After the first ecstatic praises and hope that the seeds of universal love had been sown at the Peace Circle around the synagogue in Oslo this past Shabbat, the critical voices are starting to get more attention. I am almost sorry to say that mine will be one of them. For I, too, had exclaimed “This is beautiful!”. As a Norwegian citizen living abroad, I felt a sense of pride that my country was in the world news, the news that spoke of peace and co-existence.

The background for the Peace Circle is grim and serious. Two bloody terror attacks, in Paris and Copenhagen, occurred within one month. The Norwegian Muslim initiative to stand around the synagogue, to say to the outside world, if they want to get to the Jews, they must pass through us first, created a world-wide resonance. Finally, some good news! The Jewish community in Norway did not quite share my excitement, however. A PR-campaign, some said.

The organizers wrote on their Facebook page: “Islam is to protect our brothers and sisters, independently of what religion they belong to. Islam is to rise above hatred and never sink down on the same level as the haters. Islam is to protect each other. Muslims want to show that we strongly condemn all type of anti-Semitism and hatred towards Jews. And that we are there to support them.”

It was the word protect that made me slightly uncomfortable. Because to me it speaks of dhimma, the pact of protection of Muslims over the “People of the Book”. Indeed, the “People of the Book” are to be protected. I personally don’t believe this protection has ever been unconditional — or free, for that matter. The myth of peaceful coexistence says that Jews and Christians have lived in peace with Muslims for centuries, especially in the Middle East. What upset the fine balance was the creation of the state of Israel, the support for it, and the Christian West’s greed for oil and resources. This is when it all went wrong. This is the cause of the present violent resistance from the Muslim world. Moreover, in this worldview, atheistic Zionism is a detrimental ideology not merely for Muslims, but for world peace at large. Whether you subscribe to this maxim or not, the difference between Israel and the Jews has been stated, reiterated and pointed out repeatedly by the organizers of the Peace Circle.

The marked ideological and theological difference between Islam’s position towards Zionists and Jews is nothing new, but worthy to be remembered in this context, especially by my Israeli friends who have expressed such unequivocal praise for the Peace Circle. To give an example, the Palestine Committee of Norway expressed public support for the initiative and encouraged all its members to come to the Peace Circle “to support the fight against anti-semitism”.

However, just to make sure you know which Jews are good Jews, let us look at the excerpts from the Committee’s Program of Principles (available online in Norwegian only).

The Palestine Committee believes that:

  • zionism is racism
  • Israel is an apartheid state, in accordance with the UN Resolution 3068
  • the blockade of Gaza Strip should be lifted and the Palestinian refugees should be given the right of return
  • The Committee supports the creation of a democratic state in Palestine with equal rights for all

The program states furthermore that “As long as the occupation enforced by Israel is internationally accepted, the Palestinian people can not expect justice without themselves engaging in an uprising (intifada). The Palestine Committee supports the right of the Palestinian people to armed resistance…”.

Now that we know where we stand, it also becomes easier to interpret the events.

At the gathering, on February 21st, the chief rabbi is presiding over the outdoor havdalah. Several Muslim organizers hold public speeches afterwards.

Hajra Ashrad says, standing in front of the synagogue: “My name is Hajra Ashrad, I am 17 and I’m a Muslim. I believe in love, freedom and co-existence. Today we Muslims get to show our version of our religion. This is not an event to apologize, this is an event to show that we stand together with you”.

I understand she does not need to apologize for what happened in Copenhagen, because she distances herself from terror and says it has nothing to do with the community she represents. She said in her interview to the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten: “The meaning of this is of course not to apologize for what happened in Copenhagen, but to show that we stand with Jews”. I guess, to say “Not in my name” is left for someone else to do…

In the summer of 2014, Arshad put out a map on her Facebook page, with no Israel on it. She said in an interview, “I think it’s really, really, really important that people distance Israel from Jews because there are a lot of Jews that are not taking any sides in the politics of Israel.” Somehow, she believes that Israel does not have a place on the world map, yet the few Jews left in Norway need the protection of Muslims.

Ali Chishti, wearing a keffiyeh, is the next speaker. He is referring to his controversial statements and anti-semitic conspiracy theories blaming Jews for 9/11 five years ago, when he says:  “In those five years I read and reflected a lot. The world is not black and white. History shows that co-existence between Jews and Muslims have been the norm. Community is a keyword in Islam. We need to show that we are taking its teachings seriously, and fight for peace and freedom with the same zeal as those who spread hate and fear. When we look past the religious and ethnic divides, we are all human with the same needs and desires. If we look at each other as equals, we can succeed in not hating each other.”

Chishti comes from a very religious family. His father was Norway’s first imam, although he calls himself not religious. In 2009, he was speaking in a public forum on anti-semitism in Oslo. The title of the speech was “Why do I hate Jews?”. He said the following in an interview back then: “I don’t hate all Jews. The Jews that support Israel’s right to everything, to keep its sovereignty, those I have issues with. Whether they are zionists, extremists, or Jews, is all one to me. If they are muslims, I hate them too. HATE might be a strong word, dislike would be more appropriate. I am against evil and brutality”. This was six years ago and he may have reached more balanced views, but would he stand and protect the Jews during the next war in Israel? Or will the Jews have to march with the Muslims against Israel if they have to show themselves worthy of solidarity?

Morad Jarodi is one of the last speakers. “It is important to make known the cases where Jews have protected mosques, as we had examples of in the UK,” he says. “It is also important to make known the cases of violence against Muslims.”

Jarodi is a long-term member of The Prophet’s Ummah (Profetens Umma), a salafi Muslim group in Norway. The groups’s leader Ubaydullah Hussain stated in 2012 that the majority of Norwegian Muslims who traveled to Syria to take part in the civil war were members of the the group. Jarodi wrote on his Facebook page in November 2012: “A Muslim never loses a war. He either wins it, or dies and goes straight to paradise.”

With only 1,400 Jews living in Norway, and up to 200,000 Muslims, the Peace Circle is not about reaching out to an equitable partner. While the speakers I quoted above don’t see themselves as anti-semitic, they are, have been, and will be anti-Israel. Indeed, the organizers have indicated repeatedly that there is a big difference between Jews in Norway and Jews in Israel.

A Norwegian commented: “I went to the Peace Circle because I was invited and was cautiously optimistic. I then posted verses from the Quran and Tanakh in order to create a religious background for this reconciliation. I am referring to surat 17:101-104 which say that Israel belongs to the Jews, and Isaiah 19:19-25 which points to a future reconciliation between Jews and Arabs. Then all hell broke loose, for that was not what they had wanted, good Jews were those who stayed away from Israel. I was eventually kicked out of the event. Besides, they decided that Israeli flag was not allowed outside the synagogue, can you believe this? But a Palestinian keffiyeh was ok. As fake as it gets.”

Perhaps the Muslims should let the Jews protect their own synagogues and rather concentrate on fighting the extremism that is wildly flourishing in the Muslim society. Perhaps the majority of Muslims actually let their Norwegian friends perform the noble act of “protection”. The attendance of the Peace Circle was around 1,300 people. According to the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten, most of them were ethnic Norwegians. This reminds me of the recent anti-ISIS demonstration outside the Norwegian Parliament, Stortinget, which was attended mostly by Norwegians…

Idealism and hope may be a sign of a pure heart, but are we to believe that peace can be achieved without effort, that merely marching with roses, singing, and saying “peace and love” often enough would somehow make peace and love materialize?