. They heard the police give them a promise, and they have seen them break that same promise.
Children and young people in Norway are taught that the police are strong, fair people who will protect the citizens of Norway at whatever cost. We can trust the police. The police will catch the bad people. If you are in trouble, it’s always safe to og to the police. The police will fix it.
We trusted the police on Saturday.
But they turned their backs on us, and they put us in an impossible situation.
At Øvre Torv in Kristiansand, Norway, November 16 2019, it was like time was turned back. It felt like we were in Germany in the early 1930’s. Back at the time where racism went from being a lurking turmoil, to getting a dangerous foothold in society. It didn’t start with the gass chambers. It started with hateful utterences against minorities, and it started with burning books.
I love Norways freedom of speech. It stands very strong in this country. But where do we draw the line on what should be protected by freedom of speech? What is religious criticism and what is mockery? What should be considered public education, and what is hateful utterences? Those are questions impossible to answer.
My personal opinion is that open discussions about religion is healthy. And religious criticism is healthy, as long as it is done in a respectful way. What SIAN is doing is not religious criticism. It is hate, mockery and provocement. And I do not believe hate and mockery against minorities, or words uttered only to hurt people, should be protected by freedom of speech.
Every human being is free to think, mean and feel what they want. I accept that, and I respect the fact there are people out there who hate Islam. It’s their right. The Qur’an is very clear that we should respect other peoples religous freedom.
In Syria we had Christian neighbors. We knew about people who worshipped Satan. In Lebanon I lived in a village where people actually believed that God was a man living there with them. In Norway I have friends who are atheists. I have friends who have converted from Islam to Christianity. I have never felt the need to criticise their choice. I befriend people, and it does not matter to me what their faith is. I believe religion is a private matter, and I respect their choice.
I am open to people asking questions about Islam. I’m open to people wanting to discuss Islam. And I am open to criticism of Islam. Because I believe disgussing these matters can break down walls, and build bridges. But discussions must be based on respect. And yes, I believe even criticism can be respectful.
After I came to Norway is when I first experienced hate against other religions, and especially Islam. Never in my wildest imagination would I ever have thought that an extreme right-wing group like SIAN would be allowed to preach their hate publicly, like I witnessed last Saturday, in this peaceful country. And it makes me really sad that we can’t seem to respect that people are of different faith the same way I’m used to in Syria, where Christians and Muslims were friends and neighbors, and where Mosques and Churches were built side by side.
My phone hasn’t stopped ringing since last Saturday. This has developed into a huge matter, and I can understand that. I really feel the need to thank everyone for your support. My family and I greatly appreciate it.
Several fundraisers have been started to pay the off the fines my friends and I received. It warms our hearts, and we really appreaciate the thought, but we agree to respectfully turn down all financial help. We have hired a lawyer, and we want this to go to trial, as we feel the police had time and opportunity to stop the burning of the Qur’an, but clearly chose not to. We all agree to plee not guilty, and we will not pay the fines. We have a relly long road ahead o fus, but we feel this is such an important matter to take to trial, and our hope is that the outcome of the trial will set some leads on how to handle similar demonstrations and actions in the future. If authorities choose to punish us in any way, we are ready for that. Because that’s what people do in a democratic society.
If any holy scripture was to be burnt in public again tomorrow, I would do what I did all over again. It doesn’t matter if it was the Qur’an, the bible or any other holy scripture. Because bottom line is, everyone whould respect every religion.
We do not know what lies ahead for us the next weeks and months. But we choose to take on this fight.
I would like to use this opportunity to bring another message out to the world. And this is so important to me:
SIAN does not in any way represent the people of Norway. SIAN is a really small group of people, and we certainly do not fear them in any way. The norwegian people are kind and respectful, and my family and I, and my friends, are so grateful towards the people of Norway for the way they have taken us in and helped us. The problem is politics and these very few, small extreme right-wing groups. The problem is not in any way the people of norway in general.
Courtesy: Omar’s Social Media (Facebook Profile)