Two years have passed since the terror attack at the Al-Noor mosque in Bæreum. What has been done to prevent hate?

Al-Noor Islamic Centre - Skui - BærumPhoto: Heiko Junge / NTB

Today marks the second anniversary of the attempted terror attack at the Al-Noor mosque attack. The sole victim, Johanne Zhangija Ihle-Hansen, was shot and murdered by her stepbrother before he then tried to massacre worshippers at the Al-Noor Mosque in Bæreum. Though the convicted killer is now behind bars, it is another example of the horrific consequences of extremist right-wing radicalization in Norway. However, the Stiftelsen 10 August (10 August Foundation), established to combat further radicalization, wants to ensure that society prevents this dark day in Norwegian history from repeating itself.

Another sad anniversary of intolerance

This year has seen important anniversaries of racially motivated right-wing attacks here in Norway. January marked the 20th anniversary of the brutal murder of Benjamin Hermansen whilst last month was the 10th anniversary of the horrific 22 July attacks. Both attacks severely rocked Norwegian society and forced itself to question whether it really is as tolerant as it appears worldwide.

For the family of Johanne Zhangjia Ihle-Hansen, today marks the day of her brutal murder. August 10, 2019, represents another day, in Norwegian history, where racial hatred, intolerance, and right extremist attitudes led to deadly pain and suffering to many.

The brutal murder of Johanne

Eiksmarka, in Bærum, is one of the leafier and more privileged suburbs on the outskirts of Oslo, known for its tennis club, horse riding, and a good gold course. The last sort of place where you would think a racially motivated hate crime could occur. However, this is exactly what happened here on August 10, 2019.

It was in this suburb that Johanne grew up with her stepbrother, Philip Manshaus. Johanne was adopted from Gansu, China when she was nine months old but they seemed to have a normal sibling relationship according to Philip’s stepmother as reported by Klassekampen.

In mid-2019, Johanne noticed a radical change in her stepbrother’s attitudes which became racist, xenophobic, homophobic. He also decorated his bedroom full of Neo-Nazi paraphernalia. Philip, the Police later learned, feared a future racial war in Norway and wanted to protect his parents. Sometime around 2:35 PM on August 10, 2019, he walked into his step-sister’s bedroom and shot her 4 times simply because she was of Asian origin.

Bærum.Al-Noor Islamic Center at Skui in Bærum. Photo: Heiko Junge / NTB scanpix

Inspired by Christchurch Mosque attacks

Philip then drove, with firearms, to the Al-Noor Mosque, in Skui, and attempted to undertake a massacre inspired by the Christchurch Mosque killings. Before shooting his way into the mosque, through the back door emergency exit, he posted a message on the discussion board, EndChan, praising the perpetrator of the Christchurch attacks, Brenton Tarrant.

Shooting his way into the back of the mosque, through the emergency exit, he had attempted to film the attack with a GoPro and live stream it on Facebook but both failed. Afternoon prayers had just finished with only 3 elderly men in the Mosque. The attacker only managed to fire at a single worshipper (injuring him but not fatally). He was then eventually overpowered by 4 worshippers notably, Muhammad Rafiq and Mohammad Iqbal who were in their 60s and 70s respectively. Only Rafig was shot but not severely injured.

Manshaus was then charged with committing a terrorist act and the intentional and racist murder of his step-sister. On June 11, 2020 he received a 21-year sentence, with a non-parole period of 14 years. He was also made to pay compensation to the three worshippers in the Mosque and the mother of Johanne.

10 August Foundation

The establishment of Stiftelsen 10 August (10 August Foundation) is a rare glimmer of hope that has shone through one of the darkest days in recent Norwegian memory. The foundation’s purpose is to create both a memorial and knowledge center attached to the Al-Noor mosque. It will also run a children’s program aiming to stop radicalization whilst also promoting human rights, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion. Given a NOK 1 million grant in the 2021 budget, it hopes to open a knowledge center by mid-2022.

Upon announcing the grant in 2020, Minister of Education Guri Melby said that the government wanted to help “…build a memory and knowledge center with a focus on dialogue and dissemination of knowledge to prevent hate speech and hateful actions.” It was hoped that this would be part of the preventive work to help further attacks like this occurring again.

Over the past two decades, Norway has been rocked by three racially motivated, deadly, right-wing extremist attacks. For Stiftelsen 10 August, the hope and their aim is to ensure that there will never be a fourth.

Al-Noor Islamic Centre
Photo: Irfan Mushtaq / Heiko Junge / NTB

Worshippers praised by politicians and the public as heroes

Out of this horrific event, there is a small glimmer of hope for the future.
The response of the community was overwhelming. Had the attack taken place just hours later, the mosque would have been packed due to the beginning of the festival of Eid Al-Uha later than night. Two of the men in the mosque, Rafiq and Iqbal, were awarded the Medal of Noble Deed for overpowering the attacker.

They were rightly labeled as heroes throughout the media and were held up as role models for all of Norwegian society, regardless of religion. The same day as the attack, both major parties of the left and right were quick to condemn the attack, the motives behind the attack, and pledged to help prevent the further spread of Islamophobia. Even the then Progress Party leader, Siv Jensen, leader of a right-wing party that wants to limit immigration from Muslim countries, hailed the men as heroes.

Recent growth of radicalisation makes foundations work even more important

In recent years, there has been an alarming rise of right-wing extremist radicalization here in Norway, and the growing creep of Islamophobia into the mainstream political debate.

Islamophobic and extremist right-wing organizations like Stopp islamiseringen av Norge (Stop Islamisation of Norway, SIAN) have grown in popularity and held very public and provocative events throughout Norway in recent years. Islamophobia has also crept into more mainstream politics. Just months after the Al Noor mosque attack the former leader of the FrP (Progress Party), Siv Jensen, accused Muslims who refused to greet people of the opposite sex of undertaking “sneak Islamisation.”

The radicalization of Norwegians, either to extremist right-wing ideologies or to fundamental Islam, is also a worrying trend. According to the Norwegian Police Security Service, these two ideologies represent the biggest terrorist threat to Norway today.

Photo: Vegard Grøtt / NTB

An attack from ‘within

The growing rise of right-wing extremism, however, seems to come from within Norwegian society itself. The perpetrators of all right-wing extremist acts, over the past 20 years, have all been born and bred in Norway. The fact that these people became radicalized without anyone seemingly notice is concerning. Obviously, the internet has helped the spread of this ideology worldwide but more must be done here at home.

In the week following the attack, the then Children and Family Minister announced an action plan against Islamophobia which was presented in December 2019. In it, a study points to the fact that 1 in 3 Norwegians have “a pronounced prejudice against Muslims…” and there must be more research and education, throughout Norway, on anti-racism.

This is where the role of Stiftelsen 10 August is so vitally important. Not only does it want to build a memorial, so the horrendous events of August 10, 2019, are never forgotten, but also wants to educate future generations of Norwegians against all forms of racism, Islamophobia, and intolerant attitudes.

Must not be complacent, dialogue and education paramount

The praise and support, from the local community, national politicians, and the media, show that the majority of society here is tolerant, open-minded, and peaceful. However, we should not be complacent. Since the turn of the century, 3 horrific attacks have been undertaken here, in one of the most peaceful societies in the world. Though Norway is a changing society, it is only has a recent history of immigration and an even more recent one of non-white immigration. The work of Stiftelsen 10 August is important for the proper education of the younger generation of Norwegian society.

Ongoing dialogue between all members of the community regardless of their ethnic, religious, or cultural background is important. In fact, the Muslim community reached out for dialogue with their largest opponent, SIAN, in Drammen in 2019. This is the brave sort of “turn the other cheek” action that can help build bridges and understanding – however hard it must have been for the Muslim community.

For the family and friends of Johanne, however, today is the day two years ago that a daughter, friend, and classmate was needlessly taken from their lives. Let us hope that her death is the last like it and that Norway learned the valuable lesson of the importance of education against all forms of racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and other hate-fuelled attitudes.

Vale Johanne Zhangjia Ihle-Hansen
(2002 – 2019)

Rest In Peace // Hvil i fred

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Norway Today unless specifically stated.

About the author:

Jonathan is a lover of the written word. He believes the best way to combat this polarization of news and politics, in our time, is by having a balanced view. Both sides of the story are equally important. He also enjoys traveling and live music.

Source: #Norway Today / #NorwayTodayNews

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