x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Norway massacre strengthened tolerance, says ambassador to UAE

Gunman killed 77 in a bid to get Muslims out of Europe.

Ms Elin Bjerke said that only in the 1950s was there a monoculture in Norway and it has moved forward since then to a multicultural state.
Ms Elin Bjerke said that only in the 1950s was there a monoculture in Norway and it has moved forward since then to a multicultural state.

ABU DHABI // The killing of 77 people in Norway two weeks ago has led to a counter-reaction to what the anti-Muslim gunman wanted to achieve, according to the Norwegian ambassador to the UAE.

Ase Elin Bjerke said the "shocking" shootings at a youth camp on Utoeya island, near Olso, and the bomb attack in central Oslo, would only make the government "even more tolerant than before" to multiculturalism.

"What we see is a counter reaction, he did not achieve anything," the ambassador said.

"He wanted to destroy but Norway will continue to be open and will continue to be tolerant - even more tolerant than we were."

The killer, Anders Behring Breivik, said his attacks were an attempt at a cultural revolution, aimed at getting rid of Muslims in Europe. Many of the young people in the camp were from multicultural backgrounds.

Ms Elin Bjerke said that only in the 1950s was there a monoculture in Norway and it has moved forward since then to a multicultural state. She said the country does not intend to move backwards.

Since the killings, the embassy in Abu Dhabi has opened a condolences book, which many government officials and other ambassadors have signed.

Members of the public, Norwegian and Arab, have also contacted the embassy since the attacks to offer their condolences. In Norway, there have been marches, community gatherings, and memorials.

Ms Elin Bjerke, who still finds it difficult to talk about the attacks, said that time was needed for the Norwegian people to grieve.

Campaigning for the country's elections, due next month, has been postponed until mid-August. "So many have been affected, it is still difficult not to become emotional," she said through tears.

"When we learnt about the news we were shocked, in total shock. The Norwegian people were in total shock. The whole world was shocked. We are still in shock.

"What our people said and government said is true - Norway is a small country, everyone is affected."

Norway's immigrants, who make up about 12 per cent of the population, had been deeply affected by the attacks, added Ms Elin Bjerke.

"A lot of young talented persons were lost and civil servants," she said, adding that the immigrant population has greatly contributed to her nation and its economy.

"I call them the new Norwegians. We are not enough Norwegians to sustain the country, we need them to help. Immigrants, or the new Norwegians, participate in public life, public debate, are represented in political parties, municipality elected boards, and they are active in the Labour Party.

"All Norwegians are invited to participate. Immigrants are seen as Norwegians and their children are a natural part of the Norwegian population."

Ms Elin Bjerke said the Muslim population has also increased in recent years and was well integrated, but there is still room for improvement.

People of all ethnic backgrounds in Norway need to participate in public debate, she said, adding that the attacker did not.

"There is a broad spectrum of opinions and they need to come out to light," she said.

"Inclusion is an ongoing discussion - how to become better in integrating new members of society."

osalem@thenational.ae