Norway: Fighting religious harassment at school

Norway: Fighting religious harassment at school

"When Jew becomes a curse-word in some youth communities and Muslims are called terrorists, we must take it very seriously.  Everybody must be allowed to live with the religions they have," says Children and Equality minister Anniken Huitfeldt.  This week she visited the 9B class in Ila School in Oslo, where Muslims, Jews and Christians learn together. Yet, the word Jew is the most frequently used curse word in the school, according to some students.

"Some students at the school said "fuck Jew" to a girl in the tenth class after the bombings in Gaza.  It is very unjust that somebody blames her just because she's a Jew," says Sagal Ali Yusuf (14), a student at the school.

Another girl in the class, who didn't want to be named, tells that her best friend is Jewish.  When she told this to her Muslim friends, they responded with disgust.

"They said "Jew best friend" to me and such things.  I don't understand it since Jews are a completely ordinary people," says the 14 year old girl.

Anniken Huitfeldt says that if they don't succeed curbing religious harassment in the classrooms, they won't succeed in society either.

The students in 9B thinks it helps to discuss current religious issues during religion class instead of just learning what happened several thousand years ago.  This will be much more possible when the action plan is implemented from 2009 to 2012.

Both Jewish and Muslim youth recently said that the situation between religious groups is tenser (sharper) and that they feel more threatened, according to Huitfeld.

Therefore the government now sees the need for an action plan.  It all started with the violent demonstrations in Oslo against the invasion of the Gaza Strip.  After this Huitfeld gathered youth from the Mosaic Faith Society, Young Muslim (Ung Muslim) and the Islamic Council of Norway to ask them how Norway can be freed from religious harassment.

Together they got to a series of points.  Somaya Choukri (16) from Young Muslim is one of the youth who helped Huitfeld.

"We Muslims got several times thrown at us that we are terrorists just because we look different or have a different background.  Even if I go with a hijab and don't drink alcohol, I am Norwegian.  I was born here," says Choukri.

The new action plan will promote equality and prevent ethnic discrimination.  In practice this will see a massive attitude-creating effort in preschools, schools and leisure time communities across the country.  The education ministry will design a five-year plan to include the environment where youth learn and grow up.

The head of SOS Rasisme, Trond Thorbjørnsen, thinks it's positive that the government focuses on religious harassment and that Huitfled spoke directly with the youth.  But he doesn't think such an action plan is enough in itself.

"Action plans come up at regular intervals, but this must be followed up and we are dependent on common people mobilizing.  In recent years we've seen an increased use of direct racism and more Jew-persecution and persecution of Muslims," says Thorbjørnsen. He thinks the explanation doesn't lie in the lack of religious understanding but that most of those who use "Jew" as a curse word do it to express racism.

Source: Dagbladet (English)

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