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Norwegian Muslims vow to protect Oslo synagogue

In a show of solidarity with the Jewish community, a group of Muslims in Norway plan to form a human 'peace ring' around a synagogue in Oslo.

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    A sign is placed among flowers near a cultural center where a person was shot and killed in an attack last week in Copenhagen, Denmark, Tuesday, Feb. 17. The attacks, along with those that occurred in Paris a month earlier, have triggered both positive and negative reactions across the region.
    Michael Probst/AP Photo/File
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Muslims in Norway want to show that religion doesn't have to be a barrier to peace.

In the wake of last weekend’s deadly attack at a Denmark synagogue, a group of Norwegian Muslims are planning an anti-violence demonstration to be held Saturday – the Jewish sabbath – at a synagogue in Oslo.

The idea is to “extinguish the prejudices people have against Jews and against Muslims” by forming a human “peace ring” around the temple, Hajrad Arshad, one of the event’s organizers, told Norway’s state broadcaster NRK in an interview cited by news site The Local.  

“We think that after the terrorist attacks in Copenhagen, it is the perfect time for us Muslims to distance ourselves from the harassment of Jews that is happening,” Ms. Arshad said.

Indeed, anti-Semitism appears to be on the rise in France and other parts of Europe. The shootings in Copenhagen, believed to be the work of a lone gunman, resulted in two dead, including a Jewish security guard at the synagogue. Jews were also among the victims of the Islamist gunmen involved in the similar attacks in Paris a month earlier.

Recent reports also show that a Jewish man walking around Paris in traditional dress can expect to be taunted and threatened by passersby, and youths in one French suburb took it upon themselves to desecrate about 300 Jewish graves.

At the same time, a growing number of Jews are leaving the European Union for Israel, according to the Israeli Ministry for Immigrant Absorption.

Leaders in the region have tried to soothe the tension. French prime minister Manuel Valls has told his Jewish citizens, “France is wounded with you and France does not want you to leave.”

Following the attacks in Copenhagen, The Guardian reported that Denmark’s prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, acknowledged: “We have tried the ugly taste of fear and powerlessness which terror hopes to create.”

But, she added, “[w]e will defend our democracy and we will defend Denmark at any time.”

There have been rays of hope. A Muslim man was hailed as the hero of the attack on the Paris kosher supermarket in January: Employee Lassana Bathily saved hostages by letting them hide in the store freezer when the gunman came in. In Denmark, tens of thousands took to the streets the Monday after the shootings, singing John Lennon's "Imagine" in what was both a commemoration of the victims and a show of solidarity with the country's Muslim minority, Reuters reported.

And in a somewhat unexpected turn – the leader of Oslo’s Jewish community at first said that he would support the event only if at least 30 Muslims promised to attend – nearly 800 people have said they will attend the planned “peace ring” in Norway, according to the event’s Facebook page.

“Islam is about protecting our brothers and sisters, regardless of which religion they belong to,” the page reads. “Islam is about rising above hate and never sinking to the same level as the haters.”

“Islam,” it continues, “is about defending each other."

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